The CHOW Blog rss

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

Lavender Ice Cream

The Spring Hills Farm booth at the Saturday Petaluma farmer’s market currently sells organic lavender ice cream, $1.50 for a prepacked 3-ounce cup of the stuff. While many culinary uses of lavender tend toward the overly aggressive or the coarse, the degree of lavender in Spring Hills’ ice cream is just perfect–the subtle flavoring never overwhelms the sweet cream base. The ice cream has a clean finish, so if there are any emulsifiers at all, they are used sparingly.

The ice cream is also available at Spring Hills Farm proper.

Petaluma Farmer’s Market in Walnut Park [Sonoma County]
Petaluma Blvd. at D St., Petaluma 94952
707-762-0344
Map

Spring Hill Jersey Cheese Farm [Sonoma County]
4235 Spring Hill Rd., Petaluma 94952
707-762-3446
Map

Board Links: Spring Hill Organic Lavender Ice Cream

Super Bean Thread Noodle Action!

Tai-pi-en is a Japanese-Chinese regional specialty from the Kumamoto region, where it’s so common that it shows up at cafeteria lunches. It’s a chicken broth soup noodle with clear bean thread noodles (called haru-same). Though it usually comes with a fried boiled egg, the version at Gyoza No Hana in San Jose comes with a fried scrambled egg. Plus an intense abundance of vegetables on top, which makes the soup feel a little healthier than your average ramen. Broth is deeply savory, with a shot of vegetable sweetness. Noodles remain firm throughout the meal. yamada3 says it’s excellent, though perhaps not worth a special trip to San Jose.

Gyoza No Hana [South Bay]
4320 Moorpark Ave., San Jose
408-255-1187
Map

Board Links: Tai-pi-en at Hana in San Jose

American Flatbread

A boxed frozen pizza called American Flatbread is really great, says Allfrog68. It’s simple, but super. Just pop it in a heated oven for 5-7 minutes, and you got your pizza.

Here’s their distributor list.

Board Links: Recommendation–American Flatbread [moved from SF board]

Rum Drinks: Dark, Not So Sweet

Dark rum is usually associated with sweet, fruit-heavy punches and frozen drinks, but here are some drier applications for those who don’t want all the sweetness.

The Dark’n Stormy is ginger beer and Gosling’s Black Seal rum. Gosling’s has trademarked the drink’s name, but you can, naturally, make versions with other dark rums.

maggie likes dark rum with classic margarita fixings: 2 parts rum, 1 part triple sec or Grand Marnier, 1 part fresh lime (simple syrup optional).

She also suggests dark rum in a lime rickey (fresh lime juice, a little simple syrup, and soda water).

jacinthe enjoys dark rum with fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Board Links: What to make with leftover dark rum?

Gruner Veltliner

Melanie Wong is really into the classic stylings of the 2004 Gruner Veltliners. They’re not quite as tropical as Veltliners from warmer years. 2004 shows more mineral and white pepper notes. They’ve been slower to show than usual, but have become much more expressive in the last six months. They’re much better than the low acidity 2003’s. 2005’s have just started to come in, and seem good. too.

Brands: she recommends Saloman Hochterrasen and Hirsch Veltliner #1 for entry-level Veltliners. More upscale: try Brundlmayer and Nigl. warrenr has tried a bunch of the 2005’s, and recommends Jamek, Nikolaihof, and the always-reliable Alzinger. These are, he says, amazing wines. They’ll take several years to open up. For more current drinking and more reasonable prices, he recommends Schloss Gobelsburg and Soellner. More good entry-level choices include Loimer Landwin, a super-fresh, crisp, and brightly fruity Veltliner that comes in liter bottles.

Board Links
Gruner Veltliner

At Szechuan Garden, a Chinese Menu for Everyone

West Hartford’s Szechuan Garden, like a lot of Chinese restaurants, hides its best and most authentic dishes on a Chinese-only menu. But unlike many others, it will patiently walk non-Chinese diners through that menu and direct them toward real regional chow, if they ask.

“Most anything on the Chinese menu is good,” says Stagger, who recommends Sichuan dumplings in red oil, dry wok-cooked chicken with chile, shredded pork with pressed tofu, cold jellyfish salad, spicy beef tendon, cold conch with spicy sauce, and ma la fish, among other things. Standard American Chinese stuff is decent, too, if you prefer.

