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

Seasonal Ice Creams

rworange has been conducting first-hand research into the various pumpkin and seasonal-flavored ice creams around the area. (She even took down a Jack-in-the-Box pumpkin milkshake, in the name of science.) She has a winner, and it’s Fairfax Scoop. The lavors are true and intense, the texture is perfect, the prices are fair, and they make their own waffle cones. Green Gulch pumpkin ice cream has the most true, pure, fresh pumpkin flavor, with unbelievably perfect spicing. Try it with a scoop of Brown Sugar Pecan, which tastes exactly as it sounds.

Honorable mention goes to Three Twins Ice Cream, which serves Japanese pumpkin pie ice cream, nicely spiced with pieces of Japanese pumpkin. It’s dense, not too sweet, full of flavor. They also serve butternut squash ice cream, which has no discernable spice and basically tastes like butternut squash. Kugel ice cream and cranberry ice cream are also available.

Sketch Ice Cream gets another honorable mention for its tart, smooth, spiced apple sorbet, and for pear ice cream with great texture and delicate pear flavor. No word on their pumpkin ice cream yet–it comes out around Halloween.

Fairfax Scoop [Marin County]
63 Broadway Blvd., Fairfax

Three Twins Ice Cream [Marin County]
641 Del Ganado Road., San Rafael, CA

Sketch [East Bay]
1809A Fourth St.Berkeley

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Fairfax Scoop – Green Gulch pure pumpkin pleasure
Berkeley–Sketch–super apple spice sorbet & fig cakes
San Rafael–Three Twins Ice Cream – Japanese pumpkin pie, butternut squash, kugel & possibly cranberry

Creamy Riches in a Bowl of Tomato Soup

Tomato soup at Sarabeth’s may not be the stuff of legend, as the menu would have it, but it does not disappoint. theannerska reports amazingly creamy, tomatoey soup, perfect with house-made biscuits or seven-grain bread. Butternut squash soup, which is in the rotation, is another winner.

Sarabeth’s [Upper West Side]
423 Amsterdam Ave., between W. 80th and 81st Sts., Manhattan

Sarabeth’s [Upper East Side]
1295 Madison Ave., between E. 92nd and 93rd Sts., Manhattan

Sarabeth’s Bakery [Chelsea]
75 9th Ave., at W. 15th St., in Chelsea Market, Manhattan

Sarabeth’s [Midtown]
40 Central Park S., between 6th and 5th Aves., Manhattan

Sarabeth’s at the Whitney [Upper East Side]
945 Madison Ave., at E. 75th St., Manhattan

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chow ivo Amsterdam and W. 79th?

Great Thai, and Chocolate Cake, Too

It’s easy to miss Naraya, a tranquil little Thai restaurant, but that would be a shame, says polishprincess, who gets buzzed on their full, clean flavors and great sauces. The appetizers are good bets, including golden pouches with rock shrimp, duck tacos, Asian tamales and soft-shell crab. Vietnamese shrimp handrolls are stylishly presented in shot glasses. For mains, try fried catfish or tamarind salmon (also fried). They’ve got real desserts, too, like warm flourless chocolate cake.

Naraya Thai Restaurant [Midtown]
1128 S. Robertson Blvd., Pico, Los Angeles

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New Thai Westside

A Kid’s Dream Bake Shop

Those of you who never want to read another word about cupcakes, stop reading now. Violet’s, raves luv2grub, is seriously the best. They’ve got eclectic flavors that push those nostalgia buttons, like Almond Joy (chocolate with coconut filling) and French toast (cinnamon cake with maple syrup frosting). Moist, with a delicate crumb and great flavor… they’ll definitely satisfy a sweet tooth. Especially since frosting is rather on the sweet side, as it usually is. Cupcakes, $2.25.

Violet’s Cakes [Pasadena-ish]
21 E. Holly Street, Pasadena

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Violet’s in Pasadena has the best cupcakes I’ve had in LA

Budget-Minded Cioppino

It’s not necessary to shell out a lot of cash for expensive seafood when making cioppino. Though most restaurants include Dungeness crab, even that’s not a must, say chowhounds. What you do need are a flavorful fish stock and shellfish like clams and/or mussels, in addition to shrimp and white fish. Asian markets are a good source for inexpensive shellfish, as well as fish heads and trimmings for making stock. Good-quality frozen fish and shrimp are fine for a cost-conscious cioppiono; Trader Joe’s is a good source.

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Cioppino on a budget… will frozen fish do?

Preventing Produce from Oxidizing

Some fruits and vegetables oxidize (turn brown) when their cut surfaces are exposed to air. You can use lemon or lime juice on cut fruit or with certain vegetables, but what if you don’t want those flavors? Here are some alternate techniques:

Instead of putting trimmed artichokes into a bowl of water acidulated with lemon juice, add cut parsley stems to the water, recommends diropstim; they’ll accomplish the same thing as lemon juice while imparting almost zero flavor.

The best solution for keeping avocados or guacamole from turning brown is to eat them up, but if you must store them, press plastic wrap tightly against the surface of the avocado or guac, creating a barrier against air.

To keep cut potatoes from turning brown until you cook them, drop them in a bowl of cold water, making sure they are completely submerged. iLoveFood has even kept potatoes overnight in the fridge this way (covered) to fry up for breakfast the next morning. Make sure to drain and dry the potatoes thoroughly before cooking, however briefly you keep them in water.

