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

Overheard on the New York Boards

"The walls virtually spill out with pastries that appear to be teetering on countertops that might, at any moment, topple over and kill you with sweetness."

"Pelmeni are awesome if the filling is good. Lot of places use cheap meat and it tastes like bad Chinese dumplings. Same idea—and it's where we got it in the first place."

"Whenever Vinny took your dinner order he always said 'eat, drink and order whatever you like, there's no charge.' He would pause for a few seconds and then say, 'only cash,' and then he would laugh loudly."

London’s Fruity Skyline

The Telegraph has put together a lovely video detailing the depiction of London's skyline using produce, which, as it turns out, is an eerily expressive medium. See also: the Daily Mail's story last year on recreating the London skyline using tubes of Smarties. Why this is becoming a slowly building mini-fad is not entirely clear.

Bring a French Chef into Your Home

The house-made smoked sausage at La Bedaine, a French place selling its own charcuterie and ready-made French dinners to take home, already has its own fan club.

"It is succulent, smoky, pure goodness," says rworange. "They were the smokiest I've ever had except for some that a friend hand-carries back from Louisiana," confirms Robert Lauriston. "Massive flavor for such a small quantity."

The pork rillettes are also fantastic, says abstractpoet: "less salty than, and at least as good as, Fatted Calf's—at a significantly lower price." A portion is $4. The smoked halibut has exquisite texture, adds rworange. "Anyone with a passion for smoked whitefish will drop to their knees in reverence for this.

"Wild boar terrine is wonderful," says nicedragonboy, and makes a good sandwich. noahj appreciates the pork terrine sandwich, especially for just $6.

As for the Cryovac-ed take-home meals, abstractpoet enjoyed the hearty cassoulet, with generous pieces of beef, sausage, and what may have been duck leg. The smoked halibut dinner was also very good. To cook them at home, you pop them into a pot of boiling water, turn off the heat, and let sit 10 minutes.

A chocolate tart is lovely and fudgy in a crisp crust, but the croissants are on the bready side. The chef apparently used to cook at Le Charm, which bodes well for the duck dishes, says ernie in berkeley. And take note: These prices are too low to last, Robert Lauriston says.

La Bedaine [East Bay]
1585 Solano Avenue, Berkeley

Board Links: Albany: La Bedaine Cuisine de l'atelier?
Berkeley: La Bedaine—Reasonably-priced French pastries, house-made smoked sausages, pates and French dinners to go

Barbecue’s Second Coming

Taste of Joy Barbecue & Southern Bistro, a barbecue joint that opened earlier this year to good reviews on the boards despite its restricted hours, has reopened in a new location, abstractpoet reports.

Everything about the new location is better: bigger and nicer digs, longer hours, and a full bar (check out the "Southern sangria") with wine and several beers on tap. Out back, there's a fully equipped kitchen and a more extensive staff, so the menu has grown to include things like fried chicken wings and waffles, and fried catfish. But the brisket is as good as ever, in ToJ's own style: thinly sliced, with a sweet sauce. Only difference is it's plated more prettily now. And the gumbo is excellent, chock-full of sausage, chicken, shrimp, and crab. Better than Angeline's, abstractpoet says. An old favorite, Cajun meatloaf, is still on the menu. Prices are a bit higher now, but still only marginally more expensive than Nellie's, and it's better than that.

Speaking of barbecue, a meal at Da Pitt was "the first time in San Francisco I'd finally felt like I was in back in Memphis," says vulber (who was disappointed by "bland overpriced barbecue and terrible sweet tea" at Memphis Minnie's). Da Pitt is Louisiana-style ’cue, but the brisket is "delicious, tender and flavorful," with an incredible sauce, vulber says.

Da Pitt has replaced Lilly's (and the former Brother-in-Law's), and apparently has a common history with both places. The menu is basic: brisket, chicken, hot links, short ribs, and pork ribs, all available in full or (very generous) half portions. The sides, unfortunately, are fairly weak: The beans taste like they came out of a can, the house-made coleslaw tastes distinctly weird, and some have specifically warned against the mac ’n' cheese. There's no ambience, of course, and hardly any seating although there's a big parking lot. But the smoker is going full blast.

Taste of Joy Barbecue & Southern Bistro [East Bay]
3909 Grand Avenue, Oakland

Da Pitt [Western Addition]
705 Divisadero Street, San Francisco

Board Links: Taste of Joy re-opened on Grand Ave: BBQ, gumbo, chicken and waffles, and more
So refreshing to learn that SF has authentic barbecue that doesn't suck

Overheard on the San Francisco Boards

"While visiting the area I grew up in a few months ago, I ate lots of lobster, and I would say this one rivaled any of the New England bugs I ate during the peak of the season this year."

"These little cigar-shaped rolls about twice the size of a ladyfinger and just as delicate ... right out of the oven are flaky, yeasty goodness sprinkled with sugar and oozing salty butter in the center."

"I'm already trying to figure out when I can drive across the bridge for another Ike's gut-bomb."
-Agent 510

Serious Sandwiches at 4505 Meats

After having a cheeseburger at 4505 Meats a few weeks back, brian j was hooked—he's been eating his way through the rest of Ryan Farr's offerings ever since.

