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

All Hail the iPhone-Cheese Cyborg

Just in time for the holidays: an iPhone with a picture of a sexy Santa Claus on it, docking on a block of pepperjack cheese residing on a cheese plate. Gaze upon the glory. Happy Chriskwahkkah.

Image source: Flickr member Photo Giddy under Creative Commons

Overheard on the General Topics Boards

"Yes! I definitely eat the same thing: grilled cheese sandwiches with Kraft Singles. It's just not the same with real cheese. Also, I always have to cut the sandwiches into quarters, arrange in a ring around the outside of a plate and put a huge pile of ketchup in the middle for dipping." - dooflaer

"Try using less. When one uses too much saffron in a dish, it can easily taste medicinal or plastic-y. Use less and the citrus brightness and tanginess really comes through." - maria lorraine

"Cinnamon pancetta, I would think, would be an acquired taste." - fourunder

Up at the Break of Dawn

Break of Dawn "is one of the few places we willingly drive to after church on Sundays," says jacknhedy. "From Chino Hills to Break of Dawn is a good 40 miles. Absolutely worth it." It serves "breakfast food done well and creatively," says OCAnn.

Chef Dee has "wizard level chef skills," according to woojink. "You've GOT to go," urges Das Ubergeek.

Breakfasts are rather light, like the eggs benedict–style smoked salmon dish with potato bread, perfectly poached eggs, and pesto, favored by OCAnn, or the pancakes that groover808 says are the fluffiest around.

Lunches are heartier. I got nothin paid a mere $17 for a prix fixe lunch of a pleasant squash bisque, a deeply comforting chicken stew, and chocolate crème brûleé that was "out-fricking-standing ... I'm not usually a big fan of crème brûleé, but their chocolate version had me licking the plate clean."

The Break of Dawn [Orange County]
24351 Avenida De La Carlota Suite N6, Laguna Hills
949-587-9418

Discuss: Break of Dawn - Laguna Hills

Real-Deal Pizza

Il Dolce Pizzeria is a real-deal, unpretentious, artisanal pizza maker, in the Italian instead of the New York mold, says cdmedici. It's run by a couple from Argentina and Roberto, the male half of the couple, was trained at the Verace Pizza Napoletana.

Il Dolce imports flour from Naples, makes mozzarella every day, and produces pizzas that are utterly delicious. "The crust was not the afterthought like so many other places," says cdmedici. "It has nice texture and flavor." You can get pizzas like the poletto: pesto, mozzarella, meatballs, and fresh basil. Then there's patata, with chile oil, mozzarella, Gruyère, pancetta, and fingerling potatoes. Or, try the salciccia: garlic sauce, pancetta, fresh mozzarella, Italian sausage, caramelized onion, and rapini.

There are also some non-Italian touches, like empanadas that were the best cdmedici has ever had.

Il Dolce Pizzeria [Orange County]
1902 Harbor Boulevard, Costa Mesa
949-200-9107

Discuss: Il Dolce Pizzeria- Costa Mesa....finally a real deal unpretentious artisanal pizzeria

Addictive, Spicy Chinese Food

"There’s something about spicy Chinese food that keeps people coming back for more," says Pandan Express. For your next hit, go to Yunnan 168, the newest purveyor of San Gabriel Valley heat.

The house special Yunnan rice noodles have a wonderful broth with green onions rounding out the richness of chicken, says Pandan Express. The slices of meat, textured like a more delicate char siu pork, are perfectly seasoned. And the slices of chicken leg are "flavorful, juicy, and perfectly tender," says Pandan Express. "I hadn’t had chicken cooked so well in a long time."

Home-style tofu has strong wok qi: It's fried on the outside, still custardy on the inside. "The dish had that lingering taste which I associate as a precursor to a spicy bite, but the bite just never hit," says Pandan Express.

