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

Food Porn Goes Hardcore

Gourmet’s Restaurant Issue features some of the most egregious food porn to cross the transom in months: a look at private Las Vegas dining rooms for “whales.”

Standard food porn—defined here as detailed coverage of lavish edibles the reader is unlikely to ever be able to eat or prepare based on financial, temporal, or geographic hurdles—is normally at least within striking distance of the truly determined. Sure, white truffles are expensive and scarce. Sure, a meal at Masa will run you several hundred dollars. Sure, Barcelona is a long, long way away. But a determined foodie can clear those hurdles when the rewards are commensurate.

Not so with the private dining rooms profiled in “Strip Stakes.”

The Paiza Club, a by-invitation-only facility on the top floor of the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, caters to players who gamble at the million-dollar-plus level. “The other day,” says Tonie Roberts, Paiza’s Mandarin-speaking manager, as we settle into our plush chairs for lunch, “we served a cream puff surrounded by an ocean of blue Jell-O to symbolize a private island that a guest had just closed on.”

Let’s momentarily savor and then put aside the irony of serving a multimillionaire gambler a pile of blue Jell-O. The important thing is that for you, the reader, to enjoy the delights depicted in this article, you must first earn many millions of dollars. You must then develop a degenerate gambling habit that costs you a large percentage of your earnings. Finally, you must get the long-awaited invitation to the secret room where giant talking lobsters immolate themselves for your pleasure, and you can eat grilled baby pandas out of the skulls of elephants.

I guess if you’re going to do food porn, it may as well be exxxplicit. But even for Gourmet, this feature pushes the boundaries.

Asian Pearl With Pringle

You can get dim sum at Asian Pearl, but what hounds find really promising is the modern Chinese banquet food. Like, for instance, Peking duck, with the skin served over a green apple salad, on top of a Pringle.

As in, the chip.

Surprisingly, it works, say Peter Yee and others. The sweet and acid fruit with crispy, fatty skin is a pretty inspired combination, says alfairfax. Sea bass is perfectly cooked and luscious, says oakjoan, who puts it in the top five fish experiences of her life. Many hounds like the salt and pepper crab, and the tofu with crab and golden sauce, although some raise concerns about the not-in-season-ness of the crab right now. However, all hounds agree that the yellow corn fritters, served with sweetened condensed milk, are deadly good, even when you’re dangerously stuffed.

Asian Pearl [East Bay]
3288 Pierce St., Richmond

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Asia Pearl Banquet Chowdown

Candy Cap Mushroom Cheesecake

Far West Fungi is a shop dedicated wholly to mushrooms, located in the Ferry Building. Right now they are selling cheesecakes made with sweet Candy Cap mushrooms–$10 for a cupcake-sized cheesecake. lettuce loves it–the Candy Caps taste like maple syrup, and the cheesecake is deliciously sweet. Check out the store’s other offerings, too–“I love their, er, more dank fungi,” says slowcali.

Far West Fungi [Embarvadero]
Ferry Building Marketplace, Shop #34, One Ferry Building, San Francisco

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Have you had candy cap cheesecake?

Tony’s Hot Dogs: Deliciousness Delivered by Truck

Tony the hot dog guy has been at it for almost 40 years, long enough to figure out what people like. Crowds descend on his silver truck at Newark’s Branch Brook Park for dogs made with fat, boiled all-beef franks from Brooklyn’s Golden D Brand Meat Products, reports hotdoglover. They’re tasty but mild–for some kick, ask for fiery sauteed hot onions. Chili is first-rate, too.

Don’t be deterred by the lines. Tony’s truck is a well-oiled operation with two service windows that keep things moving along. It’s around from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Tony’s Hot Dogs [Essex County]
Lake St. and Park Ave., outside Branch Brook Park, Newark, NJ

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New Jersey, not Los Angeles, the hot dog capital of the world.

E-Mo: Fresh Rice Rolls at a Koreatown Hole-in-the-Wall

E-Mo does just one thing and does it well. At this closet-sized takeout shop in Koreatown, a husband-and-wife team turns out kimbap to order. The Korean-style seaweed rice rolls come with a choice of fillings, including beef, jalapeno, mushrooms, kimchi, squid, tuna, and spicy tuna. Just $4.50 buys around a dozen pieces, enough for a light lunch. It’s all fresh, tasty, and a good value, says Pupster–and a cut above the prepackaged kimbap that tends to sit around too long at rival shops.

E-Mo [Herald Square]
2 W. 32nd St., between 5th Ave. and Broadway, Manhattan

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E-mo: Kimbap made to order —A review

Sniffing Out Stinky Tofu

Stinky tofu is pretty much an acquired taste, but once you get it, you’ve got it good. Mr Taster, who was converted to the fried kind at the night markets in Taiwan, describes it as crispy and golden on the outside but very soft and silky inside. To eat, poke a hole in it and stuff a little fermented cabbage inside, and dip it in a sauce.

