The CHOW Blog rss

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

Cassis And Creme De Cassis

Kirs are popular drinks made from dry white wine flavored with cassis. The drink, incidentally, is named for Canon Felix Kir, one-time mayor of Dijon, France (the center of cassis production).

warrenr explains: cassis and creme de cassis are names for the liqueur made from blackcurrants steeped in neutral spirits, with lots of sugar added. Two favorites available in the US are Cartron Double Creme and Lucien Jacob. Also good are Trenel and Theuriet. L’Heritier-Guyot is the most widely available brand, and it’s marginally acceptable. Most domestic stuff is pretty poor, though Warwick Winery has recently started production of a pretty good cassis.

Maxwell also recommends G. E. Massenez de Dijon, though you may need to go to Dijon to find it.

Bear in mind that freshness is important with cassis, so buy from a store with high turnover.

Board Links: What would the premium brand for Creme de Cassis be?

Getting the Sour Back in Your Cherry Pie

If you’re in one of the many parts of the country where it’s not possible to get fresh or even frozen sour cherries but you crave sour cherry pie, there’s a solution. You can get a lot of real sour cherry flavor into a pie made with sweet cherries by using pure sour cherry juice. Between the juice and the fresh fruit you’ll get a nice balance of chunky and juicy, sweet and tart. Look for jarred Knudsen and Trader Joe’s house brand sour cherry juices.

Bride of the Juggler cooks sour cherry juice with cornstarch and sugar until it’s thick, then pours it over a cookie crumb crust heaped full of pitted cherries and bakes.

Becca Porter makes a conventional cherry pie filling, tossing the fruit with lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch, and a pinch of salt, adding sour cherry juice reduced to syrup consistency.

Board Links: Easy great fruit pies with TJ’s sour cherry juice

Odd Candies

There are lots of oddball candies in this world.

Chowpatty favors Mexican candies flavored with tamarind, chile, or both. She also loves leche quemada, basically Mexican milk fudge. It’s kind of like penuche, but made with white sugar instead of brown. This stuff is available in many Mexican markets–look for a small case with fresh pralines, coconut-fudge, and the like.

MMRuth’s favorite: Dutch double-salted licorice (candy makers in the Netherlands make quite a variety of salted licorice).

At Asian markets, you can find fragrant muscat-grape flavored gummies. They actually exude the aroma and have the flavor of wine grapes, and are chewy, says silence9. They’re more tender than European gummies. Look for them near the Pocky section.

diesel likes anything both salty and sweet, so he grooves most of all on Chinese dried salted plums, Mexican chili-coated gummi bears, Pearson’s salted nut rolls, and chocolate covered potato chips.

GG Mora is into durian candy. It’s like salt-water taffy, only with the unmistakable sulphurous flavor of durian fruit. Also: Ting-Ting Jahe, the sticky ginger candy from southeast Asia.

Choward’s Scents Gum is cool and tastes of lavender.

ipsedixit recommends: marshmallow Peeps, Zagnuts, Valomilks, tropical-flavored Razzles, and Claeys Candy (watermelon and root beer flavors in particular).

Then there are the sweets purists. typetive consumes muscovado sugar by the spoonful. And chica, our greatest purist, prefers a simple raw piece of sugarcane.

Board Links
What’s your favorite oddball candy?

Grilling In Fresh Grape Leaves

Do you have a grapevine in your yard, or access to fresh grape leaves that aren’t sprayed with insecticides? Here are a couple of neat ideas for using the leaves to make delicious dishes on your grill.

For an appetizer, Darren72 likes to take a piece of goat cheese, top it with a basil leaf and a piece of roasted red pepper, wrap the whole in grape leaves, and grill over low heat (this works well with jarred grape leaves in brine, as well).

Season fish (e.g., halibut, sardines, salmon, sole) with salt and pepper (and maybe a little citrus zest) and rub with olive oil, then wrap in grape leaves and grill over medium-high heat. The fish will take on a smoky, herbaceous flavor and the leaves will get a little crispy, says rabaja. If the leaves are young and tender you may be able to eat them, otherwise just open up the package and enjoy the fish on its own.

If you have more fresh-on-the-vine grape leaves than you can currently use, remember that they freeze very well. Blanch, shock in ice water, dry, roll up six at a time, wrap well and freeze (Infomaniac).

Board Links: Lots of Grape Leaves
Stuffed Grape Leaves (not Dolma)

Kebabs, Doner-Style, at Spitz

Go to Spitz for the gelato, stay for the kebabs, says ipse dixit. Chicken kebabs, in a sandwich with tzatziki and chile sauce, are super-tasty. So is the gyro beef/lamb; both sandwiches come on a focaccia-like bread that’s more like what’s used for a “doner kebab” sandwich in Europe than the usual pita. Seasoned fries and sweet potato fries are just as good.

