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Japanese Ramen: Is it a Hype?

KK wrote: "Budae Jjigae went through a huge surge of interest in Hong Kong maybe 2 years ago. . ."

And here in the Bay Area, it got attention some years before that (through Holbrook's colorful review of Jang su Jang in Santa Clara http://www.sanjose.com/2010/07/07/07_... -- incidentally Holbrook, for his eight? years, was an excellent regional print dining critic, probably the Bay Area's best, the kind of hardworking writer Bay Areans wish for when they cite Gold in So-Cal, or recall the glory days of Unterman/Sesser or Whitelaw or Shelton -- but his scope was only the southern part of the region so many in SF itself never heard of him). Holbrook's report predates most sources cited in the Budae Jjigae wikipedia article.

May 21, 2015
eatzalot in General Topics

Mountain View Advice? Ramen?

The hell of it is, in Shalala's early days (when I had several meals there), the gyoza were typically excellent, freshly made and freshly pan-fried as at Ryowa. Over time something happened, and they became very inconsistent. As if they started out with the chef's attention but were forsaken. You might chance on a good batch, then others would be slapdash, falling apart, less fresh, flavorless.

In 10 years though (far longer than Shalala has been open) I've found Maru Ichi's gyoza _consistently_ disappointing -- as if emptied perfunctorily from a commercial frozen bag into a deep-fat fryer. I have much regard for other things at Maru Ichi, but not those, and haven't ordered them for years. Spot checks for any improvement occur when a companion offers one to try. Clearly gyoza are, by choice, an afterthought there -- but there are plenty of other good things on Maru Ichi's menu.

Japanese Ramen: Is it a Hype?

LorenzoGA: "I often get the impression that members from San Francisco and New York have a distorted view of the overall food scene in America."

Likely true sometimes -- I've seen it -- though hardly a general rule (among other factors, some of us have lived and worked and often travel to diverse parts of and outside the US, and aren't subject to parochial notions of our hometowns). I see things mentioned like venerable NYC-area "Cantonese" restaurant traditions (packets of "duck sauce" come to mind) that are far from universal in the US -- but people who stay near NYC don't always realize that.

Yet above, I described roughly the opposite situation, so I don't see how that observation relates. An imported cuisine (Sichuanese) became fashionable to the extent of nationwide pop-culture manifestations and cookbooks in the 1970s. But I've occasionally encountered online not just people remarking that Sichuanese food has been growing in US popularity (original topic of 2010 thread I alluded to) but even asserting that no Sichuanese restaurants were _anywhere_ in the country before the 1990s or 00s -- which many people know to be grossly wrong, from direct experience. (Incidentally FWIW, my 1970's east-coast Sichuanese restaurant experiences weren't near NYC, nor were the West Coast ones in SF.)

May 18, 2015
eatzalot in General Topics

Japanese Ramen: Is it a Hype?

Steve: "... tell us what place you're talking about."

Steve, I honestly can't understand that question (I mentioned several kinds of "place" in the last couple of postings; the most recent references there have a link and a pretty easy allusion -- but I am not sure what you refer to).

May 18, 2015
eatzalot in General Topics

Japanese Ramen: Is it a Hype?

LorenzoGA: "sushi could be called an exceptionally long-lived 'fad.' We Westerners may have been eating it since the '70s, but novelty. . . still remains a big part of the draw. . .'

Note that 1970s is the mainstream, or pop-culture, perception of that history-- another case of an imported food idea going fashionable in the US (I mentioned others elsewhere in this thread). But sushi had times of "western" fashionability long before the 1970s. Wagner's history of modern food (published in Europe in 1995 and ignored by US pundits on the subject) features a 1930s photo of Charlie Chaplin hanging out in what I recall as a "western" sushi bar -- captioned to the effect that "New York yuppies" were hardly the first westerners to take a fancy to these bars in the 20th century. So I'm not disputing Lorenzo's characterization as a long-lived fad, rather I'm emphasizing how long.

May 18, 2015
eatzalot in General Topics

Japanese Ramen: Is it a Hype?

PS: One revered Chowhounder and respected longtime ramen expert has groused (not so much on this site) about the tonkotsu fad among hipsters -- that being the first ramen version that newcomers all hear of today, sometimes the only one they ever try, whether or not it is a strength of the particular ramen house. By implication, THAT particular fad is narrowing the perception of what ramen is all about, among newer fans.

