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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Use the Force, Lucques

It certainly shaped up to be a Lucques-cullian sort of week, didn’t it? This past Wednesday, Suzanne Goin, chef and owner of the L.A. area’s Lucques, the Hungry Cat, and A.O.C., was featured as the guest judge on Bravo’s Top Chef. Goin, who was named California’s best chef in 2006 by the James Beard Foundation and also garnered a James Beard award for her cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, was a tough but fair judge during the competition. After cheftestant Frank Terzoli was named winner of this week’s Elimination Challenge, Goin gave him a copy of her cookbook and also asked him to collaborate on one of her famous Sunday Suppers menus at Lucques.

Completely unrelated to the scandals and skirmishes of the boob tube, Jen of food blog Life Begins at Thirty writes about her recent visit to Lucques, admitting that her soup was so good, it made her selfish:

It’s a lovely space with wonderful food. I had a spicy chickpea and kale soup, and told my dinnermates that I couldn’t share because I was concerned that they’d catch my cold. Mostly true, but I also wanted to savor every bit of the soup that I could.

However, as she mentions, Jen wasn’t the only blogger indulging in Lucques this week. A Finger in Every Pie’s Jen relished her meal so much, she’s going to try and recapture some of the magic in her own kitchen:

Or perhaps, although I won’t be able to match the elegance and deliciousness of what emerges from Lucques’ kitchen, I will try out my newly acquired (and signed!) copy of Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Don’t touch that dial.

By the by, Lucques gets its name from the olive variety. Found in both France and Italy (they take their name from the Italian province), Lucques olives are known as “the Queen of Olives” and taste of “fresh almonds and avocados.”

Top Secret Korean Noodles

Corner Place is well known for its cold noodles, but don’t try to get them to go–the recipe is top secret. Not even the owners know how it’s made, says greengelato–it’s concocted by an elderly lady who makes it herself and has the soup shipped in top-secret white vans to the restaurant’s two locations. Afraid of someone figuring out the recipe, management doesn’t allow takeout even of the leftovers.

So what is this stuff? It’s not the better known mul naeng myun but dongchimi gooksu–white wheat noodles in a broth based on the pickling juice of dongchimi, lightly pickled daikon.

The texture of the noodles is just perfect, says Pei, better than the insipidly soft versions of Taiwanese mien xien (pulled noodles) here. The dongchimi broth is kind of sweet and fizzy, like 7-Up (which some think may be one of the secret ingredients). And for $7, you get a huge bowl. Corner Place’s BBQ (the traditional accompaniment to cold noodles) is pretty good too, and portions are just as large, so an order of each is perfect for two.

Gil Mok [Koreatown]
a.k.a. Corner Place Restaurant
2819 James M Wood Blvd., at 9th St., Los Angeles

Gil Mok [South Bay]
a.k.a. Corner Place Restaurant
19100 Gridley Rd., Cerritos

Board Links
The Corner Place—No Box For You!

Flavors of Saigon in the South Bay

Saigon Flavor’s pho beats the other local attempts, says csrbeach, even if the herb plate only has basil, bean sprouts, and lime. Broth has good flavor and pho tai has a nicely sized portion of meat. They also have bun, banh xeo, com tam, and banh mi.

Banh mi is fairly impressive, says DiveFan–the baguette is nice and crusty like Lee’s. There aren’t very many choices, though, just grilled pork and a few others, and not enough pickled vegetables for crunch.

Saigon Flavor’s banh mi is $4, pho with iced coffee, tax and tip is $12.

Tapioca Express does pretty well with banh mi too, although they just call it “sandwich.” Baguette is very crispy and larger than either Saigon Flavor’s or Lee’s, says DiveFan, plus you get a generous amount of meat and pickled carrot, daikon, and jalapeno. Even better, it’s only $2.75.

Saigon Flavor [South Bay]
2515 W. Carson St., Torrance

Tapioca Express [South Bay]
1425 W. Artesia Blvd. Unit #19, Gardena

Board Links
saigon flavor in torrance–review

Baklava in the South Bay

Baklava is dangerous. Once you start on the Lebanese and Syrian stuff, it’s really hard to stop. “Maybe because the pieces are so small, and the assortments beg you to try one of each kind–and then another round and another round, like a beauty contest, to see which type you like best. Before you know it, your jeans don’t fit anymore,” says pilinut.

You can get the good stuff at Aladdin Market and Deli, days Euonymous. Check for the Semiramis brand that pilinut favors, imported from Damascus.

You can also get great imported Lebasese baklava at Alhana, a Lebanese grocery store that also serves killer chicken shwarma and garlic fries.

