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Recipe inspiration, tips, and kitchen hacks from the Chowhound editors.

On the Chopping Block

On the Chopping Block

CHOW reviews the best wood cutting boards. READ MORE

Owners vs. Reviewers

Is a restaurant review opinion or fact? Some of both, most readers would assume; they trust the reviewer to know the cuisine in question and be able to judge a well-cooked dish from a sloppy one. Along with being well-informed in brain and palate, though, restaurant reviewers get paid to be opinionated in a smart, thoughtful, and entertaining way.

As a former restaurant critic, I’ve received my share of angry letters from restauranteurs and diners who disagreed with my opinions; one restaurant owner went so far as to flyer all the cars within a three-block radius from the newspaper with a ten-point list of rebuttals after what he read as a negative review.

Snark can be fun to write (and even more fun to read), but any professional writer paid for her opinions learns fast that reviews impact business, and that a snappy comment always needs to be based in knowledge and fact. It’s tricky, because nothing is as subjective as taste; as Ruth Reichl once exclaimed when told to be “less personal” in her New York Times reviews, “But it’s about what goes on in my mouth!”

Michael Bauer, the longtime lead critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, broached the isse of free speech in restaurant criticism in his blog recently, after the BBC News reported on a Irish jury awarding a Belfast restauranteur 25,000 pounds in damages after a “hatchet job” review in a local paper. (Among other faults, the critic cited a “flat Coke” served at the restaurant; as one waggish commenter pointed out, what was a critic doing ordering a Coke with her meal, anyway?)

And as reported in Eater, vitriolic New York City restauranteur Jeffrey Chodorow attacked the credentials of the Times’ critics after his latest multi-million dollar venture got a dreaded no-star review, claimed that the paper’s critics were pursuing a personal vendetta against him and his establishments, and vowed to start “reviewing the reviewers” in a personal blog on one of his restaurant’s websites. Still, the Times had the last laugh: Chodorow expressed his vehement opinions in a full-page ad in Wednesday’s food section, which must have boosted the paper’s ad coffers by at least five figures, if not more.

Chocolate Conundrum

Department of bubble bursting: Hershey’s chocolate is the lowest common denominator of chocolate. Too sweet by far, with an insipid flavor and beans of questionable provenance.

Scharffen Berger produces a limited range of super-high-quality chocolate; sourcing, roasting, and conching their own beans. The company was in the vanguard of the new wave of artisan chocolatiers.

Dagoba crafts enticingly whimsical chocolate bars while practicing “Full Circle Sustainability that blends quality, ecology, equity & community.”

But as Wired’s Chris Anderson reports, the apparent differences between these chocolatiers may be only skin deep, because, as he reports in his blog, a few years ago, Hershey bought Scharffen Berger. Last year it acquired Dagoba.

Anderson, whose “Long Tail” theory of business has captured the nation’s imagination, posits that while big companies used to buy smaller ones and fold the smaller company’s products into their own, these days consumers are looking for “the authenticity and quality of niche products.”

It is a testament to the inversion of power in the marketplace that for the influentials Hershey is trying to reach, an artisanal Berkeley chocolatier such as John Scharffenberger apparently has more brand power than America’s largest candy company.

The only catch? Hershey’s doesn’t really want people to notice that now, apparently, all chocolate, even artisan chocolate, is Hershey’s.

Catering to Kids Ruins Them for Life

Does catering to a child’s food issues create a finicky eater? Will cutting the crusts off sandwiches lead to weight issues and an unadventurous palate? Some think so.

A recent post titled “Kid Foods Breed Fat, Picky Children,” on the anonymous blog Violent Acres, has sparked a discussion over whether or not to cater to a finicky child’s palate.

The author falls into the tough-love camp—kids should learn to eat normal food (and by this she means brussels sprouts) or go hungry. It is how she was raised.

My mother never served me a plate of plain white rice … while the rest of the family ate meatloaf. I ate the meatloaf and I complimented the chef afterwards or I felt the pain of starvation … my parents never gave in when I cried, pursed my lips, or tasted a little only to fake gag and hysterically insist that cottage cheese would make me vomit. Instead, they would calmly inform me that I was not permitted to leave the table until my meal was finished. Period.

She rails against “kid foods,” such as sugar cereals with toys in the package and SpaghettiO’s. “There is no reason that children can’t eat the same thing as adults and feeding your child the processed garbage designed especially to appeal to him only reinforces the idea that anything not covered in sprinkles will kill him.”

And there’s no love lost on the sort of parents who run around catering to junior’s finicky palate.

Mothers that cut pancakes into hearts for their little dears and never serve them a piece of chicken that isn’t dinosaur shaped. These are the Mothers that frantically thumb through kid magazines looking for ‘fun’ ways to prepare healthy foods and desperately refer to broccoli as ‘little trees.’ When none of that crap works, these are the Mothers that insist that their child is more stubborn and intense than the average child in a sad attempt to justify letting the little bastard live on Pop-Tarts and twizzlers.

But perhaps the very best line of the entire post—the very best line I’ve read in a while—is this one:

Parents that lack the ability to convince a kid to voluntarily eat a plate of green beans aren’t cut out for parenthood. If you can’t outsmart a 3-year-old, then what the fuck are you doing raising one?