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Preventing Brown Oxidation —More than Lemons???

Serious Fruitcake

You basically have two options for incredibly rich, dark, moist fruitcakes that smell of rum and taste like sugarplum fairies. One, you can make them yourself. Two, you can buy them.

Sheila Ferguson’s “downright lethal” recipe in “Soul Food” requires you to age the fruitcakes for about ten months, occasionally applying brandy, rum, or wine. But for those of you who didn’t start in March and have to buy fruitcakes, a good source is essential. rtmonty likes the fruitcakes from Collin Street Bakery, in Corsicana, Texas–and they ship anywhere in the world. Another option (also located in Texas) is Mary of Puddin Hill.

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Cabeza Tacos

Cabeza, meat from the head of a cow, is one of the most flavorful, delicious, peak-food-experience-producing taco meats in existence. It is NOT the same as brains–those are sesos. So stop worrying.

Cabeza is prepared in many different ways, says Dommy, depending on the region and the establishment. It may be braised until tender, or it may be steamed (al vapor). Carnicerias will commonly cook the whole head, so that the meat gets a little crisp. Taco trucks are more likely to cook just the cheek portion–a whole beef head being a pretty big thing to deal with. Generally it’s not seasoned with anything but salt–this meat is so intensely flavored that there’s no need to spice it all up. Try it in a nice chewy sope next time you have the chance.

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Cabeza at a tacqueria questions

Why Do My Teeth Get Stained when I Drink Red Wine?

Why Do My Teeth Get Stained when I Drink Red Wine?

Blame it on weak enamel. READ MORE

Cheerfully Chowhounding Chattanooga

Wait a minute, it’s stopped hailing.
Guys are swimming, guys are sailing
Playing baseball, gee that’s better
Muddah, faddah kindly disregard this letter
     — Alan Sherman

Chattanooga, Tennessee

For logistical reasons, I wound up, against all desires and impulses, staying in Chattanooga another day. I visited the famous Tennessee Aquarium, where I was charmed by show-offish otters and fluorescent jellyfish. I walked at night over the Tennessee River on one of the world’s longest pedestrian footbridges:

... with a gorgeous down-river view:

(I’m still getting the hang of night photography with this camera—you may have noticed the food shots are getting better, though—so please bear with me.)

And I hit the Bluff View Art District, a short, drop-dead-beautiful walk from downtown over a luminescent bridge made of glass:

Bluff View was the perfect antidote to yesterday’s anxiety attack. I wasn’t able to actually eat much of anything there, having emerged groaning from dinner at a place called Bea’s (more on that in a minute). But I had a long walk round the area and loved it. Relaxed, friendly, with civilized shops and cafés and several eateries that looked like they really care about food. Neither quaint nor self-conscious, the area is just deeply pleasant.

I enjoyed a sublime iced latte at Rembrandt (204 East High Street, Chattanooga, Tennessee; 423-265-5033), along with a very delicious Russian tea cookie (the other pastries didn’t look that good; I think I nailed the best item). I ate outdoors in the sweet air, with customers of all ages clustered in ardent and interesting-seeming conversations. This is, clearly, the refugee camp for those displaced by the slick nightmare of downtown.

I perched on several of the myriad ledges and benches, breathed deeply, and felt glad to be there. Hey, I like Chattanooga!

But back to the meal that left me groaning.

Bea’s Restaurant (4500 Dodds Avenue, Chattanooga, Tennessee; 423-867-3618) is a lazy-Susan joint—a place where food’s served family style at large tables with rotating lazy Susans so that no one needs to pass anything, and everyone can concentrate on eating. And eating. This was the original all-you-can-eat concept (empty dishes are quickly replenished), and diners come en masse to really shovel it in. The amusing thing about lazy-Susan places is that, while they’re truly all about raw primal urges, most try to cover that up with a studiedly genteel atmosphere, like a cheap hooker modestly adjusting her hem.

Bea’s is a bit faded and not so genteel. And the food’s not vibrant anymore, either. If you eat quickly (as you surely will, given the trenchermanish atmosphere), you’ll miss the subtext. This sort of cooking is not for oohing and aahing—it’s nowhere near that ambitious. But simple food can convey a message, and while the message carried by this specific kitchen may be “We’re tired and our feet ache,” there are also echoes of bygone times. Most boring food these days is ploddingly uniform—trucked in by big white Sysco trucks. Bea’s is completely off that circuit. It’s not 2005 blandness, it’s 1955 blandness. And that, for me, is exciting and transportive. As an American, I feel like I’ve come home—in exactly the way I was hoping to come home weeks ago at the Delaware County Fair. I ate joyfully.

Have a look at LazySusanCam (now, only slightly out of focus!): Movie file

The revolving items are, in order:

Pulled pork BBQ (not smoked, but good sauce)

Fried chicken (reminiscent of Banquet TV dinners, yet there is subtlety there)

Cole slaw (really good low-affectation class slaw)

Cobbler (sweet)

Pinto beans (OK)

Potatoes (very ingratiating)

Rolls (dull) and corn muffins (great)

Mac and cheese (unique, fine, slightly eerie in an indescribable way)

Fried catfish (correct, authentic, unexceptional)

... and that’s sweet (a.k.a. “iced”) tea sloshing around in the background.

Listen to the story of my white-knuckle ride to the restaurant, and the extreme deceleration required immediately thereafter. MP3