The CHOW Blog rss

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

Nueske’s Wild Cherrywood-Smoked Bacon

Nueske's, the famed applewood-smoked bacon maker, just introduced a nitrite- and nitrate-free bacon smoked with wild cherrywood. We sampled it at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, and liked its tangy smokiness. Nueske's says it smokes the bacon over an open fire stocked with cherry logs for 24 hours and prepares it using sugar, sea salt, and celery juice (a natural source of preservatives). It's just rolling out to retail in 12-ounce packages, so keep an eye out.

Nueske's Wild Cherrywood Smoked Bacon, price varies

Hibiscus Blooms in Oakland

Hibiscus, a new Caribbean restaurant in Oakland, has a fine pedigree thanks to chef Sarah Kirnon, formerly of The Front Porch, and wine guy/floor manager Omar White, who did the wine list at Pizzaiolo and at the now-closed Tinderbox in SF.

Robert Lauriston checked it out on its very first night and was knocked out by the inventive cocktails and flavorful dishes, some of which are new favorites.

A hibiscus royale sounds like a good way to start the evening. It's basically a kir royale with housemade hibiscus syrup instead of cassis, and it's light, dry, aromatic and refreshing, Robert says. Pirate Jenny is a sterner blend of bourbon, Cointreau, lemon, and St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram. "Also pretty dry and had a complex spicy aftertaste," Robert says. The wine list is short but interesting, containing mostly bottles you don't often see elsewhere.

A chickpea curry starter with baras bread (a Trinidadian version of paratha), mango pickle, and tamarind sauce shows Trinidad's Indian heritage. It's like a refined variation on channa masala. "I love channa masala and parathas, and this is the best I've had," says Robert, noting that the spicing still allowed the chickpea flavor to shine through. Another starter, pigeon pea soup with taro, chayote, heirloom squash, cassava, and house-cured salt beef is worth raving about, with delicious broth dominated by pigeon peas. There are also fabulous grits combined with spicy crab and lobster butter, sweet red carrots, and chives.

For mains, Miss Ollie's fried chicken has a thickish coating, keeping the meat juicy and hot long after it reached the table. Slow-cooked Berkshire pork in a banana leaf with garlic yam cubes and chocolate red beans is subtle but nicely seasoned. For a little kick, add a little bit of Kirnon's amazing Scotch bonnet pepper sauce.

Hibiscus is not your typical Oakland Caribbean dive, Robert warns, but it's not super-upscale, either: "White tablecloths covered with butcher paper, nice lighting, paintings of hibiscus flowers." Prices are around $7 to $9 for starters and mostly under $20 for mains, with the exception of the $21 slow-cooked pork. And portions are great for sharing. Service is incredibly warm: A guy who greeted him on the way in was so friendly, Robert panicked briefly "because I thought he knew me and I had no idea who he was."

Hibiscus [East Bay]
1745 San Pablo Avenue, Oakland
510-444-2626

Discuss: Hibiscus - Trinidadian / Caribbean in Oakland

Learn to Keep Bees in NYC

If you live in New York City or the surrounding environs, and have been curious about what it takes to produce your own honey, the New York City Beekeepers Association is offering a class for novice beekeepers during the month of February. It's three hours on Sundays and costs $100. You'll learn how to set up your hive, where to get bees, where to put your hive, and how to troubleshoot problems. Beekeeping isn't as difficult or scary as you might think, and besides producing honey and beeswax, it's a helpful companion project to gardening (pollination and all that). Check out our story on rebel New York City beekeepers (technically it's illegal, but the DIYers are all over it).

Image Credit: Galen Krumel

Creole Cooking Takeover!

As they wait for their new restaurant space to be ready, the folks at Yats New Orleans eatery are doing a pop-up restaurant at Annie's Bistro, which they take over at lunchtime. The menu for Creole Soups and Such changes daily, but, according to the website, it features dishes like crab and corn bisque, rustic gumbo, shrimp étouffée, and catfish court-bouillon.

Melanie Wong found the oysters Rockefeller soup as indulgent as its name suggests, with chopped oysters, bacon, spinach, Herbsaint cream, a whisper of anise, and a sprinkling of white pepper. "So rich, creamy, and luxurious, this was almost too much of a good thing to finish in one sitting," she says. The generous serving comes with a side of skillet-baked cornbread.



