The CHOW Blog rss

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

Giving Organics the Business

As Michael Pollan so elegantly revealed in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the organics movement has been profoundly changed by its own success. No longer the provenance of the groovy little farm down the street, lots of organic food comes from large, multinational corporations.

In this week’s BusinessWeek, Diane Brady looks at organic dairy producers and how consumer demand has forced companies like Stonyfield and Horizon to get bigger—and abandon some of their original ideals.

There’s no question that organics are profitable:

For Big Food, consumers’ love affair with everything organic has seemed like a gift from the gods. Food is generally a commoditized, sluggish business, especially in basic supermarket staples. Sales of organic groceries, on the other hand, have been surging by up to 20% in recent years. Organic milk is so profitable, with wholesale prices more than double that of conventional milk, that Lyle ‘Spud’ Edwards of Westfield, Vt., was able to halve his herd, to 25 cows, this summer and still make a living … .

But there are perils in this growth, and one of them is that supplies of organically grown ingredients can be inconsistent.

What to do? If you’re [Stonyfield Farm’s] Hirshberg, you weigh the pros and cons of importing organic milk powder from New Zealand. Stonyfield already gets strawberries from China, apple purée from Turkey, blueberries from Canada, and bananas from Ecuador. It’s the only way to keep the business growing. Besides, Hirshberg argues, supporting a family farmer in Madagascar or reducing chemical use in Costa Rica is just as important as doing the same at home.

As Wal-Mart, Heinz, and General Foods enter the organic food fray, it’s worth remembering that, for sustainablity and health, eating locally always trumps eating (big) organically.

U-Pick Chestnuts: Go Now!

Chestnuts are rich, tasty, and ridiculously hard to locate fresh. Why? During the twentieth century, almost all the chestnut orchards in the United States were wiped out by chestnut blight, leaving us dependent on foreign chestnut suppliers. And some of the only chestnut orchards left are right here in the Bay Area.

You can pick your own chestnuts at Green Valley Chestnut Ranch, says miss louella, or they will ship to your home. They’re having special open house events during the totally real “National Chestnut Week,” including tours, u-pick, and tastings of chestnut specialty products.

Skyline Chestnut Orchard also allows u-pick during the chestnut season (mid-October through November). The small American chestnuts are $5 a pound, but they’re the freshest, sweetest chestnuts you’re likely to encounter anywhere, says chilihead2006. Get them fresh while you can.

Skyline Chestnut Orchard is a bit hard to reach, so here are directions:

From the north: Take Woodside Road (Hwy. 84) west, Turn left (south) on Skyline Blvd (Hwy. 35), pass Page Mill and continue for 3 miles; the farm is on the right side of the road.

From the south: Take Hwy. 9 west, turn right on Skyline Blvd (Hwy. 35), and continue north about 5 miles; the farm is on the left side of the road.

Green Valley Chestnut Ranch [Sonoma County]
11100 Green Valley Road, Sebastopol
707-829-3304
Map

Skyline Chestnuts Orchard [Peninsula]
22322 Skyline Blvd. (Hwy. 35), Palo Alto
408-395-0337
Map

Board Links
Chestnut Picking?

Brazil-splosion

The Brazilian-owned Richmond branch of Mr. Pizza Man has been lauded for their doughy, awesomely weird pizza, like the sweet pizza with cheese, white chocolate, raisins, peaches, plums, and condensed milk. But they also have a great thing called Marmitex, says rworange–a Brazilian boxed lunch, named for the sort of container it’s traditionally served in. It’s made by a lady named Rosa, and it consists of whatever she feels like cooking that day–things like rice and delicious, bacon-y beans too good to adulterate with pepper sauce, subtly spiced beef cubes, and deliciously buttery cooked yucca. It costs $9, including Brazilian soda or juice.

