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

From “Top” to Bottom

From “Top” to Bottom

Talking to the second "Top Chef" contestant voted off the (kitchen) island. READ MORE

Cutbacks at Copia

Copia, the American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts, is cutting back—laying off a third of its staff and planning to sell five acres of land in order to address its debt situation.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the five-year-old Napa-based nonprofit first envisioned by Robert and Margrit Biever Mondavi is struggling under the combined weight of debt from a $70 million bond and revenue shortfall. By eliminating 25 jobs and selling off the land, Copia president Arthur Jacobus hopes to reduce the debt to a more manageable level.

Copia, whose mission is to “explore, celebrate and share the many pleasures and benefits of wine, its relationship to food and its significance to our culture,” offers wine and food tastings, dining, shopping, garden visits, and cultural events—art exhibitions, film screenings, lectures, and concerts.

A more detailed article in local newspaper The St. Helena Star has the specifics of what these cutbacks will look like—exhibition space converted for conference rental, a greater focus on wine and less on art, and a chunk of land sold to a developer with plans to build a hotel and “shopping village.” All this done to stave off “near-financial collapse.”

“For all the wonderful things we’ve accomplished in the past year, we’ve been economically unsustainable,” Jacobus said.

Wine website points out that Copia is not the only wine education center to deal with financial woes. Both the National Wine Centre of Australia, in Adelaide, and Vinopolis, in London, have faced their share of struggles.

Could it be that most people prefer their wine with cheese and crackers, hold the education?

Behold, the Bean

It’s all about the buzz this morning as Los Angeles wakes up to a high-end package of coffee stories, courtesy of the L.A. Times. From choosing it, brewing it, and drinking it, to cooking with it and the history of its connoisseurship, the Times writers have got it all covered. They’ve produced what amounts to a clip ‘n’ save primer for the wannabe coffee highbrow.

You want in-depth coffee reporting? You’ve got it:

The fact is, strong black coffee served in tiny cups is typical of a belt extending from Spain to Hungary by way of Italy and Austria. Elsewhere in Europe, people prefer weaker drip coffee served in big cups with sugar and cream. Coffee historian Ian Bersten suggests this reflects the division between wine-drinking and beer-drinking Europe—wine being strongly flavored and served in glasses while beer is mild and served in mugs.

Whew. I feel like I just went through the 40-hour barista training program at Starbucks.

What I need now is an espresso martini.

Catch ‘Em Early

If kids haven’t developed a taste for wholesome, yummy food by kindergarten, will they be cursed with McPalates for the rest of their days? Recent news articles and blog discussions say the answer is most likely yes.

A thoughtful post by Kate of Accidental Hedonist ponders what it takes to catapult a person into a life of considered food choices—but some readers argue that nothing can convince the masses to choose their chow more wisely. “[Health-focused lunchroom chef] Ann Cooper’s experiences in Berkeley [public schools] suggest our eating preferences are set pretty firmly early in life,” writes AH visitor Nicholas Caratzas, alluding to the fact that kids often turn up their noses at the wholesome options. Meanwhile, some parents reinforce their progeny’s unhealthy preferences: As a recent New York Times article reported, two British mothers, worried about their children’s refusal to eat anything on the school cafeteria’s newly healthified menu, began selling banned fast-food items to students just outside the campus. These “meat pie mums” and their kids won’t likely be swayed by arguments for local and organic foods, writes Caratzas. And forget the older folks: “Working on anybody past grade school is going to be tough.”

Granted, childhood comfort dishes hold a special place in people’s culinary memories, meaning that a kid who grew up on Big Macs might have a soft spot for greasy drive-thru burgers. Still, plenty of people—like me, for example—have emerged from childhoods fueled by TV dinners, canned fruit, sugary cereals, and iceberg lettuce to become fully food-aware adults. Growing up, I would have been just as loath to give up my lunchroom pizza as those British kids were to forgo their fries; my food awakening didn’t come until my first year of college (it was triggered by a burgeoning awareness of environmental issues and was spurred on by a year of study in France). So I sometimes wonder whether I would have rebelled against the sustainable-food philosophy if it had been imposed on me earlier in life. (I certainly know adult candyholics who weren’t allowed any sugar as kids.)

How did you develop your interest in food? Did that interest coincide with an awareness of health/environmental issues, or was it strictly about deliciousness? A little of both?

Chicago’s (Haute) Soup Kitchen

Three cheers for “Soul-Soothing Soups,” a surprisingly heartwarming story in Food & Wine that details the work of a skilled soup maker with a heart of gold.

Taking care of the needy is a mitzvah, but doing so in a way that affirms their essential human dignity is doubly terrific. Chicago’s Mary Ellen Diaz makes soups that are good enough for the city’s best restaurants but uses them to feed 400 homeless people each week.

Stories about inspiring do-gooders have a tendency to melt down into a goopy mass of platitudes and shopworn clichés, but this particular story elegantly eludes those traps by sticking to the facts … and the food.

