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

Food porn on the brain

Tasty recipes and snappy copy do not a great food blog make—we want the tantalizing, drool-inducing photos to go along with it. These days, everyone’s talking about food porn.

Last month Food and Wine magazine published a list of food blogs with stunning photos (though it was pointed out that the list might be a wee bit incomplete). An accompanying piece gives aspiring photogs camera recommendations and brief pointers on improving their craft.

Australian chef, food show host and cookbook author Benjamin Christie has more complete advice for mouthwatering food photographs—including tips on lighting, food styling and the right software to organize the three hundred photos of plums you just took. For serious food styling advice, he points out this article (forget milk with that bowl of cereal, PVA glue will keep those flakes from getting soggy while you snap away).

For a behind the scenes look at the art of food styling and photography, read Lara’s glowing account of a day spent on a LA food shoot with Matt Armendariz, of the photo-gorgeous blog Matt Bites. She includes some tips learned that day—how to make your own light bounce, how to help a glass of beer maintain its froth, how to keep flies off your food. Lara’s two blogs, Cookbook 411 and Still Life with…, offer samples of her own considerable photo talent.

Matt follows up with a post on his site about trying to find out of season produce at the farmers’ market—their August shoot was for holiday and fall foods. He’s also got a funny story of the agony an art director goes though when the black truffles go missing—and the lengths to which he will go to find them.

There’s more info about Matt’s work on the digital photography blog I Speak Film—an interview with the man himself, entertaining and chock full of photo and styling tips (trust me—you don’t want to know what they do to get those succulent looking Thanksgiving turkeys).

Matt himself has posted what might be the final word on the subject of food porn—far more of Sandra Lee than the Food Network should be displaying. Yikes, give me luscious strawberries any day of the week.

Any favorite photo-gorgeous food blogs out there, or tips for getting the perfect food shot?

Dessert: The Final Frontier

New York magazine is up to its usual mischief: tempting already harried New York gastronomes and tantalizing the rest of us. This time, it previews dessert-centric lounges that put the sweet course first.

It’s reasonably easy to understand Kyotofu, which serves an ice cream made from soy milk and tofu. And while P*ong is more challenging (its offerings include a fifteen-layer Armagnac cake with pickled apricot) it still seems basically comprehensible.

But the enigmatic yet-to-be-named dessert bar from Sam Mason, pastry chef at trendy Manhattan restaurant wd-50 strains the old gray matter. It will offer terrines that combine foie gras and peanut butter, pork belly ladled with miso butterscotch, and dehydrated rum-and-Cokes.

Perhaps it could be named: Whaa?

Or El Bulli 2, Electric Boogaloo.

Or maybe just: Holy Crap, We’ve Gotten So Completely Tired of Normal Food That Now We’ve Started Throwing $60-a-Pound Ingredients into the Cuisinart Pretty Much At Random!

Other suggestions?

Sci-fi sommelier

The age of robotic wine tasting has arrived. Does this represent a technological advancement for mankind, or are we descending into a gastronomic Matrix?

First, there was the beer-pouring robot, and now comes the news that researchers at NEC System Technologies and Japan’s Mie University have designed a robot that can “taste” wine, cheese, and other foods.

The device uses an infrared spectrometer to analyze the chemical composition of wine and make a conclusion about its flavor. Says USA Today:

When it has identified a wine, the robot speaks up in a childlike voice. It names the brand and adds a comment or two on the taste, such as whether it is a buttery chardonnay or a full-bodied shiraz, and what kind of foods might go well on the side.

Should wine critics and sommeliers fear the rise of an army of robots that have mastered winespeak? Paging Morpheus?

Well, don’t worry just yet. It’s only a prototype, and apparently there are some kinks to be worked out in the technology. As noted in the USA Today story, “When a reporter’s hand was placed against the robot’s taste sensor, it was identified as prosciutto. A cameraman was mistaken for bacon.”

There you have it. Humans still have the upper hand over machines, at least when it comes to tasting…the media.

