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

The Streak

Editor’s note: Jim’s second report shines some light onto his phenomenal 10-month food streak. Will it last through the CHOWTour? Check back daily to find out.

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The Streak
Heading upstate on the first leg of the CHOWTour, Jim describes “The Streak.”

Standing ova-tion

“It’s the best omelet you’ve ever tried!” claims the text of this egg-in-a-bag recipe currently being e-forwarded all over the place. Eggs a la Ziploc —delicious? Deadly? Or both?

The recipe’s a cinch. You scramble up your eggs, drop them in a Ziploc with some fillings, boil it for 10 minutes or so and then apparently experience the gustatory equivalent of a multiple orgasm. Enough people are trying it to merit mentions in two daily papers in the last week, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune and The Washington Post. By all accounts, the resulting dish is fantastic. But SC Johnson, the makers of Ziploc bags, are nixing the idea due to fears of plastic melting all over litigious-minded experimenters. And, though the dangers of cooking in plastic have never been proven, it just seems wrong. Why not just stand in front of a microwave on a cell phone, developing brain tumors and frying your reproductive areas at the same time?

Those who try this humble, folksy recipe might be amused to know that the boil-’n’-bag method is a variation on the hot cooking technique causing a controversy in NYC restaurants.

Lard lovers

Forget your cold pressed olive oil, pay no mind to chunky blocks of Plugra and Lurpak. These days it’s all about homemade lard—time to fire up a pot and get rendering.

At Chez Pim, the lady of the house wonders what made the frites cooked in horse fat she tasted last summer so delectable. She turns to Harold McGee for insight into what makes horse fries so great.

Over at Muffin Top, Connie swears that home rendered pork lard is the secret to perfect piecrusts. Derrick, at An Obsession with Food, has jumped on the lard bandwagon as well. He’s written two posts on the topic—the second, a step-by-step guide, will show you exactly how to whip up a batch of your own homemade lard.

Grab your cast iron and open the windows. Ready, set, render!

Pimping for plus-ones

Want to be Bauer’s buddy? In his latest blog entry, San Fran’s top restaurant critic reveals what it takes to be his plus-one when he’s making the rounds of the Bay Area’s best tables.

Because while being a restaurant critic may seem like a dream job, the truly sweet gig is being the critic’s best bud. Free eats, excellent wines, bragging rights from the hottest spots in town, all with no risk of a restaurant-owner fatwa afterwards: it’s no surprise that the San Francisco Chronicle’s lead reviewer is constantly fielding the question “How can I become one of your dining companions?”

But Bauer does break the news on Between Meals that eating out professionally isn’t all foie gras and rib-eyes: nope, eat with Bauer and you better be ready to sink a fork into the tripe and rabbit, especially if it’s his third or fourth go-round through the menu. And no sauce on the side: whatever you order, you’ll take it and like it, exactly as the restaurant plates it. But while readers may be envious of Bauer’s king-of-the-table position (as one poster commented, “At least you have an excuse like your job to squelch picky eaters! I hate going out with them!”), how can they miss the real reason any enthusiastic eater becomes a pro: for the dates! Yes, it’s the truth: being a critic is the best way to get a hottie to go out to dinner with you. Because after all, it’s not a hook-up, it’s your job! Trust us: it works.

Vive la snack

It’s no wonder Japanese snacks are so delicious —chefs there have worked for centuries developing goodies for Japan’s built-in, culturally sanctioned snack time. This got me thinking about how, according to some people, folks in France don’t snack and therefore don’t get fat, yadda yadda, and yet Japan has a lower obesity rate than almost the entire rest of the world, including France (and probably also has fewer citizens keeling over from hunger in the middle of the day). I know I can’t soldier on past 3 or 4 pm without noshing on something a little more substantial than just a piece of fruit, and the spongy, sweet kasutera looks like it would fit the bill just fine. Not to be a Franco-basher or anything, I’m just saying.