May 18, 2015
eatzalot in General Topics

Japanese Ramen: Is it a Hype?

Yes, lately more ramen places are opening in the SF Bay Area too (my little downtown had two ramen houses for many years, now it has four). But a careful look at Melanie's list (linked earlier) shows they aren't uniformly distributed even in the Bay Area -- they've long concentrated disproportionately in particular suburbs or neighborhoods, with demographics and demand. (A recent SFBA board thread answered a query from a Chowhounder in another part of the Bay Area wanting to visit ramen houses in my town, as a local specialty.)

My earlier comments reflect what I noticed lately: growth of mainstream US articles on this food, despite its long quiet familiarity and even local commonness in parts of the US. (Like how Sriracha sauce, known to food-conscious and ethnic-cuisine consumers for decades in the US, abruptly went mainstream just a few years ago, with newspaper articles and an expansion into nationwide consumer goods.) So questions about hype or fashionability concern only its mainstream US reception (given that ramen was already well established in localized enclaves).

monkeyerotica's comment re "customers who go to Szechuan/Cantonese restaurants and complain..." recalled an even more vivid case of _uneven_ US mainstreaming that occupied a whole CH thread several years ago. While Sichuanese restaurants were very fashionable in some of the coastal US by the 1970s (complete with popular cookbooks still used, Newspaper specials, and pop-culture references a-la "let's go out for Sichuan!"), they apparently were unknown in other parts of the country -- so thoroughly that people in that older CH thread unaware of all that history, and apparently without long history of any Sichuanese restaurants, asserted that these restsurants were much newer, not to themselves personally, but to the _US_ -- even arguing with me when I described eating in them in the 1970s on west and east coasts!

May 18, 2015
eatzalot in General Topics

Mountain View Advice? Ramen?

Thanks for report and pix, that's a superb capture of Maru Ichi's "house" or kuro ramen offering. 5:30 is usually a good time for ramen in downtown MV. Those places are mobbed for lunch (Ryowa, which is open all day, even has sometimes had people waiting outside, with a waiting list, 3PM weekdays, I experienced that at least twice) but demand is generally lower for dinner.

You'll have seen my warning here about Maru Ichi's notorious, frozen-fried gyoza -- weakest item I've experienced there, far surpassed by the house-made gyoza at all three of the other nearby ramen joints -- made from scratch daily at Ryowa and Yu-Gen. IMO, MaruIchi's best side dishes are the sashimi bowls. Tonkotsu ramen may be very fashionable lately, but I wish more people would try Maru Ichi's unusual shoyu ramen, or its soba soup ("tempura soba") or cold noodle dishes (ramen salad or zaru soba) -- all of which are a little off of the cliché path (hence newcomers rarely think to try them), but are among that restaurant's strengths, to my taste.

Japanese Ramen: Is it a Hype?

CK, I don't know how much you researched this topic on Chowhound before posting, but the perspective surely depends on where in the US you are. In my region (San Francisco Bay Area), ramen houses were an institution before Chowhound existed (typically run and heavily patronized by Japanese expats or visitors from Japan, and boasting of their unique secret long-simmered broth -- or else more recently, they're the newer hipster type, boasting of their colorful and unlikely post-simmer broth ingredients, and giving some customers gratuitous allergic reactions with the extreme variety thereof).

It is less of a novelty, trend, or fad in parts of the US where ramen houses have long been a standard dining option.

Longtime Chowhounder Melanie Wong manages to try many of them in our region, and for years has maintained a preference list of 100 or so places, for example find one edition of it here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9718... .

We also have many Phở places, since the late 1970s when the US's largest expat Vietnamese community settled aound San José following the Vietnam War. They tend not to be very hip or innovative, and self-respecting immigrant or ethnic Vietnamese avoid many of them, thanks to the discernible use of hokey shortcut substitutes for long-cooked honest meat broths. OTOH, "wanton broth" isn't something I've noticed much here.

May 17, 2015
eatzalot in General Topics

A review: Stan's Donut Shop in Santa Clara

Sorry I probably put unwitting emphasis on "cake" donuts earlier -- that's simply the most common I've seen of the commercial donut styles (usually pretty boring and covered with some indifferent commercial frosting) -- but it was commercial donuts in general I got bored with.

