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

Restaurant Roulette

Whether you’re an office drone, a slack-at-home freelancer, or a hotshot business traveler, it’s the age-old dilemma: Where am I going to eat lunch today?

You could use a Ouija board to decide, but the answers you get are often ambiguous at best.

Jim of KrazyDad has invented a nifty little Web tool to help the indecisive restaurant-goer.

The Wheel of Food has you input your zip code and a query (vegetarian, bar, steak, food). Up pops a wheel that your mouse spins for you, and voilà, you know where you’re dining today.

One caveat: It’s powered by Yahoo! Local, so the more active folks in your zip code are on Yahoo!, the more helpful it’s going to be. And KrazyDad has also helpfully included a warning:

Legal Disclaimer: Ignore the advice of the wheel at your own peril. Do not taunt the wheel. The wheel knows where you live.

Love Your Heart on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be all about lobster and cream. Eating light feels just right to prepare for a night of strenuous “cuddling.” Over at FatFree Vegan Kitchen, Susan challenged her readers to come up with sensuous vegan savories for Valentine’s Day. The recipes had to be low in fat, be vegan, and use more than one vegetable. The outcome is mouthwatering, and contains many alliterative possibilities: Vegan, Vegetables, Valentine’s Day.

The Vegetable Love Round-Up features beautiful recipes like Vegalicious’s Hearty Ravioli, whimsical recipes like Jugalbandi’s Bouquets for My Valentine, and just plain elegant recipes like Where’s the Revolution?’s vegan (!) ceviche.

Be sure to save room for dessert: Susan may have broken her own rules for her Valentine’s Day treats, but Chocolate Cookies Two Ways sound delectable. They get a boost of flavor from a secret ingredient: balsamic vinegar.

The CHOW Guide to Eating and Drinking in Austin, SXSW edition

From Tex-Mex to high-end, CHOW brings you the best eating and drinking locations in Austin. READ MORE

Valentine’s Day Yummies

Just before my husband left for work this morning, he whipped out just the thing I was hoping to get for Valentine’s Day—a one-pound box of See’s candy. What are you eating to celebrate this glorious day of candy, sex, and prix-fixe special dinner menus?

At Slashfood, writer Joanne Lutynec was wondering the same thing, in a post titled “What Is Your Favorite Valentine’s Day Treat? And when she asked, commenters had all kinds of answers. Some prefer to build a custom box of chocolates online, a popular option at my beloved See’s, which allows customers to select from among 75 different candies and specify the percentage of each chosen chocolate in the box. (Russell Stover lets you do the same thing, but, um, enjoy your box of wax!)

Some sick people claimed they liked conversation hearts, but then, people buy licorice and wintergreen Necco Wafers, too. I’m with the poster who declared herself happy when her boyfriend shows up with a deep-dish pizza. Now that’s love.

It Must Be Like

It Must Be Like

How do you ask somebody to dinner on Valentine's Day without implying everlasting commitment? READ MORE

How to Have a Perfect Valentine’s Day Dinner

It’s Valentine’s Day, and the advice from those in the know is simple—stay home.

San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer sums it up: “Valentine’s Day, like New Year’s Eve, is a night to stay home. It’s a time when restaurants charge a premium for seats, and the expectations generated by the price are rarely met.”

His commenters tend to agree—especially those in the restaurant business who refer to it as “amateur night.” “I am so glad I no longer work in the restaurant business,” writes one commenter. “St. Valentine’s Day, along with Mother’s Day, are the two worst days to be near a restaurant, either as a diner, or employee!”

Meanwhile, on the British blog Fire and Knives, Tim Hayward offers a thoroughly amusing explanation of the V-Day dilemma, an extended version of an article titled “We can fit you in after 10pm,” which appeared in The Guardian. You’ll definitely want to read the entire post, but here are some of the highlights.

Valentine’s day has become all about eating out and failure to secure a reasonable booking on the 14th can be cited, if not as grounds for divorce, at least for weapons-grade recrimination for the rest of the year.

And so, for one blissful night, the balance of power shifts away from the whiney, demanding and unpredictably fickle customer and firmly into the hands of the restaurateur … this is a time he can be sure of filling every available seat several times over. If you can’t fill a place on Valentine’s night you have no right to call yourself a restaurant.

It’s not just the quantity of customers that’s different on this, the catering trade’s most magical night of the year, it’s also the quality … as far as the restaurant trade is concerned, it is the time when they’ll get the most inexperienced diners.

As one high-end chef, anonymous for obvious reasons, put it, ‘Everything shitty, clichéd, and horribly 80s gets wheeled out. Duo of lamb chops, cut to resemble hearts. Coeur a la fucking crème. There will be at least one nancying, ninnying chicken dish, especially for the ladies, and steak, which will be ordered by 80% of the men. Well-done, of course—medium if you’re lucky.’

Dining out on the 14th of Feb is an experience that doesn’t reflect well on any of the participants. We go because we feel we have to, we’re served by people who’d rather it was any other day of the year, with food that the chefs are ashamed of because they know they could do better.

