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

Super-Fresh Lobsters from a Truck

Sightings of Paul Crowell, the lobster-from-a-truck guy have been reported once more. This enterprising lobsterman sells his wares fresh off the boat, parking his scale, truck, and cooler in the parking lot of the Marblehead Boat Yard, behind the Landing Restaurant. The business is cash only, and Crowell is only usually there on Saturday and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. but the prices are unbelievable: $6.50 a pound for selects, $5.99 for chicken lobsters recently.

Paul Crowell's Lobsters [North Shore]
89 Front Street, Marblehead
No phone available

Discuss: Lobsters out of a truck on the North Shore?

Cooking Classes for Non-Newbies

bobsbigboy's wife wants to get him a cooking class as a holiday gift, but he's having trouble finding the right class. He doesn't want to do a full-bore professional regimen, but he's no beginner either. Hounds had great recommendations including: • The Knife Skills class at the Cambridge School of the Culinary Arts: blink617 took it as a beginner some years back, and found that "most of the other people in the class were more experienced but still seemed to be learning and getting tips from the instructors." • Baking classes, also at CSCA. C. Hamster finds them much more challenging than the regular classes, particularly the ones taught by the "fancy pastry chef guy," Delphin Gomes. "His rec classes tend to be demo-performance, while nearly all of the other classes tend to be 45-minute-lecture followed by everyone-picks-a-recipe-and-cooks-it," adds enhF94. • Classes at Barbara Lynch's academy, Stir: "A good pasta course would be useful," says grant.cook. • Helen's Kitchen, with instructor Helen Rennie, who offers classes on fish and pastry in Natick, Belmont, and Somerville. Cambridge School of the Culinary Arts [Cambridge] 2020 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge 617-354-2020 Stir [South End] 102 Waltham Street, Boston 617-423-7847 Helen's Kitchen [MetroWest] 3 Ingleside Road, Natick 617-500-0817 Discuss: Looking for a culinary class in between beginner and professional

Overheard on the Boston Boards

"I'm not a fan of most European chocolate, but Taza was a watershed moment. The gritty, visceral flavor made for a more intense experience, like trying your first cup of freshly roasted espresso."

"You get what you pay for, try and find a USDA mark on that stuff, the butchers are very careful to trim all the stamps off."

"He proceeds to pull out lamb carcass sections, the shoulder the ribs the neck. I see a lamb begin to form on the cutting board."

Rare Tropical Fruits in Little Saigon

Rambutan is incredibly hard to find in the States, but elmomonster found some, at a rare fruit specialist in Little Saigon. Next to toothless old women selling CDs out of a shopping cart, right past the Buddhist monks, by the pho shops, is Ba Tu Trai Cay Ngon. "There are two women outside, each from competing stores, yelling at the top of their lungs like auctioneers or snake-oil hucksters, trying to do anything they can to charm passersby into stopping in and buying their wares."

Ba Tu Trai Cay Ngon is a specialist in "fruit and produce indigenous of Southeast Asia—all that is weird and wonderful but are otherwise hard to come by the further north you go from the equator," explains elmomonster. The place is full of bizarre fruits.

Here, finally, you can get rambutan, "a fruit that is as weird as the rest of the lot, perhaps even weirder. As 'rambut' means hair in Indonesian, the golf ball-sized are indeed hairy—furry, even—resembling the dangling testicles of a red, alien creature."

The shop charges $7 a pound, which may seem a little steep, but this is the only store that brings you perfectly fresh rambutan. "The texture of rambutan, for those who haven't had it, is exactly like a lychee. But the flavor is tangier, livelier, just like the Little Saigon street scene I bought it from," says elmomonster.

Ba Tu Trai Cay Ngon [Little Saigon]
8920 Bolsa Avenue, Westminster

Discuss: Found: Rambutan in Westminster's Little Saigon (with PHOTOS!)

All Japanese and Fried, All the Time

Los Angeles finally has a specialist in kushiage, a subgenre of Japanese cooking devoted to the deep-fryer. It is, specifically, about deep-frying skewers of stuff, and it's pretty much the most popular thing in Osaka ever, explains exilekiss. This is not tempura frying; most of the stuff is breaded in a traditional mixture of panko, flour, and egg.

Now LA has Horon, and it's pretty darn good. The quality is a little varied, says exilekiss, but when it's on, it's spectacular. Take Horon's signature item, buta bara negima, pork belly and Welsh onion. On the first visit, it was completely stunning, says exilekiss: "a perfect bite of buttery, delicious pork fat, skin, and lean meat, very fresh and satisfying." On another visit, it was a little unbalanced, with one chunk all lean, another chunk all fat.

Tsukune (chicken meatballs) is another signature dish. It's perfectly fried, with crispy batter and tender, juicy marinated ground chicken. Shiitake tsukune is spectacular, "with a delicious balance of the unmistakable shiitake mushroom fragrance and a juicy blend of ground chicken," says exilekiss. Hotate bata (scallops with butter) comes without the usual panko breading, and is the better for it. "A fresh scallop with a very light butter marinade, it's a pleasurable, deep fried bite of sweetness," says exilekiss. And ika uno no se (squid with sea urchin) is a perfect thing, with fresh, tender, perfectly toothsome squid and beautifully buttery uni to match.

