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

Seared Fish That Cuts the Mustard

Nice quick takeout bite at gourmet grocer Agata & Valentina on the Upper East Side: head for the sushi case and look for seared tuna or salmon, advises Cheese Boy. They’re encrusted with cracked black peppercorns and lightly toasted fennel seeds. Each order comes with a killer mustard sauce–if you don’t see it, ask for it. Best time to go: lunch hour to around 3 p.m.

Agata & Valentina [Upper East Side]
1505 1st Ave., at 79th St., Manhattan
212-452-0690
Locater

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Mustard sauce?

Vitamin E (Coli)

Hot on the heels of the E. coli outbreak in spinach comes another food-supply warning, this time targeting raw-milk purveyor Organic Pastures. So far, four California children, all of whom drank the company’s raw-milk products, have been infected with E. coli.

While most Americans take the pasteurization of their milk for granted, a small but growing population—often inspired by the teachings of whole-foods advocate Weston Price—has been bucking food-safety laws in many states, forming “dairy undergrounds” to get access to sources of organic, unprocessed milk from pasture-raised cows.

Although raw milk is more vulnerable to contamination, its proponents claim far-reaching health benefits, while asserting that the extra-scrupulous care that must be taken to make raw milk safe promotes healthier cows and more-sustainable dairying practices. The FDA, however, holds firm against raw milk. Your thoughts?

The Best NY Cheesecakes in LA and Beyond?

The Grill on the Alley and Pastina Trattoria might make the best New York-style cheesecakes in Los Angeles, even better than anything in New York itself, russkar raves.

Arnie Mortons and Shula’s 347 are the closest approximation that NY transplant monku has found.

Sweet Lady Jane’s cheesecake comes recommended as well.

San Diego-bound hounds should make a stop at Sheerwater at the Del Coronado in San Diego; their cheesecakes are by far the closest to NY-style that chica has ever had.

The Grill on the Alley [Beverly Hills]
9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills
310-276-0615
Locater

Pastina Restaurant [Wealthy Westlands]
2260 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles
310-441-4655
Locater

Arnie Morton’s [Downtown]
735 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles
213-553-4566
Locater

Shula’s 347 [South LA]
in Sheraton Gateway at LAX
6101 W. Century Blvd., Los Angeles
310-642-1111
Locater

Ruth’s Chris Steak House [Beverly Hills]
224 S. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills
310-859-8744
Locater

Ruth’s Chris Steak House [Pasadena-ish]
369 East Colorado Blvd., Pasadena
888-722-4323
Map

Ruth’s Chris Steak House [West San Fernando Valley]
6100 Topanga Canyon Blvd. #1360, Woodland Hills
818-227-9505
Locater

Ruth’s Chris Steak House [South OC]
2961 Michelson Dr. # A, Irvine
949-252-8848
Locater

Sweet Lady Jane Bakery [Melrose Strip]
8360 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles
323-653-7145
Locater

Sheerwater [San Diego County]
at Hotel Del Coronado
1500 Orange Ave., Coronado
619-522-8490
Locater

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Possible to find NY-Style Cheesecake in LA?

Super Sunomono and Other Small Plates At K-Zo

While Hounds have already made much ado about the sushi at the elegant new K-Zo, it’s worth checking out the small plate selection, too. Their small plates menu is broken down into a selection of cold and hot plates, along with some daily specials. The waitstaff tends to play it safe with their recommendations, so you’re probably better off just going nuts and following your heart.

Sunomono is a surprise favorite, says Kishari. Steamed monkfish liver and eel, plus a lovely combination of dark purple and green seaweed, elevate this dish far beyond mere cucumber salad.

Marinated Japanese eggplant and hotate dynamite (broiled scallops and mushrooms) are also standouts. Other promising dishes like deep-fried soft-shell crab with ponzu, and black cod with miso, suffered from temperature issues; we hope these will work themselves out as the restaurant ages.

Their fish selection can be variable: one week, the yellowtail sashimi that came with their lunch special was superb; the next week, the sashimi accompaniment was not so great, WBGuy reports.

K-Zo [Culver City-ish]
9240 Culver Blvd., Culver City
310-202-8890
Map

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K-Zo Review : small plates (long)

No-Stir Polenta

The traditional stovetop method for cooking polenta involves constant stirring. Instead, try this method for cooking polenta in the oven, adapted from Paula Wolfert; it takes almost no attention but comes out just as well every time, says Robert Lauriston:

9 cups water
2 cups coarse polenta
2 Tbsp. corn oil
2 tsp. salt

Put all ingredients in a dutch oven and stir until blended. Bake uncovered at 350 for 80 minutes; stir and bake another 10 minutes. This makes a moderately soft polenta. If you want it firm for slicing, use only 7 cups water.

Robert’s favorite polenta is Rustic Coarse Polenta Integrale from Anson Mills, which mills their products fresh to order.

