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

How Not to Make Cooking Fun

Last week, CBS KPIX-TV Channel 5 came by our test kitchen to film three kids, Gamespot editor Ricardo Torres, and me playing with Nintendo’s latest video game, “Let’s Get Cooking.” The game was released after Michelle Obama challenged video-game makers to create games that would get kids exercising and cooking more, part of her Apps for Healthy Kids initiative.

After a weekend of playing it at home and another day of playing it with Leo, Matt, and Alley, three eighth-graders from the Bay Area, we concluded that it’s not really a game, nor is it very fun. It’s merely an instructional digital cookbook compiled by America’s Test Kitchen, which prints the nerdy and informative but somewhat dry Cook's Illustrated magazine.

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New Fermentation Craze Developments

Kombucha, once solely the drink of people who wear Crystal Body Deodorant, landed on the front page of the New York Times Styles section a couple weeks back, marking its graduation into the mainstream. Fermented products in general are having a heyday: kimchee, sauerkraut, cured meats, coffee, craft beer, stinky cheese, no-knead bread, yogurt. Here are some interesting new developments in the fermentation movement.

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Overheard on the New York Boards

"Got my wedding cake and wedding cupcakes here. Very pricey (spent more on the cakes than the dress). BUT all of it was delicious." - nicholel on Betty Bakery

"This was the essence of lobster flavor with sweet flesh and perfect texture. ... The lemon verbena put the entire dish over the edge with a silky understated but still present lemony taste—like summer on a plate." - OC Mutt on poached Nova Scotia lobster at Eleven Madison Park

"Recently, I've found that even when I order my food 'pet pet' or 'pet ma' I've been getting food that is spicy but not the full throttle capsicum blast that I expect. It seems that they've had too many people asking for heat that they couldn't handle. When I mentioned this to Mrs. Sripraphai she told me about their new codeword. If you like your food HOT and I mean REALLY, REALLY HOT, ask for it 'bomb.'" - corgi on Sripraphai

Tiny Food for Unreal People

The non-dollhouse-obsessed may be unaware that there's an entire subculture of folks dedicated to making tiny versions of fake food. There are blogs galore devoted to this obsession, most of them dedicated to sweets, like Baking in Miniature and Miniature Patisserie Chef. One such group of Lilliputian lovers put together the incredibly detailed model of a Korean restaurant shown in this video, authentic right down to the ladybug-sized egg custard tarts.
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Radio Africa Doesn’t Phone It In

Radio Africa & Kitchen, perhaps the grandaddy of pop-up restaurants in the Bay Area, as a February New York Times piece pointed out, dishes out Mediterranean-Northeast African fusion cuisine on Thursday and Friday nights at Coffee Bar. The tasting menu is a great deal that gets you everything on the short menu for $40, says Melanie Wong.

In this case, starters included a velvety edamame hummus ("delicious slathered on Tartine's bread") and parsnip-leek soup with just the right amount of smoked paprika for warmth and a jolt of salty Spanish ham. Yellowfin tuna kitfo crostini is an Ethiopian take on tartare, with just a light touch of spices; it also comes with a sea urchin créme fraîche mingled with microgreens. Chiffon-like wisps of butter lettuce, barely dressed, make up an exquisite salad with juicy tangerines, radishes, and creamy goat cheese. "So striking in its quiet simplicity and perfect balance," Melanie says. The house-smoked trout and shrimp bacala, on the other hand, was on the salty side.

The mains (after an intermezzo of blood orange slices) didn't disappoint, either. Melanie's favorite was the sautéed striped bass with Ethiopian mixed vegetable alicha and roasted chestnut salsa. Sounds like a culinary mishmosh, but somehow it worked—super-fresh fish, exotically spiced collards and root vegetables, plus the sweet-and-savory chestnuts made for many an exciting mouthful. Roasted leg of lamb is great: "beautiful, medium-rare slabs of lamb rubbed with North African spices," served with couscous, green beans, and chermoula. There's a lighter version of the puff-pastry dish bastilla that uses mashed butternut squash and rainbow chard instead of the usual chicken or pigeon. Crunchy and light pastry gives way to the sweet and buttery filling that gets more complexity from citron raita and more of that roasted chestnut salsa.

For dessert, "chocolate decadence" pretty much lives up to its name, but is nicely balanced by the acidity of Meyer lemon whipped cream and hibiscus sauce.

The wine list is small but well-chosen, especially the whites and lighter reds, Melanie notes, with nearly all under $35.

