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

Food Network: The Blog

Is it all glamour, glitz, casual chats with Alton Brown, and free-flowing baskets of brioche backstage at the Food Network? According to the channel’s new blog, not so much. Written by the people who make the magic happen—the cooks, the stylists, the culinary purchasing managers—the new blog instead gives a surprisingly workmanlike view of what goes on behind the camera’s gaze.

Don’t expect anyone to dish the dirt on what Rachael, Emeril, or Bobby is really like to work with. Behind the Scenes is extremely tame, but interesting nonetheless. If you’ve ever wondered where all the leftover food goes, or how many loaf pans it takes to shoot a mushroom loaf dish, or where they go to find the “secret ingredient” on Iron Chef, you can find your answers here.

The best thing about the blog is that it’s written by a group, so you get insight into the different roles involved; the worst thing is that it’s pretty lightweight—the entries are all two to three paragraphs long and never delve deeply into any topic. As with many corporate blogs, it’s post and run: Questions in the comments are never answered, and there is no follow-up.

But no doubt the legions of Food Network fans will be delighted at this new addition. “I watch Food Network like my husband watches the golf channel,” one avid viewer confesses in her comments. Well, better brioche than bogeys, I suppose.

Fly Me to the Moon

The “Food Miles” theory of sustainability just seems to make intuitive sense. The farther your food has to travel to get to your table, the more energy is consumed. According to a UK Guardian article that listed the foods that travel farthest to get to Great Britain:

Lettuce: From Spain, a journey of 958 miles. It takes 127 calories of energy (in the form of aviation fuel) to import one calorie of lettuce across the Atlantic, according the research group Sustain, yet we import lettuce out of season from California or from southern Europe.

Food producers in New Zealand, which sends a third of its produce halfway around the world to the EU, would like to differ. And now they have a study to prove it. Food blog Slashfood today links to news of a New Zealand study that finds that the number of miles a food had traveled was not a reliable indicator of its environmental impact. Reasons to be skeptical: While the study wasn’t actually done by the New Zealand Agricultural and Trade ministries, they are enthusiastically endorsing it. “The concept of food miles is both flawed and too often promoted by those motivated by self-serving objectives rather than genuine environmental concerns,” New Zealand agriculture minister Jim Anderton said. “It is being used in Europe by self-interested parties trying to justify protectionism in another guise.”

Lethal Leaves

An E. coli outbreak traced to prewashed, bagged spinach has caused federal health officials to recommend that consumers stay away from the bagged greens.

The New York Times reports that while the exact source of the outbreak cannot be identified, the deadly bacteria has killed 1 person and infected 49 others in eight states.

Although authorities recommend avoiding bagged spinach, they don’t recommend engaging in any leafy profiling. When asked if consumers should avoid bagged salads entirely, Dr. David Acheson of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the FDA said: “At this point, there is nothing to implicate bagged salad.”

Talking Pizza in Poughkeepsie: Solid Square Pie at Aloy’s

Aloy’s, open since 1929, has had a few years to perfect its pizza sauce. It’s long simmered, rich and intense, with a pleasing hint of caramelized onion–terrific atop thin, crisp square pies with mozzarella, grated Parmesan, or both, says NewYorkDave. Another option: pizza Lina, a grandma-esque pie topped with crushed tomato, chunks of garlic, and a splash of extra virgin olive oil. “Their pie is semi-legendary locally and definitely a cut above the slop that usually passes for pizza across most of Dutchess County,” Dave adds.

Other choices on the menu of Italian-American standards: pastas (including daily-changing house-made ravioli), salads and antipasti, hot hero sandwiches, and chicken and veal entrees in parmigiana, marsala and francese treatments, among others.

Aloy’s Italian Restaurant [Dutchess County]
157 Garden St., between Brookside and Parker Aves., Poughkeepsie, NY

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Aloy’s in Poughkeepsie (Pizza/Italian)

What’s Cooking in the Kitchen

The Kitchen nails traditional dishes, like crisp gai lan in garlic sauce and chow fun with a delicious, eggy sauce. But be sure to check out the chef’s more unusual, creative dishes, like duck and fish with peppercorns, says alfairfax. The roasting spices on the duck’s skin, the melting duck fat, the chewy, salty funkiness of the fish, and the prickly, sour spice of the Sichuan peppercorns meld perfectly. It’s not a traditional dish, but perhaps it should be.

