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

Overheard on the Boston Boards

"My SO likes a traditional Xmas dinner but I am not a fan of pink neoprene supermarket ham." - drb

"The last time I was there they told me they had no pork shoulder after I'd watched them use some in a meat stuffing mix they were grinding up for a customer ahead of me." - Allstonian

"Craigie (if you haven't been there) is one of the best cocktail bars in the city although you might have a difficult time getting a seat ... and their head bartender (Boston magazine Best Mixologist 2009) is leaving at the end of the month supposedly so you better go soon." - barleywino

Using Flesh to Sell Flesh

USA Today pokes around a bit on one of the least-appealing ad-related stories to surface in recent months: Restaurant chains are waging large-scale campaigns to convince people—OK, mostly young men—to eat fast food by playing off the completely commodified sex appeal of Kim Kardashian and the Burger King "Shower Babe." (In the latter case, viewers get to vote for what bikini she wears while she showers under the leer of a web-camera. Hey, that's really cool, and not at all evocative of pornography.)

The theory behind both campaigns: Young men can be convinced to eat Carl's Jr. salads (Kardashian) or Burger King burgers (Shower Babe) by the deployment of female flesh.

Anyone who's ever seen a commercial can't be particularly surprised by these tactics. Sex has sold stuff for a while now [Warning: Mildy sexy retro pin-up ads].

What's interesting about these campaigns is how direct they are. "HOT BABE!" they shout. "BRAND NAME! YEAH! BUY!" Relatively low numbers on the Shower Babe campaign (a mere 70,000 unique visitors since its launch on December 8) indicate that just a touch more wit or subtlety might pay dividends. Or maybe they indicate that only 70,000 guys are slow-witted enough to think the Burger King Shower Babe is their best source of free online stimulation.

Prisoners Sue Over Soy

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Illinois Department of Corrections is being sued on the grounds that it is feeding inmates too much soy.

"The plaintiffs are 'suffering irreparable, actual harm by being forced to continue to eat food that has too much soy in it,' according to an amended complaint filed in June. The effects have ranged from acute allergic reactions and heart problems to gastrointestinal distress and thyroid dysfunction, it says."

This is the latest blow to soy's super healthy image, writes Trib reporter Monica Eng. "Scientific studies have volleyed back and forth on whether high soy consumption reduces or increases cancer risk, inhibits mineral absorption and affects sperm concentrations. But most agree that soy, especially unfermented varieties, can cause problems with the thyroid function and digestion."

Image source: Flickr member southerntabitha under Creative Commons

Sichuan Throwdown in Midtown

The undisputed Sichuan capital of Manhattan is 39th Street right now. Down the block from the celebrated Szechuan Gourmet is two-month-old Lan Sheng, and Bob Martinez declares the new kid a "worthy competitor."

Its dan dan noodles are "suitably spicy," he reports, "and after a minute we felt the pleasant buzz of Szechuan peppercorns." Chengdu wonton, in Sichuan peppercorn vinaigrette, are meaty yet delicate. Double-cooked streaky pork is excellent: "the flavors of the peppers played off the richness of the pork belly. The heat level was high enough to add interest without overwhelming the ingredients."

Sauces here are a tad thicker and more complex than the local competition, with a touch of sweetness that some may not take to. But Bob's a fan. "Everything we had was skillfully prepared; I got the strong feeling that there are a lot of great dishes on the menu waiting to be discovered. We'll be back."

Lan Sheng [Midtown]
60 W. 39th Street (between Fifth and Sixth avenues), Manhattan

Discuss: Lan Sheng – First Rate Szechuan in Midtown

A Montenegrin Sleeper in Astoria

The menu at Dino's ranges from pasta to pan-seared ahi, but Chowhounds are homing in on specialties from the Balkans, especially Montenegro, the chef's homeland. For starters, there's crnogorska, a Montenegrin salad of greens, tomato, and feta with a red wine vinaigrette. It's "awesome," says John_Keenan, "like the best Greek salad I've had in America." Pečenje (roasted veal with potato) is "nice and toothsome," he adds. jinglejangle goes for Cognac-flambéed ćevapi, sudžuk, and other house-made sausages. Beyond the Balkans, she recommends grouper with meunière sauce and tilapia with Dijon–white wine sauce.

This kitchen is on its game, John suggests: "There's a lot of craftsmanship—the bread is great, the butter and oil are first rate, everything is cooked well." And the chef-owner, Dino Redzic, is a personable fellow who might just comp you a house-made grappa. "Unfortunately the ambiance was nil since we were the ONLY ones in the place!" jinglejangle writes. "I really hope other hounders go check this place out and spread the word."

Dino's [Astoria]
29-35 Newtown Avenue (between 29th and 30th streets), Astoria, Queens

Discuss: Dino's Restaurant and Bar in Astoria

The Saucy Side of David Ortiz

The Saucy Side of David Ortiz

This week's mission: A major-league ballplayer takes a swing at the hot sauce game. READ MORE

Getting Churros Right, Inside and Out

A Spanish holiday pretty much ruined churros for kathryn. Back in Manhattan, churros from the usual suspects (Boqueria, Despaña, and Five Points among them) were all crunchy exterior with nothing inside, and just didn't measure up to her memories.

Mercat's version is more like it: crispy outside but fluffy inside, too. They're not flawless; the accompanying hot chocolate, while properly bittersweet, is too thin, and kathryn could do without the ubiquitous dusting of sugar and cinnamon. Still, she says, "they're the best we've had since visiting Spain ... much closer to Madrid style than other spots we've tried."

Mercat [East Village]
45 Bond Street (between Lafayette Street and Bowery), Manhattan

Discuss: Spanish Churros with Chocolate

Overheard on the New York Boards

"Was the best candy I ever had ... I remember the little nuts would fall off when you would take one out, and believe me, not one was wasted." - Nestle

"[S]ome of the crayfish escaped and our dogs freaked out when they were running down the sidewalk. Chef Steve came after them. Clearly, the ingredients were very fresh." - Olive123

"So we just had oysters at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, one drink each at Tavern on the Green, and wanted to try Bleecker Street Pizza next. So Bill is grumbling and we're laughing and we're all heading down 11th Ave. Bill stops and says 'I goota giet a coffee for crissakes.' I look over my shoulder and see an unassuming 'Daisy May's BBQ USA.' 'I'll be right back' I say, getting out of the car." - porker

Juice Plus Unexpected Guests

Juice Plus Unexpected Guests

This week's mission: a superchunky fruit drink. READ MORE

SF Births an Underground Farmers’ Market

Last night was the first ever underground farmers' market, put on by forageSF, a wild foods community (think mushroom and fennel picking in urban parks).

It was a nice blend of street food/underground restaurant/house party. There were vendors spread out all over the house: A woman was selling empanadas in the living room, a local honey purveyor set up shop in the bathroom, and there were jams, edible garden boxes, pies, and local acorn flour spread out over the rest of the Victorian. ...