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

Sourdough on the Endangered List

Classic, artisanal San Francisco sourdough bread, "the stuff every supermarket used to have 25 varieties of, like Boudin still makes for old-school restaurants like Tadich and Sam's," has become endangered, says Robert Lauriston. "I knew this stuff was nearly extinct, but I didn't know things had gone this far."

Specifically, we're talking about bread that's "more assertive/sour, denser (not an airy bread) and the crust can literally cut your mouth, it's tough and chewy," says ML8000.

The consensus seems to be that the best old-school sourdough loaves found in the city these days originate at Bordenave's Bakery in San Rafael. Bordenave's extra-sour dark-bake loaves can be found at Spenger's fish market, where they're delivered fresh daily. But, although the batards and rounds sold there are both supposed to be sour, it's only the rounds that are true to the old-fashioned ideal.

"Bread Garden has the absolute best sourdough I've had in a long, long time," says rworange. "Opening the bag I was overcome with the wonderful sour tangy aroma. The crust nicely chewy, the crumb classic." It goes great with the crab salad from Sea Breeze Market (a little sweet-talkin' is needed to get the counterpeople to sell it apart from a green salad or a sandwich). Unfortunately, Bread Garden is considering closing its doors sometime in 2010.

"When I think of this type of bread it brings to mind an almost black very sharp crust with a pronounced sour taste," says cakebaker. While Tartine's sourdough has the right crust, Acme's Italian loaf tastes closest to what SF sourdough should be, cakebaker says.

Thorough Bread, a retail outlet of the San Francisco Baking Institute, makes a sourdough that's a great loaf of bread, but different from its ancestors, says Mick Ruthven. He loves the crust, but it's thinner and not as hard as the real thing; the interior isn't as dense; and, while it has a nice sour flavor, it's not quite sour enough.

Wedemeyer's loaf, available at the Grocery Outlets in Berkeley and Oakland at least, looks and smells right, Robert Lauriston says, down to those little bumps on the bottom. "Still not totally it, but probably my favorite of the old companies still producing bread," says sugartoof.

Bordenave's Bakery [Marin County]
1512 Fourth Street, San Rafael
415-453-2957

Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto [East Bay]
1919 Fourth Street, Berkeley
510-845-7771

Bread Garden [East Bay]
2912 Domingo Avenue, Berkeley
510-548-3122

Sea Breeze Market & Deli [East Bay]
598 University Avenue, Berkeley
510-486-0802

Tartine Bakery [Mission]
600 Guerrero Street, San Francisco
415-487-2600

Acme Bread [Embarcadero]
Ferry Slip, San Francisco
415-288-2978

Tadich Grill
240 California Street, San Francisco
415-391-1849

Thorough Bread and Pastry [Duboce Triangle]
248 Church Street, San Francisco
415-558-0690

Grocery Outlet [East Bay]
2001 Fourth Street, Berkeley
510-666-0670

Grocery Outlet [East Bay]
2900 Broadway, Oakland
510-465-5649

Discuss: Old-school sourdough bread?

Baltic Soothes the Schnitzel-Starved

The Baltic has opened after much delay, bringing high-quality German and American food to the schnitzel-starved residents of Point Richmond, reports AntarcticWidow.

Sautéed pork loin with mushroom sauce is solidly delicious comfort food, with a fantastic sauce and tender, chewy housemade spätzle. A German-style beef stew is all "beefy, stewy goodness," ladled over even more of that spätzle. The lunch menu includes vegetarian dishes, soups, salads, burgers, and "serious sounding sandwiches," the Widow says.

rworange says a special of pork tenderloin with red cabbage and apples was "lovely," the thick pork slices tender and tasty, the red cabbage very good. She notes that the Baltic also has a buffalo burger that's pretty popular.

Portions are generous even at lunch, when prices are $12 to $23. The owners are still in the process of getting a liquor license.

The Baltic [East Bay]
135 Park Place, Point Richmond
510-237-1000

Discuss: Point Richmond. At last … German food at The Baltic!

Old Standby Now a Local Gem

Although Florio is an old reliable in CarrieWas218's neighborhood restaurant rotation, she's always found it not that interesting, just solid home cooking. But on a recent visit, it seemed the kitchen had upped its game.

A salad of shaved fennel, anchovies, and pomelos is "fresh and innovative," while squash soup with wild mushrooms is creamy, rich and engaging. Then there's the Berkshire pork Milanese. "Pounded thin like a veal cutlet, for $19 this dish was astonishingly good; tender, moist, and with a great crust, possibly made with the addition of panko for extra crunchiness. I was a bit jealous I hadn't ordered the dish myself," Carrie says. It comes with mustard sauce, housemade sauerkraut, and fingerling potatoes.

Carrie's Totten Inlet mussels, though, were more than satisfying, huge and richly flavored. The broth is white-wine based, but the addition of a garlicky aioli takes it over the top. "I have a new fondness and respect for Florio," Carrie says. "And a last word on service: Exemplary."