Szechuan Tokyo sounds like a fusion train wreck waiting to happen, but its menu includes a long list of genuine Sichuan specialties, and sketchy reports suggest it’s the real deal. “Didn’t you always wonder why so many Chinese families are eating in a sushi/American Chinese place?” ponders Chris in Hartford.

China Pan also has its fans–vegetarian dishes are especially strong, says jim. Here, too, you’d best avoid the Americanized menu, warns chefboudreaux–but we’re not sure what the true regional focus is at this popular Farmington restaurant.

Also recommended: Chengdu and Butterfly, at least for their American Chinese fare.

Szechuan Garden [Hartford County]
904 Farmington Ave., between Trout Brook Dr. and Arnold Way, West Hartford, CT
860-231-7677
Map

Szechuan Tokyo Restaurant [Hartford County]
1245 New Britain Ave., between Main St. and Randal Ave., West Hartford, CT
860-561-0180
Map

China Pan [Hartford County]
1600 S. East Rd., Farmington, CT
860-674-1311
Map

Chengdu Cuisine of China [Hartford County]
179 Park Rd., between Oakwood Ave, and Whiting Ln., West Hartford, CT
860-232-6455
Map

Butterfly Restaurant [Hartford County]
831 Farmington Ave., between Lancaster and Westfield Rds., West Hartford, CT
860-236-2816
Map

Board Links: Chinese in W. Hartford CT

Black and White Update: Surprise at a Bagel Shop

There is no better black and white cookie than the one from the Pick a Bagel mini-chain, swears sarabeth721, who has tasted many and loves the ones from the location near Carnegie Hall. “The cookie part is cake-like, just as it should be. The icing is delicious and has just the right consistency.”

Uptown, Nussbaum and Wu does another decent black and white–plus all-black or black-and-tan (mocha) models, “both nice for those of us who find the white icing just too sweet,” says floretbroccoli.

Also recommended: Lafayette Bakery in the Village, perennial favorite Glaser’s on the Upper East Side and, in Brooklyn, Leske’s Danish Bakery in Bay Ridge.

Pick a Bagel [Carnegie Hall]
200 W. 57th St., at 7th Ave., Manhattan, NY
212-957-5151
Map

Nussbaum and Wu [Morningside Heights]
2897 Broadway, at 113th St., Manhattan, NY
212-280-5344
Map

Lafayette Bakery [Greenwich Village]
26 Greenwich Ave., between W. 10th and 11th Sts., Manhattan, NY
212-242-7580
Map

Glaser Bake Shop [Upper East Side]
1670 1st Ave., near 88th St., Manhattan, NY
212-289-2562
Map

Leske’s Danish Bakery [Bay Ridge]
7612 5th Ave., between 76th and 77th Sts., Brooklyn, NY
718-680-2323
Map

Board Links: Bopkas and black and white cookies

Cuban Food: Keeping It Real

Cubans in this town have it tough. There are plenty of places you can speak Spanish, but few with decent arroz y frijoles. The key, says Miami native Oro3030, is to piece it together.

-La Cubana has excellent, authentic ropa vieja–but their moros y cristianos (black beans mixed with white rice) is just passable.

-Havana Mania has good lechon and great mojitos, but also poor beans and rice.

-At Cafe Baracoa, you can get an authetic flan and good arroz y frijoles, but the rest of the food is unimpressive.

-El Cochinito is a big board favorite, with delicious roast pork, chicken, plantains, and beans.

El Colmao also gets a lot of love. Says ZoeZ, the food is marvelous–occasional special of Galician soup is so deeply flavored, they must use nine chickens to a bowl. There’s tongue on Mondays, and a dessert called tocino de cielo (bacon from heaven), something you don’t see every day. Downside: crap neighborhood, including the parking lot in front where the guard promises to take care of your car–for a tip. Leaving the lot, you may have someone tap on your window, trying to make a sale. Despite the (otherwise) positive reviews, though, Oro3030 reports being disappointed there.

Some hounds consider Xiomara to have the best Cuban sandwich in LA, but the prices are off-putting–if you’re used to paying $3, it’s hard to fork over $12. Still, it’s cheaper than air fare to Miami.

Few places are more authentic, or more humble, than La Caridad, says Kris P Pata. The husband-and-wife team are as genuine as the food they cook.

