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

Mojitos – From Purist To Fanciful

Few summer drinks are more more refreshing than a mojito–the Cuban cocktail of white rum, mint, lime, and sugar, topped with soda water. Chowhounds offer trusty techniques for achieving the classic, as well as some interesting change-up suggestions.

Every good mojito begins with good muddling–to extract the maximum amount of aromatic oil from the mint, and to mix the flavors thoroughly with the sugar. Since mint and lime vary in flavor, you’ll need to play around a bit to find the right proportions.

Here’s a mojito primer:

Combine a few sprigs of mint leaves, juice and rind of at least half a lime, and about 1 1/2 tsp sugar in a 16 oz glass and muddle very well. (If you don’t have a bar muddler, you can use the handle of a wooden spoon or a citrus reamer–covering the reamer end with a bar towel so you don’t injure yourself.) Take the lime rind out if you prefer, add plenty of ice, a shot and a half of rum, and some soda water.

As for whether to leave the lime rind in the glass, it’s all a matter of personal taste, according to Dave Feldman. “Leaving the lime inside of the glass is optional–some people like a clean glass–others like it to look like a swamp. Either can work.”

jackie de makes mint-infused simple syrup, and muddles that with lime in place of using mint leaves and sugar. She also adds a crushed mint leaf to her finished drink.

A bartenders’ “secret” is replacing sugar and club soda with Sprite (ITurnedOutTV loves this version because you can go sugarless by using Diet Sprite).

Lots of hounds like variations made with flavored rums or other spirits. Recommended: Malibu coconut rum or mango rum; cachaca in place of rum; adding a dash of angostura bitters; using a dry Champagne or prosecco in place of club soda.

Board Links: Mojito time!

Go West for Dinner with a View

The latest designer steakhouse, or one of the latest (it’s hard to keep track), West has an impressive location atop Hotel Angeleno, by the 405. Yes, the view is basically of the freeway, but all those colored lights actually look pretty when you’re not stuck in traffic below. So try to get a window seat.

For a steak place, the most unanimous raves are for the pastas–porcini gnocchi and fresh ravioli stuffed with juicy, flavorful short rib meat.

A lot of the appetizers sound good-not-great, but white anchovies on crisp celery with blanched almonds stand out. Burrata with char-grilled peppers is lovely.

As for steaks, the verdict is mixed. tokyoastrogirl (who was invited for a free meal) says her 20-ounce, bone-in ribeye with chile rub was one fine piece of meat (roast chicken pales by comparison), but no hint of chile anywhere. MikeLewis75 had the porterhouse, and says the quality and seasonings are nice but medium-rare came a bit too charred. diningdivala found both the sage-rubbed veal chop and the steak pretty bland. In the end, non-steak dishes seem more appealing.

For dessert, the molten chocolate cake (surrounded by what seem to be pink peppercorns coated in chocolate) is a winner. Fondue, which takes 15 minutes, is okay, but peach tartlet with mint confounds almost all who encounter it.

The biggest props of all are for service–courteous, accomodating, quick to right any wrongs.

West Restaurant [Wealthy Westlands]
in Hotel Angeleno
170 N. Church La., Los Angeles

Board Links: WEST restaurant- review w/ photos

The Farm on Adderley: Field to Table in Ditmas Park

Locally raised food, simply and skillfully prepared, is winning early raves at the Farm on Adderley, which seems to be just what Ditmas Park was hungering for. “This is a fantastic addition to the neighborhood,” says Poindexter, and a more grown-up counterpart to the mostly well-regarded Picket Fence.

Chef Tom Kearney, who helped turn a dive bar into an actual restaurant at Williamsburg’s Sweetwater, is in charge of the ever-changing farm-to-table American menu. Some standouts: a salad of Bibb lettuce, peas, and buttermilk dressing; chilled wild shrimp with vinegared cucumber and avocado; moist, tasty roast chicken over quinoa with farmer cheese; and cold asparagus soup, “held together nicely with a still-warm poached egg floating in the middle, like a happy kid in the cool green H2O of a favorite swimming hole,” recalls Poindexter. For dessert, look for peach-blueberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream or milk chocolate mousse with salted cream (“the combination of smooth chocolate, cream, and salt is heaven,” sighs rebecca2180).

Beyond what’s on the plate, hounds are enjoying the cozy front lounge, the inviting garden, the overall experience. “The space and the energy of the place are fabulous!” marvels bkfoodie. “The owners are friendly, and it’s obvious they put a lot of detailed care into this warm and upscale venture.”

The Farm on Adderley [Flatbush]
1108 Cortelyou Rd., between Stratford and Westminster Rds., Brooklyn

Picket Fence [Flatbush]
1310 Cortelyou Rd., between Argyle and Rugby, Brooklyn

Board Links: The Farm, Ditmas Park
new restaurant on cortelyou?
The Farm at Adderley on Cortelyou
I bought The Farm on Adderley, Ditmas Park

Chatham Square: Cantonese Newcomer in New York Chinatown

Chinatown’s Chatham Square Restaurant appears to be off to a strong start. Early reports on this seafood and dim sum house praise steamed carp, Cantonese-style Dungeness crab, oyster casserole, shrimp in lobster sauce, and clams in black bean sauce, among other things. Blue crabs with ginger and scallion are fine, says SomeRandomIdiot, but the “Cantonese-style” version (enriched with egg and bits of meat) is better.