Correct me if I'm too far out of touch now, but I seem to recall from buying them long ago that "Old Fashioned" donuts in Bay-Area shops were the ones with a more doughy browned surface and asymmetrically fried (as if cooked mostly on one side, risen and irregular on the other).

Simple homemade donuts can look like that, but if I flipped them more, I could get them to look more symmetrical. What basically set the homemade versions apart was the toasty crunchy exterior (which could stay that way quite a while, not just when fresh and hot). And you can flavor the dough (nutmeg is a typical starting point) so it's interesting in its own right. No "frosting" needed, at most a light toss with granulated sugar. (And if you fry them in blob shape instead of rolling and cutting the dough into rings, you have the New Orleans "beignets," which again weren't native there but were known originally as "dough nuts" in the rest of the US -- a reasonably descriptive phrase at the time!)

A review: Stan's Donut Shop in Santa Clara

Thanks, helpful write-up -- and it's close to my part of the Bay Area so I'm thinking of trying the place. (To buy for other people, naturally. :-) The donuts in the big photo _look_ offhand like what I've seen in chain shops and supermarket bakery annexes for many decades -- I got jaded about commodity "cake" donuts long ago, after learning how interesting homemade donuts tasted, with little effort. (Never even tried Krispy Kreme, last decade's fashionable chain, as Dunkin' Donuts was in the 80s/90s and Winchell's was in the 70s.) But the narrative presents these as distinct from the run of the mill. (Any more on what makes them different would be very welcome!)

Trivia note from original sources: One of the two dominant US cookbooks of the early 1800s, by Mary Randolph and written in Virginia, gives a recipe for "Dough Nuts (a yankee cake)." These were blobs of dough cooked in deep fat, which is how "dough nuts" looked until the ring shape became popular later that century (while in New Orleans, where French was a common language at the time, the misnomer "beignet" was applied or rather adapted to the same thing, and remains today -- though it caused an ambiguity because in French cooking and to anyone who speaks French, a beignet is a fritter -- something else dipped in batter, then fried -- not fried dough). Outside New Orleans, the original blob or "nut" shape appears in some later recipes (as in the United States Regional Cookbook of the 1930s and 40s) as a "drop cake" since, by then, "dough nuts" had the familiar ring shape.

Mountain View Advice? Ramen?

Consider: The standard of quality for beef Phở broth is homemade, and it's not even hard to make well -- the main demands are time and decent ingredients. Both of which, in the low-margin world of restaurants, are tempting targets for shortcuts, hence the bad reputation of so many Phở restaurants.

I forgot to mention (apropos oxtail ramen) -- I've also had good oxtail _Phở_ at Phở To Chau (menu option "1a" or something like that).

Mountain View Advice? Ramen?

How could I have forgotten this earlier? Near the top of my current favorite, go-to local restaurants for good-value and fairly quick meals (this from someone who eats out in MV a LOT and knows most of its restaurants well) is another downtown Asian noodle place many people here won't know about, because it's both low-key and only about a year old. (Though K.K. may have first tipped me off about it.) That's Phở To Chau on Villa St. UNDER ITS NEW OWNERSHIP (i.e., only since last year).

The southern Bay Area (with huge Viet. immigrant population) abounds embarassingly in hokey Phở (or "Pho") houses, where cheap shortcuts sub. for real, slow-cooked beef/bone broth. So after this place changed hands, I tried it cautiously -- and in the last year have returned 20 times (I have receipts). Genuine, long-cooked beef broth with its depth and mouthfeel, not oversalted. Good value (Phở orders come in three sizes starting under $7). Other broths are available, I often get chicken Phở (you can specify free-range checken meat, it comes torn rather than sliced, and includes light and dark) though frankly those broths don't stand out to me as strongly as the basic beef.

The place is all about noodles, in variety. Several types EACH of rice and wheat noodles are available variously prepared: in soups, "dry" with sauces and garnishes, bún bowls, etc. One specialty is "not-soup" egg [wheat] noodles with prawns and BBQ pork; noodles resembled ramen at Ryowa (next door), but served more like lo mein. And I've now tried at least three RICE-noodle types in various preparations, and am not finished.