‘Last year we made a lot of Cajun food to feed displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina. We also get a lot of requests for food with Latin flavors, dishes that might use tortillas. Smothered pork chops are really popular. A pot of greens is definitely a big thing, because most people on the street don’t have access to farm-fresh produce. It’s interesting: A lot of our clientele grew up in rural communities, and they know more about growing fruit and vegetables than I do. They ask really specific questions about the soil and the farming methods.’

It’s easy to say that one person can’t really make a meaningful difference, which discourages taking personal
action. And it’s also easy to so over-celebrate community activists that they ascend to a seemingly unattainable saint-like plateau—which also discourages personal action. “Soul-Soothing Soups” keeps it real, and it’s difficult to read without thinking, “Well, dammit. What can I do?”

The Hunger

Some people like to think about food a lot. We call them foodies, or chowhounds. There are also those who spend a lot of mental energy on food, but not because they are gourmands. Instead they obsess about getting the most nutrition from the smallest amount of calories.

The Calorie Restriction movement posits that we can live an extra 50 years under one condition: We have to rigorously limit the amount of calories we eat.

Journalist Julian Dibbell gonzos it up by joining the CR movement for two months (during which he loses 20 pounds and learns what it’s like to go to bed hungry every night). His report in this week’s New York magazine is a riveting peek into the movement and its practitioners. Built around the meal he shares with some of Calorie Restriction’s most charismatic adherents, the piece does make a startling case for the benefits. But it also shows the warping effects of years of near starvation:

At which point Michael, having finished his helping of asparagus and Quorn, picks up his plate without a word and does what any normal person who has not eaten a truly filling meal in years would do: He holds the plate up to his face and commences licking it clean.

Mutton With Kick, and More at Hunan’s Restaurant

Hunanese food can educate you about what salty really is. The food in Hunan province is known in China for being super salty. Still, if you steer clear of the eggplant and ground pork with pickled vegetables at Hunan’s Restaurant, you’ll probably be fine, says pleasurepalate, who highly recommends toss-fried mutton with cilantro–the mutton is actually tender and although it doesn’t seem very spicy, it has a sneaky kick.

Toss-fried chicken with hot sauce is a perfect marriage of heat, texture, and flavor. Steamed Hunan style spicy fresh fish comes whole, and the sauce complements the moist, delicate flesh rather than overwhelming it.

modernist agrees; everything is really tasty here. The absolute tops is fish head with chiles; also great are lamb with cumin, and winter melon with salty egg.

Shrimp with green beans is bland though, and three-flavored dumplings are beyond bland.

Hunan’s Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
903 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra

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Hunan’s Restaurant in Alhambra (review with photolink)

Giovanni’s Gnocchi Champion

If nothing else, you’ve got to admire Giovanni’s for standing up for gnocchi. Not that it’s gotten a bad rap, exactly; it’s just that the Florentine dish is often overlooked in our pasta- and pizza-focused world, say the folks at Giovanni. Hence, the menu features a “gnocchi bar.”

This place is just a few months old; PattiB reveals that it’s owned by the longtime owner of Vittorio, in Pacific Palisades. The restaurant has a clean, uncluttered look, generous portions and reasonable prices. Risotto with prawns, a special recently, is very good; also delish are zucchini fritti.

Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria [North Beaches]
22235 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu

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Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant–Malibu


The kind of heavy, old-school German food that Schroeder’s specializes in is not something you would want to eat every day, but sometimes your soul needs Schweine Hoxen and goose liver pate. For those times, you are advised to report to Schroeder’s.

KK likes their Schweine Hoxen, or “pig’s knuckles,” basically a whole pig’s foreleg cooked beautifully with all the tendons intact. It’s fun, huge, and meaty, says Robert Lauriston. The sausages are also excellent–the Kielbasa is especially superb, which probably has something to do with the fact that the chef is Polish. They serve Pinkelwurst, a sausage of pork fat, beef fat, onions, oat groats, and spices. Goose liver pate is tasty, as is roast duck. They also pour giant servings of excellent German beer on tap.

Schroeder’s Cafe [Financial District]
240 Front St., San Francisco
415-421 4778

Board Links
Schroeder’s Update? Pinkelwurst on Nov 10th

Sweet and Spicy: Caribbean Heat in Amityville, L.I.

Amityville’s Sweet and Spicy nails the robust flavors of the Caribbean in homey dishes like oxtail, curry goat, dumplings, and kingfish escovitch, all good to great, says Wanda_Gorgonzola. If they’re serving coconut shrimp, go for it. This tiny lunch spot has a handful of tables, but it’s mainly takeout.

Sweet and Spicy Caribbean Cafe [Suffolk County]
179 Broadway, between Union Ave. and Avon Pl., Amityville, NY

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Jamaican/West Indian in Nassau/West Suffolk