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

How Do You Eat Nettles Without Getting Stung?

How Do You Eat Nettles Without Getting Stung?

Raw foodists beware. READ MORE

Why Review Fancy Restaurants?

San Francisco Chronicle's restaurant critic, Michael Bauer, defended himself yesterday on his blog with regards to reviewing restaurants too expensive for most readers. A reader had written in criticizing his recent reviews of Meadowood and French Laundry, and Bauer responded that he focuses such attention on these temples of fine dining because chefs at fancier restaurants tend to be "more creative." Like haute couture influencing Forever 21, Bauer writes, their creations will will later be mimicked by more casual joints. Snob! cried the commenters. READ MORE

Overheard on the General Topics Boards

"Cool-A-Coos were awesome, much better than the San Francisco version which is still available, the IT'S-IT. Coos were bigger and tastier and more pristine." - rizzo0904, on the sadly defunct ice cream novelty Cool-A-Coos

"Many people live in areas with no farmers' market and in fact, no supermarket—just bodegas and quickie marts. Fresh food (meat, not just produce) has a short shelf life and is difficult to stock if a store doesn't have a lot of turnover in those items. Some people also have no cooking facilities or equipment. And some people just plain don't know what to do with ingredients rather than ready-to-eat or grab-and-go foods. And the unfortunate truth is that, because of the food politics in this country, a pound of carrots is more expensive than a two-liter bottle of soda." - Ericka L

"Think about this one fruit that you can get three different flavor and texture stages from, and all its various cooking possibilities; combined with the plantain's general availability and low price. It's like a fruit miracle." - bushwickgirl, on plantains

Overheard on the Boston Boards

"The owner claims to be a sausage maker. He said he will make anything you ask him to." - Guinness02122 on the Butcher Shop

"They have another version which they call panini which are much better. There's a bit of a pre-ferment and some semolina on the bottom crust. Their real killer is what they call the French baguette (not the regular one). I think it's a great sub/hoagie roll, nice and crusty." - deglazer on the rolls at Quinzani's Bakery

"I called White's and ordered a strawberry whipped cream cake, with one layer of gold and one layer of chocolate cake. It was excellent quality. The cake was fresh, the cream was light, and the fresh strawberries were just that." - TrishUntrapped on White's Cafe & Pastry Shop

Coffeehouses for Coffee Geeks

Coffee-lover rlh bemoans a serious gap in the Boston coffee scene: The best local roaster, generally agreed to be Barismo, doesn't really run a coffee shop where one can relax and enjoy a cup. And the places where you can relax serve a second-best cup. "What are your coffee destination favorites where you can get a great fresh cup, relax and enjoy it, AND then buy a wide range of freshly-roasted beans (Central American, African, AND South Pacific as well as thoughtful blends) to take home?" asks rlh.

And the hounds answered! Their picks:

• Cafe Fixe in Brookline: "probably the closest to the trendy new ultra-refined coffee bar type thing that i've found in boston," says autopi.

• Simon's, "a relaxing place to have a fresh cup that also stocks a good range of Barismo beans," says greenzebra.

• Bloc 11, which dazzled rlh on the first hound-recommended visit: "I tried Bloc 11 today—a single brewed cup from the Chemex with Burundi beans—amazing cup of coffee—so much so that I got back in line and bought some of those beans to bring home."

Cafe Fixe [South Shore]
1642 Beacon Street, Brookline
617-879-2500

Simon's Coffee House [Cambridge]
1736 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge
617-497-7766

Bloc 11 Cafe [North of Boston]
11 Bow Street, Somerville
617-623-0000

Discuss: Artisanal Coffee in Boston

Jo Jo Tai Pei Spin-Off

Some folks connected with the superpopular Jo Jo Tai Pei have split off to open their own place, Formosa Tapei, and the reports so far are good. The small Taiwanese spot has zero atmosphere and no tables, just some counters along the back wall and about four stools where you can sit and gobble down your food if you're not doing takeout. Noteworthy dishes:

• Taiwanese wonton soup "had some nice delicately formed wontons (goldfish shaped, not the usual envelope fold) and was surprisingly peppery (black pepper, not chili)," writes PinchOfSalt.

