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

To Seat, or Not to Seat

Food writer Andrea Strong raises two excellent and underconsidered big-think dining questions in her weekly column, “The Strong Buzz.”

First, what is the story with restaurants not seating incomplete parties? Why can’t we just sit down and
order drinks (and maybe have a little pre-dinner nosh), while waiting for that one friend that is always late?

Pure speculation: It may be that the first two or three hundred times that customers claimed their straggling friends would be nipping along smartly, only to have the latecomers arrive a full hour late, it was kind of cute. After that, it became ridiculous to let three people monopolize a table for six while waiting for Sheila and Dan to wrap up their monthly expedition to IKEA.

And what about refusing to transfer checks from the bar to the table? What’s the issue here?

This seems to be considerably more well grounded. We now have tiny, Wi-Fi–enabled animals that can tell you when your email has arrived, how your stocks are doing, and what the weather’s going to be —maintaining a single check for bar and restaurant seems to be well within the grasp of the modern dining

Fine Local Bacon

What is the best bacon to be had in the Bay Area? One favorite is the bacon from Fatted Calf. This thick-cut bacon is striated with gorgeous ribbons of fat, glowing with a fresh, pale inner light. It’s a meaty, assertive bacon–a little goes a long way. This is the ultimate bacon for a BLT, says Carb Lover, cooked just shy of crispy so the flavor isn’t muted. At $10 a pound, it’s actually a deal.

Another strong contender for best bacon is Dittmer’s. Their regular smoked bacon is leaner than Fatted Calf’s, but thick-cut, smoky, and delicious. However, the fat content really depends on the batch, says DrBiggles.

The bacon from Corralitos Market is a good go-to bacon, says Alan408. And the Nueske slab bacon from Baron’s Meats is a good alternative when you can’t get the superior Fatted Calf bacon, says Ruth Lafler.

The Fatted Calf [East Bay]
958 Illinois St., San Francisco

Dittmer’s Gourmet Meats & Wurst-Haus [Peninsula]
400 San Antonio Road, Mountain View

Corralitos Market & Sausage Company [Santa Cruz County]
569 Corralitos Rd., Watsonville

Baron’s Meats [East Bay]
Alameda Marketplace
1650 Park St., Alameda

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How I became addicted to Fatted Calf bacon…

Luscious Brunch

Up semi-early on a Sunday? Here are a few brunch dishes to get you motivated.

For those into fancy-shmancy, Grand Caf

Chocolate Top to Bottom in a Memorable Eclair

Candy maker Jacques Torres bakes a knockout chocolate eclair with an unexpected layer of dark chocolate on the bottom. “It is pure heaven!” swoons brooklynsabra, who declares this one of the best pastries in Brooklyn.

Jacques Torres [DUMBO]
66 Water St., near Dock
Brooklyn, NY

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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

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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

Pastina Restaurant [Wealthy Westlands]
2260 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles

Arnie Morton’s [Downtown]
735 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles

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

Ruth’s Chris Steak House [Beverly Hills]
224 S. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills

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

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

Ruth’s Chris Steak House [South OC]
2961 Michelson Dr. # A, Irvine

Sweet Lady Jane Bakery [Melrose Strip]
8360 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles

Sheerwater [San Diego County]
at Hotel Del Coronado
1500 Orange Ave., Coronado

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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

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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?