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

Jarred Vodka Sauce

Vodka sauce is delicious over any pasta. And there are are some decent-tasting jarred brands–which can be made even better by adding crushed red pepper, some crab meat, or sauteed prosciutto. Here are some good brands:

Patsy’s Vodka Sauce.

Rao’s is a popular but pricey choice.

Trader Joe’s Organic Vodka Sauce is a delicious low-cost alternative.

Cento is made with San Marzano tomatoes (very good, plus not as high calorie as some other brands).

Victoria brand, from Brooklyn, costs $6.99 a jar and is better than Rao’s, says emdb. Find it at Big Y stores and Stop & Shops in the northeast.

Board Links: Recommendations…jarred vodka sauce

Patxi’s: No Need to Hit the Zachary’s

Patxi’s, reports ron c, is as satisfying as that outpost of Chicago deep-dish pizza goodness, Zachary’s. The two main differences:

1. Patxi’s makes a more traditionally Chicagoan cornmeal crust, compared to Zachary’s more flaky, buttery crust.

2. Paxti’s sauce is smoother and more garlicky than Zachary’s chunky rendition.

Patxi’s pizzas are made with fresh, high quality ingredients. They are, however, a bit pricey–$16 for a small pizza that could feed two.

Patxi’s Chicago Pizza [Peninsula]
441 Emerson St., Palo Alto

Zachary’s Chicago Pizza [Rockridge]
5801 College Ave., Oakland

Zachary’s Chicago Pizza [East Bay]
1853 Solano Ave., Berkeley

Board Links: Patxi’s Pizza–Palo Alto

Perfect New York Slices of Chicken Pizza

There are two rules for eating at Giovanni’s Pizza, a nondescript strip mall pizza joint. First, go on weekdays, not weekends. Turnover is really low on weekends, and the slices are just mediocre. But on weekdays, when the place is packed, it’s the best New York-style slice in Silicon Valley, says mdg.

Second rule: get the Giovanni’s Rustica slice, which comes topped with chicken breasts, basil, tomatoes, and lots of garlic. Chicken doesn’t always work on pizza, but it works like gangbusters here. It’s good enough to keep intrepid explorer katya coming back every three or four days. Pepperoni slices and cheese slices are, on the other hand, greasy and average.

Giovanni’s [South Bay]
1127 N. Lawrence Expy., Sunnyvale

Board Links: Giovanni’s in Sunnyvale: You Got Chicken on My Pizza! No, You Got Pizza on My Chicken!

Maker’s Mark All Mixed Up

Maker’s Mark is good bourbon, all agree, and while some can’t see why anyone would desire to combine it with more than a couple ice cubes, others offer their favorite cocktails and tall drinks making use of the drink.

A simple but delicious combination is Maker’s and a good spicy ginger ale or ginger beer (like Blenheim’s).

For those who like their Manhattans made with bourbon rather than rye, MM is the ultimate base. Here are basic proportions:

3 parts bourbon
1 part sweet vermouth
dash bitters

Many find this classic too sweet, and prefer a Perfect Manhattan, made with half sweet and half dry vermouth. Recommended brands of vermouth include Noilly Prat and the harder to find but excellent Vya.

Sable & Rosenfeld Tipsy Cherries, soaked in whiskey, make the perfect garnish, says Candy. You can order online.

Three intriguing recipes, courtesy of countbranca:

Whiskey Smash

Muddle in a highball glass:
2-3 half lemon slices
6-8 mint leaves, depending on size and to taste
1.5 tsp superfine sugar or 1/2 simple syrup, or to taste
Add 2 oz Maker’s Mark and ice, and top with soda or flat water

San Francisco Fog

Place in cocktail shaker over ice:
2 oz Maker’s Mark
3 dashes orange flower water
1/4 oz orgeat (almond syrup)
1 egg white

“Shake the hell out of it, strain into chilled cocktail glass, sprinkle with grated orange peel.”

Gold Rush

Place in cocktail shaker over ice:
2 oz Maker’s Mark
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
3/4oz runny honey (dilute 4 parts honey with 1 part very hot water)

Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass, garnish with lemon twist.

The Stiletto: Shot of bourbon, shot of almond liqueur, rocks. “Swig, repeat” (Brandon Nelson).

Finally, gina advocates drinking MM neat–but paired with a rich chocolate dessert (e.g. flourless chocolate cake), a combo she says is wonderful.

Board Links
Maker’s Mark

The Papain Effect

Fresh (or frozen) pineapple, kiwi, papaya, figs, guava, and ginger root all contain the enzyme papain, a powerful meat tenderizer. So beware that cooking any of these fruits in combination with meat will effect the meat’s texture. If the fruit is canned, the enzyme’s been destroyed.

Board Links: Fruit with Meat; a Do or a Don’t

Havista Kyoto Noodles

HLing rhapsodizes about the Havista Kyoto brand noodles she found in a Korean market (the package is mostly red and yellow with a drawing of a Japanese doll, and a picture of a bowl of beef noodle soup in the lower left corner). Neatly combed and twisted noodles are visible through the packaging.

