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

Chamomile for Cocktails

Marolo's Grappa & Camomile, an Italian liqueur made by infusing chamomile flowers in Nebbiola-grape grappa, has been around for a while, but it's starting to get some love from good bartenders like Kelley Swenson at Portland, Oregon's Ten 01. His chamomile sour was my first run-in with chamomile mixed in a cocktail. It changed my opinion of the herb, which had always been colored by its role as the oldest, crustiest tea bag leftover in the "mixed herbal tea" sampler. Combined with gin, lemon juice, and honey, the Grappa & Camomile took a simple sour and gave it a twist of earthy, floral flavor. It was an eyeopener to someone who had previously regarded chamomile as tasting like watery dirt.

Chamomile cocktail action has also been spotted at San Francisco's Cask Spirits, in the form of J. Witty Organic Chamomile Liqueur, and at New York City's Death + Company, where Old Overholt Rye is infused with chamomile, then mixed with Campari and St. Germain.

Hunting For Secret Ovens

Eric and Bruce Bromberg, the brothers behind New York restaurant Blue Ribbon Brasserie and its various spin offs, were in town last week promoting the launch of their new cookbook Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Cookbook. They served some of their greatest hits, including “Northern fried chicken” with matzoh coating and bone marrow with oxtail marmalade, at a party at the Stanford Court Renaissance Hotel on Nob Hill. An interesting moment in the party came when the Brombergs led a tour down to the basement of the hotel. READ MORE

Clay Pot Treasures and Other Chinatown News

A glance around the dining room at A-Wah convinced Lau that the smart order would be bo zai fan, the Cantonese rice casserole that everyone else in the place seemed to be enjoying. Sometimes the crowd is on to something good. This is the best bo zai fan in town, Lau says: Better than the tasty version at nearby Yummy Noodles, it would even be considered decent in Hong Kong.

For the uninitiated, bo zai fan is rice steamed in a clay pot and topped with various meats and vegetables. Season it to taste with thick, dark soy sauce, mix it all up, and be sure to excavate down to the crispy, crusty stuff at the bottom of the pot. Lau chose the house special, listed first among 17 "Rice in Casserole" choices on the menu. It's a hearty and delicious pig trifecta of Chinese sausage, minced pork patty, and thick-cut bacon.

No one-trick pony, A-Wah also makes a carp and ginger clay pot (jiang cong yu nan bao) that transports Lau back to Hong Kong: chunks of fried fish in a semisweet sauce with scallion, spring onion, and fried garlic cloves. And this is the rare Chinatown restaurant where you should save room for dessert. Try sesame-filled rice dough balls (tang yuan) or milk and egg white ginger flan, sweeter and less silky than Hong Kong's best, but still a singular treat in New York; "OMG this made me so happy," sighs Lau.

There's more happy news from Mott and Bayard streets, the big corner space long occupied by Mr. Tang. It recently reopened as Old Shanghai Deluxe, which may or may not be the reincarnation of the old New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe a half block to the east. In any case, buttertart says this place is on its game. She describes excellent, thin-skinned and very juicy xiao long bao (soup dumplings); a nice crisp scallion pancake; and nearly perfect version of bean curd skin with pickled vegetable, soybeans, and pork.

Across Canal Street, tea hound HLing has discovered a deal: single-bush Dan Cong oolong from Phoenix Mountain in Guangdong, at the herb store Wing Fat. Normally sold in bulk for $30 a pound, Song variety special grade Dan Cong was going for around $25. It was strong, slightly bitter, and quite fresh.

A-Wah [Chinatown]
5 Catherine Street (between Division Street and East Broadway), Manhattan
212-925-8308

Old Shanghai Deluxe [Chinatown]
50 Mott Street (at Bayard Street), Manhattan
212-566-4884

Wing Fat [Chinatown]
106 Mott Street (between Hester and Canal streets), Manhattan
212-431-8268

Discuss: A-Wah–The best bo zai fan (claypot rice) in ctown
A-Wah Restaurant 5 Catherine Street
Your favorite non-Cantonese restaurant in Manhattan's Chinatown
Found Phoenix Dan Cong ("single bush") tea in Chinatown!

Peerless Pies to Set Before the King

The new Four & Twenty Blackbirds has won over Barry Strugatz right from the start with two terrific pies: a savory one with cheese and herbs, and a sweet one with pear and Brie. "Very high quality, made with care," he reports.

Opened this month by two sisters from South Dakota, this bakery and café offers a daily-changing lineup of around six pies, and they sell out fast. "Not huge slices for $4.50," Barry adds, "but then, local diners charge almost the same for larger mediocre slices."

Four & Twenty Blackbirds [Gowanus]
439 Third Avenue (at Eighth Street), Brooklyn
718-499-2917

Discuss: Excellent Pies!

