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

One Size Fits All Knife Block

The Igo Kapoosh knife block is very cleverly designed. Rather than a solid block of wood, with slots that may or may not fit your kives, the Igo Kapoosh block is tightly filled with slim rods that adjust and hold whatever size blade you insert into it. And the removable insert that holds the knives is dishwasher safe.

Hapa Dude has had one for a year and finds it very versatile. One minor issue: 8-inch chef knives stand up too straight to fit under the cabinets that overhang the kitchen counter.

Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Linens ‘n Things sell them for about $30.

Universal knife block.

Here’s a good description of how it works.

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A great knife block

Like a Hot Business Card Through Butter

A few weeks ago, Steve Wozniak, the furry co-founder of Apple, showed up on The Colbert Report. What else they talked about I will never recall, because all I can think about is how Woz likes to fly and freak out his first-class flight attendants by cutting up his steak with his business card.

It’s true. As he proved to Stephen Colbert, Steve Wozniak’s Lucklow-designed business card is made of some sort of thin, light, super-sharp metal that is so smooth, it “cuts the side of the steak like marble,” according to Wozniak. The inveterate prankster also sprinkles pepper on his plate and pretends to be shaving with the card when flight attendants come to clear his tray. An uncharacteristically stunned Colbert couldn’t help breaking character as he snarfled that he could have Wozniak classified as an “enemy combatant” for bringing sharp metal objects aboard airplanes.

Thank god for Wired’s blog for giving satisfaction to us geeks everywhere by providing a close-up look at Wozniak’s curious steak knife.

You can watch the September 28 interview on the newly Googled YouTube.

I’d like to get one of those business cards myself—if only to see how in the world he gets through metal detectors.

What a Croc!

The Go Fug Yourself Girls, about whom Variety has noted have “a barbed wit that makes Cojo and Joan Rivers seem like gushing fans,” have focused their wickedly funny fashion blog on Mario Batali.

Their complaint? The recently canceled Food Network chef showed up at the Infamous premiere party sporting his ubiquitous orange Crocs-wear.

Now, Radar may refer to Molto Mario as “patient zero” of the Crocs phenomenon and also notes that the New York chef “reportedly owns 30 pairs—all in orange—that he cleans in the dishwasher,” which, ew, but the Fuggers do not believe that the popular, airy, and often quite grimy footwear is appropriate for red carpeting.

I don’t care if he thinks they’re his signature in the kitchen. He is not IN the kitchen. He is at a premiere, and Sandra Bullock is in a GOWN, and he’s wearing a fleece, shorts, and filthy rubber clogs, like he just managed to squeeze in his paper route between the lunch service and the event start time.

PLAN AHEAD, Mario. Throw some loafers, or sneakers, or platform thigh-highs—ANYTHING—in the car and change on the way there. I’m sorry that you’ve become the poster child for this crime against global retinas, but so be it. We cannot allow the ghoulish Rubber Menace to become the sort of perceived all-purpose footwear that the Ugg boot has become; we cannot allow our impressionable starlets to think it’s acceptable to start pairing them with skirts, or dresses, or evening gowns. They cannot cross into Formal Shoe country. We must, in honor of the late Steve Irwin, become Croc Hunters. Constant vigilance, people. It’s the only way.

If you haven’t bookmarked Go Fug Yourself already, do it now, because the Fug Girls are not called “hilarious bitches” by Defamer for nothing. Just don’t read while drinking or you’ll need a new keyboard.

A Bushel and a Peck

It’s apple season, and over at Slate, the magazine’s usually spot-on financial writer Daniel Gross has turned in a controversial (!) piece about U-pick apple farms. He’s against them.

Apple picking is a cherished rite of fall, a wholesome and fun family outing, a throwback to a simpler time when people weren’t so disconnected from the production of their sustenance. I look forward to it every year. It’s also a wasteful scam.

But read further and you find he thinks it’s wasteful for the same reason that SUVs and McMansions are: overconsumption. His view is that people pick 20 pounds of apples (at about the same cost as supermarket ones) with the intention of making sauce or pies and then let them rot on the counter because there’s no time in our busy world for those types of activities.

Luckily, Gross is given an education by posters like MsZilla in the Fray, Slate’s comments forum.

