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

Coffee with a Pinch of Salt

Salt in coffee? ipsedixit thinks that with a dash of salt, "a Starbucks brew is actually bearable, and my coffee brewed at home is fantastic." Auriana agrees. "I tried it in my coffee at work (which is also Starbucks) and it was greatly improved," says Auriana. "I don't bother with salting coffee at home though. Hub roasts our beans and his coffee is always delicious."

But ipsedixit thinks salt improves good home-roasted coffee, too. "I started adding a pinch of salt to my home brew and it improved the complexion of the coffee significantly," he says. "I suppose it's the same principle or rationale for adding salt to things like fruit (e.g. pineapples, melons, etc.) and baked desserts (e.g. chocolate chip cookies). It acts like a flavor enhancer."

Discuss: Coffee + Salt

Should Tripe Smell Like Barn?

Frank G has noticed that sometimes tripe smells like a barn (wet hay and dirt) despite careful rinsing. And boiling doesn't get rid of the smell. "Is there any other cleaning that needs to be done to take care of the odor? Had the tripe gone bad?" he wonders.

"Tripe should be boiled in a few washings to get rid of the smell," says JungMann. "You can add a bit of white vinegar to the pot to mask some of the odor. If done correctly, the final washing should be relatively odorless, whereupon you know the tripe is ready for your menudo." (Sam Fujisaka assures us that tripe won't get soft and mushy from these repeated boilings.) In the Philippines," says sweethaven, "we wash scrub the tripe with rock salt then rinse in cold running water before cooking."

Will Owen takes a philosophical approach. He describes his first experience with menudo: "When the bowl arrived it seemed as though we had just moved next to the Chicago stockyards, and someone had opened a window! At which point I said to myself, 'This is innards I'm about to eat. I like innards, even though the only tripe I've had so far was in Campbell's Pepper Pot soup. I guess this is the grownup version.' And I ate it, and it was awfully good. Since then, I've had a lot of tripe from a lot of cuisines, and chitterlings besides, and sometimes it stank and sometimes it didn't. Just like cheese, or people, or most of what life offers."

Discuss: Question about tripe and its odor

Terroir in Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is not all the same. One difference is depth of flavor, which is also how maple syrup is graded; "Grade B is the most flavorful, and typically the hardest to get in the US outside of the Northeast," says Karl S. "Vermont syrup grading comes from a time when syrup was a substitute for sugar (as it long was, for example, for abolitionist folk who avoided molasses and sugar because they were the product of slave labor), so the highest grades were for the most neutral flavor. Nowadays, where the flavor is largely the point, Grade B is for many the most desirable."

But there are other variations from farm to farm. "Maple syrup production is subject to some of the same factors as wine production, but with the flavor variation being subtler and harder to taste, says danieljdwyer. "To start with, syrup can be made from a few different species of maple tree, with the sugar maple accounting for most maple syrup production. I prefer syrup that has been made with at least some black maple sap as well," he says. "Climate is another factor, which elevation does play a role in. The greater the number of hours in a day with below-freezing temperatures, the more water the tree takes in, and the lighter the syrup will be. Finally, there's the human element. How good is this farm at reducing the sap to syrup? And what methods do they use?"

"If you buy 10 syrups from 10 different farms, you'll be able to taste a difference," says danieljdwyer. "Unless two of them are right next to each other and tap the same proportions of different maples and have identical reduction methods. Your best bet is to try a few different farms and settle on your favorite."

Discuss: Is all Vermont Maple the same

Overheard on the General Topics Boards

"The elegant sweet nutty flavours of Dragonwell can go well with shrimp if the sauce is not too intense (Dragonwell shrimp is in fact a classic dish from the Shanghai region). And I can see the oceany nori-like umami of certain sencha against many seafood dishes." - limster, on pairing tea with food

"Why do restaurants hate chicken? Did a chicken kill someone's mom? Are they involved in terrorist activities? What is it to make so many otherwise transcendent restaurants kick chicken to the curb, taste-wise?" - hyacinthgirl

"But when you really want to warm your bones, a hot toddy is the way to go. My recipe is much simpler than the one above. Just put a shot of any brown liquor (bourbon's my preference, but brandy and dark rum are good, too) in a coffee cup with a squeezed lemon wedge and sugar to taste. Top off with hot water and stir with a cinnamon stick (optional)." - alanbarnes

How to Fold Dumplings

How to Fold Dumplings

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Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year, Together at Last

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Foods You Probably Don’t Need, But Want

Exotic citrus. Whole grains. Ultra-spicy chocolate. These were some of the trends at this year's Winter Fancy Food Show held last Sunday through Tuesday at San Francisco's Moscone Center. At the convention, which happens twice yearly (the summer version takes place in New York), specialty producers of foods as varied as chocolates, barbecue sauce, flavored waters, and imported cheeses, show off their wares to potential retailers and partners. There were plenty of products jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon (like Pamela's cheesecake) and exotic citrus flavors (yuzu, lime, grapefruit) had a strong showing, appearing in things like Siggi's Icelandic-style yogurt. Coconut was popular, not just in the now ubiquitous coconut water–type products, but in unusual forms like Kitchen Naturals' coconut flour.


