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

The Iceman Cometh

Well, that’s settled: The best way to have lots of good-tasting ice is to buy it by the bag. If you have the freezer space, keep a spare bag for iced drink emergencies. Keep the rest in a covered container, or in large ziplocs.

Making your own ice using filtered water (like Brita) may help the taste, but there’s always the risk of it picking up off flavors during the freezing process, from other items in the freezer.

Janet says an ice-making refrigerator is worth the money. Maytag has a model with a water filter in it that really makes a difference.

Board Links: Buying bags of ice

Sweet Tea

Sweet tea is a southern staple, and there’s a good reason it’s called sweet tea, not iced tea. It’s real sweet; not just sweet, but sweeeet. It’s not all about sugar, though. Proper preparation and the right kind of tea are even more important, say chowhounds.

While the best hot brewed tea is made with loose leaves, southern sweet tea always begins with tea bags. Any good black tea will do, but there are specific brands hounds recommend. Luzianne tea, a New Orleans product, is blended especially for making iced tea, and will stay clear, says Candy, who warns that Assam teas make for cloudy iced tea. The ultimate tea for iced tea is from Charleston Tea Plantation (available as <a href=”http://www.bigelowtea.com/shop/details.cfm?si=1&sc=1&pi=00353
”>American Classic Tea from Bigelow). This, says Danna, is the only tea grown in the United States. “It smells sooooo good!”

Here’s how to make sweet tea:

Boil 4 cups of water with 1 cup of sugar. Add 10 regular-size tea bags, remove from heat and cover. Let sit until cool, then pluck out the the bags (don’t squeeze them, or you’ll make the tea cloudy). Pour into a gallon-size pitcher and fill with water or refrigerate the concentrate to make one glass at a time. It will only keep for a couple of days (LisaAZ).

Interesting tip: oc climber adds a pinch of baking soda to the boiling water to smooth out the tannins.

Becca Porter offers an alternate method: Put 4 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Add three tea bags, and turn the heat to medium. When bubbles form on the edge, pour the solution into a pitcher, and discard the tea bags. Stir in 1/2 to 3/4 cups sugar. Add two quarts cold water, and stir. Serve over ice. Becca prefers Lipton tea bags.

Board Links: sweet tea

Best, Tightest Clips for Bags ‘O Chips (And Other Stuff)

Closing opened bags of chips, cereal, and crackers extra-tight is of paramount importance to those who value crispness. The problem is that most so-called “chip clips” sold in the supermarket really don’t do the job.

Many Chowhounds head to the office supply store for large binder clips, which are “super strong, super cheap, and they look decent,” says Dommy. They come in handy for all sorts of kitchen uses (tightly sealing milk cartons to preserves freshness, folding and closing plastic packages of beans, rice, pasta, etc.). You can clip a “freeze date” note to packages in the freezer (val anne c).

Others rely on old-fashioned clothes pins–either the standard or French types–to clamp bags shut.

Swedish-made Twixit! clips are hinged plastic clips that come in various sizes. They clamp tight and create an airtight seal on bags, ranging from chips to bread, to frozen fruits and veggies, standing in for twist-ties as well as chip clips. They’re microwave and dishwasher safe. Caitlin McGrath is lost without them. Order a set of 27 Twixit! clips online.

Board Links: any good chip clips?

Chow 101: Vinegar

There’s a range of vinegar out there. Hounds survey the options.

Rice vinegar, made from fermented rice, is mild and slightly sweet. It’s used a lot in Asian cooking.

Balsamic vinegars can be exquisite (and exquisitely expensive). The fancy ones are aged for years in barrels, and are syrupy and sweet. Industrial balsamics are good all-purpose, dark-colored vinegars.

Minus 8 vinegar is made in Canada from grapes picked at -8 degrees centigrade. It’s expensive and hard to find. You can sip this stuff alone like an aperitif, but it’s good with foie gras, and fruit. You’ll find some recipes on their web site.
Champagne, sherry, and red or white wine vinegars are very nice.

Look for “verjus”, a sour liquid made from unripe fruit (mainly grapes). It comes in red or white, and is used like vinegar. It’s light and has the advantage of not clashing with wine (as vinegars do).

Asian markets are a good source of inexpensive vinegars. Try a brown rice vinegar or one of the red vinegars. liu says they all have different personalities.