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No-stir polenta

Getting More B in Your BLT

To make your next BLT a bit more divine, try frying the bread in bacon fat instead of just toasting it. You don’t want it laden with grease–you just want enough for a little layer of bacon-y flavor. PBSF coats a large skillet with a thin film of bacon fat and toasts the bread over medium heat, covering the bread (just the slices, not the whole skillet) with a lid, then turning the bread when the underside is brown, adding a bit more fat if need be, and then letting the second side brown, uncovered. Alternatively, you could simply brush your bread lightly with bacon fat and toast in a skillet.

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Different ways to toast –bread toasted in bacon grease?

A New Spin on Salad Spinners

KitchenAid has good-looking new salad (and fruit) spinner. The spinner body is divided up with inserts, so you can spin lots of different stuff at the same time. It’s plunger operated, and the plunger locks down for storage. It holds 6 quarts, and makes a nice bowl, too.

OXO is the perennial favorite salad spinner. Almost everyone loves their basic large spinners. If space is a consideration, they have a mini-spinner that works well for smaller portions, and for drying herbs.

Tips for spinning your salad: to get most of the water spun out of the contents, Malik says to get it spinning fast, and then stop it, and then repeat a few times. Spinning and stopping shifts the greens around, and gets rid of more water. cheryl h suggests emptying the water from the bowl midway through the process, tossing the greens to reposition them, and spinning once more. She says this gets every bit of water off the greens.

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Oxo Salad Spinner or Herb Spinner

Heated Plates in a Jiffy

Need warm plates for dinner? There’s no need to heat up the oven. The easiest way to warm up plates is with the microwave. StevieBCanyon puts a teaspoon of water in a plate and zaps for 60 seconds. A swipe with a paper towel dries it. This would work great, too, for serving bowls.

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Why does some restaurant food come out/stay hotter than my home cooking? Technique? Pans?

Holy Grail with Curly Tail

An ambitious chef is setting out to breed the über-pig, according to a post today on the new New York magazine blog Grub Street. Cesare Casella, chef of the madcap-Tuscan restaurant Maremma and experienced steer breeder, is crossing the rare Large Black pig with a Yorkshire-Duroc cross to produce a breed that is at once succulently marbled (thanks to the Large Black blood) and quick-growing (courtesy of the fast-to-fatten Duroc), with a high yield of delicious meat (due to the genes of the x-tra long, ribtastic Yorkshire).

What the Grub Street post doesn’t mention is that crossing these heritage breeds isn’t such a hot idea, because there are very few of each kind in existence these days. Heritage (or heirloom) pigs are pure breeds that have been raised on small-scale farms in the U.S. since being brought over from Europe more than a century ago; in the past 60 or so years they’ve been driven to the edge of extinction by industrial livestock production. Heritage Foods USA, the online sales and marketing arm of Slow Food USA, reports that there are fewer than 200 registered purebred Large Blacks in the States today, which lands the hogs on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s most-endangered list. Today’s crossbred, mass-produced pigs—selected for leanness, high yield, and fast growth, usually at the expense of the animals’ health, and certainly at the expense of deliciousness—are raised and slaughtered at the rate of more than 100 million per year, according to a piece on heritage meats I edited for Plenty magazine last year (November/December 2005). The Bitter Greens Journal also makes a great case that industrial hog farming has ruined North Carolina barbecue.

High yield, fast growth … sound familiar? Casella wants to select for the same qualities, to create a pig that he can whisk from farm to table posthaste—potentially reducing the numbers of an ultrarare breed in the process. All of this is at least a little disconcerting; even more disturbing is this description of the Duroc from the Iowa Purebred Swine Council (which Grub Street links to but does not discuss specifically):

The red breed of hogs known as Duroc is a major contributor to almost every successful hog operation. This breed has long been known for its ability to grow faster on less feed. The Duroc’s ability to display a rapid growth rate, coinciding with efficient conversion of pound of feed to pounds of red meat, is unequaled by any other breed. Through the use of purebred Duroc boars in commercial operations, the producer can maximize the heterosis that is generated by crossbreeding pure genetic lines. Duroc’s skeletal structure, which stands up in all kinds of environments, combined with natural leanness, produce a fast growing, efficient product that is acceptable to the packer and the consumer.

The whole idea of heirloom breeding is to protect these animals from extinction and to create meat that’s much more than just “acceptable” and an “efficient product.” As is happening with organic farming, it seems like industrial principles are creeping into heritage agriculture, too.

Palate Tease

Amuse-bouches from top chefs

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The little freebie brought to you before the start of a meal at a great restaurant, the amuse-bouche is a vehicle for pro cooks to get creative. Our slideshow documents recent amuses from some of our favorite restaurants in New York City and San Francisco. Find out what inspired some of them by listening to our podcast.

Have you got favorite amuse-bouche snapshots of your own? Send them to userphotos@chow.com, and we’ll add them to the mix.