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

Just a Really Great Slab of Pig

A few hounds name Nick’s Cafe as the place to find the best ham in the city. Says petradish, “It’s not country ham, but a nicely prepared slab of pig with a slight chew (not limp or rubbery), salty and meaty, substantial, hint of clove in there somewhere, maybe. Like someone baked a nice ham for dinner and served you breakfast the next morning along with some good eggs.”

The salsa is also really popular, and the home fries are better than the hash browns.

The main drawback here is that there’s only one cook (who can’t multitask), one waitress (Myrna) and about 20 counter seats, so it can take a while to get served. A tip from Myrna: Put in your order by phone, and it should be ready by the time you arrive. Of course, this depends on where you live.

Nick’s Cafe [Chinatown]
1300 N. Spring St., Los Angeles

Board Links: Nick’s Cafe–Best Ham?

Contraband Candy

The tiny silver-coated candy balls called dragees contain only a very small amount of actual silver. They are an old favorite for decorating petit fours and holiday cookies. You can find them in candy and cake decorating shops, and on Amazon (just search for them).

But you can’t get them in California, where they’re illegal. Online sources won’t deliver there, either. If these are an essential decorating item for you, you’ll need to go to an adjoining state to purchase them (or buy online for shipping to a friend in a nearby state.)

Read the story behind the ban.

Board Links: little silver balls (dragees)

The Secret to Light and Crispy Beer Batter

If you prefer fried fish, onion rings, etc., with a light, crispy crust (vs. a denser, crunchy one), Pei has discovered the secret: incorporate beaten egg white into a typical beer batter. Here’s her recipe:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 T cornstarch
1 T baking powder
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 bottle of beer
2 egg whites

Mix all the dry ingredients together, add the beer, and stir to mix thoroughly. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Mix a little of the batter into the whites, then mix that all back into the batter. The mixture of dry ingredients and beer can sit as long as an hour–but beat the egg whites just before frying.

Board Links: Egg Whites for Beer Batter

Reduced-Sugar Fruit Sorbet

Good, dead-ripe fruit is sweet enough that it doesn’t require lots of extra sugar when making desserts. But sugar plays a larger role than just sweetening in making sorbet–it also affects texture and freezability. Too little sugar will produce a sorbet that freezes rock hard when stored, and will be full of ice crystals even when fresh. Here are some strategies for reducing sugar without compromising quality.

Instead of adding simple syrup to your fruit puree, try stirring sugar directly in (superfine sugar dissolves best). The taste will be cleanest, and you won’t be adding unnecessary water, which could help produce ice crystals. A pinch of salt helps bring out the fruit’s flavor.

Add a bit of alcohol (about 2 T of vodka for a neutral taste, or use a liqueur with a complementary flavor) toward the end of your ice cream machine’s freezing cycle. Alcohol inhibits overfreezing.

Remember that if your mixture has the perfect sweetness before freezing, it will be less sweet after, as freezing mutes sweetness. So adjust accordingly!

Board Links: Sorbet with a Reduced Sugar Simple Syrup–Will it work?

The Crepe of the Vietnamese

A Vietnamese crepe (banh xeo) is a more hot-blooded affair than a French crepe. While the latter is a thing of grace and delicacy, of yielding textures and measured softnesses, a Vietnamese crepe is closer in aesthetic to, say, a fried bar snack. The outside is thickly crispy, the inside a bit melty and oozy. The way my Vietnamese mom used to make ‘em, the inside of the crepe was still clearly a form of batter–and you liked it that way.

Oh, and Vietnamese crepes are filled with sprouts and shrimp and pork.

Edie’s favorite Vietnamese crepes are at Bodega Bistro. The crepes next door at Mangosteen are good, but not as delicious. Bodega Bistro is open seven days from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

veebee’s favorite Vietnamese crepe is at Lotus Garden. Her second favorite crepe is Angkor Borei. Though Angkor Borei’s crepe is not quite Vietnamese, it’s pretty close, and, in any case, it’s simply a real good crepe. Her third favorite is that at the aforementioned Bodega Bistro, though they can occasionally be undercooked and gummy.

Mike Lee’s favorite Viet crepes are the ones at Le Soleil.

