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

Passing Pecorino but Failing Feta

It’s here at last—a school that any dairy-obsessed geek will be lining up to enroll in. The brand-spanking-new Cheese School of San Francisco is now open and accepting applications for the fall term, says essential Bay Area foodie newsletter Tablehopper.

From the website: “The curriculum is designed to satisfy food lovers of all types, from the merely curious, to the serious cheese enthusiast, to the food service professional. Individuals and groups come to the Cheese School to learn how to select, how to taste, how to serve, how to care for, and how to talk about cheese.”

Are you tempted yet? Dreaming of newly sharpened pencils, fresh notebooks, and a lovely wheel of Brie de Meaux?

Classes begin with the Basic Cheese Primer (first in the Cheese 101 series), an introduction to the fundamentals of cheese making, classifications, and regions. This is followed by Cheese Selection, Service and Storage; and the Art of the Cheese Tray. There are classes that focus on regional cheeses (France and Italy), Holiday Cheeses, Farmstead Cheesemaking, and American Artisan Cheeses. There’s even the Cheese for Kids class, for mini-cheeseheads.

Each class promises samplings of 8–10 cheeses, wine or other drink pairings, and various accompaniments. The Cheese School is an offshoot of the popular Russian Hill shop Cheese Plus, located across the street from the new school. Each class lasts two hours, and most cost $60; a less formal drop-in night is $25.

Don’t bother bringing an apple for the teacher here; a piece of raw-milk Epoisses, however, should get you some extra credit points at least.

Flesh for Fantasy

New York magazine’s lush, gorgeous photo feature “What the Butcher Knows” depicts meatscapes so scenic that they can proudly stand up to National Geographic and say, “Ha! Check me out!”

What the butcher knows, apparently, is how to create visually stunning cuts of meat that dazzle the eyes as much as they (presumably) please the palate. The feature moves from the fine marbling of Wagyu beef to the carnal horror of slaughtered baby lambs, each shot capturing a distinct aspect of red meat. Photographer Hans Gissinger changes up his approach—the lighting, the framing, the depth (or lack) of color—for every shot, which gives the slide show a stirring feeling of forward motion.

Taking vivid photos of food requires a knack for both restraint and luscious indulgence. Gissinger exhibits both, in spades.

Big Bucks, Bad Bucks

It’s been a bad week for Starbucks. The litigious monster of java, which has jumped into lawsuits against everyone from indie coffee roasters to snarky cartoonists in order to protect its market share and its cozy-hip image, is now getting a double shot of its own medicine.

On Friday, Starbucks was hit with a $114 million lawsuit over a free-drink coupon that the company distributed over the Internet and then refused to honor.

Then, the Center for Science in the Public Interest revealed what every ‘Bucks fan who can’t button her Seven jeans knows: If it looks like a milkshake and tastes like a milkshake, it IS a milkshake. Quoting from the watchdog group’s latest newsletter, Marion Burros reveals in The New York Times (requires registration) the oh-mi-gawd news that yes, at 650 calories and 25 grams of fat, a 20-ounce Java Chip Frappuccino will chub you up. Those jumbo ventis aren’t much better: The CSPI notes that guzzling a 490-calorie venti mocha is like sipping a Quarter Pounder through a straw.

Of course, drastic numbers make better news. The real culprit, on top of the supersizing, is the chocolatey goodness in both these drinks. A regular coffee Frap, even supersized, has 350 calories and 4.5 grams of fat—not exactly healthy, but not quite a heart attack in a cup, either.

Corn Dogs of the Gods

Chowhounds like hand-dipped corn dogs. Every Chowhound. Even a vegan hound, upon hearing about made-to-order, freshly fried corn dogs, will begin to hope in their inner hearts that tofu pups are available. Uncle Bill’s Gourmet Corn Dogs fries your choice of a Foster Farms chicken frank or a Farmlands hot link, dipped in thick corn batter, until golden brown and crunchy–and they’ll even fry to your specification, light or dark. Melanie Wong likes the Cajun corn dog–a dipped hot link–especially with a little mustard. It’s fantastic how the hot, red grease from the sausage soaks into the corn crust.

The line is long but it’s completely worth it.

Uncle Bill’s sells at the Windsor farmers’ market, Thursdays, 5-8 p.m. and the Sonoma farmers’ market, Tuesday, 5:30 p.m. till dusk.

Uncle Bill’s Gourmet Corn Dogs [Sonoma County]
P.O. Box 3, El Verano

Windsor Farmers’ Market [Sonoma County]
Windsor Town Green
Bell Rd. and Old Redwood Hwy., Windsor

Sonoma Farmers’ Market [Sonoma County]
Sonoma Plaza
W.Napa St. and Broadway, Sonoma

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Uncle Bill’s Gourmet Corn Dogs

In Brooklyn, Farm-Fresh Produce from Community Roots

It’s no Union Square Greenmarket–in scene, cachet, or high-end selection–but Added Value in Red Hook is something more, devotees say. This small farmers’ market, operating outside the umbrella of the city-sponsored Greenmarkets, brings farm-fresh produce to a neighborhood where it’s scarce, and puts local young people to work selling it and even growing some of it.

But does the produce measure up? Chefs at 360 and Ici, who buy and serve it, must think so. Elaine Snutteplutten, who sampled Added Value’s wares at the nearby Good Fork, reports corn and heirloom tomatoes the equal of those at farm-to-table mecca Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester. Added Value is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays until the week before Thanksgiving.

