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

Strip show

Cook’s Illustrated is out with its late summer (i.e. “September and October”) issue and recipes for “flavor-packed fresh tomato sauces.” I thought I’d take a whack at the rosemary-and-bacon version (rejecting the salami, pepperoncini, and mozzarella/fennel and orange variations).

The test kitchen blithely advises peeling, seeding and chopping tomatoes before starting on the sauce. The only problem: I’ve never peeled a tomato. An Internet consultation quickly revealed these instructions. Tomatoes, the page advises, are traditionally skinned by quick immersion in boiling water. But “even better is a quick scorching of the skins over a gas flame, the tomato stuck on the tines of a fork.”

Who doesn’t relish the chance to hold food over an open flame?

Twenty minutes and much open flaming later, I was still working on the last few tomatoes. The skin, even-post toasting, peeled off in a zillion annoying little strips. Out of frustration, I double flame-treated the remaining few tomatoes, and, to my surprise and relief, found that the double application did a lot of good. Big flaps of skin peeled off easily.

My initial goal of “have dinner on the table by the time the fiance returns from work” was grudgingly revised to “have tomatoes peeled and chopped by the time the fiance returns from work, or, say, 5-10 minutes after that.” It was a goal met only with some difficulty and good deal of inspired cursing.

The Cook’s Illustrated recipe, incidentally, is terrific. The marriage of zesty, acidic fresh tomatoes, the comforting warmth of bacon and the piquant, buttery flavor of fresh parmesan mixed in with spaghetti was absolutely heavenly.

Mario eats out

I’m not here to pass judgment, just to pass on information: The food world is buzzing over whether or not chef Mario Batali is late-night snacking with (or on) crazy Courtney Love., one of my favorite blogging bitches, commented with great disgust, “Also, thank God the guy doesn’t do the actual cooking at any of his restaurants anymore; we don’t think we could ever eat anything he’s touched again.”

After mentioning that calls to reps for both parties were unsuccessful in unearthing much concrete comment, New York Daily News’ Gatecrasher suggested in their news-breaking tidbit, “Maybe they go picking mushrooms together?”

If I try to top that, this blog will become X-rated, so I’ll just stop right here.

Now that’s motivation!

The foodie motivational posters created by eGullet idlers are making me rethink my hatred of those horrible wall-hangings that proclaim “Embrace the Dream!” or “Live every day as if it were your last!”

Typically, these things motivate me mainly to want to punch people in the throat. But hey, you throw a photo of a sultry pan au chocolat in my face, emblazoned with the words Croissants: Because bread needs a naughty neighbor, and now I’m feeling inspired! Should you feel like crafting your own masterpieces, hit this handy Web time-suck.

I Want My BudTV

According to a report in Advertising Age, Anheuser-Busch will be launching its very own in-house film and production company. No, I haven’t been drinking, because as “huh?” as the connection might seem, this is not the first time a beverage company has whet their whistles on the big or small screen.

[Anheuser-Busch] is following closely in the footsteps of other megamarketers. Last winter, PepsiCo produced the snowboarding documentary First Descent through its Mountain Dew Films unit. And Starbucks Corp., which last year partnered with Lions Gate Films to market Akeelah and the Bee, intends to co-produce more features with Hollywood studios.

Not content to stick with showing us burp shots of drunk frogs or grabbing product placement in movies like Wedding Crashers, Anheuser-Busch “appears to be gearing up to produce a steady stream of original content.” Mike Fox, a California distributor with the company opines, ”’They’ve made it clear that they think the future is online, and I think we’re going to see a lot of short films and sitcom-type stuff.’”

So, this means either the critics are going to be buzzing about Desperate Swedish Bikiniwives or Everybody Loves Budweiser is going to win more Emmys than strictly necessary. Frankly, I think Buddlestar Galactica could be a major sleeper hit, but only if they agree to use green beer.

Meat and its makers

As if omnivores didn’t already have enough reasons to be picky about their protein sources, recent reports indicate that conventional meat companies routinely inject their products with salt, sugar, water, and other schmutz to “enhance” taste, since livestock today are bred for leanness at the expense of deliciousness. Consumers pay extra for these “enhancers,” which add weight to every hunk of chuck purchased (and may be worth their salt — the enhanced products have up to four times more sodium than the meat would otherwise contain).

It’s enough to make you want to stock your fridge with grass-fed meat and never leave the house. Livestock raised on pasture generally have a meatier natural flavor — no salt injections needed —than their corn-fed kin, even though grass-fed beasts are leaner. Granted, after watching some dear, dutiful friends choke down the grass-fed beef brisket I made in my new meat smoker a few weeks ago, I resolved to stop preaching the health and environmental benefits of pasture-raised protein until I could actually cook the stuff. But come on, what meat-eater can resist the idea of beef terroir?!

Purveyors of pastured meats swear that the subtle flavors of different grasses and the composition of the soil are reflected in the taste of the meat. Some taste-tests suggest that the differences are quite noticeable. What’s your experience?

Did he leave a trail of foam behind him?

Sources at eGullet say the brainy creations whipped by under-30, post-postmodern chef Paul Liebrandt are no longer on the menu at Gilt, the breathlessly expensive (and might we say, just a wee bit ill-timed) restaurant cooling down in the old Le Cirque 2000 space at the New York Palace Hotel. Even with the expanding popularity of molecular gastronomy and Ferran Adria-inspired, crazy-genius food that’s foamed, freeze-dried, or turned into a spray like a parmesan Binaca blast, it seems deeply cerebral, multi-part dishes like Liebrandt’s still play better downtown—or on the side of a mountain in Spain. After all, no one ever said “I just don’t get it” about a perfect steak. A less-than-enthusiastic review from The New York Times back in February couldn’t have helped either.

