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

Where The Cheese Nerds Play

The opening advice at the fourth annual California Artisan Cheese Festival last Saturday was “Pace yourself.” I knew it to be true when I sat down to my first seminar at 10:30 in the morning and was faced with three wines and six cheeses, all for me. The festival, held at the Petaluma Sheraton about 45 minutes north of San Francisco, draws cheese fans and artisanal cheese makers for tastings, talks, and cheese, cheese, and more cheese. Here’s what I picked up at seminars like the one led by Kate Arding, one of Culture's cofounders, pictured here.

* At cheese tastings, there will always be one person who eats all their samples right away, rather than waiting until the person leading the tasting has gotten to each respective cheese. I guess some people just have no self control in the face of great cheese.


The Madeira Thrill Ride

The Madeira Thrill Ride

The most exciting wine in the world. READ MORE

Overheard on the New York Boards

"I find myself making excuses to drive there. We were there last week and tried the palmier. It was buttery, crispy and just the right amount of sugar. The almond croissant was freakin' out of this world. ... Maybe next year I'll give it up for Lent." - Da Vid on Cannelle Patisserie

"The broth is deeply flavorful, with a hell of a spicy kick—the kind that clears your sinuses and, quite honestly, verges on the painful and unpleasant. ... This is also a one-pot meal that's good for the soul. Everything that's good about life is in that bowl: crab, huge chunks of both bone-on and boneless chicken, collagen, beef, and a huge, light green pepper right in the middle. ... This soup is not for the dainty. It's more like a messy Viking meal—you'll be grabbing paper napkins off the other tables." - Polecat on Liberian-style pepper soup at Maima's

"Some key soccer boulevards would be Court Street and 18th Avenue (Italy) in Brooklyn, 37th Avenue / Roosevelt Avenue—Jackson Heights (Latin American, Uruguay, Argentina, etc.), Ferry Street in Newark (Portugal & Brazil), and the list goes on and on. How about West 32nd Street for Korea? Lots of spots for Mexico. Upper East Siders might be pulling for England or USA or Germany—and I don't have to tell you how many viewing choices you'll have. Don't just freeload and watch, order food and some signature homeland drinks!" - Mike R. on where to watch World Cup soccer

An Unreasonable Attack on the Naked Chef

With the debut of his new program Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, the British chef has dramatically raised his profile stateside. And if you're one of the millions who believes that Oliver is on a noble crusade to save the world's schoolchildren from fattening, poorly made, industrialized school lunch, you might want to pop over to that libertarian bastion, Reason, for a look at the other side of the argument. READ MORE

The Non-Anonymous Mob

Alex Salkever, writing on DailyFinance, proposes a novel solution to the Yelp blackmail fuss that's swirling around the courts and the Web: take away the anonymity of Yelp users.

Commenters would have to register with a system like Facebook Connect or Google Friend Connect: "Doing so would ensure, to a great degree, that commenters use their real identities and could be held accountable for their comments."


A New Chef’s Flair at Mr. Pollo

The Mission dive Mr. Pollo has long been a standby for great Venezuelan arepas, but now a real chef, Manny Torres Giminez, is running the place. Giminez has cooked at top restaurants around San Francisco and around the country, and now he's doing prix-fixe dinners of the food he cares about most—doing all the prep, serving, and even dishwashing himself.

For starters, you might get a trio of arepas. The first, of course, is Venezuelan: a silver-dollar-sized disk of white cornmeal, split and sandwiched with a slice of kiwi. "The crisp browned crust on the outside of the arepa and the creamy interior were a surprisingly delicious contrast with the cool, sweet-tangy kiwi," says Ruth Lafler. The Colombian version is bigger, more deeply browned and oozing with cheese, caramelized by a touch of sugarcane on the outside that also brings out the corn flavor. Venezuelan chachapas round out the selection—pancakes of fresh corn purée, not masa, folded around melting cheese.

The chicken and potato-filled Colombian empanada that comes next was too bland for Ruth Lafler, but it was LikeFrogButOOOH's favorite of the night. The aji dipping sauce with scallions and cilantro adds a kind of Chinese flavor.