Oakland Airport Taco Trucks

El Novillo serves the best carnitas of any taco truck Ruth Lafler has ever tried. The tripas tacos are also excellent, even for those who don’t usually like tripe. Tripas tacos are like slightly chewy, chopped-up bacon, reminiscent of chicharrones, says chocolatetartguy. The carne asada can be chewy, though, says lainielou. Also, the night crew is better than the day crew–luckily, the truck is open until 2 a.m.

lainielou also likes the truck from La Pinata restaurant, located at the intersection of High Street and Interstate 880, behind the inexpensive gas station–NOT the truck inside the gas station! The carnitas are great, the sopes excellent. The taco truck at 98th Avenue, near the DMV, has great tortas.

El Novillo Taco Truck [Fruitvale]
in parking lot of Guadalajara Restaurant
1001 Fruitvale Ave., Oakland

La Pinata Taco Truck [Fruitvale]
720 High St., at Highway 880, Oakland

Taco Truck [Fruitvale]
at 98th Ave., near the DMV, Oakland

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Taco trucks around Oakland Airport

Empress’s Mysterious Decline Diagnosed

Negative posts have been accumulating over the last year about the rapid and puzzling decline in quality at the previously reliable Empress Pavilion. Chandavkl passes on the word on the street in Chinatown: Apparently two chefs have left Empress for the kitchen at the Universal City Hilton, and a third has gone to the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas. Which leaves the Chinatown scene looking grim, but maybe this will give the Chinese seafood-centric buffet at Universal City Hilton the edge over its San Gabriel Hilton competition.

Empress Pavilion [Chinatown]
988 N. Hill St. # 201, Los Angeles

Universal City Hilton & Towers [East San Fernando Valley]
555 Universal Hollywood Dr., Universal City

San Gabriel Hilton Hotel [San Gabriel Valley]
209 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel

Board Links
Explanation For Sudden Deterioration In Quality At Empress Pavilion

From the Magic Wok into the Saffron Spot

Having heard the raves about Magic Wok in Artesia, Abby went to see just how authentic this Filipino joint is, and declares that it was like eating her (Filipina) mom’s cooking–good, homey food without any fusioney flourishes.

Chicken adobo is the perfect example of this–slow-cooked in soy sauce, vinegar, crushed garlic, bay leaf, and black peppercorns. The chicken is actually fried, but the dish isn’t greasy at all. Paksiw na lechon is pork slow-cooked in a mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, peppercorns, bay leaves, sugar, salt, and liver sauce. Here, it’s a little sweeter than at some other places, but this is just part of whole range of flavors, from tangy to a little salty to sweet.

Also delicious is the ordinary-sounding bistek, which is basically thinly sliced beef steak, marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic and then fried with onions. The sauce is great over rice. Fried bangus, or milkfish, is super-delicate and moist. Add some vinegar to experience it the Filipino way–sour. Sinigang soup, tamarind based, uses sour vegetables as well to enhance the tanginess. It’s a well-done classic.

There are some fruity drinks, which can be too sweet. But it’s worth trying the drink made with calamansi, a citrus fruit native to the Philippines. The flavor is tough to describe–it’s kind of like a mandarin orange crossed with a kumquat, and maybe a lemon too–sour and tangy, but with some sweetness to balance it out.

The restaurant isn’t fancy, just plain white walls with wood-straw-shell Filipino crafts hanging as decoration. But it’s bustling with Filipino families and couples, and there’s also a busy takeout business.

For dessert, nearby in Little India is Saffron Spot, an ice cream and snack shop. There’s regular ice cream in not-so-regular flavors like saffron, rose, mango, pistachio, lychee, and chikoo. Chikoo is made from an Indian fruit called sapota and tastes like prunes and licorice. There’s also kulfi–traditional Indian ice cream–in mango, saffron, rose, and plain flavors. The kulfi is extra dense, rich, and creamy.