A few drops of a light vinegar will bring out the flavor of a good olive oil, notes Richard.

Board Links: Balsamic Vinegar

Man, You Know What’s Great? A Grilled Burrito

Mi Pueblo Market has a taqueria, and that taqueria has grilled burritos. And a tortilla grilled is vastly better than a tortilla merely steamed. Inside one carnitas burrito, you’ll find nice big hunks of carnitas plus the usual mix of rice, beans, cheese, guacamole, salsa, and crema. These puppies are huge, like one or two pounds per burrito, and fully half the filling is meat. A single visit made this place a candidate for ron c’s favorite taqueria. It’s certainly one of the best joints around for carnitas. tomritza reports tortas here are even better than burritos.

Several folks think Taqueria La Bamba is also great. Excellent soft tacos, great burritos. Al pastor and lengua are really good. And Peter Yee thinks carnitas here is even better than Mi Pueblo’s carnitas. Also recommended: chile colorado tacos.

Mi Pueblo Market [Peninsula]
40 S. Rengstorff Ave., Mountain View
650-967-3630
Map

Taqueria La Bamba [East Bay]
12345 San Pablo Ave., Richmond
510-235-2288
Map

Board Links: Mi Pueblo Market (Mtn View)–Burrito Report

Peri Peri Gives Everything Sizzle

Vegetable napoleon might not sound like a native African dish, but it’s tasty stuff–a tower of grilled vegetables layered with gooey mozzarella and fresh spinach, topped with tomatoes, onions, and a pomegranate dressing.

A salad featuring peppadrops (a hybrid of teardrop tomatoes and bell peppers) includes field greens and red cabbage, drizzled with a simple dressing of oil, vinegar and peri peri, a Mozambican chile pepper that’s also used in a classic hot sauce. The peppadrops are slightly spicy but exceptionally sweet–like candy.

Durban curry is a fabulous red stew with lamb and vegetables that comes with two chutneys, one hot and one sweet. Also on the side is a mixture of tomatoes, onions, and banana to cool your mouth if it gets overheated (although the curry is only medium spicy).

Rib-eye steak (18 oz, bone in) gets coated with peri peri sauce and grilled medium rare, and the kick of the pepper enhances the meat.

For dessert, white chocolate and banana bread pudding is a beautiful mixture of the pudding, fresh berries, whipped cream, and chopped macadamia nuts.

Dinner for two runs $125 with tax. Durban curry is $24, rib-eye steak $36, vegetable napoleon $8.50, salad $12 and bread pudding $8.50.

It’s a stylish place, dark and clubby inside. An interesting drink selection (there’s a full bar) includes the Drunken Elephant (vodka, Amarula fruit liqueur, and Frangelico) and the cocktails tend to be strong.

Tip: Use the valet and save yourself the stress that is trying to park in Laguna Beach. Valet is only $5.

Mozambique Restaurant [OC Beaches]
1740 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Agate, Laguna Beach
949-715-7777
Map

Board Links: Road Trip Review: Mozambique–Laguna Beach, CA

Cozying Up to an Italian

When it comes to romantic, cozy Italian restaurants, Pasadena dwellers are lucky enough to have two top-notch choices. Trattoria Tre Venezie is intimate and candlelit, with handmade food of the Veneto region. However–romance and regional cuisine ain’t cheap, at least here.

Celestino boasts gnocchi that haunts the dreams of ipse dixit, they’re’s so rich and creamy. But it’s the rapini pasta with sausage that’s out of this world, says petra: a creamy, vibrant green sauce with tiny morsels of pork on strozzapreti. Not a dish you’ll find often, if anywhere in this town.

Chowhound fave La Buca is small (VERY small) and romantic–if you don’t need a lot of elbow or leg room.

La Luna is consistently tasty as well as romantic and very comfortable, says JJ, who’s never had a bad meal there.

Il Buco has a real Italian feel about it, and offers a good selection of pastas, gnocchi, and mains.

Less romantic, but a great neighborhood place, is Il Forno. There are some duds on the menu, but when you get the good stuff it’s like hitting a home run. Start with the tomato-garlic bruschetta–the bread is nothing special, but the crazy garlicky-vinegary flavor really makes it.

Radicchio-romaine salad with pecans, balsamic vinegar and a stellar dry-aged ricotta is lovely, and the house Caesar (with anchovies) is super. Minestrone soup is just okay.