For dessert, there’s that gelato–dark chocolate has good rich flavor; raspberry and pomegranate are both delicious. Green tea is nice and subtle, but maybe a bit too minty. Vanilla has punch, but is too sweet.

Spitz [Eagle Rock]
2506 Colorado Blvd., at College View Ave, Los Angeles

Board Links: SPITZ: Go for the gelato, stay for the kebabs …

Papa’s Got a Brand New Beard

Heads up, Westsiders–Beard Papa has opened a location on Sawtelle, tucked into Mousse Cafe. The bakery-cafe is known for ultra-fresh Japanese-style cream puffs, with crisp shells filled to order with light pastry cream–green tea and chocolate flavors are coming soon, but for now it’s just plain vanilla.

Beard Papa [Sawtelle Strip]
2130 Sawtelle Blvd. #110, Olympic, Los Angeles

Beard Papa [Hollywood]
6801 Hollywood Blvd. #153, Highland, Los Angeles

Beard Papa [South Bay]
in Marukai Pacific Square Shopping Center
1620 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., at LaSalle, Gardena

Beard Papa [Inland of LA]
in Puente Hills Mall
1600 Azusa Ave., at Pepperbrook, City of Industry

BEARD PAPAS cream puffs on Sawtelle
Beard Papas…coming to Sawtelle TOMORROW

Five Hamburger Contenders In Brooklyn

The je ne sais quoi in the alluring hamburger at Cocotte is a dash of cognac, which is drizzled over a fistful of top-notch beef at this Park Slope bistro and bar. Swiss cheese, portobello mushroom, and great French fries complete the plate. Best burger in Brooklyn, declares EJC.

Elsewhere in the Slope, hounds love Helios’ half-pound Black Angus burger, which comes juicy and nicely charred on a house-made brioche roll. Sharp cheddar and freshly sauteed mushrooms put it over the top, says redgirl. For a few bucks more, add standout herb fries or a better-than-you’d-expect side salad of greens, very good crumbled feta, onion, and a tasty vinaigrette. Few reports so far from the Greek side of the menu, except that lamb souvlaki and eggy, lemony avgolemono soup are worth a try.

In Williamsburg, dive bar-turned-bistro Sweetwater makes an excellent, slightly fancy burger with Gruyere and caramelized onions on an English muffin–“which may sound twee to you but I assure you isn’t,” promises benghoil.

Carroll Gardens’ Crave rolls out a 10-ouncer–nicely seasoned meat “with a bit of a kick to it,” says David B–with pickled onions on onion brioche.

And in Brooklyn Heights, the Heights Cafe serves excellent char-broiled burgers with freshly made fries or onion rings, says Fleur.

Cocotte [Park Slope]
337 5th Ave., at 4th St., Brooklyn

Helios [Park Slope]
formerly Elios
82 6th Ave., between St. Marks and Prospect Pl., Brooklyn

Sweetwater [Williamsburg]
105 N 6th St., between Berry St and Wythe Ave., Brooklyn

Crave [Carroll Gardens]
570 Henry St., between Carroll and Summit, Brooklyn

Heights Cafe [Brooklyn Heights]
84 Montague St., at Henry St., Brooklyn

Board Links: great hamburger in brooklyn
helios: great burger
Great burger alert

Telepan Revisited

From the amuse bouche on, zGustibus was sold on the farm-to-table experience at Telepan. The three-part curtain-raiser for his recent dinner comprised chilled carrot soup with olive oil, crostini with mushrooms and beans, and puff pastry filled with cheese. “So delicious, sweet and fresh tasting. It was a definite signal of the kind of greenmarket experience we were about to have.”

At this seven-month-old restaurant on the Upper West Side, chef Bill Telepan (Judson Grill) shows a soft spot for eggs. Two winning dishes: coddled eggs atop collard greens and scrapple, and pea carbonara with pancetta and poached egg (which you mix into a delicious mess in the egg pasta). “If you like to break eggs on top of things, then this is definitely your restaurant.”

In some courses, the accompaniments outshine the star ingredients. Halibut comes out crisply seared outside, moist and flavorful inside–yet it’s upstaged by the chanterelles, wild spinach, and killer crisped gnocchi it’s served over. Overall, though, the end result is a delicious and well-conceived meal. “A lot of times a restaurant will have a great menu but the food doesn’t live up,” observes zGustibus. “At Telepan, the food definitely lived up to the menu.”

Brunch is no letdown, early reports suggest. Even at $25, it’s “an enormous value,” says anon646–a prix fixe deal of two courses plus a generous bread basket of first-rate scones, cinnamon rolls, small doughnuts, and assorted cakes. Winning starters include smoked brook trout (a Telepan signature) on potato-chive blini. Recommended main courses: lobster-scallion omelette and a blowout babka-style chocolate French toast, as amazing as it sounds.