• Three-cup tofu or chicken with "a very thin sauce but really nice balanced flavors," says lipoff.

• Flounder fish fillet, "very beautiful soft pillows of fish in a pleasantly spicy sauce. Nothing too fancy, but someone definitely knows what he's doing in the kitchen!" says lipoff.

• Sesame biscuit, which lipoff calls a strange name for a puffy layered bread with sesame seeds on top and scallions inside. But "I've had this made by a Chinese grandmother before, but never in a restaurant. It was great!"

Make sure and leave with a pack of the frozen pork and cabbage dumplings: "Better, I thought, than those from the Chinese Spaghetti Factory. Plumper, better tasting dough that held up well to pan fry/steaming at home. The filling was also excellent, meaty with nice cabbage flavor. They're also made with a flat side that the CSF dumplings don't have, makes them pan fry with a nice crispy side," says justbeingpolite.

Formosa Tapei [North of Boston]
315 Marrett Road, Lexington
781-862-6198

Discuss: Formosa Taipei

Why Country Ham Deserves More Respect

On Salon.com, Francis Lam ponders whether American country ham, the humbler, smoked version of the Spanish jamón serrano and Italian prosciutto, is going to be the next bacon. Or at least start to get its due for being a great product at a ridiculously cheap price when compared to its fancy Euro-cousins.

Americans have learned to savor European hams, acknowledging them as delicacies--the finest examples can command well over $100 per pound. But country ham in America doesn't have the same kind of reputation among gourmets, and it remains a deeply democratic food. Allan Benton, who makes one of the true gold-standard country hams, charges $6.50 for a 15-ounce package.

He goes on to explore the history of country ham, and discuss how restaurants are embracing it, and even curing their own versions. It's definitely worth a read.

Recently, I tried a great American cured ham called a "Surryano" from Surry Farms in Surry, Virginia. It's smoky, soft, fatty, with a bit aged-funkiness. The hams are made from certified humane Berkshire pigs, smoked over hickory for seven days, and aged over a year. While it's not as cheap as the Benton ham Lam mentions, it is cheaper than buying Spanish or Italian hams, and particularly worth checking out if you are looking to purchase a whole bone-in leg.

A Mexican Food Empire Is Born?

In a region where even proponents of Boston's Mexican food scene tend to conclude that the cuisine is done better elsewhere, maybe 84pces can be forgiven for hyperventilating a little over Viva Mexican Grill and Tequileria.

"My husband and I thought the decor was wonderful, and the atmosphere was very comfortable and warm," she says. One nicely balanced sweet ’n' sour margarita with agave syrup later, the guacamole cart arrived. "They wheeled over the cart with an authentic molcajete, and made it tableside. It tasted marvelously fresh, and was mixed in the perfect proportions of avocado, salt, tomato, onion and cilantro. Served with warm tortilla chips."

SMraz had a queso fundido starter with chorizo "that was REAL Oaxacan stringy cheese. No cheap yellow stuff or other cheese foods." For mains, SMraz recommends the chicken mole enchiladas, the chiles rellenos, and the shrimp Veracruzano (shrimp in a tomato-and-olive sauce).

"Apparently, the chef owner of this restaurant is the same chef/owner of Jose's on Sherman St. in Cambridge, which we hadn't been to in ages but used to love. We think that this place has the potential to be as good as Jose's but with an extended menu and some more interesting options," says 84pces.

Viva Mexican Grill and Tequileria [MetroWest]
15 E. Plain Street, Wayland
508-651-3300

Discuss: Anyone tried the new Viva Mexican Grill & Tequilaria in Wayland?

Frightening Things You Didn’t Know About Raising Chickens

Counterculture smarty-pants magazine Mental Floss gets in on the chicken-raising zeitgeist with an article in its March/April issue, "10 Provocative Questions About Raising Chickens" (not online, sorry). For instance, did you know that: READ MORE

Cinnabon Bar No Emotional Crutch

Cinnabon Bar No Emotional Crutch

This week's mission: the familiar airport brand, now in snack bar form. READ MORE