In East Flatbush, a farm and market called Urban Oasis grows and sells vegetables and herbs popular in the surrounding Caribbean and African American neighborhood, says shindiganna. Alongside corn, eggplant, cucumbers, etc., typical offerings include bitter melon, collards, okra, Malabar spinach, sweet and hot peppers, callaloo (amaranth), and the like. Also available: seasonal fruit (not grown on the site) and houseplants. Urban Oasis, a vocational program at Kingsboro Psychiatric Center, is open 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through November.

East New York Farms, near the end of the 3 line, also sells locally grown callaloo, hyssop, and other Caribbean specialty crops, reports breadnchocolate. Also: Hudson Valley produce, Long Island fish, and spicy fish sandwiches and other prepared foods. It’s open 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays.

Added Value [Red Hook]
Columbia and Halleck Sts., at Red Hook Community Farm, Brooklyn

Urban Oasis [East Flatbush]
681 Clarkson Ave., at Troy Ave., at Kingsboro Psychiatric Center, Brooklyn

East New York Farms [East New York]
New Lots Ave., between Barbey and Jerome Sts., Brooklyn 11207

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A shout-out for the Added Value farm stands in Red Hook

Utopian Dream

You aren’t supposed to give chicken bones to your dog–broken chicken bones are really sharp. However, human hounds with the prudence to carefully eat around the chicken bone shards can enjoy the wonder of the clay pot dishes at Utopia Caf

Chocolate Cupcakes, Done Just Right, at Ciao for Now

Chocolate cupcakes at Ciao for Now in the East Village are something special, intensely chocolaty but not too sweet, says curranthound, who ranks them well ahead of better-known cupcake makers Magnolia and Billy’s.

In other bakery news, Sweet Melissa in Soho has closed. Its original Brooklyn shop remains in business, turning out hound-endorsed chocolate mousse cake, double chocolate-cherry cookies and other treats.

Ciao for Now [East Village]
504 E. 12th St., between Aves. A and B, Manhattan

Magnolia Bakery [Greenwich Village]
401 Bleecker St., at W. 11th St., Manhattan

Billy’s Bakery [Chelsea]
184 9th Ave., between W. 21st and 22nd Sts., Manhattan

Sweet Melissa Patisserie [Soho]
75 W. Houston St., at W. Broadway, Manhattan

Sweet Melissa Patisserie [Carroll Gardens]
276 Court St., between Butler and Douglass, Brooklyn

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Best Cupcakes???
Does anyone know when

New Bakery Pastry Crawl

Dana B’s pastry crawl through eight of the city’s new (less than a year old) bakeries yielded a few top picks:

1. City Bakery’s caramelized French toast. Hot, cold, whatever–and this baby needs no maple syrup. This is also the place for an oatmeal cookie fix. And check out their nicely flaky, salty pretzel croissant.

2. Breadbar’s apricot tart with custard, and chocolate-almond croissants

3. Maison du Pain’s pain aux raisins.

Other good stuff: cinnamon roll at Jamaica’s Cakes butterscotch pudding at Susiecakes.

But steer clear of napoleons at Maison du Pain (did someone forget to add sugar?), whoopee pies at Susiecakes (there are tastier ways to pursue adult-onset diabetes) and scones pretty much everywhere.

City Bakery [Beaches]
Brentwood Country Mart
225 26th St., San Vicente, Santa Monica

Breadbar [West Hollywood]
8718 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles

La Maison du Pain [Midtown]
5373 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

Jamaica’s Cakes [West LA]
11511 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

SusieCakes [Wealthy Westlands]
11708 San Vicente, at Barrington, Los Angeles
310-442-2253 (CAKE)

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The great pastry trek is over… (Long)

An Evolutionary Leap in SFV Banh Mi

Sandwich Express is a big step up from the existing banh mi places in the Valley, says yclops. Unlike the rest, they bake their own baguettes. There’s a choice of 15 sandwich fillings.

The special combo (dac biet) has a very loose, light pate, with good flavor, along with assorted cold cuts–lots of meat and bits. Grilled pork tastes of five-spice and is a bit fatty without being gristly. Grilled BBQ pork is less sweet than some versions–more like Vietnamese carnitas. Shredded chicken is reasonably moist.

Banh mi are $2-2.75; baguettes are 75 cents to $1.

Sandwich Express [West San Fernando Valley]
18575 Sherman Way, Reseda

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Sandwich Express–“new style” banh mi shop in Reseda

Unorthodox Route to Perfectly Cooked Steak

Going against the conventional high-heat-is-better school of steak cooking, A Fish Called Wanda experimented with searing, resting, and finishing in a very low oven–and the results were fantastic. “I have finally made a perfect steak,” she exults. “Perfectly medium-rare from the surface to the center.” Wanda used hanger steak, but other flavorful cuts would work as well with this technique, she’s sure.

Here’s how: Preheat oven to 250F. Sear steak quickly in a very hot oven-proof skillet. Remove steak to plate and allow both steak and pan to cool for 10 minutes. Return steak to pan and finish in oven for approximately 10 minutes per inch of thickness (for medium rare).

Here’s a photo of Wanda’s perfect steak.

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Perfect steak —finally!