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

Make Your Own Soda Pop

How to brew homemade ginger beer and root beer. READ MORE

Your Sassafras Has Been Neutered

Your Sassafras Has Been Neutered

Sassafras contains safrole, a believed carcinogen -- so it's unlikely that you'll find any in your root beer. READ MORE

They’re Just Like Us!

Can you get any room service you desire? Well, if you’re Jay-Z and you want red M&Ms (and only red M&Ms), the answer is an emphatic “yes!”

Every month, the UK’s Observer brilliantly queries hotels and restaurants about celebrity requests like this one, and depending upon the responses, you can get a sense of how far the hospitality industry will bend over backwards to meet their needs (and how well certain stars rate).

One chef offered to fly in crab for Elle Macpherson when questioned about cooking something off the menu for the model, and when three restaurants were asked if Russell Crowe could dine gratis, two of the eateries were willing to cough up a free meal.

There must be the occasional “Do you know who I AM?” moments as well, however. As the Observer proved back in April with a round of fake phone calls seeking last-minute reservations to hot London eateries, even Madonna wouldn’t be able to score a last-minute reservation at the much-lauded The Fat Duck.

Art of the Shock-tail

Art of the Shock-tail

Bacon-infused vodka martinis, rum and steak sauce -- has it really come to this? READ MORE

In Forbes, Veritas

Forbes has posted a clever online slide show about how to order wine for a business dinner.

They could have skipped the word “business”; it’s a pretty good primer for anyone looking to make the right connection between vino and victual. The trick with one of these features is always calibrating the level of expertise. Too high, and nobody but Robert Parker knows what you’re talking about. Too low, and even casual foodies will post sneering comments. Forbes hit the sweet spot.

From “don’t start too big” to “be direct” (about budget constraints) to the depressingly useful “go for the lowest common denominator,” the slides are a respectable blend of gut wisdom and informed expertise.

Only one real complaint: Forbes slide shows always seem to move at roughly 17 slides per second.

Wrong on So Many Levels

Granted, eating bugs is getting closer and closer to the mainstream every day. But a new promotion at several Six Flags theme parks, including those in Denver and Illinois, is offering line-jumping privileges to anyone who eats a live Madagascar hissing cockroach.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is understandably upset. Nothing against PETA, but maybe the organization might have better luck protesting the exploitation of animals that some people actually like.

Are we empowering our kids with this message (conquer your food aversions and you will go far) or sending a creepy message (do what it takes to get ahead of the other guy)? You decide.

Got Goiter?

Got Goiter?

Americans are eating more fancy salt-- like kosher salt, sea salt, and fleur de sel -- that don't contain iodine, and less table salt, like Morton's, which is typically fortified with iodine. READ MORE

Snack Attack at 20,000 Feet

Would you pay $3 for this? American Airlines, perhaps making lemonade from the lemons of stricter regulations about carry-on luggage, has announced that it’s currently conducting a one-week tryout for a new program to sell snacks and bottled water to passengers. Hooray! Now we don’t have to wait until the plane lands at the airport to satisfy our craving for overpriced junk food —we can buy it right on the flight.

American won’t be phasing out its beverage service or existing food options, just testing the new snacks.

Of course, being able to purchase Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, potato chips, and bottles of water may be a boon to passengers who have had their H2O and carry-on picnic confiscated by security.

If you’re flying American this week, make sure to buy a Twix for me.

How to Make a Pastry Chef Happy

Make a reservation at a swank restaurant but not for dinner—for dessert only. No special occasion, you just want to come in for dessert. Then sit back and let the pastry chef work his magic.

Catherine of Food Musings did just this at San Francisco’s Campton Place recently and was treated to a dessert experience unlike any other—a six-course dessert tasting menu prepared by pastry chef Boris Portnoy, with flawless wine pairings to accompany it (yes, six courses, you read that correctly), and a tableside visit from the chef to top it off.

Pastry chefs are often overshadowed by their savory counterparts. Pastry chef and food blogger Shuna of Eggbeater, in a post last month, quoted a savory chef who once told her, “They’re not coming here for the desserts. If they get good ones, then OK, but really now, don’t think so much about it!” This chef might be surprised to hear that for three years my workplace celebrated every office birthday at Bizou—now Coco500—purely for the unadulterated joy of the chocolate-sauce-laced vacherin (thank goodness it was one of few dishes they kept on the menu when the restaurant revamped and renamed itself last year).

But with New York “dessert bar” ChikaLicious doing a brisk business offering a three-course prix fixe dessert menu with optional wine pairing, the tide may be turning. ChikaLicious made the list of 101 best restaurants, put out by New York Magazine, which notes that “on weekend nights, the line can snake out the door and down the block.”

Perhaps we’re learning to take the advice of pastry passionate food blogger Anita, to put “dessert first.”

El Artesano: Cubano Mastery in Union City, NJ

The Cuban sandwich at El Artesano has it all: Bolo ham, a generous slice of pork shoulder, silky Swiss cheese, and a razor-thin slice of pickle, all tucked into fresh-baked Cuban-style bread that’s “pressed with love so it’s almost all an ethereal, light, crispy crust,” rhapsodizes nobody special. “Puts anything in New York City to shame.”

El Artesano [Hudson County]
4101 Bergenline Ave., at 41st St., Union City, NJ

Board Links
Best Cuban Sandwich in NYC —What makes it authentic?