You may find some better Phở broths in San José or elsewhere, but if you ARE near MV, this place is well worth knowing. Far better beef broth than the chain "Pho Hoa" around the corner and better than I've had at any of the several other, better-than-chain, Pho houses within a few miles.

Mountain View Advice? Ramen?

Exactly -- thanks Melanie. It's made in quantity and served, room-temperature, from pitchers.

From random online comments seen over the years, I gather that Ryowa's tea strikes some people as odd, but it's just a different, mild style and I find (granted, after 100+ visits I'm accustomed to it) it's quite refreshing. Especially since I often dip into the distinctive red-green pepper paste (red pepper paste plus chopped Chinese chives) supplied in Ryowa's condiments selection, and which is the basis also for the dipping sauce with the tsukemen noodles described in my long posting here.

Mountain View Advice? Ramen?

Just saw this thread. FYI about 105 restaurant spaces (all but a few of them active) are in the _downtown_ MV neighborhood, within walking distance of each other and the train station. (I average 2-3 meals a week there the past 15 years, less frequently for 20 more years before that, and have had several hundred meals at the four ramen houses, all within about two blocks of each other. Counting Yu-Gen which opened earlier this year, and nominally becomes an izakaya for dinner). Yu-Gen focuses on ramen for lunch, and has two basic styles with several garnish options.

It has become routine (and to some of us locals, a little annoying) for people with very limited experience of the neighborhood's ramen houses to post strong recommendations and opinions online (mainly on Yelp), despite nowhere near enough experience to've tried the range of offerings and strengths.

Shalala is the second-newest (four years old, still much younger than the other two) and most hipsterish, focusing on hip "cloudy" broths with enough wild mixing of things like miso and nut pastes to cause allergy problems (unfortunately) with some of my friends. The menu has evolved somewhat each of the 10+ times I've been there.

The other two places (Maru Ichi and Ryowa) are distinguished by DIVERSE menus, full of hidden gems.

Maru Ichi also makes its own noodles in a glassed booth up front, used for the mainstream ramen bowls. Its menu is _extensive_ with both optional side dishes and less well-known noodle specialties (trying your way decently through the menu takes about 15 visits at Maru Ichi, 10 at Ryowa, 3-4 at Yu-Gen; 6 at Shalala, but its menu will have changed by the 6th visit. :-) At Maru Ichi I especially like some of the non-mainstream-ramen specialties: Zaru soba (chilled buckwheat noodles on a rack, dipping sauce, prawn tempura); cold-noodle salad (hiyashi chuka) with yuzu-soy dressing (which won over Melanie some years ago, and is now offered year-round). The nominal "house" ramen style (kuro ramen) uses browned garlic as a broth theme, but I especially enjoy Maru Ichi's clear-broth shoyu ramen, with what always seems like a very strong (not just soy-sauced) meat broth. (Dried garlic chips are available in the condiments selection.)

At Ryowa (with its springy bouncy noodles) an offbeat strength is the tsukemen ("dipping noodles"), different, flat noodles served lukewarm with a spicy dipping broth and variety of garnishes. Ryowa also makes exceptional gyoza dumplings (fresh daily), imitated unevenly at Shalala and much more successfully now at Yu-Gen (whose opening manager told me he'd deliberately tried the competition, and aimed for those at Ryowa). Some people go to Ryowa just because of the gyoza; from outside the restaurant you can smell the appetizing browning aroma at lunch time. (Maru Ichi's gyoza, in sharp contrast, are forgettable, frozen, deep-fried, I assume commercial -- you can get similar ones frozen at Nijiya Markets.)

Another good, quick DOWNTOWN option that surprisingly I haven't spotted mentioned here yet is Xanh (pronounced "Sun"), the hip popular modern-Vietnamese place with huge lounge up front. The "quick" part (and good value) has been especially visible during the early-evening "happy hour" with small plates that go great with drinks (Vietnamese "tacos," multiple types of fresh-wrap sliced Vietnamese "rolls," spicy "popcorn chicken" with fried Jalapeño pepper slices and fried basil leaves.) Those items are also on the regular menu outside of "happy hour."

And as goldangl mentioned, Tommy Thai for the interesting, _Cambodian_ part of its menu (slightly outside the downtown area, in a converted former chain Chinese-fast-food building).

