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

Cocktail Perfection, Found in Translation

The Atlantic’s food blog takes a trip to Japan where—no real surprise here—some exceedingly masterful bartenders work their magic on a daily basis. Washington DC–based sommelier Derek M. Brown does a good job of capturing the magic of a master at work:

“My cocktails are not Eastern variants, but simple, well-crafted drinks that bear the mark of a technician. Sometimes [bartender Hidetsugu Ueno] even brings out a thermometer to check the temperature of a cocktail. His White Lady, a signature drink culled from the classics, is made without egg whites but has the glistening texture of a melting brook with tiny, broken shards of ice.”

As a West-goes-East-to-encounter-West story, Brown’s cocktail essay is an engaging read. And a bit intimidating, to boot:

“The bartenders at these legendary barrooms are known for their ability to carve an ice ball whose brilliance rivals 500-carat diamonds and shake a cocktail so hard that it registers as a seismic event.”

Sardine Ideas Packed like, erm …

There are essentially two things you need to know about sardines, says tatamagouche: “You can eat them out of the can. And they’re yummy.” Gio also likes to eat sardines out of the can, but adds that they’re great as a topping for a tossed salad, or sometimes as a sandwich with mustard, sliced tomato, thinly sliced onion, and lettuce.

fmed has two ways to eat sardines: over steaming rice, or quickly folded into freshly boiled pasta and seasoned to taste. “I like to add salt and a squeeze of lemon juice or a swish of vinegar,” says fmed. Evilbanana11 marinades thinly sliced onion in vinegar and sugar, and serves them with sardines out of the can—best eaten with slices of toasted baguette. Chopped parsley, coriander, and hot pepper flakes are all welcome additions.

sueatmo likes them with good mustard on crackers (cherry tomatoes and a glass of ginger ale complete the private pleasure of this meal). Passadumkeg works as a sea kayak guide, and eats tons of sardines out of the can when in the field. “I don’t even bother with utensils,” says Passadumkeg. “Pop the top, dig in with fingers, enjoy, and rinse can and fingers in sea when done. Simple and delish.”

Board Link: Question about sardines…

Big Red Sugar Rush

A sugary soda familiar to Texans but exotic to the rest of us is Big Red, which Honeychan describes as tasting like bubble gum and cotton candy. “I pity the soul who must live without Big Red,” says slewfoot. “We even have Big Red Slurpees at 7-Eleven here.”

The company also makes Big Peach, Big Punch, Big Honey Lemonade, and Big Red Vanilla Float, though most of those are sold in very limited markets. Big Red Vanilla Float is fantastic, says slewfoot. Cheflambo thinks that “the reason stuff like Big Red and Dr. Pepper comes from Waco is because the city is a hotbed of Baptist temperance—without alcohol, their vice of choice is sugar.” Cheflambo still remembers the sugar buzz from his first taste of Big Red, “and yes, for those of you who’ve never had it, it tastes just like liquid bubble gum.” Like strawberry bubble gum, to be specific, says slewfoot.

Board Link: Big Red?

Campfire Cook-a-Long

Chowhounds keep it simple and local when cooking in the outdoors. “I bring some fresh herbs and a fishing pole,” says ultraminimalist Lenox637. Passadumkeg enjoys a more involved variation on the same concept. “The weekend before last, we put lobsters, clams, potatoes and corn on the cob on top of a layer of seaweed on top of the Cobscook State Park camp site grill, added another layer of seaweed, and let her steam” for half an hour—while drinking beer, of course, says Passadumkeg. That’s pretty much the recipe for a real downeast shore dinner.

funklight goes in the other direction with a Dutch oven. “I’ve made pot pies, casseroles, pasta, roasted chicken and fish, crusty bread, and fantastic biscuits and gravy. I can’t wait to try pizza in it now,” says funklight. “The very best part is the delicious seasoning that builds up over time on the iron. Like reliving meals past every time you use it.”

The best camping food of all time is, of course, a banana boat (also known as a banana slug): “Split a banana lengthwise, pack with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips, squeeze the halves together and wrap in foil. Place upright on the fire or grill for a few minutes, open up and HEAVEN,” explains mtngirlnv.

CHOW has plenty of campfire recipe ideas too.

