The CHOW Blog rss

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

The Saucy Side of David Ortiz

The Saucy Side of David Ortiz

This week's mission: A major-league ballplayer takes a swing at the hot sauce game. READ MORE

Getting Churros Right, Inside and Out

A Spanish holiday pretty much ruined churros for kathryn. Back in Manhattan, churros from the usual suspects (Boqueria, Despaña, and Five Points among them) were all crunchy exterior with nothing inside, and just didn't measure up to her memories.

Mercat's version is more like it: crispy outside but fluffy inside, too. They're not flawless; the accompanying hot chocolate, while properly bittersweet, is too thin, and kathryn could do without the ubiquitous dusting of sugar and cinnamon. Still, she says, "they're the best we've had since visiting Spain ... much closer to Madrid style than other spots we've tried."

Mercat [East Village]
45 Bond Street (between Lafayette Street and Bowery), Manhattan

Discuss: Spanish Churros with Chocolate

Overheard on the New York Boards

"Was the best candy I ever had ... I remember the little nuts would fall off when you would take one out, and believe me, not one was wasted." - Nestle

"[S]ome of the crayfish escaped and our dogs freaked out when they were running down the sidewalk. Chef Steve came after them. Clearly, the ingredients were very fresh." - Olive123

"So we just had oysters at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, one drink each at Tavern on the Green, and wanted to try Bleecker Street Pizza next. So Bill is grumbling and we're laughing and we're all heading down 11th Ave. Bill stops and says 'I goota giet a coffee for crissakes.' I look over my shoulder and see an unassuming 'Daisy May's BBQ USA.' 'I'll be right back' I say, getting out of the car." - porker

Juice Plus Unexpected Guests

Juice Plus Unexpected Guests

This week's mission: a superchunky fruit drink. READ MORE

SF Births an Underground Farmers’ Market

Last night was the first ever underground farmers' market, put on by forageSF, a wild foods community (think mushroom and fennel picking in urban parks).

It was a nice blend of street food/underground restaurant/house party. There were vendors spread out all over the house: A woman was selling empanadas in the living room, a local honey purveyor set up shop in the bathroom, and there were jams, edible garden boxes, pies, and local acorn flour spread out over the rest of the Victorian. ...

How to Sear Mushrooms

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You want them caramelized and nutty, not steamed. ... WATCH THE VIDEO

How to Segment Citrus

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Creating the perfect supreme. ... WATCH THE VIDEO

Pizzaiolo’s Spinoff Opens

"For those of us who have been peering repeatedly and impatiently through the old DiBartolo's windows, the new Pizzaiolo offshoot in the Grand Lake neighborhood is open—and it's really good," says daveena. It's called Boot and Shoe Service and there are a few shortcomings and inconsistencies, but it sounds like things are coming along nicely in these early days.

The menu is a lot like Pizzaiolo's, minus the fresh pastas. Appetizers get the meal off to an excellent start: super-fresh sardines with beets, spicy cumin carrots and yogurt, "and a perfectly fried fritto misto of cauliflower, red onion, Meyer lemon, and delicata squash."

Char fanatics might be a little disappointed with the pizzas, whose crusts are less blistered/charred than those at Pizzaiolo. Still, "the clam pizza was absolutely fantastic—big fat juicy clam bellies, chili, garlic, parsley, no red sauce. A dining companion who's spent 8 years of his life in New Haven [where this is a local specialty] had to admit it was better than any clam pizza he'd had there," says daveena.

But the squid pizza doesn't live up to the Pizzaiolo version, with oversalted, less-fresh squid. "The beauty of this dish at Pizzaiolo is the seamless transition between aioli, squid, and crust," and Boot and Shoe Service's isn't quite there. Foodnut8 had a mixed experience with the pizza crusts. "The margherita was a bit soggy in the middle, clam pizza had a stellar crust, and the nettle pizza was approaching stellar. Give them some time." The beet and avocado salad is also great, Foodnut8 says.

But drink enough of the superb cocktails (they have Pizzaiolo's outstanding house-made tonic, plus a larger and more attractive bar space) and these shortcomings will probably go entirely unnoticed.

Boot and Shoe Service [East Bay]
3308 Grand Avenue, Oakland

Pizzaiolo [East Bay]
5008 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland

Discuss: Boot and Shoe Service (aka Pizzaiolo 2) open! (Oakland)

Bring Out the Yule Log and Gingerbread

La Bedaine is offering a classic Yule log (in various flavors including coffee and chocolate-hazelnut) for just $12 that is letter-perfect, says rworange. "Wonderful buttercream with meringue mushrooms and little surprises in the frosting ... a juicy cranberry, a raisin, a nut. Absolutely perfect cake with the loveliest background of vanilla." Any other bakery would charge $20 to $30, she notes, and even Safeway's version costs more.

The quality of La Bedaine's pastries is exceptional, agrees Robert Lauriston, and the prices are just crazy. "The guy is just throwing money away," says Robert. "I expect one day soon he'll either raise his prices or go out of business." Individual croquembouches (two profiteroles bound by caramelized spun sugar) are just $1.50. "It was like a fantasy of biting into a cloud ... soft, ethereal and heavenly," rworange says.

Summer Kitchen Bake Shop, opened more than a month ago by friends of David Lebovitz, has lovely gingerbread cupcakes with lemon frosting that are moist and delicious, with plenty of ginger, says milklady. The buttery frosting is not too sweet, and it's decorated with dragées and a marzipan gingerbread man. Other non-holiday offerings include lemon meringue, chocolate cream cheese cupcakes, salads and hot entrées for takeaway. The fried chicken is excellent: "crispy, well-seasoned, and juicy inside," says chemchef, and the coffee cake cupcakes look appealing, too.

For general holiday information, check out rworange's roundup threads on what's going on for Christmas in the Bay Area and in wine country; and New Year's Eve posts for the Bay Area and wine country.

La Bedaine [East Bay]
1585 Solano Avenue, Berkeley

Summer Kitchen Bake Shop [East Bay]
2944 College Avenue, Berkeley

Discuss: Berkeley: La Bedaine - Fabulous classic Buche de Noel and croquembouche $12 ... twelve dollars
Summer Kitchen Bake Shop - Elmwood
Everything Christmas 2009
Christmas 2009 - Wine Country
Everything New Year 2009
New Year's Eve 2009 - Wine Country

Pastry Perfection in Bernal Heights

The tiny Sandbox Bakery is a treasure trove for pastry-loving residents of Bernal Heights, says BernalKC. The beautiful, light-filled modern space has a bit of a Japanese inflection, as do the pastries.

But its straight French pastries could give Tartine a run for its money, like a pain au chocolat with Valrhona chocolate: "the chocolate was still soft and warm, and the buttery croissant was flaky and indulgent," BernalKC says. The plain croissant is sublime (much like Tartine's but not as huge), but an almond croissant is a bit overdone and dense, though still delicious and flaky.

The yuzu cheese Danish is "flawless." There's a great morning bun that's visually a dead ringer for the one at Tartine, and a chocolate cream in a spiral bread cone that's like "every kid's dream pastry."

BernalKC also loved the crystallized ginger orange scone, with a crisp sugared crust and a moist interior that's all "perfect scone crumb goodness." Calvinist recommends the scones, which include savory dill and cheddar versions.

Sandbox Bakery [Bernal Heights]
833 Cortland Avenue, San Francisco

Discuss: Sandbox Bakery - good things come in small packages