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

NYC Guts a Cow

Perhaps second only to cheese in general, Wisconsinites love their Spotted Cow, a cask-conditioned farmhouse ale from New Glarus Brewing Company. It's the kind of beer that's accessible to the Miller Lite crowd without alienating beer geeks: quaffable but satisfying.

So when Mad River Bar & Grill, a Manhattan sports bar popular with Wisconsin exiles, starting serving Spotted Cow, it was a natural way to connect with the bar's clientele. The only problem: Spotted Cow is only distributed in Wisconsin. New York bars can only sell beers handled by wholesale distributors, and thus: 50 cases of the beer were seized from the bar and two fines totaling $20,000 were handed down. Ouch. Gotta sell a lot of bottles to make up for that.

Image source: Flickr member Russ Neumeier under Creative Commons

Don’t Spit on This Cake

The food issue of the New Yorker, which came out last week, has a great article on spit cake a.k.a. baumkuchen a.k.a. senkacz (depending on which of the myriad of European cultures is making it). Baumkuchen (which translates to "tree cake" in German) seems to have a few variations, but is most often made up of thin concentric rings of cake, created by lowering a spit into batter, raising it to the open flame or heating element on a special oven, and repeating the process 10–20 times. Though originally from Europe, it also seems to be extremely popular in Japan, introduced, oddly enough, by a German WWI prisoner of war.

Anonymous Waiters of the World Unite

"Reader’s Digest gets the scoop on what’s really going on in restaurants" is how the story is billed, but "Reader’s Digest collects 20 mildly amusing anecdotes from anonymous sources" is a bit more accurate. It's entertaining browsing, but not particularly life changing:

"We’re not allowed to tell our customers we don’t like a dish. So if you ask your server how something is and she says, 'It’s one of our most popular dishes,' chances are she doesn’t like it. —Waitress at a well-known pizza chain"

Question: At what "well-known pizza chain" is a customer likely to need the specialized expertise of the waitstaff in order to order correctly?

That said, it's hard not to enjoy (or believe) item #9:

"I knew one guy—he was a real jerk—he’d go to Costco and buy this gigantic carrot cake for $10 and tell us to say it’s homemade. Then he sold it for $10 a slice. —Steve Dublanica, veteran New York waiter and author of 'Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip—Confessions of a Cynical Waiter’”

What Is Dutch-Process Cocoa?

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The Royal Treatment

Hounds have been checking out the location of Queen's Louisiana Po-Boy Cafe on San Bruno Avenue for over a year now. That's because while the owners were able to build out the space in eight months, it took 14 months to get a permit. But it's open now, to the delight of locals and New Orleans chow-lovers.

The restaurant's namesake "queen" is Danielle, the chef, who is co-owner of the place with her husband Troy. She comes in every day at 7 a.m. to start the roux for her gumbo, which is fantastic, says jillyju: "I went last night, and was really blown away by the gumbo," says jillyju. "I've never tasted a version here in the Bay Area that even came close to the depth of flavor and freshness of the seafood." But Danielle has been complaining about making that roux every day, jillyju warns, so don't delay in checking it out.

The po' boy sandwiches use Leidenheimer bread from New Orleans, as essential to the po' boy as Amoroso rolls are to Philly cheesesteaks. It's par-baked and frozen in New Orleans, then finished off here. BernalKC notes that it's white and light compared to the artisanal breads that hold sway in the Bay Area, but a few bites show that it makes sense in this sandwich. The oyster sandwich has small but beautifully fried oysters, and the shrimp one has shrimp in every bite of the footlong sandwich, says wolfe. Fried chicken po' boy is good too. Just be sure to ask for some extra remoulade or tartar sauce, as the sandwiches tend to be a bit dry.

The hush puppies are crisp and tender, and the not-too-sweet honey butter is perfect for bringing out their savory aspects. And the garlic fries are perfect, says mlutsky, "not smothered in fresh garlic like the ballpark ones." There are also beignets.

There's Crystal hot sauce and Zatarain's filé powder (for the gumbo) on the tables for extra authentic flavor.

