The CHOW Blog rss

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

Trend-O-Meter Says: Craft Lager Is In (9/21/09)

Until now, craft brewers were more likely to be producing ales than lagers—the kind of light, golden beer that Coors, Miller, Anheuser-Busch, etc. make. But recently they’ve been playing with more flavorful, playful versions of the style.

Spotted: Shmaltz Brewing’s Freaktoberfest beer, which pours red and may or may not contain zombie blood; Moonlight Brewing’s Death & Taxes, a superdark, chocolaty, coffee-tasting beer that’s light-bodied and lower in alcohol than you might think; Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils, featured as a top pick in CHOW’s Summer Beers with Brains story. We called it “the type of light, crisp pilsner you’re used to from Budweiser and Tecate, but classed up with a malty backbone and low-key spice from the hops.”

See more food trends, or tell us what trends you’re spotting.

Why I Would Spend $200 on Dinner

I’m a member of the marketing committee for CUESA, the nonprofit organization that, among other things, puts on the farmers’ markets at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza. And if you are in the Bay Area and support local agriculture, you should be at CUESA’s annual fundraiser, the Sunday Supper, on October 4.

The impulse to plead and lecture is strong. Keywords include Michael Pollan, industrial agriculture, monoculture, and factory feedlots. These are huge threats to our well-being—with the exception of Michael Pollan, whose name is merely there to conjure up a kind face and soothing voice. Buying a ticket to the Sunday Supper isn’t going to save our food system from destruction. But it will help CUESA help the farmers and producers who are helping save our food system from destruction. Is that clear?

So now, the teasing. Your $200—for that is what a ticket costs—gains you access to the reception and supper (for $75, you can just go to the reception). That money, in the long run, goes toward thwarting previously mentioned destruction. For more on that, see above. Also, see Michael Pollan. In the short run, the money goes toward a ridiculously amazing meal. Each table (they’re seated family-style) gets a different menu, with different wine pairings, different beer pairings, and different chefs. Nopa’s Laurence Jossel is preparing a course of Marin Sun Farms sausage, pretzels, house mustard, and seasonal slaw. The list of participating chefs is long and dreamy—Dennis Lee, Stuart Brioza, Chris Kronner. I could swoon on, but I won’t. Just buy a ticket, please. It’s worth it.

We Want the Public Option, Please

Just when it seemed like there were no good names for cocktails anymore, the Hungry Beast offers up the Public Option.

It’s the site’s debut “News Cocktail of the Week,” and it also appears to be a sponsored feature for Le Tourment Vert absinthe.

I imagine many fine brainstorming sessions taking place before they came up with this one. The Jaycee Dugard cocktail doesn’t sound very good. Nor does the Michael Jackson cocktail (it just makes you sleepy). The You Lie! cocktail, on the other hand, is a real pick-me-up. I also look forward to tasting Kate Gosselin’s Hair, Swine Flu Nasal Spray, and Kanye’s a Jackass.

New Finds: Smoked Pickled Okra

I wanted to try the much-raved-about Rick’s Picks line of pickles from NYC and, as I can’t resist okra in any form, Smokra was a great choice. It’s smoky as hell thanks to smoked paprika, and it really makes my lunchtime salads fun. A no-brainer for a Bloody Mary, and I imagine quite delicious on top of polenta.

Smokra, $12.99 for a 15-ounce bottle

Chow with the Hounds!

The ninth annual Chowing with the Hounds Picnic is being held on October 3 in Berkeley’s lovely Tilden Park. Register and get all the details here, and read about last year’s picnic here (with accompanying recipes).

And if you want the CHOW tradition to go on, consider volunteering to help organize the next one, or this could be the last.

How to Make Granola

How to Make Granola

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Vietnamese Beef Seven Ways

If you’re looking for the Vietnamese epic meal “seven courses of beef” in San Francisco, the two main choices are Pagolac and Anh Hong. Anh Hong seems to have the edge on authenticity, but that doesn’t mean it’s the all-out winner. sfbing breaks it down:

Pagolac: “Tiny salad plates and gringo-sized portions of rice paper.”
Anh Hong: Larger portions, and better “overall authenticity.”