Among the dim sum offerings, wu gok (fried taro balls) are among the best around, says bokkyo. Also nice: tripe, har gow, shu mai, pan-fried dumplings, and a flatter, pancakey taro snack. The name of this newish restaurant invites confusion–note that it is not connected with Chatham Restaurant, the bustling, diner-like joint that turns out great bao and other bites a few doors away.

Chatham Square Restaurant [Chinatown]
6 Chatham Sq., between Mott and Doyers Sts., Manhattan,

Chatham Restaurant [Chinatown]
9 Chatham Sq., between Mott and Doyers Sts., Manhattan

Board Links: Cantonese in Chinatown, had to let you know

Sandwicho Supremo

La Guarecita makes the best torta in all of the Bay Area, says rworange. Their humble milanesa ($4.99) is better than anything she ate in Mexico. First of all, the meat is good–the thinnest, meltingly tender slice of beef, lightly breaded and grilled so the edges are slightly crispy. The roll is brushed with butter and lightly grilled on both sides. That warm, soft bun lovingly holds the meat, tomato, lettuce, avocado, sliced onions, jalapeno, and real Mexican beans. Everything, she says, is done in the spirit of true balance.

The shop is also a grocery and meat market. It’s got one of the best Mexican cheese selections in the area. Butter comes in one-pound blocks wrapped in waxed paper, 69 cents a pound.

The menu is in Spanish without English translations, but the staff speaks excellent English. And there are pictures of the sandwiches.

There is also something called cubana suprema, a $12 torta involving milanesa, jamon, chorizo, and more.

Mon–Fri: 8 a.m.-9 p.m..
Sat–Sun: 9 a.m.-9 p.m..

La Guarecita Taqueria y Mercado [East Bay]
1848 23rd St., nearish the San Pablo Ave. merge, San Pablo

Board Links: $11.99 Cubana Suprema–La Guarecita Taqueria y Mercado – Bay’s best torta, beats DF

The Burger That Legends Are Made Of

The Chieftain Cheeseburger is what legends are made out of, says wchane. It starts off as an innocent-looking $8 burger: bun, patty, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, sliced onions. The important thing is to order all the extras. We mean, everything. You have to pile it up: fried egg, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, crumbled blue cheese, smoked bacon, and maybe even a second patty. The second patty is optional; the rest isn’t. Once fully loaded, it is scrumptious. With a side of thick-cut fries drizzled with malt vinegar, it’s real pub food.

Most of the other stuff is, by general hound opinion, pretty poor. Most seem to consider the Chieftain’s burger as their sole moment of shining glory. vliang disagrees: what’s sucky is all their other American/Californian items. So go for their Irish stuff, especially Irish breakfast–bangers and mash, corned beef hash, cottage pie, and vegetable pie. Those things are as awesome as the burger. Some also like their fish and chips.

Back to burgers. The Chieftain’s is the best, but a decent second best is St. John’s, says wchane. Their’s is a perfectly grilled hamburger with thick-cut bacon, crumbled blue cheese, and fresh baked buns. It’s a great burger–but it would not inspire legends.

The Chieftain [SOMA]
198 5th St., at Howard, San Francisco

St John’s Bar & Grill [South Bay]
510 Lawrence Expy. #110, Sunnyvale

Board Links: Chieftain Cheeseburger…

Non-Dairy Milks

Need some non-dairy milk?

Soy milk: many, many chowhounds like Silk, either in plain or vanilla flavor. It’s got that creamy feeling, like whole milk. Many also love Silk’s chocolate flavor (especially good blended with a frozen banana, says ceegee). Unsweetened Silk is hard to find, though; when Chowpatty can’t get it, she usually settles for Westbrae unsweetened vanilla soy milk from Trader Joe’s. Others dig: Vitasoy (especially vanilla), Natura unsweetened, and So Nice.

Also try Kikkoman’s Pearl line of soy milks, especially their matcha flavor, says kare raisu. rabaja loves the exceptional taste of Wildwood soy milk, available from Whole Foods, which converted him into a regular soy milk drinker.

PseudoNerd can’t stand any of the usual Western soy milk brands; he loves Korean soy milks, though. All Korean brands seem consistently good, and come in flavors like banana, chocolate, and strawberry. boogiebaby also can’t stand American soy milks, and gets his stuff from Asian markets. He recommends Yeo’s, from Singapore. It’s not as sweet as American soy milk, and has a richer taste. Notes chica, American soy milks are typically fortified with vitamins, while Asian soy milks aren’t.