For Budding Kitchen Wizards, a Hound Hogwarts

A pizza wizard of the future, a Dom DeMarco in training, just might have attended a birthday party the other day at Young Chefs Academy in Forest Hills. janie, whose son was there—maybe he's The Chosen One—says partygoers get a hands-on introduction to the pizza arts: kneading and rolling house-made dough; topping and baking it; and finally eating it. Along the way they receive a primer in kitchen hygiene, don aprons, and color their own chef's toques (some grown-up hounds may also be tempted to give this a whirl). Janie says her son "had such a blast." And for dessert lovers, the place throws ice cream parties, too.

Because life isn't all pizza and ice cream, Young Chefs Academy also gives classes for kids on cooking, baking, food safety, presentation, and table manners, among other topics. Besides imparting kitchen skills, Janie sees a school like this fostering a new generation of omnivorous Chowhounds: "it might be a good way for kids to be more open to eating certain foods if they cook them themselves."

Young Chefs Academy [Forest Hills]
108-10 72nd Avenue (near Austin Street), Forest Hills, Queens
718-268-0343

Discuss: Pizza cooking for kids in Forest Hills...a lot of fun!

What to Do with All That Produce

Sometimes I get a little carried away at grocery stores and farmers’ markets, and I end up with way more produce than I'm prepared to handle. So here's my game plan for such occasions: I pull out my big pasta pot, fill it with water, salt it, and start blanching—boiling vegetables for a minute or so until they are just tender and then dunking them directly into ice-cold water to stop the cooking. You don't have to drain the pot of water each time you add a new vegetable to it.

READ MORE

Overheard on the New York Boards

"The buns are big. They're enormous. The serrated kimchee version reminds me of a Klingon's forehead. If I lived in a bad neighborhood, I'd want it to walk me home at night." – Polecat on stuffed buns at Ming Chan Dong

"The cake was so beautifully decorated and made with such care. You get to pick from a number of different templates and mine had Easter bunnies, eggs, chicks, etc. for Easter. Such a work of art it was ALMOST TOO GOOD TO EAT. But eat we did and I got pistachio almond, hazelnut, and rocky road. I loved all of them." – steakrules85 on an ice cream cake from Sundaes and Cones

"Count me one among those who would now happily make a pilgrimage to Katz from distant shores. It was a salty sweet melt-in-your-mouth meaty meaty MEATY musical of a sandwich. ... The bagel was (to us) unusually hard yet had heaps of bready sweetness. The salty lox just melted leaving a slick smoked salmon taste in our mouths. Surprisingly it was the paper-thin slices of sweet onion that really made the sandwich for us." – ozinboz on a pastrami sandwich at Katz's Deli and a bagel with lox at Russ & Daughters

Easy-Bake Oven Isn’t as Much Fun as It Was

My daughter turned five a few weeks ago and, since I'm trying to turn her into a little Chowhound, I bought her an Easy-Bake Oven. The thing is festooned with warnings not to use if  you're under age 8, not to touch it here or there, not to fling it into a bathtub, not to use it in a canoe on a lake, etc. etc., so I thought it might have gotten more dangerous than when I was a wee thing. Nay. It's gotten even more wimpy. Now you don't use a hook to pull out the hot pan, you use a forked plastic stick to push it into a cooling area. No burnt fingers, no burnt tongue from repeatedly trying hot, liquid cake mix, no need to use oven mitts = half the fun of the Olden Days.

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Food, Inc., Hits the Web

If you've been kicking yourself over not getting out to the theater to watch Food, Inc., well, huzzah: The whole thing can now be watched online at PBS.org.

The movie's an epic downer, but it's also one of the most succinct and articulate summaries of what's wrong with the modern American industrial food production system, a system that subsidizes cheap, inhumanely produced meat, depends overwhelmingly on corn, is heading toward corporate-controlled agricultural monocultures, and, of course, regularly puts shareholder value ahead of anything resembling the welfare of people, animals, or the ecosystem in general.

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Ratty Blankets, Scraggly Beards, & Fancy Cheese

CHOW.com's design team was having quite a laugh over this photo shoot from the New York Times' Style magazine, which depicted the guests at a "men's tea party" in ratty gray cloaks with scraggly beards in Brooklyn. The look, with credits for both food and prop styling (prop styling??), was described by one commenter as "pseudo-hobo." I find it somewhere between "hobbity" and "Fairport Convention Circa 1969." Yes, the tea men ate fine blue cheese in their fingerless gloves and also enjoyed some loose leaf tea, seed cake, and artisanal chocolate, while working on their knitting—that's right, knitting. One photo showed the Donald Sutherland-ish one with the long mustache working on a mustard-colored sweater. READ MORE