Also a little away from the downtown was the first, and best I've seen so far, of the current peninsula horde of true-Neapolitan (i.e. certified and randomly-inspected by AVPN in Naples) pizzerias: Napoletana, which KK suggested already. Owner/cook is a pizza-obsessive. Be SURE your group knows about the differences between true-Naples and US pizzas before going; preferably order the pies unsliced and cut them with knife&fork as bbulkow, I, and all the Italian customers do; it can be a memorable meal. Doppio Zero downtown is the newest VPN competitor, run by a bunch of guys from Naples themselves, and very worthy IMO. Be sure to order a range of its pizza types.

Cascal is a perplexing phenomenon -- the better you know it, the less you tend to like it (at least for food). Despite nominally being a "tapas" restaurant, those have been the most forgettable of its dishes in my experiences, and even its staff admit not liking the bar plates (which run heavy and deep-fried). Fun atmosphere and bar though, as long as you're not there to eat. The best dishes I've had there (since it opened in '03) have been daily specials.

Once, entertaining East-Bay friends, plan was a stop at Sakoon (the most upscale and lavish of MV's_downtown_ Indian restaurants) for starters, then ramen across the street at Maru Ichi. But we never left Sakoon. We settled in to the small loft seating area above the bar (one of Sakoon's FOUR dining areas, three of which casual visitors don't notice), but after appetizers, the food being served down on the main floor smelled so good we stayed.

When a menu is not a menu

I don't get the point of these tangents, but whatever. I haven't touched the separate topic of "tasting-menu only," this thread is about restaurants that don't used a fixed or well-in-advance menu. Panisse did that for decades with conventional, multi-course (not "tasting") meals. French Laundry also offered that during my experience, as did Manresa for most of its history (until going to a tasting-only format in recent years). Alice Waters for decades has cited her experiences in France (starting as an undergraduate), becoming "enamored with the small, country restaurants of France that cooked whatever was fresh that day and created menus based on what the market had to offer," which is what I mentioned earlier. I experienced some of that too, in France and elsewhere in Europe; and the literature records endless examples from earlier times.

The contrast I cast is between this simpler, market- or farm-driven format, and restaurants with a set menu and many choices. The latter have a well-defined and finite history, having become popular internationally since the early 1800s. They are the typical "restaurant" format that many of us grew up with, but not the only way to organize good eats. (I didn't mention this earlier, but the logical, obvious extreme of menu predictability is MacDonald's -- whereas in my experience, some ancient towns in Europe never took to "fast food" because their neighborhood taverns and cafés -- sometimes 500 yrs old -- still offer much more interesting, inexpensive, menus-of-the-day.)

When a menu is not a menu

Thanks Discerning1. I gather that you closely read what you were commenting on above -- so you understood I was looking at Chez Panisse as the modern example with ancient linkage (not at "high-end tasting-menu-only" restaurants, a different subject). Panisse's avowal of inspiration from modest, but good, country inns comes from Alice Waters, not me; and I've always thought that (just as with many French examples long predating Waters, and recorded in various books) not only are Panisse's cooks more than literate enough to write a menu if they choose, but also, what's "currently available" there is usually well worth seeking out!

Best hot dogs without nitrates or nitrates?

Amazing to see some clarity in one of the threads of this type. (Like so many other food topics just a little bit technical, there's much too much rule-of-thumb mythology.) Brandon Nelson was right, to the letter (and you can confirm it if you'll do the work.)

LittleIrishTroll caught part, but unfortunately not the important rest, of the story: "there is a difference between nitrite additives and nitrites that occur naturally in vegetables. Vegetables with nitrites also contain high levels of [natural antioxidants]."

First, food scientists have known for _decades_ that many vegetables contain natural nitrites, but also antioxidant chemical species that suppress nitrosamine formation. That's why you don't see threads like this warily warning people against eating GREEN VEGETABLES. (For anyone hung up on the following detail: _nitrites_ are the radicals of practical import for both antibacterial action and potential formation of toxic nitrosamines. But nitrates reduce to nitrites in cured meat while stored, which is why nitrates, as in saltpeter, have been used for centuries for curing meats.)

But modern cured meats TOO use antioxidants, as deliberate additives, to inhibit nitrosamine formation. Look for the presence of an ascorbate, or its very close relative, erythorbate http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_e... , on the ingredients label, and you'll realize you're getting cured meats with (just like those green vegetables!) "high levels of [natural antioxidants]." Modern regulations on nitrate/nitrite additives are written explicitly for avoiding nitrosamines (the original hazard issue that got everyone who now reads this concerned over "nitrites and nitrates").