Magic Wok Enterprises [Artesia-ish]
11869 Artesia Blvd., Artesia

Saffron Spot [Artesia-ish]
in the Little Indian Village center
18744 S. Pioneer Blvd., Artesia

Board Links
Magic Wok and Saffron Spot in Artesia (review)

Tracks: Seafood Central at Penn Station

No one goes to Penn Station just to eat at Tracks, but those who wind up there report surprisingly good seafood. Simple dishes are the way to go: sweet, briny St. Simon oysters and other shellfish from the raw bar; spinach salad with moist, flavorful grilled scallops and a nice balsamic dressing; a good-sized lobster roll with seasoned fries; and boiled lobster with a tasty salad and generous heaps of broccoli and mashed potatoes. “It was decent and I would come back,” says sivyaleah, who did take fault with their slipshod service, and watery tarragon cream sauce that came with her lobster ravioli.

You can eat at the bar, amid a loud, wired crowd that seems to turn over whenever a train pulls out, but if you’d rather not, head for the calmer dining room in back.

Tracks Raw Bar and Grill [Penn Station]
1 Penn Plaza #11, in Penn Station, LIRR level, Manhattan

Board Links
Hate to Even Ask–Tracks in Penn Station?
Lobster Dinners or Lobster Rolls in Manhattan

Bocca Lupo: Italian Vittles and Vino in Cobble Hill

Cobble Hill’s Bocca Lupo has quickly become a neighborhood favorite for its casual vibe and Italian small plates–especially sandwiches and other bites with bread. A panino with nutty cheese, tangy broccoli rabe, and moist, meaty sausage is an early standout, says dianasiri. Also great: bruschetta with a creamy topping of spinach and artichoke–“a perfect late-night summer snack.”

But this month-old place isn’t drawing crowds with bread alone. It’s also an enoteca, with an all-Italian list of around 50 wines, gently priced. “The wine list is comprehensive and reasonable, and the pours generous to the point of ridiculous,” adds dianasiri. The place is perfect for a casual evening with friends. It’s a great addition to the neighborhood–an unpretentious spot to linger, snack, and drink.

Beyond bruschette, panini, and tramezzini, the food wins mixed marks. Hounds praise seared baby lamb and roasted vegetables, but have also complained of soupy penne arrabbiata and tough roast pork shoulder. And some find the place just too pricey for the neighborhood.

Bocca Lupo is brought to you by the folks that own nearby juice joint Nectar.

Bocca Lupo [Cobble Hill]
391 Henry St., at Warren, Brooklyn

Nectar [Cobble Hill]
198 Court St., between Wyckoff and Congress, Brooklyn

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new on henry and warren?

Factory Direct

El Molino is located in the back of a strip mall, but don’t be intimidated by the stark surroundings. It’s a working tortilla factory that also serves food in a small, five-table waiting area. Juicy carnitas tacos, each made with three tortillas fresh off the machine, are very tasty. There’s also a juice bar, and you can get fresh masa to make your own tortillas at home. Worth a trip if you live within 60 miles of the place, says Johnny E..

Tortilleria El Molino [East Bay]
1500 Monument Blvd., Concord

Board Links
El Molino Tortilla Factory in Concord

Cooking with Orange Marmalade

Orange marmalade is a great condiment with cheeses and deli meats. Pour it over baked brie and top with salted nuts, or serve it with goat cheese. Use it in smoked turkey or hot ham and cheese sandwiches.

It’s terrific for glazing meats, especially pork and poultry. Mixed it up with an equivalent amount of dijon mustard to glaze a ham. Glaze pork tenderloin or shoulder with a mixture of orange marmalade, fish sauce, and sriracha chili paste. It’s great with Grand Marnier as a glaze for duck.

For a sophisticated tart, spread orange marmalade in a pre-baked tart shell and press in fresh fig halves and walnuts. Sprinkle a little brown sugar on top, and bake for a short while, until sugar melts and figs have softened (mnosyne). Or use it to glaze an apple tart: warm the marmalade until it spreads easily, brush or pour over the apple tart, and broil until the marmalade is bubbly and starting to char a little (cheryl h).

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what can you do with orange marmalade