Articles rss

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

Wine Online

Wine Online

Where to buy vino while surfing the Web. READ MORE

Those Bland Midwestern Tastebuds

Is it true that all discerning and sophisticated palates reside on the coasts? Is the Midwest really filled with folks who wouldn’t appreciate unusual or exotic dining? Midwestern-born Michael Bauer seems to think so.

The San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic was taken to task recently in a letter from a reader who took issue with a recent review in which Bauer described a dish as being “bland enough to appeal to the Midwestern tourist.”

I think it is extremely arrogant to think people in the Midwest would not enjoy a meal that is ‘different or exotic.’ You do not have to live in San Francisco or New York to have a sophisticated appreciation of food from different countries.

Bauer brings up the issue on his blog, Between Meals, in a post titled “Defending the Midwestern Palate.”

Stereotypes are terrible things, but at times they have a basis in truth. I am from the Midwest, and I go back to Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri at least once a year. Having dined extensively on both coasts and in the Midwest, I can tell you firsthand there is a difference…. There are some individuals with very sophisticated palates, but there isn’t a critical mass to sustain chefs and restaurateurs who have a focused, unique style… I think it still holds true that most trends start on either coast and move to the ‘flyover states.’

Not unexpectedly, his post provoked a lot of comments. Some of the points are well worth considering:

• It’s more of a big city/small town issue than coastal or landlocked; people in big cities are exposed to more and become more adventurous eaters (witness Chicago).

• San Francisco has a high population of singles and childless couples who eat out more often and thus can sustain a wide variety of dining options.

• How adventurous and sophisticated is San Francisco’s palate anyway, when the perennial favorite dish is Zuni’s roast chicken?

What do you think? Are midwestern palates lacking in adventurousness, even in this day and age? Is daring dining only for the coasts? And how sophisticated can San Francisco be when—in the words of one New York commenter—”Everyone wears jeans and sneakers!”

Kitchen Couples Clash

Forget sex on the kitchen floor, couples in the kitchen these days are more likely to be cooking together. But the question remains: Who is on top?

In an interesting article titled “He Cooks. She Stews. It’s Love.” (registration required), The New York Times looks at couples cooking together. It’s a new age—men can be responsible for dinner just as much as women. But despite equality, it’s not always smooth sailing in the kitchen.

It was a nice fantasy while it lasted … the modern couple would share the work. Husbands would take an interest in casseroles. Wives would slap slabs of meat on the grill. They would read cookbooks and watch the Food Network together. The kitchen would be a peaceful domain equally ruled by two people…. Instead, wedged there in the kitchen together, they fell into a power dynamic just as unequal and emotionally fraught…. Instead of a partnership, some couples say that their relationship in the kitchen more closely resembles a tiny dictatorship.

They’re called Kitchen Alphas—those who, rather than sharing the kitchen, prefer to rule it. Derek LaVallee, wine columnist for The Hill, is one such Alpha to his wife’s Kitchen Beta.

‘I can’t watch her cook,’ Mr. LaVallee said. ‘I’d say things like, “I can’t believe you’re julienning the carrots that way!” And then I’d think, “Did that really just come out of your mouth?”’

Even the professionals are weighing in on this one. “If there’s a power struggle, it will come out in cooking together,” said Dr. Marion F. Solomon, a couples therapist in Los Angeles.

Not even professional cooks can avoid this problem, because ordering around your sous-chef is not exactly the same as ordering around your husband.

Rebecca Charles, the chef and owner of Pearl Oyster Bar in Greenwich Village and an admitted alpha, said: ‘Giving orders is fine in a professional environment, but at home it’s a little inappropriate. I can be a little bossy. Resentment can build, and before you know it you have a pot flying at your head and you don’t know why. Couples cooking together is probably the second leading cause of divorce next to home renovations.’

What do you think? Are you a Kitchen Alpha or Beta—or has your household found true kitchen harmony? (and does it include takeout?)

Wood’s Poor Cousin

Wood’s Poor Cousin

CHOW reviews the best plastic cutting boards. READ MORE


Looks like the rumors were true: Ben & Jerry’s was planning a Colbert-themed ice cream. The company unveiled Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream yesterday, which means you can have “the sweet taste of liberty in your mouth” as soon as it’s shipped out to your local supermarket.

What does this liberty taste like, you may ask? Basically like vanilla ice cream with fudge-covered waffle cone pieces and a caramel swirl. But it’s also so much more. Colbert issued a statement in character (the politically left-leaning comedian dons a faux conservative persona for his show) explaining that the way he sees it,

Dessert has a well-known liberal agenda. What I hope to do with this ice cream is bring some balance back to the freezer case.

He also plans to donate his portion of the proceeds to various charities (personally, I’m hoping he doesn’t stay in character when he chooses those … but maybe that’s just me). What other celebs would you like to see immortalized in ice cream?

Salted Coffee, You Say?