The burger is superb: incredibly flavorful and juicy to a fault (once you pick it up, you're best off not putting it back down). The meat is aged for 21 days and ground in-house. The single burger ($7) is a bit small, brian j says, but the double cheeseburger ($9) has a much better meat-to-bun ratio.

At one Thursday farmers' market at the Ferry Plaza (where the 4505 Meats stand is found), a sandwich of beef shank and smoked lengua crépinette with fried egg, Brussels sprouts, and aioli was "one of the best sandwiches I've eaten in my entire life," brian j says. "Seriously amazing." On another visit he tried the pig's trotter banh mi: Braised trotters are deboned and then reconstructed, rolled up, breaded, and fried to order. It then goes into a baguette with pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro, and chiles.

4505 Meats [Embarcadero]
1 Ferry Plaza, San Francisco
No phone available

Board Link: 4505 Meats: EPIC lunches at the Ferry Plaza Thursday Farmers Market

Thankful for Burgundy

Thankful for Burgundy

It's a special treat to taste these Thanksgiving-friendly wines in their true habitat. READ MORE

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"First rule: write down your entire planned menu and make a schedule. Figure out what you can do before Thanksgiving Day itself."

"You can also make avocado fries. They are a beautiful thing."
-small h

"I eat lobster as often as I can, but Julia Child's Lobster Souffle beats any other preparation I've ever had."

Thanksgiving Pie Extravaganza

Classic pumpkin pie is delicious, but there are plenty of inventive twists you can give this quintessential Thanksgiving dessert. Or start a new tradition with chocolate or fruit pies.

HillJ substitutes coconut milk for evaporated in the classic pumpkin pie recipe, or uses eggnog in place of eggs and milk. shaogo uses a tablespoon each of cinnamon and Chinese five-spice powder in place of the spices called for, and adds 1/4 cup molasses. cinnamon girl puts a smear of mincemeat on the pastry before pouring in the pumpkin filling for a double dose of holiday flavor.

middydd's favorite is pumpkin pie with ginger streusel. "The contrast between creamy filling and crunchy topping is really nice," she says. heypielady likes this pumpkin chocolate tart, with a chocolate crumb crust, pumpkin filling, and chocolate drizzle; the key is to use a good chocolate, says heypielady, who favors Valrhona.

another_adam is a fan of Paula Deen's pumpkin pie recipe, which includes cream cheese and butter and is very rich. "It had something of a cheesecake taste and a nice smooth texture," he says, "but not a true cheesecake consistency." It's best at room temperature rather than cold. chowser recommends a double-layer pumpkin cheesecake.

If pumpkin doesn't do it for you, try a fruit pie. heypielady calls the gingersnap topping on this pear-cranberry pie "amazing," and loves the addition of lemon zest to the crust. cheesecake17 calls Key lime tart and lemon meringue pie "light and refreshing after a heavy meal." Divamac goes the opposite direction, serving "stunningly good" double-chocolate tart with dulce de leche.

Oh, and by the way, if you have a pizza stone, by all means bake your pies on it. Doing so "does a stellar job of keeping the bottom crust from getting soggy when the pie contents are likely to exude quite a bit of liquid," says JoanN, who uses a Pyrex pie plate.

Board Links: Super-duper pumpkin pie?
Non-traditional pies that are worth it... Thanksgiving
Baking pie on pizza stone? Yay or nay?

Ladle On the Gravy

For many people, turkey gravy is the highlight of the Thanksgiving meal. Here's how to make it so flavorful you'll want to eat it with a spoon.

Good turkey stock is key to good gravy, say hounds. Many make stock from browned or roasted turkey parts (wings, backs, or necks, which many meat departments carry around Thanksgiving); some also save the skimmed fat for cooking the roux that starts the gravy. "Making a rich stock ahead of time lets you concentrate on building layers of flavor without the pressure" of Thanksgiving Day, notes Melanie Wong.

Add another layer of flavor by using white wine, dry sherry, or Cognac to deglaze the roasting pan. "A goodly slug of dry sherry makes a world of difference to the finished product," says jmnewel, and Diane in Bexley thinks Cognac "makes everything taste good!" Making the gravy in the roasting pan allows you to get all the fond into the sauce, too.

TorontoJo roasts a dozen shallots in the pan with the turkey, then blends them and mixes them into the gravy. "It gives a wonderful deep flavor," she says. "My 'secret' ingredient is soy sauce," she adds. "After I make the gravy and taste it, if it's a bit bland, I find a good splash of soy gives it the depth and umami that is missing."

maria lorraine goes in another direction altogether: She roasts the bird on a bed of carrots and apple halves, then separates the fat from the pan juices and blends the carrots and apples with the pan juices. "No stock. No flour and water," she says. "Best gravy I ever had. And I'm a gravy fan."

mcsheridan recommends this make-ahead gravy, which yields many servings and can be frozen for up to a month.

Board Links: Gravy good enough to drink: what makes your mostly classic turkey gravy special?