But it seems that consistency, or maybe large groups, is not Florio's forte. PulledPork briefly details a recent disappointing meal for 10: "Boring flavors, overcooked meats, and pastas that fell far short of those offered all over SF these days."

Florio Bar & Cafe [Pacific Heights]
1915 Fillmore Street, San Francisco
415-775-4300

Discuss: [SF] Florio

Overheard on the San Francisco Bay Area Boards

"The potato chips at La Palma Mexicatessen ... are back to their former grandeur." - Jim Leff

"The shrimp taco had five or six plump shrimp ... coated in a zingy hot sauce that had a hint of sweetness, along with some chopped jicama and onion." - sairuh

"[A]ll were delicious but I think the roasted bone marrow with bergamot preserve and persian pickles was my favorite." - melly

Coca-Laced Liqueur

Agwa De Bolivia, a new liqueur made from coca leaves is now available for about 40 bucks a bottle. The company's website says it'll give you an “AGWABUZZ” like no other by activating the "various coca leaf alkaloids ... with lime to mimic the 'oxygen buzz' experienced when chewing coca leaves or drinking coca-leaf tea at high altitude in the Andes; it tunes you in." Yet, all the cocaine alkaloid is removed. From the press release:

"Wild Bolivian coca leaves are hand-picked at 2000 meters in the Andes and shipped under armed guard in 2000 Kilo Bales to Amsterdam to be macerated and de-cocainized. The potent high strength flavor formula is reduced to 60 proof, bottled and then shipped around the world in a more conventional format."

Sweet Wine Has a Purpose

Many hounds aren't wild about drinking wines on the sweeter side, but they use them to good effect in both savory and sweet cooking.

A lightly sweet wine is good for braising sauerkraut, according to Will Owen, either with bacon as a side dish, or as part of a full choucroute garni. buttertart steeps prunes in sweet wine and uses this as an accompaniment to pork chops or roasted pork. miss louella loves the results so much when she uses a sweet wine in risotto that she buys sweet wines solely for that purpose.

Vetter uses sweet wines for poaching pears or stone fruit, while Querencia pours sweet wine over cut-up fresh fruit. HillJ says sweet Rieslings are a good base for sorbets and granitas.

Discuss: Half a bottle of too-sweet Riesling

A Gingerbread Home for the Holidays

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A sweet holiday story built on spices and icing. ... WATCH THE VIDEO

Beets, Beets, Pretty and Sweet

Roasted beets are perennially popular in salads or on their own, but there are other fine ways to cook the sugary root.

Grated beets are nice simply sautéed in butter or oil; add a bit of liquid, cover, and cook until tender. If you add onions, use vinegar as the liquid, and finish with a sprinkle of celery seed: "You get sort of a warm beet-pickle effect," says sfmiller. Grated beets are also a component of recipes such as fettucine with grated beets and cheese, cumin-scented beet latkes, and beet rosti with rosemary.

bizkat likes this beet tzatziki. "Very good," he says. "Beautiful color. Definitely snazzy." Cherylptw adds beets to risotto, and smile81 says beet ravioli with poppy seed butter is simple, but beautiful and "super-tasty."

Discuss: Beet recipes - other than roasted or in a salad?

Mummies With Hardened Arteries

Over at the Huffington Post, Kathy Freston has compiled a list of the most recent newsworthy happenings in vegetarianism. It's an interesting recap whether you are a meat eater or not. Some highlights to ponder:

• An LA Times report about CT scans revealing evidence that high-status ancient Egyptian mummies had hardening of the arteries, likely from too much salt and a diet full of too much fatty meats.

• The recent publication of a study by World Bank scientists concluding that livestock is responsible for more than half of the world's green house gas emissions, much higher than previous studies have found. (Link leads to a PDF file download.)

• The story of the Stanford biochemist Patrick O. Brown who is taking an 18-month break from work to try and convince people that for the sake of the environment we need to "eliminate animal farming on planet Earth."

Image source: Flickr member wonderferret under Creative Commons

Truffle Butter, a Luxury Fat

Gilding dishes with truffle butter gives them rich, luxurious flavor. To play up the truffle flavor, keep the background simple.

Mashed potatoes are rainey's favorite vehicle for truffle butter. "It's a simple, hardy base that really lets the truffle flavor take center stage," she says. egging suggests making truffled french fries: Toss fries with a light coat of melted truffle butter and sprinkle with Parmesan.

SpareRib puts a pat on grilled steak, and uses it to finish pan sauces; Kelli2006 uses it to make hollandaise. AndrewK512 stirs it into a basic risotto, and several hounds like it in scrambled or shirred eggs.

maria lorraine puts it on popcorn, and recommends a suitable wine pairing: "Serve with bubbly."

Discuss: What to make with truffle butter?