Other excellent Brazilian pizza options include Cybelle’s Pizza in Daly City, which also serves awesome, massive $8 full Brazilian meals, like homey picana na chupa (cowboy steak) served with tons of side dishes, like a bowl of great soupy red beans with a touch of bacon, and farofa (nutty-tasting yucca flour puree). Manor Room Pizza gets the nod from a local Brazilian grocer. Check them both out.

Feijoada is a sort of hearty Brazilian bean goulash, featuring every part of the pig–sausage, snout, ears, tail, everything. Sabor Brazil market is selling fresh feijoada kits for home cooking, featuring locally made Brazilian sausage and all the goodies. Call to check for availability.

Mr Pizza Man [East Bay]
353 24th St, near McDonald’s, Richmond
510-234-9900
Locater

Cybelle’s Pizza [Peninsula]
2985 Junipero Serra Blvd., Daly City
650-755-6070
Locater

Manor Room Pizza Factory [Peninsula]
442 Manor Plz., Pacifica
650-355-2000
Locater

Sabor Brazil [South Bay]
4820 Bissel, Richmond
Map

Board Links
Info about Brazilian Marmitex (da rosa) and … sure … Salgadinhos?
Richmond–Sabor Brazil Market–feijoada kits with locally made Brazilian sausage
Daly City–Cybelle’s Pizza – $8 Brazilian dinners – Picana na chupa (cowboy steak)
Richmond–Mr Pizza Man’s Brazilian marmitex redux … sort of

Acasa: Hearty, Homey Romanian in Sunnyside

Acasa, a newish Romanian restaurant in Sunnyside, sounds like a winner. “Everything we tried was very good,” reports RedVelvet, who on several visits has enjoyed tripe and bean soups, grilled sweetbreads, eggplant and Greek salads, mici (small, casing-less sausages) and, especially, first-rate saramura (pickled fish in vegetable stew). mickyme loves homey cabbage with smoked hocks. Stews, schnitzel, grilled meats and offal, and fish dishes round out the menu.

Acasa’s chef (and a co-owner) is a fellow named Mitica who worked the grill at nearby Romanian Garden. Local Romanians seem clued in to the new place, drawn by the chow plus live music and satellite TV from the old country, so the smallish dining room promises to become a lively hangout for expats.

Acasa [Sunnyside]
48-06 Skillman Ave., between 48th and 49th Sts., Sunnyside, Queens
718-651-1364
Map

Romanian Garden [Sunnyside]
46-04 Skillman Ave., at 46th St., Sunnyside, Queens
718-786-7894
Locater

Board Links
Acasa, in Sunnyside
Woodside/Sunnyside suggestions? (eating out AND delivery)

Ramsay’s Revelations

With the publication of Gordon Ramsay’s new autobiography, Humble Pie, a spate of revelations about the celebrity chef have recently emerged. Maybe too many.

In the book, Ramsay reveals that he paid for heroin for his drug-addicted brother and contemplates the source of his infamous kitchen rage. What’s more, following Humble Pie’s publication, a secret sister has come out of the woodwork (she has a temper, too, by the way).

But now comes another revelation, which may just surpass the T.M.I. tipping point. London’s Daily Mirror reports that Ramsay’s first restaurant, Aubergine, was named not for the vegetable, but for, well, the angle of his dangle:

Quaffing champagne in London’s Claridge’s Hotel, Gord, 39, told us: “It’s because my nether regions always hang to the left, like an aubergine.”

Chinese Fake Beef Noodle Soup That’s the Real Deal

Despite its vegetarian pedigree, beef flavor noodle soup at Bean Sprouts looks and tastes as real as anything you’d get at any beef noodle place in the San Gabriel Valley, says Chandavkl. It’s studded with tiny chunky of mock beef, and even some mock gristle, but without that oily beef flavor. Crispy soy chicken with white pepper is almost a dead ringer for the pressed almond duck of Paul’s Kitchen. This is a small caf

Bing Bam Boom! More Bites from Roll and Dough

Hounds just can’t stop talking about Roll and Dough, the two-month-old Greenwich Village shop that specializes in the Chinese stuffed breads called bing. Early favorites among the fillings are spicy pork, spicy beef, and hot-and-sour vegetable. But they’re all pretty tasty, so the insider strategy is to ask the counter staff which one’s freshest and go with it. “I got bings right out of the oven, and they were amazing,” testifies scrawford.