Queen's Louisiana Po-Boy Cafe [Portola]
3030 San Bruno Avenue, San Francisco

Discuss: Queen's Louisiana Po Boy Cafe

Burmese Food for Burmese People

"Little Yangon has become my new favorite Burmese restaurant," declares Melanie Wong. Situated in Daly City, which apparently has a large Burmese population, the restaurant serves food geared toward that community rather than outsiders. Unlike other Burmese restaurants in the Bay Area, its owners are not ethnically Chinese.

Right up front is a Burmese version of a salad station, with a huge variety of fried and raw crispy ingredients as well as cooked, infused, and raw oils for dressing all ready to be mixed to order. Tea leaf salad has "all the spitfire and textures I love about the dish," Melanie says. Little Yangon use only the small, tender shoots of tea, and plenty of them. A bit of cabbage slaw lightens the mix, and the carefully cut tomato slivers are free of seeds or gel. Plus, the fried and roasted components are all "crackly fresh." The flavors are rounded out with fried garlic, ground dried shrimp, and plenty of fish sauce.

Coconut chicken noodle soup (ohn noh kaw swe) is a bowl of coconutty comfort that Melanie's dining partner Spencer referred to as "Burmese carbonara." Mohinga, the classic fish noodle soup, is a favorite with kairo.

On the other hand, chin bong jaw is such an acquired taste that the owner is nervous to even serve it to non-Burmese. Spencer described the concoction of sour vegetable with green chile, bamboo shoots, and various fish/shrimp condiments as having "notes of barnyard and fire," but it grew on him; the "spicy/sour/bitter/barnyard/garlicky/salty/iron/grassy elements," as Melanie says, are well balanced by coconut rice.

But it takes no schooling to love the paratha. Even without a side of curry dipping sauce, it's "golden brown, flaky, crisp," Melanie says.

Little Yangon [Peninsula]
6318 Mission Street, Daly City

Discuss: Little Yangon, Authentic Burmese in Daly City

The Exquisite Harmony of Kaiseki

Refined and perfectly balanced, a kaiseki meal at Wakuriya puts a contemporary spin on this multi-course Japanese dining experience, says burumun.

"Two of us had dinner at Wakuriya in late September, and though I did not take any photos, the meal is etched in my memory, too," adds pilinut. "In terms of quality of ingredients, skill, and creativity, the kitchen (all two of them) is at least on par with Manresa."

"All two of them" means the couple who run the place, Katsuhiro and Mayumi Yamasaki. The pair came up through the restaurant business in Kyoto, including a stint at the longtime kaiseki restaurant Kitcho. They opened Wakuriya in 2008.

The appetizer course that kicks off the full nine-course meal sums up the approach: something fried (fig tempura), something broiled (unagi and avocado roll), and a dashi-based dish (in this case, eggplant). That fig tempura also showed off the menu's seasonality.

"The quality of the fish is on par with what you would expect at a highly regarded sushi restaurant," burumun says, and you get excellent sashimi as well as cooked dishes likes moist, delicate steamed butterfish coated in soft yuba, or tofu skin. A deep-fried cake of scallop, corn, and tofu has a light, crisp tempura coating. Then an inventive palate cleanser breaks up the meal: watermelon gelée with black sesame.

Grilled tai snapper with pickled plum and shiso basil over rice in dashi broth was "perhaps was my most memorable dish that night," burumun says. The "complex, smoky" dashi is outstanding, agrees pilinut.

A simple-seeming dessert of housemade barley tea-flavored mochi with green tea ice cream is a delicious mash-up of contrasting textures (chewy/melty) and the distinctive flavors of barley tea and an Okinawa black sugar sauce.

The nine-course experience is $85; a six-course version is $70. There's an extensive sake selection.

Wakuriya [Peninsula]
115 De Anza Boulevard, San Mateo

Discuss: Wakuriya (San Mateo): An Exquisite Kaiseki Journey [Review+pics]

Overheard on the San Francisco Boards

"Nothing Roman-style about the pizza, the crust's not that thin, the oven's not that hot, there's too much sauce, and the crust I got wasn't that crisp. That said, it was quite good."
-Robert Lauriston

"We were spoiled customers that night. She made a new batch of cantaloupe? drink (orange colour) for us and heated whatever dishes we wanted."

"If one goes in expecting that nothing in that place has ever touched meat, they're sadly mistaken."

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