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

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
Map

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

Board Links

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
415-621-9830
Map

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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
510-233-0800
Map

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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
212-249-8583
Locater

Sushi Sasabune [West LA]
12400 Wilshire Blvd. #150, Los Angeles
310-268-8380
Locater

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

Fresh Falafel Favorites Around Queens

janie’s falafel of choice comes from Hapisgah, a kosher steakhouse whose sprawling menu also ventures into Italian and Middle Eastern territory. Always made fresh, the falafel are a bright herbaceous green on the inside and served with killer hot sauce. Also recommended: Greek-style eggplant salad, Persian-style chicken kababs, and house-made hummus (try it with mushrooms).

Naomi’s feeds the Queens College crowd with crunchy falafel–six of them in a pita for just $4. Nonstop lines, especially at lunch, guarantee that they’re fried fresh.

In Sunnyside, Turkish grill and pizzeria Mangal also turns out freshly rolled falafel to order and folds them into sandwiches with a smear of hummus. Be sure to pay the extra $1 for house-baked pide bread otherwise you’ll get only a lame pita.

Others recommend the falafel at two spots in Forest Hills: Pahal Zan, a hole-in-the-wall next to the LIRR overpass, and On the Grill.


Hapisgah [Kew Garden Hills]
147-25 Union Tpke., between 147th and 149th Sts., Kew Garden Hills, Queens
718-380-4449
Locater

Naomi’s Kosher Pizza [Kew Garden Hills]
68-28 Main St., between 68th Rd. and 68th Dr., Kew Garden Hills, Queens
718-520-8754
Locater

Mangal Kebab [Sunnyside]
46-20 Queens Blvd., between 46th and 47th Sts., Sunnyside, Queens
718-706-0605
Map

Pahal Zan [Forest Hills]
106-12 71st Ave., just north of the LIRR tracks, Forest Hills, Queens
718-793-7177
Locater

On the Grill [Forest Hills]
98-102 Queens Blvd., between 66th Ave. and 66th Rd., Forest Hills, Queens
718-897-4829
Locater

Board Links

Any Good Falafel in Queens ??

Noodles: The Ties That Bind

Korean-Chinese fusion is comfort food for folks on both sides of that border. In SGV, Dumpling House is popular among Chinese for jajang myun (noodles with black bean sauce) and jjam pong (noodles in spicy seafood broth), both with handmade noodles. Scallion pancakes and vegetable dumplings are good too.

In K-town, Little Dragon has the best, says koreankorean. Their tang soo yook, sweet and sour pork, has extra sticky rice in the batter for frying and it’s addictive.

olivexjina insists that Young King is the best, having been around forever with no decline in quality. House special beef is also good.


Dumpling House [San Gabriel Valley]
5612 Rosemead Blvd., Temple City
626-309-9918
Locater

Little Dragon [Koreatown]
705 Western Ave., Los Angeles
213-383-0955
Locater

Young King [Koreatown]
3100 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles
213-487-6154
Locater

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Where to find Korean-Chinese places