Telepan [Upper West Side]
72 W. 69th St., between Columbus Ave. and Central Park West, Manhattan

Board Links: Telepan: Summer Menu (Long Review)
Telepan Review?

The House

Need some tall food? Like, tall as a house? House Restaurant stacks food tall with high-quality technique, fanciful mosaic-like presentations, and vibrant flavors, says Melanie Wong.

The kitchen’s best talents are demonstrated in a wonderful grilled fresh fig salad: a mix of mizuna and other salad greens with six halves of sweet, squishy, delicately charred and caramelized black Mission figs. An even better appetizer is seared dayboat scallops. Described as a spicy ponzu sauce, the emulsified citrusy sauce is more akin to a beurre blanc made with olive oil.

Entrees are generous and equally good. Creamy-textured and crisp-crusted fried chicken livers with garlicky soy marinade are like Chinese fried chicken and are very fresh tasting. Accompanying greens are somewhat underseasoned, yet a good foil for the meal’s other assertive flavors. Braised Niman ranch pork shoulder is topped, unnecessarily but luxuriously, with gorgeously crusty foie gras. The fatty and fork-tender pork gives off warmly spicy, garlicky, and slightly sweet juices that mix well with the side of nori rice and Napa cabbage. Other hits are flatiron steak with wasabi noodles and spicy slaw, and perfect seared crisp-skinned sable (black cod) with Dungeness crab and avocado maki.

As if you’d have room, chocolate cake is great, with deep fudgy texture and crunchy praline bits.

The sole misses are vegetable accompaniments (with rib eye), which are undercooked to the point of hardness; overcooked, tough fried calamari; and bland blueberry bread pudding.

House Restaurant [North Beach]
1230 Grant Ave., San Francisco

Board Links: The House in San Francisco

Fisherman’s Wharf Survival Guide

Sooner or later, whether you’re a local or visitor, highbrow or lowbrow, native or transplant, you’ll need to eat at Fisherman’s Wharf. Fear not: it can be done.

Alioto’s is an old standby, with 50’s decor, great views, and waiters in tuxedos. The Godfather would eat here if he’d lived to move to SF, says rworange. At lunchtime there are good deals, even though a la carte pricing puts a cup of soup over $7 and fresh fish of the day as high as $30. One good catch is the Sicilian chicken soup, a half-sandwich of bay shrimp, and dessert, all for $12. The soup is a deeply golden chicken broth with a few peas and noodles, some cooked egg yolk, and meatballs. The broth doesn’t have much chicken flavor, but it’s house-made and pleasant enough. The bay shrimp are delicate and fresh. For dessert, creme brulee is among the best rworange has had: thick, rich, and very deeply yellow from the eggs, with a perfect hard caramelized top.

For a totally different kind of Fisherman’s Wharf meal, run to Saigon Grill for banh mi. Not kidding. The meat in the grilled lemongrass pork banh mi (thit nuong) is so good you’ll pull pieces out and eat them by themselves. Thin tender slices of pork with a whisper of fat, all nicely marinated with a touch of grill flavor, and slightly sweet like teriyaki. They use nice crusty rolls with mayo, pickled daikon radish, and carrots, fresh cilantro, and large slices of super-fresh jalapenos. It’s a wonderful mix of texture and flavor–hot, sweet, smoky, crunchy, velvety–that’s worth the $3.50 (yep, nearly twice what you’d pay in the Tenderloin).

If you’re spending lots of time around the Wharf and Pier 39, pull down the whole list of suggestions by rworange, whose other favorites are Gary Danko, Nick’s Lighthouse, Scoma’s, Eagle Cafe, and Ana Mandara.

Alioto’s [Fisherman’s Wharf]
8 Fishermans Wharf, San Francisco

Saigon Grill [Fisherman’s Wharf]
2731 Taylor St., between Beach & Jefferson St., San Francisco

Gary Danko [Fisherman’s Wharf]
800 N. Point St., San Francisco

Nick’s Lighthouse [Fisherman’s Wharf]
2801 Taylor St., San Francisco

Scoma’s [Fisherman’s Wharf]
47 Pier, San Francisco

Eagle Cafe [Fishmerman’s Wharf]
39 Pier 39 #201, San Francisco

Ana Mandara [Ghirardelli Square]
891 Beach St., San Francisco

Board Links: Fisherman’s Wharf Crabby Crawl – Lunch at Alioto’s
SF- A Tale of Two Banh Mi – Saigon Grill & Little Vietnam Café
Hey, San Francisco visitors, tell the locals about Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39