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

Drinking Nostalgically: Everything New Is Old Again

The Atlantic writes about an effort to take back the mai tai, a beverage that must surely rank among the most debased drinks in modern bartending. Typically a syrupy-sweet fruit bomb, it can—and should—have a more mature flavor. Julie Reiner, a New York mixologist, makes a mai tai “with aged rum, fresh lime, and almond syrup, with a little Corduba rum floated on top (so the last few sips aren’t diluted by melted ice).”

Not long ago, I edited a story by Nick Kosevich, a bartender whose attention to detail and interest in reviving now-too-sweet drinks (such as daiquiris) run parallel to Ms. Reiner’s; his meditation on the Old Fashioned ran for a few pages and included the following comparison of old school versus new school:

“Much of the modern-day Old Fashioned-related controversy can be blamed upon Wisconsinites. A Wisconsin Old Fashioned consists of 1 tsp of granulated sugar (usually a little white packet), 2 dashes of Angostura bitters, 1 1/2 oz of brandy, and a splash of 7Up. The sugar and bitters are added first with a splash of 7Up to dissolve the sugar, then the brandy is added, and topped with ice and 7Up to finish the drink. This version is then garnished with a flag (a bar term for an orange slice wrapped around a cherry) ...

“The classic recipe for the drink is 1 sugar cube, 3 dashes of bitters, and 3 oz of bourbon or rye whiskey, not brandy, served in an old fashioned glass on the rocks with a lemon twist.”

The explosion of boutique liquors and bitters available for sale, and the press received by mixologists, may suggest that Americans are getting more sophisticated about their cocktails. But the menu at any given faux-neighborhood midrange chain restaurant is a good reminder that we still have a long way to go. Once the real mai tai has made it to T.G.I. Friday’s, we might be getting somewhere.

Another Excuse to Eat Chocolate

Another Excuse to Eat Chocolate

This week's mission: single-origin candy bars. READ MORE

Overheard on the San Francisco Boards

“Best of all were the rendered pieces of chicken skin (shatteringly crunchy and paper thin) that they added to the sandwich. It added a component similar to a potato chip, but chicken flavored!”
-sfpizzalover

“Perfect crust, fresh apples, good sweetness (some will find it too sweet)... did I mention the crust?”
-telebear

“The burrata at A16 is still on my to-try list. The best I’ve had was from Ubuntu. This is better than that…. Since mine was just made it was nothing but sweet, fresh creaminess and so very delicate.”
-rworange

Gamine Seduces a French-Food Skeptic

“I have always been deeply skeptical about all aspects of French cuisine,” begins SushiMonster. “So many other great places to eat without the unordered side dish of attitude, no? Well, brothers and sisters, I got over it tonight at Gamine. Oh boy did I ever get over.”

Things start out well with excellent thin fries with garlic aioli; delicious Prince Edward Island mussels in wine, garlic, and butter; and calamari with spicy aioli. Better than well. “Three home runs and we’re just getting warmed up.”

The basic burger with blue cheese, served on a baguette, is positively orgasmic. Beyond basic, options include fish or vegetarian burgers, four cheeses, bacon, and even a poached egg. Marinated lamb, heavy on the garlic and thyme, is just about perfect.

“There is no great secret to what these folks are doing right. It’s called a cow. There is cream. There is butter. There is a LOT of cream and butter in everything. Not rocket science. This stuff makes you feel good. Duh. Have another glass of wine. It’s excellent, too.”

If there’s any room left for dessert, the crème brûlée is top-notch.

The restaurant itself is small, about “the size of your average suburban living room,” and “loud as bombs.”

“Once you’re inside, you’re in very good hands and there’s nothing to do but roll up your sleeves, loosen your tie, tip back in your chair, drink a glass of beautiful wine and thank God you live in a city that could support a little restaurant that’s this good. Everything is going to work out just fine.”

Gamine [Cow Hollow]
2223 Union Street, San Francisco

415-771-7771

Board Link: Gamine: Or, how I finally learned to trust the French

Chettinad and Indian-Chinese

In a sea of South Indian restaurants, Sri Muniyandi Vilas focuses on dishes from Chettinad, where, unlike much of South India, the cuisine is heavily nonvegetarian. The restaurant also specializes in Indian-Chinese cooking.

