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

New Finds: Pomegranate Tootsie Pops

The ultimate sign that pomegranate has reached critical mass: There is now a pomegranate Tootsie Pop. Introduced in 2008, pomegranate is one of a bunch of new flavors launched in recent years: watermelon, blue raspberry (yuck), and banana (double yuck). But the pomegranate flavor is wonderful, reminiscent of classic cherry but more fruity and puckery. It actually tastes like pomegranate, which is more than I can say for the center, which tastes less like chocolate than choco-scented crayon.

Tootsie would love for consumers to weigh in on the new flavors and suggest others. Peppermint, maybe? Oh, and by the way, according to the Tootsie Roll FAQ, the company has received tens of thousands of letters from children claiming to know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. Estimates generally run in the 600–800 licks range, but your own personal best “depends on a variety of factors such as the size of your mouth, the amount of saliva, etc.”

Walmart Presents: Feasting on the Cheap

Sharp news commentary blog the Awl breaks down Walmart’s $20 Thanksgiving feast, which actually includes a disturbingly long list of edible features for a disturbingly low price. Prices vary a bit from state to state, but in general your Jackson gets you:

• One 12-pound Grade A turkey
• Three 11- to 15.5-ounce cans Green Giant vegetables
• Two 14-ounce cans Ocean Spray cranberry sauce
• Three 6-ounce boxes of Stove Top stuffing
• One 5-pound bag of red potatoes
• One 12-count package of Sara Lee dinner rolls
• One 22-ounce pumpkin roll cake

This is both inspiring and terrifying.

What’s the Difference Between Catsup and Ketchup?

What’s the Difference Between Catsup and Ketchup?

Just put it on your fries and don't worry about it. READ MORE

Overheard on the New York Boards

“Chicken scarpariello should be made with the bone but 90% of restaurants use pieces of boneless chicken breast because it’s easier and cheaper. Roberto’s gives you the real deal.”

“I remember my father decrying the falling standards in about 1967 or so when the last restaurant in Manhattan stopped serving skate … there were still some clubs doing it, but he saw it as the collapse of His Manhattan.”

“I think Carnegie is worth going to just to see the look on people’s faces when they see how big the sandwich is.”

Italian Surf-Turf Bliss at Marea

Sea urchin comes in a unique and irresistible guise at Marea. It’s laid over toast, draped with a translucent layer of lardo and sprinkled with sea salt. “The fatty pork aftertaste melds perfectly with the oceanic breeze of the urchin,” sighs uni connoisseur guttergourmet.

Talk about a killer dish—this one has guttergourmet pondering the hereafter: “In lieu of a casket, I want to be buried on a six-foot-long piece of toast with a mattress of uni tucked snugly under a salted see-through comforter of lardo.”

Adding turf to surf also pays off in richly flavorful fusilli with wine-braised octopus beefed up by bone marrow, tastyeating says. Other pastas worth trying include garganelli with sausage ragu, veal ravioli with sweetbreads and funghi, and rigatoni with cuttlefish, shrimp, and chickpeas.

For dessert, consider the affogato, a floatlike concoction of zabaglione gelato with espresso and the Italian liqueur amaro that’s “insane,” raves guttergourmet.

Marea [Midtown West]
240 Central Park South (near Broadway), Manhattan

Board Links: Unique Uni Experience at Marea
What to eat at Marea?

Return of the Killer Baked Figs

Royal Crown Bakery hadn’t made any baked figs for a couple of years, but the much-loved fruits are back for 2009. jen kalb says they’re “stellar,” stuffed with walnut, flavored with orange and a bit of spice, and lightly glazed.

It’s also getting to be the time of year when Royal Crown, a hardy survivor in Italian Bensonhurst, rolls out its terrific chestnut cake. “Can hardly wait,” says Jen.

Royal Crown Bakery [Bensonhurst]
6512 14th Avenue (near 66th Street), Brooklyn

Board Link: Baked Figs - Chestnut Bread

Em Thai Gets Real

Em Thai is going to a place where few of Smith Street’s unremarkable Thai restaurants go: Thailand. A newly added section of the menu promises authentically seasoned food and warns away anyone who might not be ready for it.

This is for real, says a somewhat surprised Elaine Snutteplutten, who’s been working her way through the new dishes. Seafood Phuket, steamed fish with spicy lime, and Bangkok minced pork topped with fried egg were all “pleasingly spicy and lacked the insipid sweetness that characterizes too much NY Thai food … definitely a cut above anything I’ve had from neighborhood Thai to date.”

Em Thai [Carroll Gardens]
278 Smith Street (between Degraw and Sackett streets), Brooklyn

Board Link: New spicy section on ‘Em’s menu?

Drinking Nostalgically: Everything New Is Old Again

The Atlantic writes about an effort to take back the mai tai, a beverage that must surely rank among the most debased drinks in modern bartending. Typically a syrupy-sweet fruit bomb, it can—and should—have a more mature flavor. Julie Reiner, a New York mixologist, makes a mai tai “with aged rum, fresh lime, and almond syrup, with a little Corduba rum floated on top (so the last few sips aren’t diluted by melted ice).”

Not long ago, I edited a story by Nick Kosevich, a bartender whose attention to detail and interest in reviving now-too-sweet drinks (such as daiquiris) run parallel to Ms. Reiner’s; his meditation on the Old Fashioned ran for a few pages and included the following comparison of old school versus new school:

“Much of the modern-day Old Fashioned-related controversy can be blamed upon Wisconsinites. A Wisconsin Old Fashioned consists of 1 tsp of granulated sugar (usually a little white packet), 2 dashes of Angostura bitters, 1 1/2 oz of brandy, and a splash of 7Up. The sugar and bitters are added first with a splash of 7Up to dissolve the sugar, then the brandy is added, and topped with ice and 7Up to finish the drink. This version is then garnished with a flag (a bar term for an orange slice wrapped around a cherry) ...

“The classic recipe for the drink is 1 sugar cube, 3 dashes of bitters, and 3 oz of bourbon or rye whiskey, not brandy, served in an old fashioned glass on the rocks with a lemon twist.”

The explosion of boutique liquors and bitters available for sale, and the press received by mixologists, may suggest that Americans are getting more sophisticated about their cocktails. But the menu at any given faux-neighborhood midrange chain restaurant is a good reminder that we still have a long way to go. Once the real mai tai has made it to T.G.I. Friday’s, we might be getting somewhere.

Another Excuse to Eat Chocolate

Another Excuse to Eat Chocolate

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Overheard on the San Francisco Boards

“Best of all were the rendered pieces of chicken skin (shatteringly crunchy and paper thin) that they added to the sandwich. It added a component similar to a potato chip, but chicken flavored!”

“Perfect crust, fresh apples, good sweetness (some will find it too sweet)... did I mention the crust?”

“The burrata at A16 is still on my to-try list. The best I’ve had was from Ubuntu. This is better than that…. Since mine was just made it was nothing but sweet, fresh creaminess and so very delicate.”