Pork Chop Rice, and Sweet Bread Stuffed with Pork Belly and Cilantro

All right, here’s the scoop: pork chop rice and stuffed sweet bread at Tea Garden, a Taiwanese street snack joint. david kaplan is a big fan of their pork chop rice. The pork chop is fried with a garlicky sauce, and served over rice with pickled greens. vliang agrees; she thinks their pork chop lunchbox is very authentic. “It has that train lunchbox taste down.” david kaplan also really likes their sweet bread, stuffed with pork belly and cilantro. The bread is fluffy, like the bread that’s sometimes served with Peking duck; it’s sliced open and generously filled with fatty pork belly, cilantro, and pickled greens. Each one is about $2, and two stuffed sweet breads make for a medium-sized lunch. Beef noodle soup is also excellent; the noodles aren’t homemade, but the broth is rich.

vliang also likes the pork chop rice at Spices 1; the meat sauce isn’t as good as Tea Garden’s, but the pork chop itself is a little bit more wonderfully crisp.

David Sloo is very pleased with the very simple pork chop rice at Queen House. The cook has excellent timing; it always comes out juicy, hot, and with a flavorful brown crust.

Tea Garden [SOMA]
515 Mission St., San Francisco

Spices [Richmond]
a.k.a. Szechuan Trenz
294 8th Ave., at Clement, San Francisco
Amazon Locater

Spices II [Richmond]
291 6th Ave., San Francisco

Spices! 3 [Chinatown]
369 12th St., between Franklin and Webster, Oakland

Queen House [Peninsula]
273 Castro St., Mountain View
Amazon Locater

Board Links
taiwanese pork chop rice

Cutting Edge Huevos Rancheros

Mateo Granados used to be the executive chef at Dry Creek Kitchen and the sous chef at Masa; now he’s running a catering business, with annexes at some farmers’ markets. Melanie Wong was dazzled by Yucatan-style heuvos rancheros ($7) at his stand at the Sebastopol Sunday farmers’ market. It’s a cutting edge, intensely farmers’ market version. The bottom layer has broken-up pieces of stone-ground corn tostada. Next comes black beans, roasted tomato and habernero salsa, then two farm-fresh eggs fried to order and some fresh farmers’ market greens. This mass is topped with more crispy tostada bits, more salsa, more greens, and a sprinkling of fresh Bodega goat cheese. The thing is fresh, generous, and satisfying in flavor and texture, especially the dewy-fresh cheese. “Who would have thought I’d learn to crave wild arugula on my huevos?”

Art Culinaire article about Granados.

Sebastopol Sunday Farmers’ Market [Sonoma County]
McKinley St. at Petaluma Ave., in Downtown Plaza, Sebastopol

Board Links
Huevos Rancheros a Mateo Granados (Healdsburg, Sebastopol, Santa Rosa)

Fire and Ice Cream: Exotic Surprises from Vosges Chocolates

The fancy chocolatier Vosges also makes ice cream, and we’re not talking plain vanilla. A flavor dubbed Naga (coconut and curry) is “devilishly decadent and packs a flavorful punch of Eastern spices,” reports masterofceremonies. Also good and refreshing: Red Fire, with dark chocolate, sweet cinnamon, and subtle heat from ancho and chipotle chiles. Other flavors are pandan leaf and aboriginal wattleseed–described as a cross of chocolate, coffee, hazelnut, and vanilla.

Vosges Haut Chocolat [Soho]
132 Spring St., between Wooster and Greene, Manhattan

Board Links
Vosges Haut-Chocolat

Old Poland: Hearty, Homey Chow in Williamsburg

Williamsburg’s Old Poland bakery fired up a steam table a year or so ago, and it’s since become a great option for hearty, cheap Polish takeout, says Silverjay. For $3.50 a pound, you get a choice of entrees, salads, vegetable sides, and usually a couple of soups–plus freshly made breads, pastries, and cakes. Some standouts: meatloaf, bigos (pork and sauerkraut stew), and tender, succulent pork ribs. Recent soups have included dill and tomato-vegetable, both solid. “The clientele seems to be mostly local Poles, laborers, and some of the shop workers on Bedford,” observes silverjay. “I’ve hardly seen a hipster in the place.”