Bodega Bistro [Tenderloin]
607 Larkin St., San Francisco

Mangosteen [Tenderloin]
601 Larkin St., at Eddy, San Francisco

Lotus Garden [Mission]
3216 Mission St., San Francisco

Angkor Borei [Mission]
3471 Mission St., at Cortland, San Francisco

Le Soleil Authentic Vietnamese [Richmond]
133 Clement St., San Francisco

Board Links: vietnamese crepe recommendations?

Daim Cake at Ikea

The Swedes love Daim cake. It’s made from an almondy biscuit batter that yields a thin cake. The cake is covered with chopped pieces of Daim candy (similar to Heath bars) and milk chocolate. It’s very sweet and rich.

The cakes are found in Ikea’s frozen food department; some stores sell it by the slice in the Cafe, too. JK Grence (the Cosmic Jester) likes the milk chocolate one best.

See a photo of Daim cake.

Board Links: Ikea–any worthy treats I should purchase?

Italian Meal Courses

The traditional ordering of courses for a classic Italian meal, says Robert Lauriston, is as follows:

Antipasto (‘pasto’ means meal, so antipasto means before the meal, i.e., appetizer)

Primo (first course, usually pasta or soup)

Secondo (entree), with contorni (vegetables on the side)

Dolce (dessert, often fresh seasonal fruit)

Cafe (coffee)

A salad course may be slipped in between entree and dessert, or a more substantial salad, such as Caprese (tomato and mozarella), can be served as a first course.

Board Links: Antipasto/Antapasti

What the Devil’s Got into Your Eggs?

Hounds offer up their favorite variations for filling deviled eggs.

-smoked paprika in the filling and as a garnish

-mayo, soy sauce, and chili-garlic paste

-wasabi and smoked salmon, topped with white and black sesame seeds

-high-quality unsalted butter and anchovy paste

-plain yogurt and mayo, curry powder, mango chutney, cilantro leaf garnish

-crumbled bacon

Board Links: Deviled egg variations ? Favorites for fruit salads? Suggestions please!

Thai Satay

Thai Satay may look and feel like every other little Thai restaurant in town. No weirdo-specials, no regional intensity. But nearly every Thai standard on the menu is prepared either competently or brilliantly. It is, consequently, the winner of katya’s survey of Peninsula Thai restaurants.

Her four favorite dishes are:

Egg rolls: filled with silver noodles and chicken, and entirely ungreasy. These are perhaps her favorite egg rolls in the Bay Area.

Cold vegetable spring rolls: filled with glass noodles, tofu, and bean sprouts. Not quite as good as the egg rolls, but still satisfying.

Pad kee mao: wonderous, with a good level of spiciness. And…

Yellow curry chicken: with a nicely complex sauce.

Also excellent: red curry, mussamun chicken, pineapple fried rice, panang chicken, and rad na. Quite good are tom kha gai, garlic pepper chicken, and sweet basil chicken. Not so good: cashew chicken, chili paste beef, and baby corn chicken. There also the excitingly named F.B.I.: fried banana with ice cream. Sadly, it is less than ballistically delicious.

One last note: order stuff medium spicy. If you get stuff very spicy, they just throw on lots of excess chili oil and pepper flakes. Sloppy and unmodulated spiciness. Not good.

Sun-Thu, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Fri-Sat, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Thai Satay [Peninsula]
173 E. 4th St., at S. Ellsworth, San Mateo

Board Links: Thai Satay in San Mateo – Great Curries and Egg Rolls But Don’t Get Busted by the F.B.I.!

Korean Fire Chicken

umetaro found a buldalk restaurant during a drunken post-sushi stumble. Buldalk is Korean fire chicken, a.k.a. “kill my mouth and make me scream” chicken. Fire chicken is the latest Korean craze–brutally spicy barbecued chicken, typically consumed by drunken twentysomething Koreans.

At this place, there’s no panchan, the rice is old, and the maekju is Americanized (which, in this case, means smaller pitchers and mugs). The acoustics are terrible, too–loud and echoey. But you can get buldalk with ddeok, and it’s satisfyingly spicy.

In brief: this place wouldn’t survive long in Seoul, but as San Francisco’s only buldalk restaurant, it’s worth a visit when you’re in the mood for chicken and pain.

It looks like they open at 5:30 p.m., and stay open as long as they’re busy. The restaurant sign reads “Korean Restaurant” and “Fire Chicken.”

Unnamed Korean Restaurant [Union Square]
East side of Taylor St., between Post and Geary, San Francisco

Board Links: buldalk (fire chicken) restaurant