Besides the plain noodles, there are three flavors–chicken, beef, and kimchee. The beef flavor packet produces a broth that tastes like a perfectly cooked homemade spicy beef noodle soup: “It’s so good I don’t need actual chunks of beef in the noodles,” she raves.

Board Links: Havista kyoto noodles–great beef flavor

Bottoms Up! Beer with Clamato Juice

A drink called a “Chavela” is popular in Mexico. It’s Clamato juice spiked with beer. It’s served in a large mug with a garnish of boiled shrimp along the rim, and is good with a shot of hot sauce and a squeeze of lemon or lime. Cadbury Schweppes has been advertising their Clamato juice to Mexican communities for quite a while and it’s really caught on. You can also find it readily available in supermarkets north of the border.

Board Links: What is Chavela (Chabela) Cerveza preparada … beer with clam juice
Beer cocktails like the beer Bloody Mary

Rye Bread

The perfect pastrami sandwich requires not only good pastrami, but the right corn rye bread, too.

Metropolis Baking Company makes two sizes of New York rye. Their version comes close to Miss Otis’s memories of bread from delis under the 13th Avenue El in Borough Park, Brooklyn, where they’d cut a hunk from a huge lacquered-looking loaf and sell it by weight.

Robert Lauriston says Acme Bread makes a great rye once a week–though others find it too artisanal and dense to make a good pastrami sandwich. He also recommends great rye bread at Bennett Valley Bread & Pastry, and at Pure Grain Bakery, which makes the bread served at Speisekammer.

The Bread Garden makes a straight rye bread that makes rworange very, very happy.

Very good German country rye bread is available from the vendor who also sells giant pretzels at the Serramonte Farmers’ Market.

Max’s Bakery makes very good marble rye, available at Molly Stone’s, which also sells rye baguettes, if you’re looking for maximal rye-crust area.

Palo Alto Baking Company makes a good rye.

Trader Joe’s sells a pretty good corn rye bread.

Metropolis Baking Co [East Bay]
707 Heinz Ave., Berkeley

Acme Bread [Embarcadero]
1 Ferry Building, Shop #15, San Francisco

Acme Bread Co [East Bay]
2730 9th St., Berkeley

Bennett Valley Bread & Pastry [Sonoma County]
3375 Industrial Dr., Santa Rosa

Pure Grain Bakery [Solano County]
600 Eubanks Ct., Vacaville

Pure Grain Bakery [Solano County]
11 Town Sq., Vacaville

Speisekammer [East Bay]
2424 Lincoln Ave., Alameda

Bread Garden [East Bay]
2912 Domingo Ave., right off of Claremont Ave., Berkeley

Pretzel vendor [Peninsula]
at the Serramonte Farmers’ Market
3 Serramonte Center, Daly City

Mollie Stone’s [Peninsula]
22 Bayhill Shopping Ctr., San Bruno

Mollie Stone’s [Marin County]
270 Bon Air Shopping Ctr., Greenbrae

Palo Alto Baking Co [Peninsula]
381 S. California Ave., Palo Alto

Trader Joe’s [Citywide]

Board Links: Corn Rye Bread Nominations?

Hawaiian Breakfast and 24-Hour Hawaiian Barbecue

New, new, new! Island Cafe has everything your Hawaiian heart could desire, including Hawaiian breakfasts! Portuguese sausage and eggs turns out to be a hunk of rectangular sausage–sort of like Spam with an advanced degree in tasty–plus eggs, all over white rice. Chicken loco moco involves crispy chicken, with eggs, rice, and macaroni salad. Eggs are consistently perfect.

Coffee is fresh, hot, and Kona.

Even better, Island Cafe is open twenty-four hours.

Island Cafe Hawaiian Breakfast & BBQ [Sunset]
901 Taraval St., at 19th Ave., San Francisco

Board Links: Island Cafe Hawaiian Breakfast & BBQ at 19th Ave & Taraval

Bin 8945 Worth Looking Into

An American wine bar and bistro, the new Bin 8945 may actually fill the void of a French bistro with deliciously straight-ahead food. Steak with frites ($29) is peppery and sweet, the fries cooked in duck fat for fantastic flavor. Duck leg confit ($27) is succulent and tender, arriving on a bed of flageolets, cavalo nero, and pancetta. Steamed mussels in coconut curry broth with homemade Italian sausage sounds like fusion gone overboard, but it actually works really well. And it’s easy to overlook the salt cod brandade, but it’s good stuff.

The star of the show, though, is the wine, and at the moment there’s a far bigger selection of vino than vittles (though the food side is scheduled to do some catch-up). To give you an idea: more than 60 wines by the glass. You might catch manager and wine director David Haskell bussing tables, decanting wine or greeting people–try to chat him up about wine.

Service is polished and professional, even opening week, and still friendly.

8945 Wine Bar and Bistro [West Hollywood]
8945 Santa Monica Blvd., Robertson, West Hollywood

Board Links: Zelo’s and Bin 8945
Bin 8945