Please don't get distracted by things like celery powder (unless you want also to swear off celery, in a naïve assumption that it's somehow BAD).

A thread title more accurately on target would be "Best nitrosamine-suppressed hot dogs" or even (more accessibly) "Best hot dogs with deliberate antioxidants."

IMHO, ANY sausages eaten immoderately probably unwittingly raise other known, gratuitous risks like salt, fat, and those still-incompletely-understood statistical correlations between certain diseases and even UNcured meats in large quantities.

When a menu is not a menu

Thinking more on this, I'm struck by the longer-focus historical changes. (From a couple of thousand food-related books, you inevitably absorb a little historical perspective.)

The modern concept of "restaurant" has only been widespread for some 200 years (a little longer in Europe than the US; in the US it was popularized by the Delmonico brothers who, IIRC and somewhat ironically, started by serving small plates at their wine bar). The point being, people have eaten out far longer than that, but businesses with versatile kitchens and preprinted menus aren't so ancient (many of the pioneering ones are well documented).

What was already known before my own time as a "classic" French restaurant, in particular, is younger still: the canonized cuisine that Escoffier wrote up starting late 1800s aimed to create "standards" and discourage restaurateurs from passing off lame shortcut dishes under famous names (a practice evidently rampant by Escoffier's time). Escoffierized French cooking with its standardized dishes, sauces, etc. lasted some decades, but by the 1970s, French cooks were rebelling from it (and coining trendy buzzwords for their apostasy).

But the type of experience Alice Waters strove to replicate (when starting Panisse) had existed all along, even while Escoffier cuisine came and went: a more casual, country-inn type kitchen with competence, creativity, and the best available ingredients. It's closer to an ancient model than to the 1800s-1900s "restaurant" idea.

The upshot: yes, restaurants with steady, many-choice "menus" are the norm that many of us grew up with in the US, but in a longer-term sense they are not so "old fashioned." They're a particular commercial dining concept stressing flexibility and predictability, which has been very successful. But they're not the only such concept.

When a menu is not a menu

"Granted I may be old fashioned. . ."

FWIW, this issue in the Bay Area is classic -- anyway, decades older than Chowhound. By the late 70s, when Chez Panisse* was the hot, novel restaurant everyone wanted to go to, table bookings opened a month in advance, and often filled immediately -- for a prix-fixe seasonal-ingredients dinner whose menu wasn't known until long after making the reservation. Some people grumbled, but by and large, surrendering to the spontaneity of freshness and inspiration worked, for countless diners. Other exceptional restaurants follow that plan. Today still, if the point bothers someone enough to limit their restaurant choice, there are plenty of other dining options. Less risk, potentially less reward.

I'll observe that the same policy is common in renowned "destination" restaurants I've experienced in several other states and countries. People who travel to eat even push for it -- even where a preprinted "menu" exists -- asking the kitchen to just send out some favorite things -- this request resonates remarkably with some kitchens, and has produced memorable rapports and follow-ups. And, in some cultures where people eat out more than in the US, it's common for even very casual neighborhood restaurants to focus on a daily special (known as "le menu" or the "Tageskarte" or whatever), something carried over from the days of medieval inns. And almost everyone orders it, because they know it'll be the best thing from that kitchen THAT day.

* (Please note that "Chez Panisse" in those days still meant just the original, prix-fixe multi-course formal restaurant downstairs. There was not yet the issue of name confusion with the semi-autonomous casual Café on the second floor, which did not yet exist.)

Sichuan Peppercorns...

"I suppose you could mix grains of paradise, black pepper, and sansho buttons (to give a similar mouth numbing sensation) as a kind of substitute..."

But why black pepper? That adds a hot/irritant note, quite alien to hua jiao. The whole problem originally created by the clumsy nickname "Sichuan peppercorn" is that they have no connection whatever to black peppercorns except visual in the kernels (which -- and again unlike black pepper -- aren't even the main flavor-bearing part). The citrus and pine aroma and mouth-numbing are in completely different directions in spice space.

