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

Stop the presses!

As one of America’s leading popular food magazines, Bon Appétit has a responsibility to keep its readers abreast of the latest trends and breakthroughs in cookery. In its Sept. 2006 issue, it seems to do exactly that, clueing its readers in on an exciting new “Vocabulary” item:

Sous-Vide (soo-VEED),” it reads, “Literally ‘under vacuum’ in French, it’s the fancy boil-in-a-bag technique that’s sweeping the nation’s high-end restaurants…”

But “sweeping” is an unusual verb choice for this item. It implies… well, newness, bursting through barriers into a bold new frontier of culinary discovery, etc. etc.

Developed in France in the mid-1970s, sous-vide has been stateside for quite some time. Anyone who has lived and eaten in New York City—or, say, read the New York Times food section—is probably already familiar it, as it touched off a culinary flare-up of super-sized proportions early this year over questions about the practice’s safety.

Bon Appétit’s brief item manages to name-check two fancy restaurants that take advantage of sous-vide cooking, but fails to let its readers know about the technique’s controversial recent history or old-school origins.

And for the sake of reference, they could have at least mentioned Trish Hall’s New York Times piece on the technique, headlined “Pouches Offer Fresher Foods, But F.D.A. Warns of Risk.”

The date on this earlier expose?

March 23, 1988.

Coconut Water a.k.a. Buko Juice

Coconut water (buko juice, in the Philippines) is the liquid inside young coconuts. It’s watery and only subtly coconut flavored–sort of sweet and grassy, notes StriperGuy–and nothing like the sweet, oily water found in mature coconuts.

Young coconut juice can be used as a sport drink or a simple beverage. It’s high in potassium, calcium and magnesium. And you can find it in Asian or Latin markets, in bottles or cans.

You can order a good brand at Amazon.

Board Links: Buko juice

Le Creuset August Sale!

For the month of August, Le Creuset outlet stores are discounting three colors of their cookware, Blue, Soleil Yellow, and Indigo Blue. Six pieces are 25% off, and lids count as one piece! The more pieces you buy, the better the discount, up to 35%. Discounts can be applied to “seconds” too, for even more savings.

Board Links: Le Creuset Sale —Limited Colors, but Very Good Discount

Quick Ways With Sichuan Peppercorns

Here are a few simple, fast dishes making use of the tingly goodness of Sichuan peppercorns.

BJK prepares a salad of stir-fried chicken over spinach with a warm Sichuan peppercorn vinaigrette: Deglaze the pan you used for stir-frying with rice vinegar, soy and hoisin sauces, scallions, ginger, canola oil, and Sichuan peppercorns, and pour pan sauce over the salad.

alyssay shares her Sichuanese roommate’s family recipe for ma po tofu; Pan fry a bit of ground pork with 4-5 Sichuan peppercorns and set aside. Steam or boil soft or medium tofu; cut into cubes. Heat some oil in a pan, add a few Sichuan peppercorns and some chilis (if you like it extra spicy) and a few spoonfuls of Sichuan chili-bean paste (or substitute a combo of Chinese chili paste and miso) and fry for a couple minutes. Add tofu and then meat, mix. Serve topped with crushed Sichuan peppercorns and chopped green onions.

Grind Sichuan peppercorns and combine with salt, sugar, and garlic, then rub on meats for grilling or broiling (Claudette).

Crush Sichuan peppercorns and sprinkle on soups or use in salad dressings to bring an oomph that black pepper doesn’t deliver.

Board Links: Any recommendations for a quick, weeknight use of sichuan peppercorns?

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…