Stinky tofu is also served in hotpot, like at Boiling Point, but the deep-fried crispiness, he says, “helps to temper the bouquet of the rotten vegetable and shrimp brine and also adds a really lovely crispy texture that is quintessential to enjoying the experience (and gets me past the smell).”

A couple of hounds report that the best fried stinky tofu to be had can be found at the HK Supermarket Plaza in Rowland Heights, the epicenter of Taiwanese food in the Southland. The vendor used to have a cart, but the operation’s been moved inside (with a big fan to blow out the aroma). Follow your nose.

Ay-Chung has fried stinky tofu, although it’s not quite up to the authentic level of funkiness. For some, this may be a good thing.

And Yung Ho Tou Chiang, the well-known Taiwanese breakfast joint, also serves stinky tofu.

Boiling Point [Inland of LA]
2020 S. Hacienda Blvd., Hacienda Heights

Stinky tofu cart [Inland of LA]
in HK Supermarket Plaza
18414 E. Colima Rd. Unit #S-2, Rowland Heights

Ay-Chung Rice Noodle [South OC]
formerly Bin Bin Konjac
5406 Walnut Ave. #C, Irvine

Ay-Chung Flour-Rice Noodle [San Gabriel Valley]
140 W. Valley Blvd. #208, San Gabriel

Yung Ho Tou Chiang Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
1045 E. Valley Blvd. # 105, San Gabriel

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NEED stinky tofu. Not the squishy hotpot kind.

Little La Buca

With Briganti, South Pasadena gets a little taste of La Buca without venturing down to Melrose. Briganti is a child of the same owners as La Buca, though the newer place is actually more upscale. Mama, however, is not in the kitchen at Briganti.

Still, it’s a great local option–like an Italian version of Beaujolais. Caesar salad is simple and just right. Pastas are excellent–ravioli with spinach and ricotta is hearty and rich without being heavy. If you see the special of handmade pappardelle with proscuitto ragu, pounce. Skip the pedestrian New York steak, which comes with a too-sweet sauce.

Dinner for two, no alcohol, runs $70 before tax and tip.

Briganti [Pasadena-ish]
1423 Mission Street, South Pasadena

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BRIGANTI (Pasadena) ... report
Briganti in South Pasadena? Anyone tried it?

Low and Slow Ribs in the Oven

Chowhounds agree that the best way to cook super-tender ribs without a grill or smoker is to do them low and slow in the oven, covered or wrapped in foil. TorontoJo cooks hers at 250F for 4-5 hours, while groover8 finds that 3 hours at 300F does the job. Put the rack of of ribs on a sheet pan and cover tightly with foil. Biggie recommends putting a tablespoon or two of liquid (he likes apple juice) in with the ribs to make them even more moist and tender. When they’re cooked, remove the foil and crank up the oven or put them under the broiler for a few minutes on each side to get a nice crust. This is also the time to add sauce if you want to.

Tonyjlive won a rib cook-off using this cooking method for pork spare ribs. Here, he shares his winning dry rub and BBQ sauce recipes:

Dry rub (rub over ribs and rifrigerate overnight before cooking)

handful of brown sugar
20 grinds of pepper
4 pinches of salt
2 pinches of cayenne
2 pinches of paprika
pinch of chili powder
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of onion powder
pinch of garlic powder
pinch of allspice
pinch of cloves

BBQ Sauce (remove foil and brush over ribs at end of cooking)

saute 1/2 cup minced onion in butter and vegetable oil, then add the following and simmer for 25 minutes:
3/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup water
1/2 oz. of Southern Comfort
2 Tblsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tblsp. worcesertshire sauce
juice of half a lemon
2 Tblsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. curry powder
pinch of salt
few grinds of pepper
few dashes of cayenne (optional)

Board Links
Best way to prepare ribs without a grill or smoker?

Ideas for Pistachios

Toast them and add to couscous with some golden raisins. Grind them and use as coating for sauteed fish.

Chop finely, use to coat the outside of goat cheese, and serve on top of figs (HillJ).

Use them in pesto instead of pine nuts. tm makes a Sicilian-style pesto with almonds, pistachios, basil, olive oil, mint, red pepper flakes, and tomatoes.

Grind them into a paste and use as the base for a beautiful green pistachio souffl

What Gumbo Is

Gumbo is a soupy, stewy dish that’s a mainstay of Creole and Cajun cuisine. “Gumbo” is an African word for okra, and most gumbos use it for flavor and as a thickener for the stock. File powder (powdered sassafras leaves) is used to thicken too. You can use one or the other, and some use both. Building a gumbo often begins with a roux (butter or other fat cooked slowly with flour, until brown). The roux adds color and a delicious toasty flavor.

Traditionally, the ingredients were what one had on hand. Seafood, chicken, and meat are all used alone or in various combinations. There are infinite ways to make gumbo.

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