Interesting an exercise though "substituting" is, though, the real thing is easy enough to get, and well worth it. For those not fortunate to live near significant Chinese or Chinese-émigré populations (where this spice can be found in any corner market), there are reputable mail-order spice sources, per this thread.

May 13, 2015
eatzalot in Home Cooking

New Alexander's patisserie venture, downtown Mountain View

"I'm not a super duper fan of Alexander's in general, mostly because overly-gourmet'd anything just kind of turns me off. I know, I know, blasphemy."

Blasphemy? Depends on your audience.

Some very respected and experienced food experts have expressed similar sentiments. Two centuries ago A. B. L. Grimod de la Reynière (1758-1837) sounded off in his influential publication. So did Marcell Rouff in the early 1900s (quoted to this point by Marcella Hazan in her original books), wherein the fictional Prince of Eurasia learns an unforgettable lesson about style vs substance in cooking. In our era, the likes of Alice Waters and Karen & John Hess ("The Taste of America") celebrated quality and simplicity. 50 years ago, the great food writer Elizabeth David attacked UK cooking magazines for playing up the exotic or pretentious ingredient of the month, to readers whom they hadn't yet taught how to make a sound loaf of bread.

So you have distinguished company.

New Alexander's patisserie venture, downtown Mountain View

Hard to sum up Olympus's baklava because they're not a single type but a genre at that bakery, usually 3-4 versions offered. It is, after all, a Turkish bakery, so this is a natural specialty (along with several savory pastries filled variously with cheese, herbs, or meat).

It has been a few months since Olympus for me but I did get a baklava assortment to bring to a party. I recall both the roll style and the pan type (cut in diamonds), one of them has a particular qualifier name (xxx baklava), forgotten at the moment, and there are some subtleties among the nuts and sweetening. Don't know Oasis in San Carlos to compare.

Reuben Sandwich

More generally the use of fresh shredded cabbage opens up a whole class of variations -- not exactly Reubens, but they can be good and interesting sandwiches in their own right.

One version of this I picked up from a commercial chef is quite a crowd pleaser and well suited to quantity production. Shred some fresh cabbage of your favorite type(s) and lightly bind it with Russian dressing, or just mayonnaise with your favorite savory seasoning such as horseradish. Assemble sandwiches on rye or French/sourdough bread using this salad, sliced _turkey,_ and cheese, and grill as for Reubens. The turkey imparts a lighter touch than preserved beef, but the Reuben spirit is there.

May 07, 2015
eatzalot in Recipes

Reuben Sandwich

Thanks Florida Hound. Also pls see my recent note below on the broad subject of Russian Dressing, including the classic US definition of "Chili Sauce," which is not always understood by younger readers.

Morrison Wood's underground-classic late-1940s cookbook ("With a Jug of Wine") also uses cream (whipped, in that case) to dilute Thousand Island dressing, which ends up considerably blander (and richer) than Russian Dressing.

May 07, 2015
eatzalot in Recipes

Howie's Artisan Pizza expands to Redwood City

Yes, the place has been open all of -- one week? two? (For reference, Peninsula newspapers wait generally 2-3 months after opening before starting to review.)

However, all news on the new place is welcome. I'm looking forward to trying this new Howie's too. And it will take a few visits. As for example, some veteran CHers recently tried Doppio Zero further south, but just one or two pizzas in a single visit, each. I know from my experiences that I, at least, needed more experience than that to get much measure of that particular restaurant. Not only to learn what's typical for a given pizza type but also, the range of pizzas, and what are special strengths of the restaurant. A place being brand new presents added complexities. As mentioned above, today's menu at the original Howie's only partly echoes what its menu was at six months old (never mind a few weeks) -- the menu evolved -- pizza types I could show you from my first few receipts (and experiences) there haven't existed for years.

Reuben Sandwich

Kind of amazing to see a prominent recipe for this specialty, that overlooks the difference between "Thousand-Island" and the more traditional Russian Dressing, a major quibbling point for all purists of this sandwich (other quibbles: yes, it's traditionally corned beef of course, not pastrami; and _cheese_ is mildly controversial, because the sandwich is already rich, juicy and gooey even without it).

I've written more on Chowhound about the substance and history of Russian Dressing, here's a nutshell summary. (Contrary to an earlier comment it does NOT necessarily or traditionally contain sweet relish; and note that the "Chili Sauce" called for in classic recipes is NOT hot-pepper sauce at all, but the old standard US tomato condiment "Chili Sauce," similar to tomato catsup but with sweet-pepper bits.)

