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

The Existential Mystery of the $56 Sandwich

The new Zingerman’s food mail-order catalog has arrived from Ann Arbor, bringing with it scads of gourmet brownies, aged balsamics and Jewish specialty breads. Far-flung deli lovers, rejoice!

Quality and cost, of course, often go hand-in-hand in the world of eating, and Zingerman’s is no exception. The Zingerman’s Rockin’ Reuben, Corned Beef or Pastrami Sandwich Kit Tote for 2 people goes for $75. Once you factor in the required overnight shipping, you’ve easily vaulted the $100 mark, meaning that each sandwich (plus the included brownies and pickles) clocks in at an ass-kicking $56.

Instead of dropping $112 for two sandwiches, of course, you could go to the Heifer International website and send an entire sheep to a needy family in Africa. Or you could buy a week’s worth of groceries for a family of three. Or you could get this cool LEGO Imperial Star Destroyer.

In other words, the tote bag prompts a question: Is it ever immoral to spend piles of money on luxury food? Where do we draw the line, if anywhere? $12 custard tarts? $56 sandwiches? $500 meals? Is it just whatever the wallet can bear, or is it possible to enter some hazy world of moral uncertainty when we spend like maniacs to eat the things we love?

Of course, if it’s a sin to pay a lot of money for good corned beef, I’ve booked my own ticket to hell several times over. It was worth it.

Monty Burns Is Studying this Carefully

As reported by the Associated Press September 1, a California man lived to 112 on a junk food diet. George Johnson died August 30, of pneumonia.

Reportedly, the “supercentarian,” who was 5’7” and a lean 140 pounds, gorged heedlessly on high-fat grub. According to Dr. L. Stephen Coles, founder of the Gerontology Research Group at the University of California, Los Angeles:

“He had terrible bad habits. He had a diet largely of sausages and waffles. A lot of people think or imagine that your good habits and bad habits contribute to your longevity. But we often find it is in the genes rather than lifestyle.”

Coles, who helped with Johnson’s autopsy, spoke enthusiastically of his “clean as a whistle” organs, which more closely resembled those of a spry 50- or 60-year-old than a man born in the nineteenth century.

My first and only thought upon reading this: you lucky bastard. Why am I bothering with tempeh and broccoli? All I can do is swim futilely against my traitorous crappy genes in a race to hold back diabetes, cancer and heart disease, while guys like Johnson wallow in pork fat.

Of course, there is plenty of data to show that bad habits generally catch up with you. Ol’ Mr. Johnson just slipped through the cracks. But researchers in the field of longevity admit that they still can’t figure out what makes one person live longer than another.

Omakase Ice Cream Layer Cake From Beyond Pluto

You can get customized ice cream cakes at Sketch Ice, but put yourself in the chef’s hands and you may get something like the meringue-frosted olallieberry temple of beauty Morton the Mousse is raving over. This “chef’s choice” cake features seasonal olallieberry ice cream, vanilla ice cream, and Straus yogurt ice cream, layered with vanilla cake. The meringue frosting is hard to believe–not the tasteless, soggy horror you may associate with, for example, Marie Calendar’s. The texture and taste are reminiscent of a barely-toasted marshmallow, but less sticky and less sweet, frozen perfectly firm. This may be the best cake Morton has ever eaten. He even learned how to post pictures on Chowhound because he feels that mere words don’t do it justice. It costs $45 and probably should feed nine…but in real life, it dangerously overfeeds six. All ice cream cakes are made to order and must be ordered two days in advance (they come in two larger sizes, too).

Sketch Ice Cream [East Bay]
1809A Fourth St., Berkeley
510-665-5650
Locater

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Sketch Ice Cream Cake! (with pics)

Pollo Adobado

Taqueria San Jose in the Mission District has outstanding tacos pollo adobado. Finely chopped, pungently-spiced chicken contrasts perfectly with fresh cilantro and onion. The salsa adds a nice kick without being overpowering. Also, vinchar likes the rabbit stew tapa next store at Caf

Heart and Soul at Berzet in the Bronx

Berzet’s is almost like home to its fans, who count on homey soul food and warm, motherly TLC. Mac and cheese, seasoned-to-the-bone baked chicken, and meaty, tender short ribs are dependable favorites, says beke, an erstwhile regular. She dropped in recently with her niece and was greeted with a hearty “Haven’t seen you girls in a LONG time!” from the owner and cook. Breakfast bargain–the “2-2-2,” which is two eggs, two pancakes, and two pieces of sausage and bacon, all for $2.22.

Berzet Luncheonette [Bronx]
1145 Bronx River Ave., between Westchester and Watson Aves., Bronx
718-861-1789
Locater

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cheap, yummy beef short ribs near abc carpet in the Bronx

Taam-Tov Revisited: Kebabs and More in Midtown

Kebabs, dumplings and meat pies are smart orders among the Bukharan specialties at Taam-Tov, an upstairs hideaway in the Diamond District. Peter Cherches reports fabulous samsas (crisp baked meat pies stuffed with spiced chopped lamb) and tender, charcoal-grilled lamb shish kebab and lula kebab, made of well-seasoned chopped meat. Manti (steamed dumplings) boast sweet, oniony meat filling in delicate skins. Fresh-baked lepeshka bread is warm and hearty. For Peter’s party of four, lunch totaled $50 with tip, “and they had to roll us down the stairs.”

But most hounds rank Taam-Tov a step below the competition in Queens, where Cheburechnaya makes superior versions of Central Asian Jewish dishes like plov, the pilaf-like rice dish with stewed meat and vegetables. mishka finds this place solid but adds, “I don’t remember the food back home being this greasy.”