The Kitchen [Peninsula]
formerly Seafood Harbor
279 El Camino Real, Millbrae

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Question about The Kitchen, Millbrae

Three Chinese Favorites (and Why Hounds Love Them)

Congee Village is a perennial hound haunt for satisfying Cantonese chow. Pan (who has eaten a wide swath through the menu) and other devotees offer a few reasons:

- Noodles: chow fun with sliced beef and rich black bean sauce; crispy chow mein with beef and Chinese broccoli, or “Chinese vegetables” on the menu (“the answer to all the mediocre beef with broccoli dishes you’ve had elsewhere.”)

- Congees are a good bet, as you’d expect. Recommended accompaniments include fresh squid with ginger sauce, chicken with black mushroom, sliced fish and lettuce, roast duck and meat ball, sliced beef and fish. Avoid boring, under-flavored “Healthy Vegetarian Porridge.” mnk suggests ordering Chinese greens with garlic, then pouring some of the garlic sauce into the congee.

- Chicken: house special chicken, fried and sauced with an addictively good garlic-scallion mixture, is special indeed. Also great: steamed chicken with black mushroom, a many-splendored but harmonious dish that also contains Chinese sausage, lily buds, ginger, scallions and jujubes.

- Vegetables: simple, flavorful winners include Chinese greens with garlic, sauteed lotus root with special bean paste sauce, assorted vegetables Buddhist style (includes ginkgo nuts and bamboo pith), and eggplant and other vegetables with bean curd.

- Lamb chops are made with onions or black bean sauce, both terrific.

- Rice baked in bamboo: two standout flavors are chicken-black mushroom and two kinds of Chinese sausage.

- Seafood: shrimp with fish sauce, crabs with delicate black bean sauce, sweet/spicy/sour “Thai-style” clams, and sea clams and sweet pea pods with XO sauce. The latter dish is “wonderful–one of the best things I’ve had at Congee Village,” marvels Pan.

A few blocks away in Chinatown, Oriental Garden remains a fine, if sometimes overlooked, spot for dim sum. Shu mai (steamed pork dumplings) and cheung fun (rice noodle rolls), to mention just two, are tops. “Wow–that’s all I can say,” raves wingman, who has been making the rounds of Chinatown’s yum cha contenders. He says the relatively small Oriental Garden beats Golden Bridge and Jing Fong in quality and Golden Unicorn and Dim Sum Go Go in selection. Others praise the user-friendly illustrated menu and accommodating service, not so common at Chinatown’s larger dim sum halls.

Two blocks west, outside the orbit of many Chinatown diners, Chanoodle continues to serve houndworthy Cantonese. “Easy to forget about this place,” notes Chandavkl, but it’s worth remembering for dishes like its flounder and tofu casserole, a chef’s special. Deb Van D is a fan of its crisp-fried soft shell crabs. Past records have singled out salt-baked squid, powerfully flavored with fresh chiles, raw shallots, and fried garlic.

Congee Village [Lower East Side]
100 Allen St., between Broome and Delancey, Manhattan

Oriental Garden Restaurant [Chinatown]
14 Elizabeth St., between Canal and Bayard Sts., Manhattan

Chanoodle [Chinatown]
79 Mulberry St., between Bayard and Canal Sts., Manhattan

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Boston Hound Loved Congee Village
Chanoodle…any good?
Congee Village
Oriental Garden Dim Sum!

Where the Coctele Glass Runneth Over

After months of searching for a kick-ass Mexican seafood cocktail, Ollie reports finding the best campechana outside Mexico yet. At El Rinconcito, $9.50 gets you a cocktail glass brimming with seafood, tomatoes, diced cucumber, onions, and cilantro in a clamato broth.

El Rinconcito Del Mar [East LA-ish]
2908 E. 1st St., Los Angeles

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Craving a Great Seafood Cocktail/Campechana!

A Pint of Clam Chowder

It’s not yet time for local crab, but in the meantime, Spud Point Crab Company has beautiful clam chowder. It’s a white chowder with tons of chunks of sweet, tender clams and irregular pieces of potato. The savory, creamy base has the rich sweetness of roasted garlic and the flavors of black pepper, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and oregano. The garlicky, herbed style reminds Melanie Wong of the Monterey Italian clam chowders she grew up with. A whole pint, with oyster crackers, is $6.75.