Pagolac: “The service is slow if pleasant.”
Anh Hong: “Pretty brusque but brutally efficient, which is important if you’re trying to do seven courses of beef with a party of greater than four.”

Pagolac: Meat quality is “better,” particularly “the raw beef dish featuring beautiful bright red slices in a sweet-tart sauce with onions.”
Anh Hong: Beef is marinated “to the point where it resembles boiled pork.” (Robert Lauriston counters that the Berkeley branch served it nice and raw.)

Pagolac: “Cops out on the banh hoi rice cakes … they use a quickie fake version with thick rice noodles and cornstarch.”
Anh Hong: The real deal, made from rice dough: “I would strongly recommend adding one or two of the banh hoi dishes to complement the seven courses.”

Outside of SF, Robert Lauriston also likes the beef seven ways at Saigon Kitchen. But the $28 price tag for Le Cheval’s version in Oakland is kind of puzzling (most other places are under $20). Maybe it isn’t worth it: ML8000 says that crab in season and lemongrass beef are the must-orders there, but “stray from that and things slip quickly.” But no matter what you have at Le Cheval, the superior cocktails make it all better, notes susancinsf.

Pagolac [Tenderloin]
655 Larkin Street, San Francisco

Anh Hong [Tenderloin]
808 Geary Street, San Francisco

Anh Hong [South Bay]
1818 Tully Road #150, San Jose

Anh Hong [East Bay]
2067 University Avenue, Berkeley

Anh Hong [South Bay]
243 W. Calaveras Boulevard, Milpitas

Saigon Kitchen [South Bay]
1111 Story Road, San Jose

Le Cheval [East Bay]
1007 Clay Street, Oakland

Board Link: Vietnamese 7 Courses of Beef
A surprise at Le Cheval

Go Faux at Ming’s Diner

If you’re staying away from meat but have visions of Cantonese food dancing in your head, head over to Ming’s Diner, advises K K.

Ming’s regular Cantonese offerings have been praised on the board before, but K K found dozens of vegetarian versions of Cantonese classics, even vegetarian shark’s fin soup and breaded eel. Mind you, “vegetarian” doesn’t mean “healthy.” A lot of the dishes are deep-fried or stir-fried. And beware the complimentary house soup, which is made from (real) pork bones. If you’re OK with that, it does have a nice homestyle feel, with vegetables and herbs.

Pei pa tofu, or dragon balls (#122), are seasoned balls of tofu stuffed with vegan ham and fried. Served with broccoli and enoki mushrooms, it’s especially tasty with rice. House special combination vegetarian clay pot (#147) goes all-out with vegan substitutes: vegan fishballs, vegan pork intestines, vegan preserved meat, vegan squid, and vegan shrimp mingle with cabbage, mushrooms, and bean thread noodles.

For dessert, there’s a nice sweet green bean soup.

Ming’s Diner [Sunset]
2129 Taraval Street, San Francisco

Board Link: Great Faux Meat / Vegetarian Canto Chinese at Ming’s Diner on Taraval (San Francisco)

Straight-Up Mexican Seafood

Visiting hound corkscrewed was knocked for a loop by the Mexican seafood at Ceviche Taqueria in San Mateo. The namesake ceviche was tender and fresh, with the flavor of the seafood shining brightly.

But don’t overlook the grilled halibut, which was “better than the halibut I ordered in Sitka, Alaska, the halibut capital of the Pacific,” corkscrewed says.

Ceviche Taqueria [Peninsula]
45 N. B Street, San Mateo

Board Link: ceviche taqueria in san mateo

Killing My Rooster

It’s 2009 and it seems like every website in existence has done a piece about killing an animal. But look, this is what’s good about writers: They can be original! This piece by Jennifer Reese in Double X upends the I-Killed-My-Pet genre by giving it a big, fat yawn. So what’s the big deal, she asks?

Reese may have the upper hand on all the lily-livered slaughter virgins out there because her dad “put himself through college working at a slaughterhouse.” And—is this cheating?—her dad actually does the deed for her, but Reese gains cred for getting blood on her hands. The money line: “I’ve eaten a lot of chickens in my life, and they were all dead.” She refuses to anoint herself a model of virtuosity. The chicken was alive, and then it was dead. Now we eat.