One of the best skewers from the vegetable menu is guri-n aspura no be-kon maki, green asparagus bacon wrap. It's a classic pairing, and the powerful asparagus flavor shines through the earthy, funky bacon.

The place is not perfect. Some of the servings are shockingly small, like the $1 gingko nut skewer that comes with two tiny nuts. And some of the dishes are a bit unbalanced. And you may wear out from the fact that everything comes in the same batter. But there's tons of awesomeness throughout the menu, and you can explore happily for many a visit.

Horon [South Bay]
2143 W. 182nd Street, Torrance

Discuss: Deep Fried Skewer Madness – L.A.'s New Kushiage Specialist – Horon [Review] w/ Pics!

The Workingman’s Bistro Verdu

Michael Ruiz, famed of the beloved, but departed, Bistro Verdu and Ingredients, has come back to Montrose. He's opened Fork Bistro as a "working class bistro," says patz. "His style of cooking is always what I want to eat when I don't want to cook for myself," says chez cherie, and Fork is "unadulterated Ruiz—charcuterie, great cheese and small plates, as well as a bunch of satisfying braised dishes that are perfect for this cold snap."

Ruiz's beloved duck confit salad with arugula and Marcona almonds is back. Yam ravioli is excellent, laced with the delicate flavor of truffles. Short ribs with root vegetables and noodles is another homey, comforting dish, perfect for a chilly night, says Jack Flash. But the big favorite is pork shoulder with polenta and bacon. "The crunch of the bacon, combined with the tender pork shoulder and the texture of the buttery polenta, complemented each other perfectly," says patz. Add a side of roasted Brussels sprouts (with more bacon), and you've got loads of "earthy nuggets of goodness," says chez cherie.

Fork Bistro [San Fernando Valley - East]
2263 Honolulu Avenue, La Crescenta-Montrose

Discuss: Fork Bistro – Montrose
bistro verdu + ingredients=fork Montrose

Much Cheddar for a Bit of Cheese

How would you feel about paying $50 for a pound of cheddar cheese? OK, hang on a second—how would you feel about paying $50 for a pound of 15-year-old artisan-made cheddar cheese?

If you're enthusiastic about that, you're probably from Wisconsin and/or a cheese aficionado. Hook's, a well-regarded artisan maker of cheese based in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, is putting about 1,200 pounds of the stuff (i.e., $60,000 worth) on the market.

If you've never had a good 10-year (or older) cheddar, seek one out—these aged cheddars are both mellower and more complicated than their younger counterparts, which tend to have a more one-dimensional sharpness to them. The old stuff pairs well with a number of different foods and beverages. Bourbon is a surprisingly good match, as is a slice of apple pie.

Overheard on the Los Angeles Boards

"Went to El Gran Burrito to grab a quick bite around 8 and what do I see, the vertical al pastor spit with flames!"
-Burger Boy

"As an aside, Arcadia seems to be in the midst of an invasion of branch Chinese restaurants from the west San Gabriel Valley."

"Honestly, i'm korean and i love the Costco kimchi."


Beware of Bagels

The Wall Street Journal has published an oddly in-depth look at "BRIs," a.k.a. "bagel-related injuries." Yes, it turns out that there are more bagel-related injuries rolling into the ER (1,979 in 2008, says the WSJ story) than many other food-related injuries such as pumpkin (1,195) or cheese (1,236). This has prompted quite a few bagel-slicing gadgets to hit the market, such as the Bagel Guillotine, which sells 80,000 units a year and is considered "history's most successful bagel-control device."

Now, according to the WSJ, there are other bagel-control-device entrepreneurs looking for a slice of the pie bagel. Dennis and Michael Moss, a father-son duo out of Rochester, New York, are the inventors of the Brooklyn Bagel Slicer, "a slender knife fitted inside a molded-plastic guard." The WSJ article makes it sound like people are maiming themselves fairly regularly in the name of bagel slicing. But are these gadgets really necessary?

A Gem in Red Hook: Kevin’s After Dark

Brooklyn Chowhounds were quick to embrace Kevin's for brunch, but slower to catch up with it for dinner. Day and night, it turns out, this place is "a gem," Steve R says: an assured, chef-driven restaurant with a flair for seafood.

Its cioppino (a seafood stew from southern Italy by way of San Francisco) is outstanding, scented with saffron and full of fresh fish and shellfish. Crab cakes are "dynamite," happily paired with greens. Crêpes are made to order with a fresh, delicious lobster filling. Pappardelle comes with big whole shrimp in an agreeably creamy sauce.

Steve, who admits he "went with high hopes and low expectations, given how many 'next best thing' places we've already been to (and been disappointed at) in Bklyn," says Kevin's is the real deal and a pleasant surprise. He faults only the overly bright lighting and wishes the dinner crowd were less sparse. "Just turn down the lights & fill it up," he writes. "We'll be back."

Kevin's [Red Hook]
277A Van Brunt Street (between Visitation Place and Pioneer Street), Brooklyn

Discuss: Dinner at Kevin's: Red Hook