La Cubana Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
720 E. Colorado St., at Everett, Glendale
818-243-4398
Map

Havana Mania [South Bay]
3615 Inglewood Ave., at Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach
310-725-9075
Map

Baracoa Cuban Cafe [Atwater Village]
3175 Glendale Blvd., at Edenhurst, Los Angeles
323-665-9590
Map

El Cochinito Restaurant [Silverlake]
3508 W. Sunset Blvd., at Golden Gate, Los Angeles
323-668-0737
Map

El Colmao [Koreatown]
2328 W. Pico Blvd., at Vermont, Los Angeles
213-386-6131
Map

Xiomara [Pasadena-ish]
69 N. Raymond Ave., at Union, Pasadena
626-796-2520
Map

Xiomara On Melrose [Hollywood]
6101 Melrose Ave., at Seward, Los Angeles
323-461-0601
Map

La Caridad Restaurant [Echo Park]
2137 W. Temple St., at Alvarado, Los Angeles
213-484-0099
Map

Board Links: REAL CUBAN FOOD

Ahoy There! Fish and Chips

The Olde Ship’s fare is “better than most pub food I have had in England,” says ElissaInPlaya. Top-notch fish and chips (especially haddock), beef Wellington, and the usual suspects: bangers and mash, sausage rolls, steak and kidney pie. Oh yeah, the beer’s good too. Brace yourself for a wait at dinnertime, as they don’t take reservations–it’s a pub, after all.

You can get a mean fish-and-chips at Brits, a pub in Pasadena, says Will Owen. Service may be somewhat curt but is vulnerable to buttering-up.

Fish and chips at Whale & Ale have been touted on the board. The batter is fried dark brown and crispy, but the chips are nothing to write home about, says Mattapoisett in LA. The real star here is shepherd’s pie–ground lamb and prime rib with peas and gravy, topped with whipped potatoes and broiled till crisp. Well spiced, it’s nearly perfect (OK, the gravy could’ve been thicker). Finish a meal with Cumberland sticky toffee pudding–nutty, caramely and not too sweet, nicely set off by vanilla ice cream.

Olde Ship [North OC]
709 N. Harbor Blvd., at Brookdale, Fullerton
714-871-7447
Map

Olde Ship [South OC]
1120 W. 17th St., at Westwood, Santa Ana
714-550-6700
Map

Brits Restaurant [Pasadena-ish]
1770 E. Colorado Blvd., at Allen, Pasadena
626-578-1301
Map

Whale & Ale [South Bay]
327 W. 7th St., at Centre, San Pedro
310-832-0363
Map

Board Links: The Olde Ship in Santa Ana —anyone been?
Feeding Mr. Smith (long weekend, long story, pt. 1)
Whale and Ale–San Pedro

Burrata, Emperor of Fresh Cheese

Burrata is the greatest of fresh Italian cheeses, a sort of uber-mozzarella that stands above other fresh cheese. It offers a burst of ultra-rich fresh dairy intensity. The outer rind of a burrata is like the freshest mozzarella you’ve ever had; as you approach the center, it becomes creamier, softer, and more unbelievably luscious. Burrata is to regular fresh mozzarella what a chocolate-falling-down cake is to a brownie.

If you want to eat it at a restaurant, try A16. They’re well known for their burrata preparations, and they get the stuff flown in every day.

But if you want it to take home, freshness is the thing. Try Cowgirl Creamery. Like A16, they get regular shipments of very fresh burrata from LA’s famed Gioia. Another option is A.G. Ferrari. Be sure to ask how fresh their burrata is–their staff says it keeps up to a week, but there’s a definite decline even after the first day. SteveG says burrata goes from extraordinary to sort of gross in five days. Rainbow Grocery frequently has burrata, but it’s often over half a week old.

Cheese Board sometimes gets burrata in a Thursday shipment, so only buy Thursday through Saturday. BiRite and Cheese Plus also carry it.

And, advises Robert Lauriston, don’t cook with burrata. You might as well use regular mozzarella if you’re applying heat.

A16 [Marina]
2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco
415-771-2216
Map

Cowgirl Creamery [Embarcadero]
Ferry Building Marketplace
One Ferry Building, shop #17, San Francisco
415-362-9354
Map

A.G. Ferrari [Citywide]

Rainbow Grocery Cooperative [SOMA]
1745 Folsom St., San Francisco
415-863-0620
Map

Cheese Board [East Bay]
1504 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
510-549-3183
Map

Bi-Rite Market [Mission]
3639 18th St., San Francisco
415-241-9760
Map

Cheese Plus [Polk Gulch]
2001 Polk St., at Pacific, San Francisco
415-921-2001
Map

Board Links: Burrata cheese