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

The Weak in Review: Least Essential Food Writing for Sept. 4-8

It’s two, two, two sucky stories to wind up the week.

In the October issue of Food & Wine, Christopher Russell, general manager at New York’s Union Square Café, reveals his bohemian sense of hospitality: “[A customer] had a bacon-cheddar burger and a bottle of the 1982 Cheval Blanc; a $13 burger and a $1,400 bottle of wine. I thanked him and invited him to come back the next day.” Incredible! A customer spends $1,400 on wine… and he’s invited back! Stay tuned for November’s edition, wherein a customer mishandles the blini while eating an $800 plate of caviar and is not summarily whapped across the face with a vodka bottle.

The email newsletter of aphrodisiac-obsessed food writer Amy Reiley is similarly uninspired this week, with a not-very-detailed essay on why the tomato is this month’s sexy featured ingredient. She writes:

Renamed pomme d’amore, or love apple, by the French in the 16th Century, the tomato is thought by many historians to be the original forbidden fruit.

Google would reply by saying: Name one historian making that case. Islamic historians thought it was the banana, which makes a certain amount of low-comedy sense. Jewish tradition suggests the pomegranate, among other possibilities. Figs, mushrooms, apples, pears, and quinces have also been mentioned as reasonable candidates, but the truth is that no one really has a clue. One thing’s for sure: the tomato, as a New World plant, is fairly far down the ladder of speculation.

A Crush-Worthy Candidate

There’s a new food blogger in town, and he happens to be the most adorable candidate for Agriculture Commissioner of South Carolina this writer has ever seen. Probably also the most adorable candidate for Agriculture Commissioner anywhere.

Emile DeFelice, the aforementioned adorable candidate, raises pigs for a living and lets his animals roam free on a certified organic farm. He helps direct a farm stewardship association and has supercute kids and a wife who makes her own wine. And as a central part of his campaign, he’s drawing attention to the local-food movement: The whole family has been eating nothing but locally-produced food since July 4th and plans to continue through election day. He’s making rather good use of the camera and the blog medium in documenting their eat-local challenge, too; those pork chops in particular look mighty chompable.

Sure, he’s not a perfect candidate. As Fesser at The Gurgling Cod points out (Fesser is the one who introduced me, btw), Emile does have a penchant for silly puns —the whole “put your state on your plate,” “put my pork on your fork” thing could get a little old. And Emile also seems inordinately worried that people will mispronounce his name.

Still, this guy is inspiring—he even has a whip-smart energy policy that recognizes the inherent limitations of corn ethanol and soybean-based biofuels and instead emphasizes solar and wind power!! Head and shoulders above my state’s ag commissioner, who’s actually pretty cool. If any of y’all are contemplating a move to South Carolina before November, I say do it, and vote DeFelice. And if you already live there, well, lucky you (for many reasons). Anyone know of other cool food-forward politicians?

On the Hook

Could Red Hook get any more hyped? With the opening of fancypants grocery store Fairway Market earlier this summer, and a giant IKEA in the works, hardly a week goes by without some trend piece naming it the next Williamsburg/Dumbo/Hell’s Kitchen/East Village. And now, a wine bar!

Already, there’s a lot to eat-and drink-down by the waterfront. Recent spreads in Edible Brooklyn and The New York Times (requires registration) revealed local foodies’ secret: the cheap, excellent Mexican and Central American street food cooked up by local vendors alongside the ballfields on summer weekends. Bourbon lovers make the trek to LeNell’s quirky liquor boutique for its superior small-batch sourmash selection; drag-karaoke enthusiasts go to hipster diner Hope & Anchor; cupcake cravers hit Baked; and steak and kimchee fans head to The Good Fork.

But as if we needed any more evidence that the nabe going from Mickey’s to merlot, the Hook’s got a brand-new wine bar, Tini, run by Monica Byrne (who worked the kitchen of the nearby Liberty Tap Room, back when they served more than just deep-fried mozzarella sticks). The menu sounds like a stripped-down version of Cobble Hill’s new Bocca Lupo: Italian salumi, nifty cheese plates, olives, salads from local asphalt-farm Added Value along other salty, snacky small plates meant to keep you drinking.