Yunnan 168 [San Gabriel Valley]
1530 San Gabriel Boulevard, San Gabriel
626-280-7688

Discuss: Yunnan 168 -- another player in the spicy Chinese game

Water That’s Less Boring

Water That’s Less Boring

This week's mission: The world's simplest drink gets complicated. READ MORE

Overheard on the Los Angeles Boards

"Try Beyond the Olive in Pasadena. They opened a few months ago and have a huge selection of California olive oils." - kingstonc

"All About the Bread is fantastic. Basically a rip-off of Bay Cities in that they duplicated their bread and serve Boar Heads meats." - bruinike

"Call it what you want, spicy cold noodles, dan dan mien, or just the Sichuan version of Mac N Cheese, it's freaking fabulous." - ipsedixit

Mostarda Is In

[caption id="attachment_36103" align="alignright" width="290" caption="The mixed-fruit mostarda di Cremona is one of the most well-known versions of the relish."]Mostarda di Cremona is one of the most well-known versions of the relish.[/caption]

Mostarda, an Italian relish of fruit preserved in mustard syrup is passing up aioli as the trendy condiment of the moment. "I think it's popular right now because it can be made with all kinds of seasonal fruit--cherries in the spring, stonefruit in the summer, pears and apples in the winter," says chef Lauren Kiino, a partner at Il Cane Rosso in San Francisco, which often serves a seasonal mostarda on its porchetta sandwich. "It is a really versatile way to dress meat: pork, game, and duck especially."

Also spotted at: Le Cirque in New York city, made with quince and served with suckling pig; Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, made with pears, and served with crispy duck al mattone and Brussels sprouts; and Momofuku Ssäm Bar, also made with pears and served with pig's head and sauerkraut.

Image source: Flickr member Sifalcia under Creative Commons

Erbaluce, Your New Date-Night Spot

Erbaluce has been open about a year now. It drew a bunch of mixed reviews at first, but has since settled into greatness. The menu is Italian, but not red-sauce. Chef Charles Draghi, formerly of Marcuccio's in the North End, focuses on Piemontese cuisine: low on the butter and cream, heavy on the nutmeg and citrus. The all-Italian wine list is impressive, the meats and vegetables are locally sourced, and Draghi is a near-constant presence: in the kitchen every night, and out visiting at customer's tables. The atmosphere is a bit white-tablecloth-y for some, but the bar is cozy and relaxing, and no one will frown at you if you show up in jeans.

What to order:

• Wild boar, a "signature dish, always on the menu," Draghi told MC Slim JB. "The sauce varies with the seasonal availabilty of produce: A couple of months ago, it was a mosto based on fresh black grapes."
• Sicilian-style octopus.
• Roasted rabbit.
• Sardines: "When you see these guys fresh, do not hesitate and order them," says yumyum.
• Razor clams, with a citrusy green peppercorn broth: "I could have tipped the bowl up and just guzzled this nectar," says yumyum. "Razor clams had been delivered that morning by the Island Creek oyster guys."

The menu changes daily, since what's local and fresh also shifts frequently. "Seriously guys, this is one place, like my beloved Estragon, that should be packed to the gills every night of the week," says yumyum.

Erbaluce [Bay Village/South Cove]
69 Church Street, Boston
617-426-6969

Discuss: Is erbaluce too fancy?

Bring On the Party Platters

During the holiday party season, many a host hopes to pick up pre-made nibbles to avoid hours of preparation and cleaning. Formaggio Kitchen is justifiably known for its cheese selection, but its groceries and meats are also wonderful—if pricey. MC Slim JB has bought, in addition to cheese, "various salumi, charcuterie, deli-case items like anchovies, olives, and roasted peppers, cookies, petit fours, candies (salt caramels, yum), fresh produce, bread, dairy products (they carry Chip-in Farm eggs), oils, vinegars, dried legumes, dried pasta, wine, beer," and says the "quality is impeccable, but you pay a premium for it."

hotoynoodle once bought a plate of Spanish ham there made from pigs fed on grape must: "I still dream about it. It was also $25 a pound, lol." Splendid Spatula has had a good experience with platters of cheese, salumi, and spreads. And pocketgarden speaks up for the prepared-food holiday specials: "Eduardo the head chef does the bulk of holiday menu catering himself, and his beef stew is really delicious, the epitome of good home-cooking. Eduardo's food (daily dinners, soups, and holiday menus) are how you always hoped your grandmother's cooking would taste. Not cheap, but you won't be disappointed."

Formaggio Kitchen [Cambridge]
244 Huron Avenue, Cambridge
617-354-4750

Discuss: Formaggio Kitchen-Experiences Beyond Cheese?