As for locally made product, if you make it to Fremont, Melanie Wong directs you to MidEast Deli (see also ChowNews #200), where you can get freshly house-made baklava. It’s less drenched in butter and syrup than many baklavas–and there’s something to be said for that. And SanJoseHound buys it at the International Food Bazaar, where a variety pack from Diamond Bakery in Fremont will run you about $7.99.

Aladdin Market and Deli [Peninsula]
224 E. Hillsdale Blvd., San Mateo

Alhana Foods Mediterraean [Peninsula]
25 37th Ave., San Mateo

MidEast Deli & Grocery [East Bay]
4128 Bay Street, Fremont

International Food Bazaar [South Bay]
5491 Snell Avenue, San Jose

Board Links
Where to get baklava in the South Bay area?

How to Enjoy Poulet

Poulet can be a great source of homey takeout food, says rworange. She gets whatever looks fresh and good–like the chicken, mushroom, fennel, and red wine sauce with pappardelle. Boozy, wine-soaked mushrooms perfume the experience, and the chicken is deliciously tender and darkly stained with wine. Caramel bread puuding is good, rich, eggy, and full of vanilla, with a thin layer of caramel on a lovely browned top. Let your eyes be your guide–if it looks outstanding and fresh, it probably tastes that way, too.

Do not, however, go at the end of the day and just order anything, advises Berkel–you may end up with the dry, old, shriveled-up remains of whatever didn’t sell well that day. “My own advice at Poulet is the same as any deli: if it looks tired or dry, it probably is, so buy something else,” says rworange.

Poulet [East Bay]
1685 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley

Board Links
poulet / poo-lay
Berkeley – Poulet revisited

Farm-Fresh Salad Dressings with North Fork Flavors

Uncommonly good bottled salad dressings with Asian flavors come from Sang Lee Farms on Long Island’s North Fork. jenniebnyc is hooked on their Asian Vinaigrette–creamy, light, slightly sweet. Other flavors: citrus, scallion, sweet ginger, toasted sesame.

coll is partial to their pestos–basil-pine nut, cilantro-pine nut, and spinach-walnut. All are available year-round online or at the farm, and on Saturday mornings from June to November at the Westhampton Beach farmers’ market (this year’s season ends November 11).

The products were developed by Sang Lee but are now made by A Taste of the North Fork in Cutchogue, which turns local produce into dressings, jams and jellies, mustards, vinegars, and other good stuff.

Sang Lee Farms [Suffolk County]
25180 Middle Rd. (County Rd. 48), near Bridge Ln., Peconic, NY

Westhampton Beach farmers’ market [Suffolk County]
in parking lot next to Westhampton Beach Historical Society
101 Mill Rd., between Sunset and Woodland Aves., Westhampton Beach, NY

A Taste of the North Fork [Suffolk County]
8595 Cox Ln., near Oregon Rd., Cutchogue

Board Links
Sang Lee Farms, North Fork LI

Hamburger Tips from Forest Hills to the Bronx

A stealth burger lurks on the menu at Corfu Grill, where it goes by bifteki and comes with pita triangles and tzatziki. Whatever they call it, it’s really a hamburger, says janie. She declares it the best in Forest Hills–and a deal at $5.50 for the lunch special. If you ask, they’ll put it on a bun. The rest of the menu leans toward Greek specialties like moussaka, pastitsio, gyro, and souvlaki.

Another Forest Hills spot, Cobblestones, makes a solid hamburger–known here as a hamburger–that Afikoman ranks ahead of hound favorite Donovan’s in Woodside. For $8.95 it comes with two toppings (cheese, bacon, chili, vegetables, etc.) plus lettuce, tomato, onion, and fries. Cheddar and chili is an especially nice combo. Beyond burgers, this place dishes up better-than-average pub chow, says kid_aa.

In the Bronx, the Hilltop serves a huge, satisfying hamburger with house-made mashed potatoes and a soda, all for $4.95, marvels beke. Other winners: lasagna, fresh-squeezed lemonade, steak sandwiches on garlic toast, and moussaka (when they have it)–“no creepy white stuff on top, just scrumptious layers of eggplant, potatoes, and ground beef.” Breakfast fare is skippable.

Corfu Grill [Forest Hills]
70-17B Austin St., between 67th Dr. and 68th Ave.Forest Hills, Queens

Cobblestones Pub [Forest Hills]
117-18 Queens Blvd., between 77th and 78th Aves., Forest Hills, Queens

Hilltop Restaurant [Bronx]
1306 Castle Hill Ave., near Westchester Ave., Bronx

Board Links
Great Burger in the Bronx on Castle Hill
Good burger in/around Forest Hills?

