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

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

Taco Flights of Fancy

Iguanas Ranas makes a great taco, especially when the owner lets his imagination do the cooking, says RoachCoach. Like the jalapeno taco: a large pepper (spicy-making seeds removed) stuffed with carne asada and raisins, then grilled and wrapped in excellent yellow corn tortillas he brings from Mexico. Salsas are also original blends of fruit and chile, like strawberry-habanero or mango-serrano.

Taco hunter Bandini stumbled across a taco table in a Palms market parking lot, a rare sight on the Westside. There’s no menu, just stacks of grilled meat. Pick a kind and the taco lady will scoop the meat into a tortilla and top it with onions, cilantro and a super-tasty red tomatillo salsa. Grilled jalapenos and onions–fab with carne asada–available on request.

The table is definitely operational on weekends, but we’re not sure about weekdays. Tacos are $1 each.

Iguanas Ranas [Inland of LA]
15485 E. Valley Blvd., City of Industry
Map

Taco table [Culver City-ish]
in parking lot of Palms Super Market
3568 Motor Ave., at Palms, Los Angeles
310-202-1230
Locater

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westside weekend taco alert
Real Mexican Tortilla used for tacos

Baked Apples

Baked apples are delicious for dessert or breakfast. p.j. notes that they’re a great way to use up slightly bruised or tired apples that are no longer appealing for just plain eating. To prep apples for baking, carve out the core, from the stem end down, leaving a small bit intact at the bottom. The hollowed-out cores get stuffed with sweet goodies before the apples are baked. Some cooks like to peel their apples, some like to leave the peels on, and some peel partially for a handsome presentation.

Here are some chowhounds’ favorite baked apple preps:

Mix oatmeal cookie mix, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, butter, and brown sugar. Stuff mixture into peeled and cored apples and spread some on top as well. Bake at 350F for 30-45 minutes (qtxniki).

Soak some raisins in dark rum overnight. Mix the raisins with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and chopped walnuts, and stuff into cored apples. Place in a buttered baking pan with a little water in the bottom and bake until they’re as soft as you like. Pour a little fresh cream over each apple to serve (JenMarie66).

Peel and core apples, then fill the cores with brown sugar, maple syrup, butter, and Penzey’s Baking Spice (a mix of cinnamon, anise, mace, and cardamom). Bake at 375F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350F. They are done when you can insert a paring knife with very little resistance. You can thicken the pan juices with cornstarch and serve as a sauce; add more maple syrup or brown sugar to sweeten if you like (Kelli2006).

p.j. favors an ultra-quick version done in the microwave: Drop a few raisins into each hole in a cored apple. Fill holes with orange juice. Place apples in a deep microwave-safe baking container with a lid and pour a few extra Tbsp. of orange juice in the dish with the apples. Microwave for 3-5 minutes on high, or longer as necessary to cook apples to the degree of softness you like. Put each apple in a small bowl, pour juice remaining in baking pan over the tops, and serve.

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favorite baked apple recipe

Don’t Trim That Turkey’s Tail

The triangular flap of skin on the butt end of a turkey, which is the stub of the tail, should absolutely, definitely be left intact before the bird goes in the oven to roast, concur hounds. This bit roasts up crisp and fatty, and is highly prized by many. “It’s the best part, traditionally reserved for Cook (or, if Cook permits, Carver). After roasting, you snap it off and eat the whole thing, including the tender bones, which are yummy,” explains Karl S.

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Dumb turkey question

Super Secret Maltier Asian Ovaltine

Buying Ovaltine won’t get you a secret decoder ring anymore, but it’s an old favorite for many, who still drink it and prepare it for their kids. It has a malty flavor and some added vitamins, and no fat or cholesterol. Chocolatetartguy describes it as a wholesome-tasting hot chocolate. The granules dissolve nicely when stirred into hot or cold milk. Try adding a few spoonfuls to a cup of hot coffee. (Some folks drink it as a coffee substitute.)

Will Owen says that Asian markets have Ovaltine that’s less sweet and more malty than the formula sold in most supermarkets. Here’s his favorite cold breakfast: “Break up a banana into a tall glass, then pour in milk to within an inch of the top. Dump this into a blender along with two or three heaping tablespoons of Ovaltine and blend it to a froth.”

Ovaltine

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Ovaltine and older folks?