If you spot veal ravioli with creamy tomato sauce on the specials menu, pounce. It’s too good to get away. Spinach-ricotta ravioli are fluffy and delectable; so are gnocchi with pesto and vegetables. But rigatoni with tomato-meat sauce is good-not-great, and capellini with scampi is an outright dud–puny shrimp and not much flavor.

Note to wine lovers and bargain hunters: if you buy a bottle of wine at Wine Expo, there’s no corkage at Il Forno.

Trattoria Tre Venezie [Pasadena-ish]
119 W. Green St., DeLacey Ave., Pasadena
626-795-4455
Map

Celestino [Pasadena-ish]
141 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena
626-795-4006
Map

La Buca [Hollywood]
5210 1/2 Melrose Ave., West of Wilton, Los Angeles
323-462-1900
Map

La Luna Ristorante [Larchmont Village]
113 N. Larchmont Blvd., 1st St., Los Angeles
323-962-2130
Map

Il Buco Pizzeria Restaurant [Beverly Hills]
107 N. Robertson Blvd., Wilshire, Beverly Hills
310-657-1345
Map

Il Forno Caffe & Pizzeria [Beaches]
2901 Ocean Park Blvd. #109, 29th St., Santa Monica
310-450-1241
Map

Board Links: La Buca.
Celestino–PK’s Review

Alleva Dairy: In Little Italy, An Unsung Hero

For most fans of Alleva, it’s about the cheese. But the venerable Little Italy latticini (established 1892) also makes nice, hefty sandwiches with good cured meats and cheeses (its own and others’) on tasty sesame rolls. They top out at $7 for the Italian combo (prosciutto, soppressata, cheese), plus a buck or so for add-ons like sun-dried tomato or roasted peppers. If your timing is right, you can peer through the window on Mulberry and watch a guy pulling mozzarella by hand.

Alleva’s food and service have won over stuartlafonda, a 20-year devotee of neighboring Italian Food Center. But the other reason he defected was a troubling downhill trend at his onetime favorite across Mulberry Street. For example, stuart reports, peppers are straight from the bottle, not roasted in-house, and the default prosciutto is a cheaper Canadian substitute, not the real prosciutto di Parma (which commands a premium of a couple bucks). If that weren’t enough, he adds, Italian Food Center now advertises that it serves sushi. “That is sad,” he laments.

Alleva Dairy [Little Italy]
188 Grand St., at Mulberry, Manhattan
212-226-7990
Map

Italian Food Center [Little Italy]
186 Grand St., at Mulberry, Manhattan
212-925-2954
Map

Board Links: Best Italian Heros in Manhattan

Cranberry-Walnut Rapture at New Rochelle’s Bread Factory

New Rochelle’s Bread Factory, already on hound radar for its crusty-chewy onion baguettes, among other things, scores again with its scrumptious cranberry-walnut bread. “The best stuff!” exclaims Pat Hammond, who recommends it in either loaves or baguettes, but favors the latter for its cheese-friendly size. “The whole place has sort of an old-time feel to it. It’s such fun going in there…bread piled up everywhere! And you smell the fragrance as you approach.” Also recommended: croissants (plain or almond) and breadsticks, chewy outside and agreeably soft inside.

The Bread Factory [Westchester County]
30 Grove Ave., near Warren St., New Rochelle
914-637-9514
Map

Board Links: The Bread Factory, New Rochelle

The Perfect Lemon and Lime Squeezer

You must buy yourself a hand-held enameled cast aluminum citrus squeezer, say hounds. These things are quick, efficient, handy, inexpensive…everything you’d want from a kitchen gadget.

Here’s how they work: there’s a cup into which you fit a half lemon or lime, and two long handles which push together with a lever action, pressing a reamer down on the fruit and literally turning it inside out, extracting every bit of juice, while leaving seeds and pulp behind.

These gizmos are sold in color-coded sizes (i.e., a small green ones for limes, larger yellow for lemons), but chowhounds overwhelmingly agree that the yellow version is all that’s needed for both fruits (indeed, some limes are too big to fit the lime-sized squeezer).

They’re sold at many cookware and housewares stores for around $11-13. Mexican grocers often sell less-expensive, non-enameled versions.

Link to buy.

Board Links: Cast iron citrus squeezer -do they work?