Living It Up at the Oak Room

The Oak Room, a steakhouse in the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel, has a Rat Pack vibe, with the dark wood, high, gilded ceilings, and big, snuggly armchairs you might find at a private club. The special-occasion vibe extends to the menu: Châteaubriand for two sliced tableside, wild game, escargots, lobster tail, and so on.

Speaking of that Châteaubriand: "I have eaten many different cuts and preparations of steak but I have never tasted something as perfectly cooked as this. Each bite was so soft, tender and almost melted like butter in my mouth," said CreativeFoodie42. It's served with two sauces: a Merlot demi-glace and béarnaise.

RichardinJP likes the oysters Rockefeller, but advises us to "avoid the clams casino (made with large and chewy cherrystones)." peelmeagrape says the lamb chops are "the best I've had in Boston." Also worthy: duck confit, served with greens in lemon juice, house-made potato chips, and a cranberry sauce. "Incredibly flavorful with hints of cinnamon, citrus, and cranberries," says CreativeFoodie42.

For dessert, the white chocolate and cranberry bread pudding is "dense without being heavy—the true mark of a well-made bread pudding," says CreativeFoodie42. It's served with a scoop of pumpkin gelato, an interesting complement to the white chocolate.

Prices are in the "if you have to ask" range, but if you'd like to keep costs down, you can always grab a bite in the bar: "Technically speaking, the Oak Bar serves a 'lighter fare' subset of the Oak Room menu, which means that burgers should only be available at lunch. In practice, they will serve you pretty much anything off the Oak Room's breakfast, lunch, or dinner menu in the Bar if you ask," says MC Slim JB.

Oak Room [Back Bay]
138 St. James Avenue, Boston

Discuss: Do you know if the Oak Room has a bar menu?
Oak Room Suggestions

Where to Get Your Burger Fix

Burgers are all over the boards this week, from a $6 cheapie at a pizza joint to a contest that pits famous chefs' patties against each other.

Dr.Jimbob was bowled over by a burger at Oggi Gourmet, a place mostly known for its pizza, but with an occasional special of a burger and fries for a mere $6: "It looked like a respectable 1/3 lb patty, cooked to order to a surprisingly decent medium rare, topped off with bitter greens, a garlicky aioli, slices of tomato, guacamole, and Swiss cheese. This was easily the best $6 fast food burger I've had in a while."

celeriac was similarly surprised by a burger at Cambridge Brewing Company, where he thinks the food runs a poor second to the beer selection. But the burger was "pretty damn good," with a "nice crusty sear" and a "serious torrent of juices inside." It comes with beer-glazed onions and mild cheddar.

Burger fans may also want to note Ken Oringer's All Star Burger Bash, coming up on February 1. Ten chefs, including Jamie Bissonnette and Ming Tsai, will prepare special burgers for the crowd at KO Prime. Admission is a mere $25 and word is that audience members get to sample all 10 burgers. "I am curious to see how many of the chefs choose to use beef, and how many choose other meats, seafood, or even non-meats. I suspect Ming will opt for a non-beef option, maybe a duck burger or veggie. Will anyone attempt a traditional burger or will they all go for very funky alternatives?" wonders RichardA.

Oggi Gourmet [Cambridge]
1350 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge

Cambridge Brewing Co. [Cambridge]
1 Kendall Square, Cambridge

KO Prime [Downtown]
90 Tremont Street, Boston

Discuss Oggi's @ Holyoke Center - a surprising burger
Burger Bash: Feb.1
Actually good burger at Cambridge Brewing Co last night

Don’t Go By the Name

litchick sums up the buzz on Strip-T's, a little-known hole in the wall in Watertown: "This place has a remarkably terrible name, and a nice menu that seems totally at odds with a place called Strip-T's (which sounds to me more like a sports bar)." Sounds more like a pole-dancing emporium to us, but we digress.

The food is good and fresh here, particularly:

• The sweet potato fries, "which actually taste like sweet potatoes and are not greasy," says fantundo.
• Wraps, particularly the steak teriyaki wrap, says fantundo.
• Any soup, salad, or fish dish: "They are (in my experience) pretty consistently strong on those and quite a bit less so on meat and chicken," says GretchenS.
• Onion rings.

Prices are on the shockingly low side. mbasnack ate dinner for two with soup, salad, mains, a side of onion rings, and a glass of wine each for $42. There's also a Monday special, 10 percent off your check if you eat between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Strip-T's Restaurant [MetroWest]
93 School Street, Watertown

Discuss: Strip T's: Horrible Name, Good Food