Almond milk: many really like Blue Diamond Almond unsweetened plain or chocolate almond milk. It’s not super creamy, and doesn’t really taste anything like milk, but it has a nice, gentle flavor, is very low in calories, and makes coffee suitably creamy-feeling. Many like it much more than any soy milk.

MollyGee doesn’t like soy milk on cereal; it’s too thick and gritty. She prefers Rice Dream’s vanilla rice milk for cereal, which is very much like the consistency of skim dairy milk. It is, however, very, very sweet. ipsedixit recommends oat milk along these lines–it’s like soy milk, but lighter in texture, and with a milder taste.

There’s also a hazelnut milk available from Whole Foods.

Board Links: Non-dairy milks … do you have a preference?

The Complete Guide to Buying Your First Knives

The following is some excellent advice on buying your first knives, from Darren72.

The first question: do you want to buy a packaged set? Most serious cooks wind up using somewhere between two and four knives, so, really, those humongous sets of knives are a bad idea. You get more knives than you need, and sometimes you end up with a high quality, expensive version of something that would would be just as fine cheap. On the other hand, very small sets (i.e., 2-4 knives) do save you some money, and come with asharpening steel, kitchen shears, and knife block. They’re worth it if you can find a set with exactly the knives you want. But note: different stores sell different sets from the same brand. So shop around for small sets.

And if you decide to buy knives individually, spend the big money on your chef’s knife. Most people start off with an 8-inch chef’s knife; a good one will usually cost between $75 and $90. Depending on your cooking style, you’ll also want a good-quality paring knife (3- to 5-inch), and a good-quality utility or boning knife (6- to 8-inch) or a Santoko knife. Serrated knives, such as bread knives, don’t gain much from being high quality–go ahead and get a cheap stamped blade. If you want to save more money, buy a cheap paring knife. Think about multitasking before you buy, too. Bread knives can be used to cut tomatoes; you don’t need a specialty tomato knife unless you cut an awful lot of tomatoes. Flexible utility knives can also be used for boning; unless you do a lot of boning, you probably don’t need a dedicated boning knife. Your chef’s knife will be your most-used knife for everyday chopping and slicing tasks, so it’s worth spending the money for a good forged steel model.

There are a number of good brands for top-quality knives, like Wusthof Trident and Henckels. But most of the differences between the high-end brands come down to feel and weight distribution. Research has limited usefulness; it’s better to just go into a store and ask to hold and practice cutting with various chef’s knives so you you know which brand feels best in your hands.

Storage: you want to store your knives in a wooden block, a knife magnet attached to the wall, or a specially-designed knife-holder for your kitchen drawer. Don’t just throw nice knives into a drawer! And don’t put them in the dishwasher.

Sharpening: you need a sharpening steel, which will cost about $20. These don’t actually sharpen the blade; they straighten it. You need to use the steel every time you use the knife. Then, about once every six months to a year, you need to go to a professional sharpener and get your knives actually sharpened. Go to a pro. It’ll cost a few dollars per knife, and will be way better than any do-it-yourself sharpening kit. But do some research to find a good professional knife sharpener who knows what he or she is doing and won’t grind your blades away.

Finally, buy a good cutting board. You want something large, but not so large that you’ll never use it. Wood is nice because it’s heavy and doesn’t move. Oxo makes excellent plastic cutting boards that are light, dishwasher safe, and have rubber edges to hold them in place. Avoid glass cutting boards. Consider buying a few thin, flexible, small boards for quick little tasks.

Board Links: knife recommendations?

Ranch Dressing

All agree: the base of ranch dressing is buttermilk and mayo. Recipes mostly deviate re: use of fresh or dried herbs. And then there’s an issue currently giving chowhounds night sweats: whether the real key to the ranch flavor we know and love is (shudder) MSG. Several hounds swear it’s true!

dano, who says of MSG in ranch dressing, “this WILL make it, believe it or not,” shares the ingredients he used in a restaurant’s recipe: Equal parts buttermilk and mayo; plus salt, MSG, onion power, garlic powder, black pepper, and dried dill.

Several hounds recommend Penzey’s Buttermilk Ranch dressing mix, which is handy to have on hand and make up whenever you’re in the mood.

Here’s MollyGee’s recipe:

1 cup mayonnaise
1/3-1/2 cup buttermilk (depending on how thick you like it)
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 or 2 cloves minced garlic
2 T chopped parsley or dill
2 T snipped chives
2 green onions, thinly sliced
freshly ground pepper, to taste

Whisk together mayonnaise, buttermilk, and vinegar, then add and mix in remaining ingredients. Will keep 3 or 4 days in refrigerator.

Board Links: ISO Ranch Dressing Recipe

Nifty New Corn Gadget

Kuhn Rikon’s new Corn Zipper makes quick work of separating raw corn kernels from cobs. It does its job exceedingly neatly, too, raves LindaR, literally “zipping” the kernels off into a bowl a few rows at a time, without cutting into the cob. And it’s safe–no chance of slicing fingers, as with other such contraptions.

Order from

Board Links: Best New Gadjet–Corn Zipper