Perhaps he should have come to my local U-pick farm, where there’s no petting zoo (oh all right, so there is a pumpkin slingshot), but the pie cherries got completely picked out in three days by rabid bakers trying to get their cherries before the small window of opportunity closed. You don’t have to be a back-to-the-lander to throw a bunch of apples in a pot and cook them for 20 minutes to make applesauce. Hell, you don’t even have to peel them.

Silence of the Lambs

As new E. coli cases crop up week by week, the latest issue of The New Republic reveals one more example of the United States Department of Agriculture’s ineptitude in protecting the American food supply. In the article, titled “On the Lamb” (requires registration), science writer D. T. Max tells the story of the USDA’s triumphant moment in 2001 at the height of the mad-cow scare. Rather than address the questionable practice of turning cows into carnivores, flak-jacketed federal-agent USDA enforcers made headlines by raiding a tiny sheep dairy in Vermont. Writes Max,

The P.R. risk seemed low and the offense to the beef industry negligible: In the ag world, beef trumps lamb, lamb trumps cheese, and just about everything trumps a bunch of long-hairs making artisanal cheese in Vermont.

The ostensible reason for seizing and slaughtering the Faillace family’s 125 sheep—as well as the family’s dog and llama—was a European study implying that mad-cow disease, officially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, could morph into TSE, or transmittable spongiform encephalopathy, which could then affect sheep. But that study has since been discredited, as has the work of the lab where the Vermont sheep were tested. Sheep do get a similar neurological disease, called scrapie, but it doesn’t infect humans. And in the five years since the Faillace sheep were killed, the USDA has dragged its heels in doing the only test that could conclusively prove the presence of BSE in the sheep’s tissues.

The real issue, of course, isn’t only the probably pointless destruction of 125 sheep and the Faillaces’ livelihood. It’s the power of Big Beef—and the power of quick-fix, happy-face PR. As Faillace, now on a national book tour for her memoir Mad Sheep, says in an interview with a Vermont newspaper, she still doesn’t know why the family herd was targeted and who was behind it. “We don’t have any concrete answers and plenty of theories,” she says.

And what happened to Faillace’s “main antagonist,” USDA senior staff veterinarian Dr. Linda Detwiler? She is no longer on the government payroll. She now consults for Wendy’s and McDonald’s.

Russian Thai?

There’s a handwritten sign in the window that says “Still Thai Food,” but this Thai place has clearly been bought by Russians–with awesome results, says mcchowhound. In addition to the Thai stuff, the menu offers “Russian favorites,” and also suspiciously un-Italian sounding “Italian favorites”, like smoked salmon and avocado panini. Says mcchowhound, “A general rule of the universe is that if life offers you pelmenyi in a Thai restaurant, you ought to take it.” And, as it turns out, the pelmenyi are terrific–a bowl of perfect little dumplings with fresh dill and a side dish of sour cream, all for $5.95. It’s a lot of pelmenyi for one person, so go with a friend and try something else, too–borscht, vareniki of various kinds, or maybe the caviar blintzes for $7.95. You probably want to stick to the Russian stuff, but who knows? The “French favorites” and “Greek favorites” that they also offer might be great, too.

7 Pleasures [Financial District]
formerly Banana Best
554 Commercial Street, San Francisco
415-391-7362
Locater

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Russian Thai in the Financial District

Sesame Sirens

You know those sesame ball things? That are, like, a thin shell of dough filled with lotus seed paste, rolled in sesame seeds and deep fried? TC Pastry has an outstanding version of those, says gordon wing. The shell is very thin and crunchy, and not too greasy, and the golden lotus seed filling is quite pleasant. They’re 50 cents each. Also try their yeasty, savory pork buns–smaller than those uber-size Chinese-American buns you see lately, but delicious.

TC Pastry [Peninsula]
67 Saint Francis Square, Daly City
650-755-8612
Locater

T C Pastry [Sunset]
2222 Irving St., San Francisco
415-753-1133
Locater

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TC pastry’s sesame balls are all that …..

Imperial Palace’s Cantonese Riches and Other Flushing Tips

At Imperial Palace, arrive early or expect a wait. This Cantonese seafood house draws throngs even on weeknights for its signature Dungeness crab or lobster, steamed and served over sticky rice that’s put gloriously over the top by savory seafood juices. High turnover means dependably fresh food, and the cooking is above average, says lwong.