No doubt a bit dizzy after hiring and firing Liebrandt within a space of nine months, Gilt claims to be grooming Christopher Lee, late of Philadelphia’s Striped Bass, as new exec chef. But the deathwatch vultures at restaurant real-estate site Eater are standing by.

Girl vs. lobster tail

It’s Battle Crustacean at Food Musings, where Catherine gamely takes on the task of preparing lobster tail as a late Saturday supper for herself and Mr. Food Musings. The saga unfolds in seventeen acts, which include tears, bloodshed (yes, bloodshed!) and bitter recriminations. It’s a hilarious culinary saga for the record books, though yes, in the end, the lobster does win.

But watch out-hell hath no fury like a woman bested by a lobster tail.

Eye-Opening Taquitos, and the Best Taco Salad Ever

El Jarro is spectacular, reports anli. It’s all about freshness. Chicken taquitos are eye opening, with excellent corn tortillas and well-seasoned filling. They’re accompanied by good, freshly made guacamole. El Jarro’s taco salad is the best version she’s had. It, too, is superbly fresh, with a shell that tastes like it was fried seconds ago, and perfectly proportioned lettuce, tomatoes, beef, and cheese. SamuelA.L. says whenever he’s in Lafayette, he has to go to El Jarro. His favorite: their sole Oaxacan specialty, Oaxacan-style tortas. They’re filling, cheap, and very tasty. His favorite: the Cancun torta.

El Jarro Mexican Cafe [East Bay]
3563 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette

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El Jarro, Lafayette

Hot Soy Milk and Fresh Chinese Doughnuts, South Bay

A case might be made that all truly great breakfast foods involve dipping. There’s dipping doughnuts in coffee. There’s dipping churros in champurrado. There’s dipping biscuits in egg yolk. And, in China and its various annexes around the world, there’s dipping fresh you tiao (Chinese doughnuts) into hot soy milk. Where to find this sensational treat in the South Bay?

tiny taster recommends China Stix for good soy milk and you tiao. The rest of their dim sum menu is pretty good, too. A&J also serves soy milk and you tiao as part of their dim sum menu. However, both only do breakfast on weekends.

mikeop34 likes A&J, but for the largest selection of simple, hearty Chinese breakfasts foods, he suggests heading over to Chef Woo, which makes especially good dan bing (egg pancake). Also great sesame bun with beef, good fried buns, and one of the best beef noodle soups in the area, says atangca. Agrees Porthos, they’ve got the best Taiwanese breakfast foods in the South Bay. Again, breakfast weekends only.

Another excellent choice is Marina Supermarket, a Chinese grocery. They’ve got fan twan, soy milk with you tiao, and very delicious green scallion breads, all thick and tasty. Yet again, breakfast is weekends only.

L’Epi Dor Bakery offers you tiao and siao bing every day, though maybe not as great as Marina Supermarket. It’s good for a quick fix, says KK. You might want to call ahead and find out when they make the stuff, so you can get it fresh off the fryer.

wchane’s standard choices for Chinese breakfast are A&J Restaurant and 3.6.9., both in the same mall.

China Stix Restaurant [South Bay]
2110 El Camino Real, Santa Clara

A & J Restaurant [South Bay]
1698 Hostetter Rd. # D, San Jose

A & J Restaurant [South Bay]
10893 N. Wolfe Rd., Cupertino

Chef Woo Chinese Restaurant [South Bay]
6154 Bollinger Rd., San Jose

Marina Supermarket [South Bay]
Stevens Creek and De Anza Blvd.,Cupertino

L Epi D Or Bakery [South Bay]
19675 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino

3.6.9. [South Bay]
a.k.a. Do Re Mi Cafe
1698 Hostetter Rd., San Jose

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Hot Soy Milk & Chinese Fried Doughnut Breakfast in South Bay?

Noodling Around SGV

Jerome recounts some of his fantastic recent Chinese-restaurant pasta adventures:

Ma Lan: Part of the fun here is watching the guy make the noodles. Standard Ma Lan soup noodles, double thick, and single-thickness cold noodles with sesame sauce are great. The soup broth is a bit on the mild side, though.

Eight Cafe/Guilin Mifen: This place specializes in Guilin-style rice flour noodles, which are a bit thicker than rice vermicelli and have more of a wheat texture. Spicy and sour beef Guilin rice noodles are really good, earthy and pungent with what seems like licorice root. Chicken guilin soup rice noodles isn’t nearly as interesting. There’s a fairly unusual condiment on the tables: Guilin chile sauce. It’s in a small pot next to the “regular” chile paste. It’s a little gamy, with a hit of medicinal-herb aroma, but it’s just the thing to punch up something like their preserved cow tendon (this may sound disturbing but is actually just like regular five-spiced beef).

Heavy Noodling: This is the place for knife-cut dao xiao noodles, pared off a cone of dough directly into boiling water. The taste and texture is a lot like pappardelle–great for Italian food lovers. The other thing to get is cat’s ears (mao erduo), which also have an Italian equivalent: orecchiette, or little ears. These come with a topping of scrambled eggs, onions and mushrooms. Small and round, they’re tough to pick up no matter what kind of utensils you’re wielding.

Malan Noodles [Inland of LA]
2020 S. Hacienda Blvd., at Haliburton Rd., Hacienda Heights

Guilin Mifen [San Gabriel Valley]
a.k.a Eight Cafe or A Cafe
110 E. Garvey Ave., at Garfield, Monterey Park

Heavy Noodling [San Gabriel Valley]
153 E. Garvey Ave., at Garfield, Monterey Park
Amazon Locater

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OK–noodles tonight.