Chicken kothu paratha is a big winner, says zartemis. It’s a very large portion of well-spiced dark meat, served with curry sauce. “We’ll be getting this again frequently.” Pepper chicken is whole dark-meat pieces—most of the chicken here is dark meat—cooked in lots of onions and spices. There’s also complexly flavored chicken chettinad.

“Regular” biryani is actually Chettinad style, with egg, well-browned rice, and long-cooked spices. Meat (mutton or chicken) is served on the side, as is raita and curry sauce.

“I haven’t enjoyed the Indian Chinese dishes I’ve had elsewhere, but I like the all the ones we’ve tried at Muniyandi so far,” says zartemis. Maybe the best is the simple chili gobi, featuring cauliflower with a nicely fried crust and good heat. Sichuan chicken noodles, too, are surprisingly good. And if all else fails, there’s a wide range of the South Indian staples idli, dosa, and uttapam.

Sri Muniyandi Vilas [South Bay]
3064 El Camino Real, Santa Clara
408-829-5339

Board Link: Good Chettinadu and Indian Chinese dishes at Muniyandi Vilas (Santa Clara)

Everything Thanksgiving 2009

For the cheapest halal or Diestel turkeys hounds have seen, where to get a turkey with gluten-free stuffing, and a list of Bay Area restaurants open for Thanksgiving, check out this thread: Everything Thanksgiving 2009. Wine country has its own version.

Board Links: Everything Thanksgiving 2009
Thanksgiving 2009–Wine Country

Enough with the Workplace Candy!

Enough with the Workplace Candy!

Is it OK to tell people to stop bringing in sweets? READ MORE

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

“Toasting spices can be useful, but it’s just one way of bringing out their flavour.”
-Channa

“I actually quit using a rack several years ago, and instead roast my turkey on a bed of vegetables.”
-dmd_kc

“My first time eating fennel pollen was dusted over pizza, and it was absolutely divine.”
-vorpal

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Guy Fieri

The Hungry Beast has a revealing interview with Guy Fieri this week that unearths some interesting nuggets. To wit:

1. He owns a T-shirt cannon.

2. He is going on a national tour “in a bus stocked with Pabst Blue Ribbon and painted with flames.”

3., 4., and 5. “He now travels with a bodyguard to events, has bras and underwear thrown at him during cooking demos, and counts Sammy Hagar and members of AC/DC as close friends—no wonder he speaks about himself in rock-star language.”

Whoa. Visit the Hungry Beast to learn about Fieri’s other quirks, such as naming dishes things like No Can Beato This Taquito and Mac-Daddi-Roni Salad.

Mascarpone Makes Everything Better

Mascarpone, the rich Italian cream cheese, is handy for both sweet and savory dishes. “Marscapone makes everything better,” enthuses normalheightsfoodie.

TorontoJo mixes mascarpone with homemade or jarred caramel and uses it to fill a baked pastry shell, then tops with sliced bananas. “One of my easiest, yummiest desserts,” she says. Paula76 recommends mascarpone cheesecake with candied pecans and dulce de leche sauce.

jeniyo likes these sesame-mascarpone cookie and lemon-ginger ice cream sandwiches. “The cookies are very tasty, even without the ice cream,” she says, and they keep for a long time. Full tummy loves room-temperature mascarpone on scones with jam. “Please don’t anyone accuse me of sacrilege,” she begs, “but the flavour of mascarpone reminds me somewhat of Devon cream.”

4Snisl makes a pasta sauce by combining mascarpone with some pasta cooking water, lemon juice and zest, and blanched broccoli rabe or spinach. Occasionally, she tops the whole shebang with a poached egg.

More ideas for mascarpone:
• Add it to cooked polenta or mashed potatoes.
• Mix it with herbs and goat or blue cheese and use as a spread.
• Use it to fill the cavities of halved poached pears.
• Stir it into scrambled eggs.

CHOW.com’s Chocolate Icebox Cake with Mascarpone and Blackberries gives a sophisticated spin to a classic.

Board Link: leftover mascarpone–what to do?