Tim’s solution is to postpone Valentine’s Day (the Vatican took it off the official calendar in 1969; it’s only Hallmark that keeps it going these days). According to him, “You and your partner can choose any other day of the year to go out, get treated well by a decent restaurant and create your own romance.”

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of reservations being canceled.

What do you think? What is, for you, the perfect Valentine’s Day Dinner?

Scrumptious Tamales at Broadway and 137th

At Broadway and 137th Street, $1 buys a terrific fresh tamale. “Big, flat, white corn tamales, moist and SPICY! Way better than any I’ve had in restaurants,” says Hling, who heard this vendor’s siren call (“Tamale! Tamale!”) after emerging from the subway. Fillings include cheese, chicken, and shredded pork, the latter boasting “good honest porky flavor that’s hard to come by these days,” she adds. Look for the woman who sells them on the traffic island outside the uptown entrance to the 137 Street-City College station.

Forty blocks (or five local stops) to the south, another hound-endorsed vendor hawks delicious, creamy-textured tamales Monday through Saturday mornings until 9 or 9:30. curranthound especially likes the ones filled with pork in green sauce; chicken and cheese are the other options. A man and a woman take turns working this location, which is on the west side of Broadway outside the southern entrance to the 96th Street station.

Tamale vendor [West Harlem]
Broadway at W. 137th St., Manhattan

Tamale vendor [Upper West Side]
Broadway, between W. 93rd and 94th Sts., Manhattan, in front of Payless Shoe Source

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Home made Tamales at 137th st.
Tamales, Tamales, Tamales…

Sausage Factory Outlet

No, you are not hallucinating–that sign really does say “Sausage Factory Outlet.” It’s a warehouse with no sign indicating openness or hours, but inside you can buy Schwarz sausage, as well as all the other sausages manufactured by Engelhart Gourmet Foods, for $3.05 per pound, says Melanie Wong. The sausages usually retail for around $5 or $6 a pound, so this is a sizeable discount, says ML8000, particularly if you’re grilling for a crowd.

Schwarz Sausage Factory Outlet [Mission]
1726 Mission St., San Francisco

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Sausage Factory Outlet

Best Aguas Frescas at Hacienda Grill

Hacienda Grill serves simple food deliciously, and also has the best aguas frescas in the Bay Area, says rworange. The jar of orangeade is filled with thin slices of fresh orange and has a great fresh orangeade flavor. Watermelon agua fresca has a slushy texture, and it has a sweeter and truer watermelon flavor than most actual watermelons. Horchata has a lovely touch of cinnamon, though it’s slightly on the sweet side. House-made sangria ($2.50) is a pleasantly fruity, grapey drink, full of chopped orange–you have to finish it off with a spoon! A sip of sangria improves the experience of the excellent tortilla chips.

Hacienda Grill [East Bay]
1000 Nevin Ave., Richmond

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Richmond–Hacienda Grill–Thanks J T … Rosemary chicken enchiladas & flank steak w/chilaquiles

Sasabune – Where the Sushi Chef Calls the Shots

Sushi at Sasabune comes with two conditions that hounds tend to either love or hate. At this L.A. transplant, open since November, meals are omakase only; “trust me,” implores a sign on the wall. And the sushi rice is warmed, in order to bring out maximum flavor and aroma in the fish.

Offerings are mostly traditional–no California rolls or spicy tuna here–though some are embellished with garnishes or house-made sauces. Well-conceived pairings invite comparison eating: e.g. bluefin with yellowfin, fluke with snapper, or two varieties of Japanese yellowtail side by side. Memorable bites include albacore in citrus soy, salmon with toasted sesame, and a sweet, dense hand roll filled with baked crab.

When diners buy in to the setup, it can be a wondrous experience. “I fell in love with sushi all over again,” marvels masterofceremonies after a beautifully harmonious dinner of supremely fresh fish. girlcritic says the warm rice adds depth and the seasonings are “just right, creative without being overwrought.”

But it doesn’t work for everyone. Echoing complaints from California hounds, some say the warm rice tends to fall apart (some opt for sashimi omakase instead of nigirizushi, to avoid the warm rice). Others say the sauces are applied with a heavy hand. And repeat visitors are sometimes disappointed at how little the omakase changes from day to day. “The sushi did not float my boat,” vinominer concludes. gutsofsteel says the pacing is much too fast and the seafood, while very good, is a notch below the best in town. But so are prices, he notes, starting at $60 a head–relatively gentle for omakase in Manhattan.

Sushi Sasabune [Upper East Side]
401 E. 73rd St., near 1st Ave., Manhattan

Sushi Sasabune [West LA]
12400 Wilshire Blvd. #150, Los Angeles

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Omakase under $75?
Sasabune NYC
Sushi Sasabune?? Has it opened in New York?
SASABUNE–a little intimidated!
Don’t Go to Sasabune!