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

Homesteaders in Hot Glasses

It’s official: We've left the age of irony behind us. How else can you explain the packed room at Southern Exposure gallery last night in San Francisco, where boys sang about calendula flowers, a girl played an Autoharp, and everybody watched a film about a woman making her own linen underwear out of flax plants?
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Putting Vegetables on Steroids

Amanda Cohen is the chef-owner of Dirt Candy, a small vegetarian restaurant in New York City's East Village. She often serves dishes that use the same ingredient in a number of ways, such as "Pea": garden pea broth with a spring pea flan and wasabi pea leaves. Or "Corn": stone-ground grits, corn cream, pickled shiitakes, huitlacoche, and a tempura poached egg. We spoke to Cohen about modern vegetarian cuisine, getting the most flavor out of vegetables, and eating nonveggie food to become a better veggie chef. She also shared a recipe with us for sweet carrot risotto, which we've adapted for home cooks. READ MORE

Hitting the Sweet Shrimp Spot

Newly opened Sushi Aka Tombo is a gift to its neighborhood. "I am not sure I can find better sushi in San Francisco," says CarrieWas218 after two very different visits. Whether diners eat solo at the sushi bar on a busy night or stop in at a quieter time and get lots of attention from the chef, both fish and service are topnotch.

The beautiful $30 sashimi platter has to be the best deal in the city, Carrie says, with 10 kinds of seafood, including tender baby octopus, maguro, toro, nori-wrapped uni, scallop, yellowtail, amberjack, red snapper, and sweet shrimp. You also get warm, rich chawan mushi, a brothy egg custard with shreds of shrimp and tiny cubes of carrots, as well as a clear dashi broth with nori and mushrooms.

When ordered à la carte, the uni ("astonishingly fresh") comes bedecked with 24-karat gold leaf and the sweet shrimp is decorated with tobiko. The shrimp heads are fried and served separately.

One of Chef Yoji's more creative flourishes is a lettuce roll-up with mackerel, nori, jalapeño, garlic, and sesame. "The saltiness of the fish complemented the fresh, spicy chile and clean, crisp lettuce leaf," Carrie says.

Sushi Aka Tombo [Japantown]
1737 Buchanan Street, San Francisco
415-674-1984

Discuss: Sushi Aka Tombo – the new game in town...

Chicken and Okra, Fresh from the Fat

The Bay Leaf, a new soul-food restaurant in Oakland, does finger-lickin' good fried chicken that's a far cry from the Colonel's. "The fried chicken crust was very thin, not oily at all, and lightly seasoned," says ChewChewChew. "The meat on the wings was juicy and perfectly cooked." They fry okra, too, and it's wonderfully fresh and tasty.

Savory beans and rice, flavored liberally with pork, are a side dish that could perfectly well stand alone. The rest of the short but eclectic menu reaches into New Orleans territory and beyond, with jambalaya and po' boys (crab and shrimp or jerk chicken). Good coffee, too.

The Bay Leaf [East Bay]
2000 MacArthur Boulevard, Oakland
510-336-2295

Discuss: Oakland — Soul Food — The Bay Leaf Restaurant

Diary of a New Food Truck Owner, Part 5: Flat Tires and Freon Lines

Diary of a New Food Truck Owner is an ongoing series where we talk with Meg Hilgartner, co-owner (with Siri Skelton) of a fledgling San Francisco mobile soft-serve ice cream business called Twirl and Dip. In this installment, Meg and Siri learn why a Freon line is a scary thing to mess with and why thieves will target their ice cream truck.

We bought the truck in Las Vegas and we had to get it home. We weren't about to drive it. The truck gets seven miles to the gallon. There's no passenger's seat. And it was having mechanical problems, so there was no way we were going to risk driving it through the fricking desert. The guy we bought the truck from hooked us up with another guy who was willing to drive it out to San Francisco on a flatbed truck for $700. He left on a Tuesday and he was supposed to be here on a Friday. But it turned out our truck was too heavy for his flatbed. He'd blown out three tires in the middle of the desert in Nevada and had to unhook the trailer and go all the way back to Vegas to get new tires.
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Hot, Fudgy Deliciousness

The newly renovated Bi-Rite Creamery (now with seats, but the lines are as long as ever) may mark a high point for the new-school ice cream sundae. "The best sundae I have ever tasted," artemis declares. david kaplan recommends a combo of salted caramel ice cream, fudge, and salted Marcona almonds, and possibly a house-made brownie or cookie.

"The best of the best for me is a hot fudge sundae at Mitchell's" made with toasted almond ice cream, says sfkusinera. There's no seating at Mitchell's (unless you count one tiny bench outside), but the St. Francis ice cream parlor, always a good place for a sundae, has Mitchell's these days.

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One Syrup, Hold the Sugar

One Syrup, Hold the Sugar

This week's mission: Can "breakfast syrup" minus the sugar still dress up a pancake? READ MORE

Overheard on the San Francisco Boards

"My favorite turned out to be the whitefish. Surprised me; the combo of lemony ricotta and tang of pickled red onions really made the smoked fish pop." – Melanie Wong, on the sliders at Pal's Take Away

"Reports of excellent carnitas were not exaggerated and, along with a duo of sopes, made for an excellent final lunch." – grayelf on Chilango

"It's a bit pricey, but [patrons have] the unique advantage of being able to take beer from the pub into the park for a baseball game." – chuckl, on the new Public House at AT&T Park

Beer Nerds Cry, Christopher Kimball Throws Down, McToys Taken Away

Toys That Lead to Ruin: In an attempt to stop bribing kids to eat fast food, Santa Clara County in the San Francisco Bay Area has decided to ban the promotional toys that come with McDonald's Happy Meal and other chains' kid meals that don't meet certain nutritional standards. via the New York Times

I Feel Better, Starbucks: Food prices apparently went way the hell up in March, rising 2.4 percent (the most since January 1984). But that didn't scare off Frappuccino fans, who helped Starbucks post massive second quarter earnings, quite possibly signaling the end of the recession. via the Huffington Post and the Big Money

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Bunnies for Breakfast

Bunnies for Breakfast

This week's mission: Organic and natural crosses into Lucky Charms territory. READ MORE