Casseroles are also strong. One with shrimp, scallops, octopus and vegetables over translucent noodles is a knockout, its rich broth redolent of the ocean and a perfect match for the seafood and noodles, reports Brian S. “Either I got lucky and ordered the best dish in the place,” he adds, “or this is one of the best Cantonese restaurants in town.”

Elsewhere in Flushing, the well-regarded Prince Seafood Restaurant has given way to another Cantonese place, New Pacific. Here, too, casseroles are a smart order, especially those listed only on the Chinese menu–hounds recommend the ones with fish and tofu or frog legs with sausage and mushroom. Items on the English menu, like out-of-balance steamed chicken with ginger and scallion, can disappoint.

A couple blocks away, Ocean Jewel–a hound favorite for dim sum–offers Cantonese seafood standards as well as less common specialties like fish head steamed with diced pepper–a wonderful, surprisingly spicy dish, artfully arranged on a fish-shaped platter and swimming in piquant red broth, Brian S reports.

For Cantonese-style treats, the new Vanilla Cafe is shaping up as the best bet on Roosevelt Avenue’s emerging bakery row. “Everything is fresh and tasty with real substance,” marvels HLing, who singles out Hong Kong-caliber egg tarts filled with tender, silky custard. Fresh ingredients shine in baked red bean bao, mung bean or taro balls, and peanut or mango mochi. Chicken and curry beef pies are standouts, too.

Imperial Palace [Flushing]
136-13 37th Ave., between Main and Union Sts., Flushing, Queens
718-939-3501
Locater

New Pacific Chinese Cuisine [Flushing]
formerly Prince Seafood Restaurant
37-17A Prince St., between 37th and 38th Aves., Flushing, Queens
718-886-0388
Map

Ocean Jewel Seafood Restaurant [Flushing]
133-30 39th Ave., between College Point Blvd. and Prince St., Flushing, Queens
718-359-8600
Locater

Vanilla Cafe [Flushing]
135-20 Roosevelt Ave., between Main and Prince Sts., Flushing, Queens
718-762-2888
Map

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Flushing’s Best
Vanilla Cafe in Flushing
Imperial Palace —maybe the best Cantonese in Flushing
Ocean Jewel Seafood Restaurant, Flushing

Safran: Assured Vietnamese Newcomer in Chelsea

Safran brings something unusual and welcome to Chelsea: decent Asian food. This stylish two-month-old restaurant serves slightly dressed-up Vietnamese dishes with a few Western accents and presentations–and avoids the common pitfall of over-sweetening for American palates. The food is billed as “French Vietnamese,” but the French influence appears to surface only in a handful of dishes, like duck confit in red wine-citrus sauce and duck consomme with foie gras dumplings.

“I was very pleasantly surprised, as I’m not usually a big fan of anything that seems too Asian-fusiony,” says lchang, who reports standout green papaya salad with grilled beef and delicious, authentic-tasting crispy egg noodles, topped with beef, seafood, and vegetables. Dandel recommends sate (grilled shrimp, chicken, and vegetable skewers), cha dum (gingery steamed beef-vermicelli balls), and sauteed chive flowers with lily bulb and oyster mushroom. Other winners: bo loc lac (marinated beef cubes), bamboo soup (with gingko, snow fungus, and mushrooms), and sumptuous, elegantly presented banana cake with coconut sauce, strawberries, and green tea ice cream.

Lunch boxes are a good deal. For $9, Chelsea Pearl scored two tender, smoky lemongrass-honey-marinated pork chops plus rice, salad, spring or summer roll, and pan-fried noodles with peanuts, onions, and egg. Pearl’s verdict: “Chelsea needs this place.”

Safran [Chelsea]
formerly Raymond’s Cafe
88 7th Ave., between W. 15th and 16th Sts., Manhattan
212-929-1778
Locater

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Restaurant Safran in Chelsea

Menu Note: Beef Stew Pho

Valleyites love the classic Vietnamese beef noodle soup at Pho 999, but if you haven’t tried the beef stew pho, says Hypnotic23, you’re in for a treat–flavorful chunks of beef with carrots, a great broth and of course those noodles. It’s like a cross between pho and Mom’s pot roast. Dip the beef in some of that side sauce and you’re in heaven. Don’t forget the spring rolls to start.

Pho 999 [East San Fernando Valley]
6411 Sepulveda Blvd. # 1K1L, Victory, Van Nuys
818-782-1999
Locater

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Beef Stew Pho at Pho 999 Review