Who in their right mind would put salt in a cup of coffee? Someone stuck with a seriously substandard cup of coffee, that’s who. “I will never suffer through another bad cup of coffee at a fast food joint, restaurant, gas station, etc., as long as I have salt to add to the cup,” says rworange.

A very judicious sprinkle of salt (just a few grains, really) indeed takes the edge off a bad cup of coffee, taking away the sharp bite and making it mellow and smoother. It won’t become great coffee, but it will be decent. However, adding salt to decent, non-bitter coffee can make it worse, making the subtle defects more obvious. (No word on salt’s effect on really good coffee.)

Some additional findings from rworange: Less is more–you don’t want salty-tasting coffee. Add only the tiniest bit and taste; when it has mellowed the brew, stop. And it makes no difference in flavor whether salt is added to coffee grounds before brewing (1/8 tsp. is plenty for a 10-cup drip coffee maker) or to a finished cup.

Board Links

Coffee with Salt

Beyond Sound Bites

McDonald’s gets a bad rap, restaurant reviewers get special treatment, and we should pretty much eat whatever we want without stressing about it. That’s the nutshell summary that some reviewers are giving of The Gospel of Food, sociologist Barry Glassner’s survey of contemporary food culture, which was released late last year. But reviews that have gone a little deeper show that the book doesn’t lend itself to sound bites and should probably be at the top of any foodophile’s reading pile (mine included).

Glassner’s discussion of income level and its relationship to food and obesity seems particularly novel. As he told Salon:

If you want to understand why people of low income tend to be more overweight and obese, it’s a complicated story. But we shouldn’t leave out the effect that food insecurity itself has; in the book I go into this in some detail, but basically there’s a parallel pattern to binge eating, where people who periodically run low on food resemble people who are on diets. When food stamps run out, or the kids’ medical expenses take precedence, or the local food bank shuts down or runs out of food, you’re not going to eat a lot. And when food becomes available again, you binge. We know that this pattern, this binge pattern, contributes to overweight and obesity. Yet we’ve come to have this odd notion that it’s what people eat, it’s what low-income people eat, rather than what they don’t eat, or when they don’t eat, or which options are not available to them, that explains their weight.

Has anyone here read the book yet? Chowhounders have had mixed reviews so far, but to me TGOF seems like the kind of work that, like The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the food community will be talking about for a long time to come. And speaking of Michael Pollan, Glassner’s skeptical take on nutritional science lends an interesting voice to recent debate over what Pollan terms “nutritionism” (registration required).

A More Refined Beef Tongue Soup

Seoul Gom Tang makes excellent Korean soups, specializing in oxtail soup. The amount of care taken in making the broth is clear from the taste. However, there’s a newcomer in the Korean soup department–Seen Chon House, with an even more stripped-down menu than Seoul Gom Tang. Seen Chon House only makes soups, and the specialization results in an extremely refined broth. Try the wul sul (beef tongue) soup and you won’t be disappointed. al88 also thinks they have some of the best napa cabbage kimchi around. Feel free to toss some kimchi into your soup for a little spice–but it’s not the kind of soup to dump half a cup of chili paste into.

Seen Chon House Restaurant [South Bay]
1066 Kiely Blvd., Santa Clara

Seoul Gom Tang [South Bay]
3028 El Camino Real, Santa Clara

Board Links

Sean Chon House

Fondues and Fondon’ts

For every need, there is an appropriate fondue restaurant. Robert Lauriston faintly praises Fondue Fred as “fine for the low price.” They even serve all-you-can-eat cheesecake–after the fondue. “I can’t believe I ate that in college,” says Glencora.

On a more sophisticated note, anna loves the fondue at the Matterhorn, and The Dive likes the fondue at Cav, served with bread, apples, and walnuts.

And MSK admits (with a measure of embarrassment) that chain restaurant the Melting Pot in Marin is completely enjoyable. Kids love it, and even though the menu lists prices per person, you may order one massive serving for two to share. Enjoy!

Fondue Fred [East Bay]
2556 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley

Matterhorn Restaurant [Russian Hill]
2323 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

Cav Wine Bar [Hayes Valley]
1666 Market St., San Francisco

The Melting Pot [Marin County]
125 E. Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Larkspur

The Melting Pot [South Bay]
72 S. 1st St., San Jose

Board Links

Fond o’ Fondue

Catch of the Day – Gorgeous Grilled Octopus at Vespa

centrejack had a decent but unexceptional Italian dinner at Vespa with one memorable must-try appetizer: octopus, marinated and beautifully grilled. It’s tender, tasty, and nicely seasoned, and you get a generous plate of it for $11. Accompaniments change with the seasons; for winter they’re serving it with potato, fresh herbs, and roasted peppers.

Vespa [Upper East Side]
1625 2nd Ave., between E. 84th and 85th Sts., Manhattan

Board Links: NYE at Vespa–one dish you have to try