Recent reports endorse the straight vegetable bing (which piccola likens to spring roll filling stuffed into chewy, crispy sesame-studded wheat dough) as well as the classic pork-and-chive. The latter “totally kicks ass,” raves ghbrooklyn, balancing fatty richness and vinegary bite. And if you luck out and they’ve just made some of the spicy meat bing, go for it. Freshly baked spicy beef bing is so delicious, marvels rose water.

Service remains uncommonly good. The staff is friendly, quick, and goofily endearing, says gsw. And they continue to pass out free samples just as they did in the opening days. Beyond bing and buns, the menu offers dumplings, fried chicken ($1 a piece), wonton or noodle soups, and an intriguing lineup of “traditional old fashion steamed soups” made with pork, chicken, oxtail, and other meat on the bone.

In Flushing, Roll and Dough’s mother shop, Unique Pastry, is no longer open to the public, though it’s still in business making stuff for other locations. The owners say it may reopen in time. In the meantime, a small selection of its wares is available for Flushing hounds a few blocks south on Main Street at J & L Mall. There’s little English signage in this bare-bones, uncompromisingly authentic food court. Just look for bing on the right side of the narrow corridor that runs west from Main Street.

Roll and Dough [Greenwich Village]
a.k.a. Bing
135 W. 3rd St., between 6th Ave. and MacDougal St., Manhattan
212-253-2890
Map

Unique Pastry [Flushing]
135-23 40th Rd., between Main and Prince Sts., Flushing, Queens
Map

J & L Mall [Flushing]
41-82 Main St., between Sanford and Maple Aves., Flushing, Queens
Map

Board Links
The Flushing Bing Lady comes to Manhattan!
Cheap lunch in the West Village?
Unique BING in Flushing

For Great Tacos, Head to the Table

The best tacos these days aren’t from taco trucks, they’re at taco tables, says Dommy. She recently stopped by a taco table conveniently sandwiched between the 101 and 10 and 5 freeways, where the specialties the separate the hardcore from the weak: cabeza and lengua.

The head and tongue meat are served in tissue-thin, handmade tortillas that are warmed in the steam from the grill. Cabeza comes in big, thin slices, with not much seasoning, just its own strong flavor. Lengua is chopped into big chunks, also without much seasoning. It’s nice and soft, and flavorful without being as funky as the cabeza. Salsa burns enough to numb your lips.

Taco table [East LA-ish]
4th St. and Boyle Ave, next to the 76 station, Los Angeles
Map

Board Links
East Side Adventures: The Tacos that made me cry….

Dragon Fruit

The exotic and beautiful dragon fruit is also called pitahaya. Some of them are a bright, hot pink color. They’re in season now. rworange says to select those with a shiny, thin skin. A ripe one will have a little give, like a slightly ripe avocado, adds chocolatetartguy.

When ripe, they’re wonderfully sweet. Just peel them and eat.

Here’s more info, with a good picture.

Board Links
How to eat dragon fruit?

Baked Brie

Baked brie is a surefire hit at parties, and very easy to put together. Many chowhounds favor sweet additions to the cheese, but there are delicious savory versions, too. Most place toppings on a wheel of brie, wrap the whole in prepared puff pastry, bake until the puff pastry turns golden, and serve warm.

Favorite sweet toppings include fresh berries, apricot preserves, cranberry sauce, fig jam, mango chutney, and brown sugar and sliced almonds. Savory favorites include pesto, ham and roasted red peppers, blue cheese and port reduction, caramelized onions, and lox.

Board Links
Baked brie?