For excellent lagman, the sturdy Uzbek soup with lamb, noodles, and vegetables, the go-to place is Cafe Arzu in Rego Park, mishka advises.

Taam-Tov [Diamond District]
a.k.a. Avi Taam-Tov Corp.
46 W. 47th St., 4th floor, between 5th and 6th Aves., Manhattan
212-768-8001
Locater

Cheburechnaya [Rego Park]
92-09 63rd Dr., between Austin and Wetherole Sts., Rego Park, Queens
718-897-9080
Locater

Cafe Arzu [Rego Park]
101-05 Queens Blvd., at 67th Rd., Rego Park, Queens
718-830-3335
Map

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Taam-Tov in Manhattan’s Diamond District?
Any Uzbek restaurants in NYC?

Pork Kidney Is the New Monkfish Liver at Best Szechuan

Jerome’s recent dinner at Best Szechwan yielded some new favorites–like the “hot and numbing kidney flowers” (mala yao hua), actually called spicy fried kidney on the menu. It’s pork kidney, cut decoratively into little flowers like squid, stir-fried with lots of black wood-ear mushrooms and other vegetables in a thin gravy. The kidney isn’t as gamy as in, say, steak and kidney pie–it’s soft and mild, more like monkfish liver. The wood ear makes a great contrast.

Water-boiled fish slices (shuizhu yu pian), in this case sole, come in chile-oil broth with tons of yellow bean sprouts. It’s great, and very spicy, although it’s not a heat that burns on and on, and it’s balanced by other flavors like herbal and floral, and manages to be both rich and delicate.

Herbal smoked duck (zhang-cha ya) is warm and smoky, wonderfully balancing out the spicier typical Sichuan dishes. It’s smoked with camphor and tea leaf.

Three flavored sizzling rice soup (san-xian guoba tang) is short on soup–the broth is thickened and full of chicken, mushrooms, shrimp, pork, and bamboo shoots, but the house-made sizzling rice squares are smoky, crunchy, and really good.

Spicy wonton soup (chaos hour) isn’t a soup and doesn’t have wontons, but it is spicy. It’s actually Sichuanese boiled dumplings (different from wontons) in a chile-d up broth. No sauce needed.

Also good: braised shrimp (gan shao xia ren), nearly sauceless and mildly spiced.

Half a dozen main dishes and some cold appetizers, and four bottles of beer comes to about $70 with tax, before tip.

Best Szechuan Chili & Seafood [San Gabriel Valley]
230 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park
626-572-4629
Map

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Best Szechwan Chili etc in Monterey Park, new review

Lucques Lunch Update: BLT Is Back, Baby

The BLT, a seasonal item at Lucques, is back on the menu, along with a bunch of other new lunch items. The pork burger is fab, says Tom P. The BLT has been praised by Jonathan Gold as one of the best of its kind. It’s made with grilled fresh bread, luscious house-made mayonnaise, superior crisp bacon, a ton of avocado, heirloom tomatoes and (we think) butter lettuce. It’s $15 and well worth it–the thing is huge and comes with an excellent, garlicky arugula salad.

Lucques [West Hollywood]
8474 Melrose Ave., at La Cienega, Los Angeles
323-655-6277
Locater

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BLT Back at Lucques!

Peanut Butter + Rice Krispies = Gooey Deliciousness

It’s simple to peanut butter-up standard Rice Krispies treats: just add a hefty spoonful of peanut butter to the melting marshmallow and butter mixture–anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3 of a cup–and stir until smooth, then proceed as usual.

coll makes a Rice Krispies and peanut butter truffle sort of thing: blend 1 cup creamy peanut butter, 1 stick softened butter, and 2 cups confectioner’s sugar. Fold in 1 cup Rice Krispies. Form into small balls and freeze. Roll the balls in 12 oz. melted chocolate and allow to set.

Becca Porter shares a family recipe that’s chock-full of peanut butter and much more like candy than Rice Krispies treats. Here’s her recipe:

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups light corn syrup
2 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
6 cups Rice Krispies (or less depending on taste), separated

In a large bowl place 5 cups Rice Krispies, reserving 1 cup. Bring sugar and corn syrup to a full boil over high heat. Count to 50 to 55 seconds. Immediately take pot off heat and stir in peanut butter. When it is fully combined pour over Rice Krispies in bowl. Add remaining Rice Krispies until the consistency is to your taste. Spread evenly in a 13×9” pan. Cool completely before cutting.

To make this treat softer and gooier, decrease the amount of Rice Krispies.

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Peanut Butter Rice Krispy Treats

Favorite Marinades

Chowhounds share their favorite marinades for veggies, meats, chicken, and seafood. Remember not to let fish or chicken sit in any marinade with citrus for long, as it will begin to break down their proteins. The max is fifteen minutes for fish, and thirty minutes for chicken.

Olive oil and fish sauce is foodio’s all time favorite marinade for veggies (especially zucchini and red onions). Sounds odd, but he swears the fish sauce penetrates the veggies as they cook, the fishy taste disappears, and the veggies melt in your mouth.

For lamb, cheryl h recommends red wine, soy, tamarind or vinegar, ground black and white peppercorns, and ground mustard seed.

For beef, Pei likes sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions, and some citrus.

For chicken, try diced onions, chopped rosemary, cracked black pepper, salt, and the juice of a lemon. Or cilantro, chiles, garlic, lime, and salt, pounded in a mortar and pestle.

For salmon: soy, maple syrup, minced fresh ginger, lime juice and zest. For tuna: lime juice, soy sauce, and honey. For shrimp or scallops: minced fresh ginger, lime juice and zest, cayenne pepper or ground fresh chiles.

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What is your favorite marinade?