"Russian Dressing" was common in early to middle 20th-century US with cold vegetable and seafood salads. (It evolved from earlier mayonnaise sauces containing spicy flavorings, such as horseradish.) A common "cookbook" Russian Dressing was mayonnaise and US "Chili Sauce" (see previous paragraph) or some other tomato-based sauce, in a ratio 2 or 3 to 1, flavored further with available small savory bits such as minced green olives or chives. A quick, good Russian I make for Reubens is mayonnaise plus bottled US "Shrimp Cocktail" sauce to taste (another catsup variant, whose distinguishing ingredient is ground horseradish). That version is true to Russian Dressing's origins and can again be extended with bits of olives, chives, bell peppers, pickles, or whatever seems good.

"Thousand-Island Dressing" started as a close variation of Russian, but evolved to popularity after WW2 as a diluted Russian Dressing (much more mayo, and even sometimes other thinners) -- 1940s cookbook recipes show it that way -- which is the commercial product today. Russian Dressing is trivially easy and cheap to make at home, and unlike today's "Thousand Island" it can be very flavorful, bringing something real to the Reuben Sandwich.

May 06, 2015
eatzalot in Recipes

Doppio Zero in Mountain View

Have you tried Howie's's recent expansion location in Redwood City yet? I just posted a link to a story: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/1012528

Howie's Artisan Pizza expands to Redwood City

Happened recently, I saw this news report but haven't been there yet:

http://www.mv-voice.com/blogs/p/2015/...

The original at the Palo Alto Town & Country shopping center (across El Camino from Stanford) has become established as a locals' favorite in its few years open. Originally the pies had a strong European slant (things like house-made pancetta chunks and several versions with post-bake greens added), but evolved to fit the local demand. Howard Bulka himself is from Chicago. I'd describe his Palo Alto pizzas of recent years as well-made with classy crust, baked pretty dark; popular US toppings with still some Europeanoid specials and options, and a decent value in very casual, family-popular setting.

Howard Bulka made his name on the peninsula as founding chef of the high-end restaurant Marché (downtown Menlo Park), where I first experienced his cooking 12-15 years ago in several customized "gastronomic" and wine-event dinners. Even then, he leaned toward "comfort" dishes. Then a few years ago, Bulka announced he was leaving Marché (others took over the kitchen, and Marché later closed) to make, of all things, pizzas. He was serious, and he's still at it.

Everything You Need to Know About the Atkins Diet

Some attractive recipes there!

I believe the most useful thing a writer can do about the dieting is to bring out what's fundamental here, separating out the fads and notions that pervade the topic.

"Atkins" denotes a particular, name-branded, ritualized ("Induction Phase," etc.) variant of the broader genre of carbohydrate-restricted diets. As a therapeutic tool, these existed long before Atkins's best-seller; their principles far transcend Atkins's version, and are applied successfully by many physicians. A common point of these diets is to try to harness the observed "insulin response," which in most healthy adults can trigger the body's consumption of stored fat; this trigger requires reducing blood-glucose peaks associated with meals. And like all dietary ideas that become fashionable, it has been embraced by some people who don't bother to understand it, or who take it to reckless extremes, or to the point of ignoring other dietary good sense (e.g. getting most of your calories from "bacon and eggs" may reduce carbs, but can promote other consequences unrelated to the effects of low-carb dieting).

15 years ago I lost 20 lbs. on a generic low-carb diet advised and supervised by my doctor (another cardiologist), and I've kept it off ever since. The doctor provided data, not on "carbohydrate content," but what's more relevant to the insulin response: glycemic load (GL) of various foods in standard portions -- a measure of how much each food induces blood-sugar rise -- with instructions to keep the total GL-weighted intake below a certain limit, and drop sugary desserts. (No rituals like "Induction Phase," albeit the elaborated language of Atkins may itself attract some people who like those trappings!) Yes, missing some favorite carbs caused cravings for a time -- but the scope of foods promoted under the diet was vast and satisfying -- and later I reintroduced old favorites, just more consciously and moderately than before.

For many people, like me, there are valuable principles here, when shorn of distracting language and hype.

May 04, 2015
eatzalot in Features