Board Link: Camping Chowhound Style

Kick-Butt Kickoff Fare

Kick-Butt Kickoff Fare

Food fit for the toughest of tailgating crowds. READ MORE

Lovers of Crispy Food, Take Note

“I’ve never really bought into the whole cupcake thing,” says Parsnipity, who had a recent mind-changing experience at Kickass Cupcakes: Cupcake Crisps, baked twice, dipped in chocolate on one side, and then sprinkled with jimmies or M&Ms. “This is a completely different food! The only thing I can compare it to is the corner piece of a really good pan of brownies—sort of crispy, sort of chewy, very chocolately.”

At $2.75 a serving (same as for the regular cupcakes), the twice-baked cupcakes are a relatively economical sweet. oniontears appreciates that “they come in pairs … one for now, and one for five minutes later!”

While you’re at Kickass, don’t forget to make a stop by the (in-store) Dairy Bar for local milk.

Kickass Cupcakes [North of Boston]
378 Highland Avenue, Somerville

Board Link: Twice-baked cupcakes might make me a convert….

Cocktails for Your Date with Bettie Page

The space formerly occupied by the Abbey Lounge in Somerville is now Trina’s Starlite Lounge, a homey Southern-flavored joint owned by Josh Childs (Silvertone co-owner) and Trina and Beau Sturm (City-Bar, Highland Kitchen). As befits the Abbey’s history, Trina’s has a vintage feel, with shiny wood floors, a lot of classic cocktails on the menu, and a crowd with “ironic hair” says yumyum.

So far the reviews on the food are mixed, and those cocktails are what hounds like best. Good orders include:

• Starlite: white rum, lemon, fizzy water, purple liqueur parfait amour
• The Gentleman: Buffalo Trace bourbon, Belle de Brillet pear liqueur, lemon juice—“Brilliant,” says gini
• Z’s Negroni: pink grapefruit–infused gin, Carpano Antica vermouth, the Campari-like liqueur Aperol
• The Alfa Sour: Something like a Pisco sour, made with grappa and sweet vermouth

To go with the drinks, order a burger and/or gravy fries. “The gravy is absurdly delicious and the perfect foil for what some would say are overly salted fries,” says gini, who also calls the meatloaf “above-average-diner good.”

The Abbey’s live music is a thing of the past. “They tried, but the neighbors fought back and wouldn’t let them,” says jgg13.

Trina’s Starlite Lounge [North of Boston]
3 Beacon Street, Somerville

Board Links: Trina’s to open today
Trina’s Starlight Lounge to replace the Abbey

Bring Your Host a Taste of Boston

blink617 is going on a trip and wants to bring a little piece of Boston to the out-of-town hosts. What’s a nice local something-something that can be had for less than $20?

Taza chocolates are local, of course, and most Whole Foods have a good selection of their wares; Taza also runs booths at many local farmer’s markets.

More esoteric (and more fiercely local than Taza, which is sold all over the U.S.), are Effie’s Homemade Oatcakes and Crispy Corncakes, available at many local stores, including Savenor’s and most locations of Whole Foods. They’re “decadent, buttery biscuits made right in Hyde Park,” drools galleygirl.

Or try the Tuesday’s Harvard Farmers’ Market, a treasure trove of local goods, says dulce de leche. You can find local honey, syrup, jam, bread, chocolate, smoked fish, and one very unique item: a hunk of cooled maple syrup that can be grated and stores “pretty much indefinitely.”

Savenor’s Market [Cambridge]
92 Kirkland Street, Cambridge

Savenor’s Market [Beacon Hill]
160 Charles Street, Boston

Harvard Farmers’ Market [Cambridge]
Oxford and Kirkland streets, Cambridge

Board Link: Boston local food gift ideas?

New Finds: The Local Foods Wheel Hits New York

The San Francisco Bay Area has had one of these great local food wheels for a while, but now there’s a new version for the New York metro area. The rotating cardboard discs tell you what’s in season throughout the year; you can move the dial based on the month to see what you can consume and still be a locavore. The team that makes the wheels—Jessica Prentice, Sarah Klein, and Maggie Gosselin—dealt with the troublesome fact that nothing grows in the dead of winter in New York in a cute way. From mid-January to mid-March, there are pictures of a root cellar. Sweet potatoes, onions, dried beans, apples and such, are in crates below jars of apple cider and pickles, hanging cured meats, and crocks of sauerkraut, and kimchee. (CHOW has instructions on how to make sauerkraut.)

I’m happy to see that the locally-made items listed as “year round” include hard cider and maple candy. Now that’s a sustainable diet I can get behind.

Local Foods Wheel, New York Metro Area, $12.95.

Ice Cream Topping Insanity

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This week's mission: flavored, syrupy ice cream toppings. ... WATCH THE VIDEO