La Focacceria Folds Again; and Other New York News

For the second time in a year, La Focacceria has closed. The East Village Sicilian landmark, established 1914, first went under last year when its owner retired. It got a second chance in spring, when a longtime employee opened a new La Focacceria, with cooks and recipes from the old place. Now the new place is gone, too, leaving behind fond memories of homey caponata, seafood salads, and vastedde (sandwiches of calf spleen and cheese).

Chelsea’s Wild Lily Tea Room is also closing its doors, saddening fans of its teas, tisanes, sandwiches, and serene, slightly quirky vibe. “Not good news,” notes gumnaam. “Wild Lily has long been a nice refuge from the city.” Fans can enjoy hanging out one last time at the shop’s send-off tea party. It’s at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, November 16; make a reservation on the web site.

La Focacceria [East Village]
formerly Rancho El Girasol
221 1st Ave., between E. 13th and 14th Sts., Manhattan

Wild Lily Tea Room [Chelsea]
511 W. 22nd St., between 10th and 11th Aves., Manhattan

Board Links
Tea Bars/Shops
La Foccaceria Is Back

Barrels, Barrels, Everywhere

Bardstown, Kentucky (continued)

What says “fun” more than a barrel-rolling competition? Consider us your go-to source for up-to-the-minute reports on this burgeoning sport.

The aim isn’t just to hustle around 500-pound water-filled barrels. It’s to ensure that they all wind up with their bungholes facing up (if one is off by even an inch, points are deducted). And since each barrel travels less distance than the one before, the roller must make allowances by spinning these suckers around with incredible precision.

In the following video, watch the logos on the barrels (which correspond to the locations of the bungholes). Ideally, all logos will wind up neatly in the up position. Movie file

Check out this old-time barrel wrangler (bear in mind that these things weigh 500 pounds each): Movie file

Heaven Hill Tour

We toured the Heaven Hill distillery. These guys make Evan Williams and Elijah Craig, and they also quietly produce bourbon on contract for many other companies (contract distilling is a common arrangement; the hundreds of Kentucky bourbons are all produced by Kentucky’s nine remaining distilleries).

Here are the storage facilities where the barrels are aged. Yes, they look eerily like penitentiaries, but the smell is, as I noted in my last report, nothing short of heavenly.

It’s all about those barrels, babe:

Here’s a weird, but weirdly educational, exhibit. The instructions read, “Press button for aroma,” which emerges from the brass horn:

Eager tour participants in guided tasting:

Back to the bourbon festival, which, on the weekend, actually turns into a bourbon festival. Tons of people come and congregate on a fairground, a few of whom cram into a small area where shots of all the usual bourbons are sold. You drink from plastic cups, standing up, outdoors in the heat.

The perimeter was rife with merchandising, none of it very intriguing:

This wasn’t really what we were hoping for. So we turned our sights on food, which was sort of generic fair food, with a couple of exceptions.

Hog Wild BBQ, from Boston, Kentucky, sent a van:

They make fried corn (breaded and deep-fried half ears), certainly a new sensation for me:

Burgoo soup sounds more interesting than it tastes (sweet and tomatoey):

Pulled pork and brisket were OK:

The only thing approaching deliciousness was a truck where a family from Oaxaca prepared gringo-friendly Mexican food. After I talked to them for a while in Spanish and expressed my appreciation for Oaxacan cuisine, they made me a couple of things with some actual chile heat. These guys aren’t serious cooks, just immigrants trying to make a few bucks via their ethnicity. And they lacked any kind of real ingredients. But they put their hearts into their work, and it had a charm. It was a small find, but as with the Treadwell Franklin Walton United Methodist Church Pancake Griddle I found at the otherwise missable Delaware County Fair in upstate New York, anything above/beyond the usual carnival fare is a blessing indeed. Even, alas, if the carnival is as hip-sounding as the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

My halfhearted effort to persuade the Mexican wife to bring me real Oaxacan tamales the next day went nowhere.

Worst-Case Scenario Chorizo

rworange has made a project out of tasting the house-made chorizo of Mexican markets in the Bay Area. Overall, her results are positive–the spicy sausages are generally great, with strong notes of vinegar, chile, and herbs, and lots of variation from store to store.

Tasting a commercially-produced chorizo for comparison, however, reveals how bad things can really get. “This is probably the scariest thing I’ve eaten in my life,” says rworange. El Mexicano brand chorizo ($1.49 for a 12-ounce package) lists pork salivary glands, lymph nodes, and fat (cheeks) as the top three ingredients. It has a disturbingly soft texture with plenty of stringy pieces. And it tastes like…saliva, with an awful, soft sliminess to it.

Real chorizo from a carniceria costs only about twice as much and it’s worth every penny.

Board Links
Chorizo crawl–Pork salivary glands, lymph nodes & fat (cheeks)