Spud Point Crab Company [Sonoma County]
1860 Westshore Rd., Bodega Bay

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Clam Chowder @ Spud Point Crab Co. in Bodega Bay

Not-So-French Dip

The great pitfall of Los Angeles’ great sandwich, the French dip, is that the beef is often bland and flavorless. Yes, even at Philippe’s (where most hounds prefer the lamb or pork). Want better beef? Go for a prime rib dip. Here’s a tip from Pesky Humans: if you happen to be at The Palm, they’ll sometimes have leftover prime rib from last night’s dinner, which will have been transformed into a French dip lunch special. It is the best such sandwich he has ever had. “Simple and awesome, and highly recommended.”

Bandera’s French dip, also with prime rib, is widely favored; Houston’s has a similar sandwich, but the bread is not as good and soft as at Bandera, says Ernie. They’re about $15.

Taylor’s has a prime rib dip sandwich for $13 at lunch, and it’s delicious, says ostudio. It comes with a mixed salad, but you can get their Molly salad instead for a few bucks more. At dinner, the sandwich is $16.

Tam O’Shanter, owned by Lawry’s, does a sandwich bar where they carve the prime rib or brisket right in front of you. Needless to say, the French dip is very good.

Weiler’s Deli has a very tasty beef dip made with brisket, says davinagr.

If you were from Chicago, says RSMBob, “beef dip” would mean an Italian beef sandwich. Best choices in these parts: Chicago’s Best in Irvine, Portillo’s in Buena Park, and Taste Chicago in Burbank. Go for broke and get a combo of beef and sausage.

Eastside Market also does an Italian-style French dip (!!!) that’s pretty damn good, says JAB, and heckonwheels recommends 322 in Sierra Madre for a good Italian beef dip with spectacular mountain views.

And chefnico really likes the beef dip at–another L.A. institution.

Philippe The Original Restaurant [Downtown]
1001 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles

Palm Restaurant [Beaches]
9001 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles

Palm Restaurant [Downtown]
1100 S. Flower St., Los Angeles

Bandera Restaurant [Wealthy Westlands]
11700 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

Bandera Restaurant [OC Beaches]
3201 E. Coast Hwy., Corona Del Mar

Houston’s Restaurant [Century City]
10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles

Houston’s Restaurant [Beaches]
202 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica

Houston’s Restaurant [Beaches]
1550 Rosecrans Ave. # A, Manhattan Beach

Houston’s Restaurant [Pasadena-ish]
320 S. Arroyo Pkwy., Pasadena

Houston’s Restaurant [South OC]
2991 Michelson Dr., Irvine

Taylor’s Steakhouse [Koreatown]
3361 W. 8th St., Los Angeles

Taylor’s Steakhouse [East San Fernando Valley]
901 Foothill Blvd., La Canada

Tam O’Shanter Inn [Atwater Village]
2980 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles

Weiler’s Deli & Catering [West San Fernando Valley]
21161 Victory Blvd., Canoga Park

Chicago’s Best [South OC]
2540 Main St., Irvine

Portillo’s [South OC]
8390 La Palma Ave., Buena Park

Taste Chicago [East San Fernando Valley]
603 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank

Eastside Market and Italian Deli [Chinatown]
1013 Alpine St., Los Angeles

Cafe 322 [San Gabriel Valley]
322 W. Sierra Madre Blvd,, Sierra Madre

Canter’s Fairfax Restaurant [Fairfax Village]
419 N Fairfax Ave., Beverly, Los Angeles

Board Links
Best Beef Dip Style Sandwich in Los Angeles (Long-ish)
Phillipe’s Famous French Dip

Stuffed French Toast

Stuffed french toast is most often filled with cream cheese or mascarpone, but fruit, chocolate, preserves, and any combination of these are also popular. There are two ways to achieve the “stuffed” effect. One is to use a soft, thick-sliced bread, cut a slit in the center, and literally stuff the filling inside. The other is to sandwich the filling between two regular-thickness pieces of bread and cook so the sandwich becomes one “slice” of French toast.

For soft breads to stuff, hounds recommend slicing your own brioche loaves or challah, or buying the thick-cut “Texas Toast” loaves that many supermarkets sell.

To make a creamy filling, add a sweetener of your choice to taste to cream cheese or mascarpone (try honey, maple syrup, or caramel sauce). Stuff your filling inside or sandwich between slices of bread before soaking in your favorite French toast batter and cooking as usual. Or add fresh fruit, or jam or preserves to the cheese in addition, or in place of, sweetener.

For a chocolaty French toast fix, use ganache, chopped chocolate, or Nutella as your filling, with or without the addition of fruit of preserves.

Texas Toast loves this unusual combo: brie-stuffed French toast, served with fried bananas, pecans, and maple syrup.

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French Toast with creamy filling