The main dish is a duo of tender, deliciously simple braised lamb on achiote rice, based on a recipe by the chef's grandmother, and a grilled baby Australian goat rib, cooked perfectly medium rare. The sauce on top is insanely complex, Ruth says, with jasmine, lavender, and other herbs.

Although the menu states that the tasting menu is $15, hounds found the actual price to be $20. This didn't leave a good impression with kare_raisu, who also found the food lacking in soul and artfulness, and says, "I only appreciated really his ability to finesse the cornmeal into different guises." There's no doubt, though, about the chef's passion for the foods of his homeland.

Mr. Pollo [Mission]
2823 Mission Street, San Francisco

Discuss: Chef's tasting menu at Mr. Pollo

Tweet! I’m Inspired!

I was --I'll admit it --rather offended to receive a Tweet today from one of my favorite local brew pubs, 21st Amendment, advertising a beer they'd made called Spring Tweet. "Our 'Twitter inspired' seasonal Spring ale beer brewed for friends and neighbors at," it said. OK, they are down the street from Twitter's offices, but still. Beer can be inspired by a lot of things: the smell of Spring perhaps, or even Hunter S. Thompson. But Twitter? READ MORE

The Thrill of the Skillet

Y & Y Vietnamese Deli is a hole in the wall that's worth your while, says mariacarmen. The goi cuong thit nuong, otherwise known as barbecue pork rolls, have nothing to do with barbecue. They aren't even grilled. Instead, they're pan-fried to order, which gives them a delicious smoky flavor that bodes well for the barbecue pork banh mi.

The bread that Y & Y uses is exceptionally good in a different way than other Vietnamese delis here or in Southern California's Little Saigon. "It was toasted and served hot, roughly crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside," mariacarmen says. Meatball (xiu mai) banh mi is good, but could use a bit more seasoning. There are maybe nine other kinds of banh mi on the menu, plus pho, bun, rice dishes, snacks, and desserts.

Speaking of unusual Vietnamese meals with bread, if you've ever wondered what a Vietnamese curry sandwich might taste like, BT Sandwich Deli is a great place to try it, says rworange. OK, it's not really a sandwich—just a soupy curry with fall-off-the-bone tender chicken leg, served with a couple of fresh French rolls. With carrots, fresh basil, lime, and spicy red chile paste, "I can't begin to tell you how good that is," rworange says.

Y & Y Vietnamese Deli [Richmond District]
661 Clement Street, San Francisco

BT Sandwich Deli [East Bay]
1279 San Pablo Ave, Pinole

Discuss: Y & Y Vietnamese Deli on Clement
Pinole: BT Sandwich Deli – Vietnamese chicken curry sandwich

Felt Bread Basket in Spring Colors

These classy wool felt bread baskets seem like they'd be perfect for bringing along a small loaf of bread on a spring hike or picnic, and fold flat when not in use. They hold about "four bagels" worth of bread and will stay assembled even when you open a flap to pull out your bread.

Avva Breadbasket, available in 2-3 weeks, $62

Get Stuffed

"It is difficult to dislike a dumpling stuffed with something," comments rworange, who's had a lot of mediocre pelmeni, Siberian dumplings. But the pelmeni at Katia's Russian Tea Room are exceptional: plump dumplings bursting with beefy goodness in a rich, flavorful broth and a dollop of sour cream.

Katia's also boasts delicate blini with excellent smoked salmon, herring, and salmon roe; tender lamb shashlik with big slices of marinated lamb served with rice; and top-notch meringue pavlova, the light meringue filled with whipped cream and topped with house-made berry sauce.

And now is the time to check out the Easter specialties of kulich, a Russian Easter bread studded with raisins and pineapple, and pascha, a sweetened, vanilla'd creamy cheese. These two great tastes really do taste great together.

Katia's Russian Tea Room [Inner Richmond]
600 Fifth Avenue, San Francisco

Discuss: SF: Katia's Russian Tea Room – the best pel'meni I've ever had