Radio Africa & Kitchen [Mission]
1890 Bryant Street, San Francisco
415-420-2486

Discuss: Radio Africa Thursday and Friday Dinners @ Coffee Bar in San Francisco

A Pop-Up Japanese Sandwich Counter

Mondays at Cafe Yulong bring "Monday"—weird, no?—a pop-up lunch operation run by the son of the house. The concept is something like fast-food Japanese sandwiches with flair, and eatzalot, who went on the first day, describes it as "interesting and delicious."

The initial menu featured sandwiches of fried cutlets—chicken, tonkatsu (pork cutlet), and ebikatsu (shrimp patty) for $7-$8. All come on an Acme torpedo roll that's layered with vegetable salad and aioli. On the side: a "varied, unusual, and also delicious" selection of pickled vegetables.

There are also a couple of sides: Spicy "popcorn" cauliflower is a hit, and bistro-style French fries are pretty good.

There's minimal service for Monday—utensils and beverages (soft drinks on ice) are self-serve. Cash only.

Cafe Yulong [Peninsula]
743 W. Dana Street, Mountain View
650-960-1677

Discuss: New Japanese-style sandwiches, MONDAYS, downtown Mountain View

Will Travel for Chilaquiles

When putting together a tour of the Bay Area's best chilaquiles, it's a good idea to tackle San Francisco and the East Bay separately, Fig Newton thinks.

"The chilaquiles at Pastores are the best I've found in SF and should be at the top of anyone's list," says susancinsf. Calvinist prefers them with eggs, while Windy goes for carne asada and tomatillo salsa on top.

At the Alemany farmers' market on Saturday and flea market Sunday, El Huarache Loco makes great chilaquiles, says mlutsky. Cynsa recommends the chilaquiles at El Delfin. And grayelf reported having some mighty tasty chilaquiles with green sauce at La Oaxaquena.

Across the Bay Bridge, 3 Hermanas in Richmond is totally worth a drive, says calalilly. nerdigirrl likes the ones at El Grullense Restaurant in Oakland. "They're wet but not runny." Also in Oakland, myst has heard good things about the ones at El Taco Zamorano, and thinks that the quality of their chile verde is a positive sign.

And one final outlier: "After many years of trying this dish every chance I get, my favorite restaurant version in the Bay Area is at Chez Shea in Half Moon Bay." Have it your way: red or green sauce, with or without chicken or two fried eggs on top.

Pastores [Bernal Heights]
3486 Mission Street, San Francisco
415-642-5385

El Huarache Loco [Bernal Heights]
100 Alemany Boulevard, San Francisco
415-647-9423

El Delfin [Mission]
3066 24th Street, San Francisco
415-643-7955

La Oaxaquena [Mission]
2128 Mission Street, San Francisco
415-621-5446

3 Hermanas [East Bay]
12622 San Pablo Avenue, Richmond
510-237-1094

El Grullense [East Bay]
1457 Fruitvale Avenue, Oakland
510-261-3325

El Taco Zamorano [East Bay]
4032 Foothill Boulevard, Oakland
510-536-3146

Chez Shea [Peninsula]
408 Main Street, Half Moon Bay
650-560-9234

Discuss: Chilaquile Tour --> SF and East Bay.
On a Mission: day 3 and 4 of grayelf's Nov 2009 Bay area trip

Cheesy Thoughts

In the early 90s, Culture magazine co-founder Kate Arding was a ripped jeans-and-baseball-hat wearing 20-something working for her family’s condiments company in the UK. She’d get the stink-eye when she’d show up in fancy gourmet shops to peddle mustard. Her life changed when she visited the still newish storefront of Neal's Yard Dairy. Although Neal's Yard would nearly single-handedly revive the dying tradition of farmstead cheeses in the UK over the next 20 years, at that time, Arding just saw a bunch of young unsnobby people cutting samples for anybody who walked through the door. READ MORE

Overheard on the San Francisco Boards

"Fried cod, light as air, jack cheese, dill, and nori chips on a sweet brioche bun.... A tower of fried goodness." - mariacarmen on Mission Burger's fried fish sandwich at Duc Loi Supermarket

"The crunch, the veggies, the shredded American cheese and beef is just plain Mexican-American goodness." - rworange on the hard-shell tacos at La Perla

"The halibut tiradito at Mochica is excellent, as good as what you find at fine restaurants in Lima." - wanderlust21 on the delights of Mochica

Peep Shows, De-Snootinizing French Food, Hello Kitty Wine

Clown College: McDonald's opened a "Hamburger University" in Shanghai, China, to train managers for its expected thousand-store expansion in the country over the next six years. via Nation's Restaurant News

EPA Actually Does Something: The EPA joined the FDA in investigating bisphenol A's effects on the environment and human health. via CHOW.com

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