The space is lived-in and bohemian, with curtained booths, a wine bar, and small window tables. Melanie says she was greeted warmly, and when she said she'd been a Yats customer, she was welcomed like an old friend. "This was a terrific lunch, and I can't wait to go back," she says.




Creole Soups and Such [Pacific Heights]
2819 California Street, San Francisco
415-922-9669

Discuss: Creole Soups and Such: Yats Pops-up at Annie’s Bistro (SF)

Hungarian Curly-Haired Pig Is In

Mangalitsa pigs, a curly-haired Hungarian breed introduced to the U.S. just a few years ago, are the darling of pork-obsessed chefs, who love cooking with their succulent meat and plentiful lard. "With the Mangalitsa, it's a fine cooking pork, but really, it's all about the fat," says Keith Luce, who instigated a program at Washington State's Herbfarm restaurant to raise its own Mangalitsas a few miles from the restaurant. "We rendered the fat, we whipped it, and spread it on bread." Here are some of the Herbfarm's pigs in action:

Also spotted: in San Francisco, on Ryan Farr's upcoming winter roast dinner menu in a terrine that will also be made with with smoked lengua, head cheese, and blood sausage, then be baked in brioche; Ibérico-style as an appetizer at Elements in Princeton, New Jersey; in Chicago at The Bristol, where Grub Street reports its brains are being mixed with ricotta and stuffed into tortelloni, as well as at Blackbird, which is currently serving an entire tasting menu dedicated to the pig through the end of the month that includes a dish made with smoked whipped lardo, radishes, nasturtiums, and sea beans.

There are only a handful of American Mangalitsa producers (see a list here). If you want to try cooking it at home, Foods In Season will ship pork raised by Wooly Pigs, the Washington state-based company that first imported the breed to the U.S.

School Lunch Makes Teacher Lose Her Appetite

When we went to school, the cafeteria featured such things as food cooked by human beings, served with big metal spoons from giant trays. But as the blog Fed Up: School Lunch Project demonstrates, times have changed. Each day, an anonymous schoolteacher in Illinois pays $3 for the school hot lunch, photographs it, eats it, then gives a report on her blog.

Even after only a few weeks of posts, Fed Up paints a devastating picture of how the school lunch program is failing kids. Mystery meat, still-frozen fruit cups, "pizza" with cheese that separates into fat layers. Everything is individually wrapped and, if it's hot, it's been microwaved. Weird pairings are rampant: Pizza and pretzels? A hot dog, cookie, and Tater Tots? The pictures are disgusting enough, but the descriptions are even worse: "I guess the green beans had some kind of butter sauce. I didn't taste a sauce but there was a little buttery residue on the bottom of the paper package." Is this food supposed to be fueling the next generation?

It makes the work done by people like school lunch activist Ann Cooper seem even more important.

Image source: Flickr member back_garage under Creative Commons

Pristine Ramen in Los Altos

The owner of Sumika yakitori restaurant in Los Altos has opened a ramen joint, Orenchi, with Sumika's main chef at the helm. The food is held to a high standard, says Japanese blogger hkoide.

Tonkotsu ramen is lovely and rich from its pork-bone base, but not too oily or salty. It's topped with a delicious soft-boiled egg, thinly sliced, meltingly tender char siu (braised pork), bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and green onions. There's also shio (salt) and shoyu (soy sauce) ramen. The menu is pretty small, including a few appetizers and rice bowls, beer, soju, and sake.

Orenchi Ramen [Peninsula]
3540 Homestead Road, Santa Clara
408-246-2955

Sumika [Peninsula]
236 Central Plaza, Los Altos
650-917-1822

Discuss: new ramen place in Santa Clara called Orenchi

Overheard on the San Francisco Boards

"As soon as we tasted the crab we forgot about everything else on the table. It was so incredibly delicious that it was impossible to stop eating it. It struck me that this dish was the embodiment of why I like this restaurant so much. Fiery, flavorful, rich." - Ridge, on ma po tofu with crab at China Village

"My favorite was the lengua with such a beautiful texture and so much beefy goodness that I picked it out of the taco to enjoy the meat on its own." - rworange, on tacos at Martinez Restaurant

"Brussels sprouts in a mint, carrot, and togarashi preparation—recommended by the server and my favorite dish of the evening with lovely bitter taste of the charred Brussels sprouts—it would have a place of honor on many a French chef's menu." - davidgi on Nombe

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