I’m not sure I agree with her completely. I was required to eat some things as a child that I then swore off for years (it’s taken me two decades to come back ‘round to chard and kale). But dang, she makes some good and entertaining points.

Down the Hatch

Competitive eating may get a lot of media attention these days for its negative health implications and general weirdness, but another esophagus-busting sport has become the first to attract scholarly study. As Scientific American reports, the paper “Sword-swallowing and its side effects” gives a detailed medical analysis of the practice.

And if competitive eaters risk diminishing their joy in eating, sword-swallowers have it even worse. There’s the constant threat of perforating the esophagus or puncturing the stomach, of course, but the common condition known as “sword throat” can make it hard to eat for several days. Some performers use butter to lubricate their weapons for a smoother journey, the study says; other authoritative sources talk of cooking oil, olive oil, and Kurobara camellia oil (a nontoxic variety that’s often used in cleaning cutlery).

The study doesn’t get into some of the more fascinating minutiae of the art, but sure does. What does it taste like to swallow a sword, you may ask?

In some cases, depending on the type of metal used in the blade, it can sometimes taste a bit metallic. Lady Sandra Reed commented on the taste of metal and Red Stuart often says that your mouth and throat need to learn to overcome the metallic taste so that your throat does not rebel against the strange taste going down your throat.

However, many of the newer swords nowadays have little to no flavor at all—much like the taste of a fork—except as the sword is being removed, at which time there may be the unpleasant taste of the stomach acids.

Kids these days have it so easy. No metallic taste to reckon with … next thing you know, they’ll be lubing up their swords with ice cream.

Do Lobsters Really Scream When You Put Them in Boiling Water?

Do Lobsters Really Scream When You Put Them in Boiling Water?

Or is it a myth? READ MORE

The Best Liverwurst In a Long Time

You can get a heart attack on a plate at Agoura Deli–and that’s a good thing, says Will Owen.

We’re talking about liverwurst, friends–not the disgustingly fatty, oversalted stuff you often get. It’s excellent, and there’s about half a pound of it in a single sandwich. The bread is almost an afterthought, but rye is flavorful and chewy. Coleslaw is lightly dressed, just sweet and rich enough.

Agoura Deli [West San Fernando Valley]e
5915 Kanan Rd., Agoura Hillse

Board Links

A monster of a sandwich

Between the Clorox and the Kitty Litter

Between the Clorox and the Kitty Litter

Can you find drinkable wine at the local convenience store? READ MORE

Old-School Egg Foo Young

Egg foo young is one of those dishes that was largely popularized in a bygone time, but is still comforting. Countless American housewives through the ages have tried their hand at it, only to have it dubbed “egg foo yuck” by their culinarily backward children. But for tasty, old-school egg foo young, you need to find a tasty, old-school Chinese American restaurant, like Gim’s. Gim’s is definitely old school, says Ruth Lafler, who gets her egg foo young fix there–three thick, heavy patties are served smothered in brown gravy with a side of rice. In fact, she hesitates to recommend the place to someone who likes real Chinese food–it is what it is: cheap, old-fashioned, gloppy Chinese-American comfort food. Enjoy.

Gim’s Chinese Kitchen [East Bay]
2322 Lincoln Ave., Alameda

Board Links

Egg Foo Young

On Roosevelt Avenue, a Mexican Metamorphosis

There’s something in the air on the streets of Jackson Heights. One of the best of the latest wave of food vendors hawks superb gorditas and quesadillas in the afternoons on Roosevelt Avenue. “This woman is excellent,” declares Jim Leff. “The success of this vendor and Tacos Guicho a few blocks west has changed the tenor of local street food.” For one thing, more of the new vendors are female; for another, they’re moving beyond tacos and offering a more diverse menu of Mexican street bites.

Guicho’s tacos, made with store-bought tortillas, are not the don’t-miss order–though justinjh reports scoring some fine ones, filled with carnitas and served with arrestingly fresh garnishes and salsas. Instead, check out sopes and gorditas, handmade to order by the two women who run the cart and feed ever-growing queues of hungry neighbors. The other surprise here is that chicken–often forgettable at local Mexican street stands–is actually one of the best fillings. “That’s increasingly true,” Jim observes, “at least among cart people. Chicken’s the new pork.”

Farther west, another cart works a spot at Roosevelt and 75th from early morning through evening. scarey reports a good gordita (with bits of crunchy pork, cotija cheese, and medium-spicy green salsa) and a decent chicken and green chile tamale.

The renaissance in street eats is the best news in years for local chowhounds. “The state of food on Roos Ave has never been worse,” Jim laments. “The old bastions are coasting, and new places are fast-buck imitative crap. But the street food people have been keeping deliciousness alive for some time in this nabe (that’s why the restaurant owners are pushing so strongly to get rid of them). And they’re now in a quantum leap.”

Mexican street vendor [Jackson Heights]
Roosevelt Ave. (north side), between 85th and 86th Sts., Jackson Heights, Queens

Tacos Guicho cart [Jackson Heights]
Roosevelt Ave. (south side), at Baxter Ave., Jackson Heights, Queens

Mexican street vendor [Jackson Heights]
Roosevelt Ave. near 75th St., Jackson Heights, Queens

Board Links

gorditas on roosevelt
NYT Real Estate Section Article: Author Moves to Jackson Heights for the Food