Still, for all the ink the ‘hood’s getting, it’s still pretty scruffy (although it certainly wasn’t hit as hard with the aluminum-siding ugly stick as Williamsburg and Greenpoint). And there’s no public transit, besides a couple of bus lines. So sure, go raise a glass at Tini if you’re already living in Brooklyn. But Manhattanites? You people have enough bars. Stay home.

It’s Crumbelievable!

Stephen Colbert has found a metaphor for the state of America’s pop culture in the wonderfully absurd advertising campaign for Kraft Crumbles.

Kraft’s television commercial for the processed cheese bits re-work EMF’s 1991 hit “Unbelievable” into the slogan “crumbelievable.” The cheesy ad–part of a trend in marketing towards targeting Gen Xers with revamped 80s and 90s pop songs –has been derided by ad critics and called the “worst, worst-worst-worst commercial sellout” by one blogger.

But, mock pundit Colbert has upped the absurdity factor one step further by seizing upon the ad as a rallying cry on The Colbert Report:

“Folks, that’s not just a commercial for cheese that hits the spot when shredded cheese is just too shredded and a block of cheese is just too blocky, it’s also perfect metaphor for the state of our popular culture —crumbled into little pieces.”

Thanks to YouTube, the original “America’s Pop Culture: It’s Crumbelievable” segment is available for your viewing pleasure, as is a second report hilariously decrying the negative impact of cable TV on American families.

Some Like it Very, Very, Very Hot

Jalapeno curry from India Sweets & Spices, in this case, the SF Valley branch, may be one of the hottest dishes in the city, says yclops. It’s very, very manly–this stuff’ll put as much hair on your chest as Chewbacca.

It’s a beautiful dark orange-yellow stew, loaded with long-cooked jalapenos. At first you might not think it’s so hot. You might think, hey, this curry has a nice tang. And then…”After a few minutes I felt like I was going to have a baby. The raita cooled my mouth somewhat, but didn’t do much for the fire down below. Still, I finished every last bit, and smiled at the counterman to let him know that I’d won.” The burn continued all afternoon. “I’ll skip the rest of the details, but suffice it to say that it burned going in, it burned coming out and burned all the while in between; it had some serious staying power. Either that was one spicy dish, or I’m not 21 anymore.” Still, it’s very tasty, and if you want a good long burn, it’s highly recommended.

India Sweets & Spices [West San Fernando Valley]
22009 Sherman Way # 11, at Topanga Canyon, Canoga Park

India Sweets & Spices [Los Feliz]
3126 Los Feliz Blvd., at Edenhurst, Los Angeles

India Sweets & Spices [Culver City-ish]
9409 Venice Blvd., Culver City

Board Links
Jalapeno curry at India’s Sweet & Spice

You Got Some BBQ Handy?

Lured by the siren scent of smoke, bodie ventured into Handi Market in search of ‘cue. The tri-tip is tender, flavorful, and just salty enough, leaving a smoky aftertaste. It’s kind of in the Santa Maria model of BBQ, if not the best-quality example of it.

Turkey leg is also tender and tasty, and chicken just falls off the bone.

Chicken, turkey, and pork run about $3/pound, and tri-tip is about $7/pound.

Handi Market [East San Fernando Valley]
2514 W. Magnolia Blvd., at Buena Vista, Burbank

Board Links
Handy Market BBQ

Sayonara, Taku; and Other New York Region News

Taku, a bright spot of ramen joy on Smith Street, has closed. The place will reportedly reopen later this month, under the same ownership, as an Italian restaurant–“like we need more Italian in the neighborhood,” grumbles Pupster. Meanwhile, the owners are said to be preparing to open Taku, or something like it, in Manhattan. Be prepared for excellent ramen, grilled items, and other Japanese fare.

In Carroll Gardens, the homey Moroccan spot Marrackech has cashed it in after less than a year. Its tiny space will become the new home of Petite Crevette, a well-regarded casual seafood joint that lost its lease in Brooklyn Heights last year. A sister restaurant, Bouillabaisse 126, is just around the corner. “Great news for the neighborhood,” says Larry Brooks.