This is the sister shop of a larger, more restaurant-like place in Greenpoint, notes David Sprague, a fan of its borscht, meat jelly, and pierogi, among other things.

Around the corner from Old Poland, another Williamsburg option is Kasia’s, which dishes up tripe soup, borscht, pierogi, and other sturdy Polish fare, says Mike R..

Old Poland Foods [Williamsburg]
149 N. 8th St., between Bedford Ave. and Berry St., Brooklyn

Old Poland Bakery and Restaurant [Greenpoint]
a.k.a. Staropolska Bakery
190 Nassau Ave., at Humboldt St., Brooklyn

Kasia’s Restaurant [Williamsburg]
146 Bedford Ave., between N. 9th and 8th Sts., Brooklyn

Board Links
Old Polish Foods- W’Burg
good weekday lunch in Williamsburg?

Red Velvet Showdown

My Little Cupcake opened about a month ago and cvc says the cakes are top-notch in quality, and presented with as much creative flair as at Sprinkles. Reese’s peanut butter and Bugs Bunny chocolate cupcakes are standouts; there are also fresh-fruit specials depending on availability, like blueberry, or fig cupcake with goat cheese frosting.

Hotcakes is a new bakery in West L.A.; it’s run by a Frenchwoman, yet turns out classic American cupcakes, along with French pastries. (Their stuff is also available at the newish Mar Vista farmers’ market.) On a quest for red velvet, Dommy! found theirs to be dense but not dry. You can definitely taste the cocoa that’s supposed to give the cake its color, along with the red food coloring.The cream cheese frosting is finger-lickin’ good.

The red velvet cupcakes at SusieCakes, a relative newcomer, are knockouts–they’re kid-sized but super flavorful and so moist that they practically melt in your mouth. Frosting is scant and not too sweet, but not too flavorful either.

Considering that most of the cupcakes from Sprinkles are way too sweet and short on flavor, red velvet is probably their best kind. Their red velvet has an airy, tender texture.

Doughboys has a red velvet mini-cake. The frosting is the best part, with a distinct cream cheese tang, and the cake is good but not great. It lacks a little something in the flavor department.

Says Pei, “The cupcakes at Buttercake are good: fluffy, not too sweet, and entirely un-fancy. But the red velvet is the only one I buy anymore because it stands out as the best. I love the tangy sourcream frosting, and the chocolate seems more intensely flavored and lighter in texture than the regular chocolate.” And let’s not forget their irresistible chocolate drop cookies–soft and gooey inside, like an underbaked brownie, with a crackly crust and fresh walnuts.

Bluebird’s red velvet cake is heaven, says slacker–so tender it’s quivering, plus a generous amount of appropriately cream-cheesy frosting.

The quality seems to vary, but when Auntie Em’s is on, their red velvet cupcakes are just like a Southern mom’s–huge, moist and beautiful, with heaps of cream cheese frosting. But on their off days, the cakes can be dry and dreary.

Don’t bother with red velvet at Yummy Cupcakes. The margarita cupcakes, on the other hand, are killer, says jackattack, with a slam-bang lime buttercream.

My Little Cupcake [East San Fernando Valley]
11925 Ventura Blvd., Studio City

Hotcakes Bakes [Culver City-ish]
formerly Westside Bakery
4119 S. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles

Mar Vista Farmers Market [Beaches]
Grand View Blvd., between Venice and Pacific, Los Angeles

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

Sprinkles Cupcakes [Beverly Hills]
9635 Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills

Doughboys [Fairfax Village]
8136 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles

Buttercake Bakery [Wealthy Westlands]
10595 W. Pico Blvd., East of Overland, Los Angeles
Amazon Locater

Blue Bird Bakery [Culver City-ish]
8572 National Blvd., Culver City

Auntie Em’s Kitchen [Eagle Rock]
4616 Eagle Rock Blvd., Los Angeles
Amazon Locater

Yummy Cupcakes [East San Fernando Valley]
2918 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank

Board Links
New Mar Vista Farmer’s Market!
The Tale of Four Red Velvets: Sprinkles, Doughboys, Hot Cakes and Susie Cakes