In Queens, Mexican favorite El Jarro in Sunnyside has been rechristened De Mole after a change of ownership. Menu and kitchen crew appear unchanged–a relief to fans of its ceviche, tamales, roasted-tomato salsa, tinga de Puebla (brisket stew), and irresistible tres leches cake.

In Long Island City, Film Chefs, a lunchtime gem for tasty sandwiches and Southern chow, has shut down its cafe and returned to its roots as a catering outfit.

And up in Middletown, CT, a fire has destroyed O’Rourke Diner, a 60-year-old landmark beloved for soulful soups, sandwiches, and famous steamed cheeseburgers, among other things. The place wasn’t insured, and the owner isn’t sure what he’ll do. Look for updates at the new fan website.

Taku [Cobble Hill]
116 Smith St., between Pacific and Dean, Brooklyn

Petite Crevette [Carroll Gardens]
formerly Marrackech
to open at… 144 Hicks St., between Union and President, Brooklyn

Bouillabaisse 126 [Carroll Gardens]
126 Union St., near Columbia, Brooklyn

De Mole [Sunnyside]
formerly El Jarro
45-02 48th Ave., at 45th St., Sunnyside, Queens

Film Chefs [Long Island City]

O’Rourke Diner [Middlesex County]
728 Main St., near Kings Ave., Middletown, CT

Board Links
RIP O’Rourke’s
El Jarro in Sunnyside
OMG!! Taku closed for good
7 train
El Jarro (De Mole) Is Great —Really?
Taku on Smith St closes
el jarro’s new name:
Breakfast Lover in Queens
New Petite Crevette
Best Mexican in Queens?

Deutschestuff: Bay Area German Stores

The Junket in El Cerrito has an excellent selection of German food, including cheese, meets, dry goods, desserts, beer, and wine. Their meat offerings include sausage made by Saag and by Schaller & Weber.

Dittmer’s in Mountain View has a real German butcher and a wide selection of authentically German meat, including smoked pork chops (Kassler Ripchen), Nuremburger Bratwurst, Teawurst, and Jagdwurst. It’s all made there and the place just smells like Germany, says Curmudgeon. They also have lots of German imports.

Other alternatives include Gourmet Haus Staudt, a German superstore with a small caf

Instant Gratification: Greek Coffee Frappes in New York

Anyone who has returned from Greece craving the country’s ubiquitous frothy instant-coffee frappes can score a delicious, cooling version at Cafe Brama, a sweet little hangout in the East Village, says cloudy.

Many Greek tavernas or cafes around Manhattan should be able to whip one up, suggests Gastronomos (who sniffs, “Order just the frappe, skip the food”).

A better bet might be Astoria, where Omonia and other cafes can scratch the itch. Many serve a frappe just as they do in Athens, says quentinC: your choice of water or milk, and be sure to tell them how sweet you want it.

Cafe Brama [East Village]
157 2nd Ave., between E. 9th and 10th Sts., Manhattan

Omonia [Astoria]
32-20 Broadway, between 32nd and 33rd Sts., Astoria, Queens

Board Links
Greek Nescafe Frappe

Farmers’ Markets: Just Go

The Saturday Berkeley Farmers’ Market is in the middle of an end-of-summer vegetable orgy. Anabelle from Bolinas has the best produce of the market, including tiny basil, zucchini blossoms, yellow haricots verts, and wild arugula. Watch for her heirloom squash.

Sunday at the Marin Farmers’ Market, do not miss the melons from the Peach Farm. At 3 for $5, rworange pronounces them the sweetest, juiciest melons on the planet. You can practically shake them and feel juice sloshing around inside. Ogen melons are particularly stunning; a knife cuts the flesh like butter, and the scent infuses your whole kitchen. Granny Smith tomatoes are also recommended.

Berkeley Farmers’ Market [East Bay]
Center St. and Martin Luther King Way, Berkeley

Marin Farmers’ Market [Marin County]
Civic Center parking lot
3501 Civic Center Drive, San Rafael

Board Links
The most fragrant, sweetest, juiciest melons on the planet at amazing prices–3 for $5–The Peach Farm
Berkeley Farmer’s Market—Just Go