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

Snickers “Kiss” Ad Canned

On Tuesday the maker of Snickers said it would discontinue its latest ad, responding to complaints by gay-rights organizations that the commercial was homophobic. The ad, which first aired during the Super Bowl, depicts two auto mechanics “accidentally” kissing as they eat from opposite ends of a Snickers bar; they immediately feel the need to “do something manly,” which of course means each ripping out a handful of their own chest hair (or drinking motor oil, or bashing each other with wrenches, according to the alternate endings that were posted on the Snickers website until Tuesday).

OK, putting aside for a moment the clear gay-bashing overtones and heinous violence here, can we just talk about how much the candy bar looks like poop? The lighting is all wrong, people! That, combined with the images of ripped-out chest hair, makes me not want to eat anything at all (let alone a Snickers) for a long time. Totally the opposite of food porn.

Fast-food commercials in general seem to have been going in this unappetizing direction for a while now (at least since Carl’s Jr. began its “slobvertising” back in 2000). Perhaps it’s a reaction to all the gorgeous foodie photography in magazines and on TV and blogs these days—just like the recent wave of calorie-bomb burgers is a big eff-you to nutrition-conscious eaters.

Have you seen any totally nasty food ads lately?

What’s in Your Junk Drawer?

There are tools in my kitchen so useful that I reach for them every day: wooden spoons, Microplanes, my divinely easy-to-use Oxo vegetable peeler. And then there’s the stuff that migrates to the bottom of my kitchen junk drawer: terra cotta roasted-garlic cookers, citrus zesters that rip off big hunks of fruit along with the zest, the whisk with a handle that gets red-hot when used at the stove.

Erica Marcus, a food writer for Newsday, apparently has her own junk drawer. She contributes a pert little post for her “Burning Questions” column (reprinted here by the Baltimore Sun) in which she takes salt grinders, bagel slicers, and electric hot-chocolate makers to task.

It makes me wonder—who buys this stuff? My theory: They’re all Christmas presents. “Jane likes to cook!” thinks your poor desperate Christmas-shopping aunt. “Surely she’d like an iced tea maker!”

Or an avocado slicer. Or an electric wine-bottle opener. Or the Hot Dogger.

What’s rusting away in your junk drawer?

Montreal: The Chowhound’s Promised Land

Montreal, Quebec

I intend to finish off this leg of the tour with several days in Montreal, one of the world’s best food cities. Here’s what I wrote about Montreal a few years ago:

Montreal’s food scene is guileless. If you see a charming-looking restaurant, it’s likely charming tasting, as well. This is a strange land in which the inhabitants have never caught on to the smoke-and-mirrors trick; no Montrealer would ever think to open a pretty restaurant serving lousy food. Needless to say, serious recalibration was required. I mistrust atmospheric places not because I’m a vulgar hawg who’d just as soon eat from a trough, but because such places have so often fed me poorly. Hip vibey places rarely cook worth a damn because they know they can lure the unsavvy via ambience alone.

Montreal’s different, and the effect is pure liberation. I drop layers of cynicism as I keep stumbling into devastatingly inviting places, yet never find myself duped. Montreal restaurateurs believe in deliciousness, and they feel obliged to develop all aspects of their enterprises. The notion of lackluster food is simply unthinkable. I can only pray that none of these folks ever visits Soho.

In Montreal, you can just go somewhere—anywhere!—and eat. It’s like the promised land. I love walking around and choosing venues only the most callow New Yorker would pick. Dramatic little cafés where patrons sit with good posture and waiters speak in that intense hush. Cavernous candle-lit joints. Too-slick-to-be-true fast food places. Let me put it this way: The best bread I’ve found in Montreal came from a chain with almost a dozen outlets. They bake not just good bread, but heartfelt good bread; bread with character!

It’s like a dream. One wonders whether one’s chowhounding skills are peaking (am I like Superman off Krypton?), or whether Montreal is a city in which one simply can’t go wrong. Whatever the reason, I’ve never had a disappointing bite here. Even the humblest places have pizzazz and good food.

It’s a luxury to be in a place with virtually no bad restaurants. If you were to select an eatery by throwing darts at the Montreal Yellow Pages, you’d enjoy at least a satisfactory meal, and perhaps a great one. For non-hounds, who haven’t developed their ability to differentiate, this is heady comfort—an impenetrable dining safety net. For the savvy, it’s a vacation, a carnival ride, a delirious opportunity to turn off the chow-dar and just eat.

... and, after 8,000 miles and several hundred restaurant meals, I could use that! For the first couple of days, I’ll be joined by food-loving friends from New York City, Barry and Joel, who work in the film industry and will gladly go anywhere there’s free food.

That’s Joel on the left and Barry on the right.

Today we’ve mostly recapped my previous finds. We started out at a place I’ve been dreaming about since my last visit: Frite Alors (3497 Boulevard St. Laurent, Montreal, Quebec; 514-840-9000), where the pommes frites are fried, properly, in horse fat. They’re as good as anything in Belgium.

Per classical Belgian protocol, they fry their potatoes twice. These par-fried spuds await their finishing greasy bath:

Poutine (see report #53) here is a profound rendition, eliciting peals of rapture:

We decided to complete the equestrian experience by ordering horse steak. It’s delicious meat—horse was once the meat of choice in Philly cheese steaks, before a newspaper exposé blew the lid off the practice.

As top-notch as the fries are at Frite Alors, their sauces are really the high point. These sauces are not mere afterthoughts; each is made with care and love.

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I’d actually stumbled upon the grand opening of Frite Alors on my previous visit to Montreal, and on that visit, Au Pied de Cochon (536 rue Duluth Est, Montreal, Quebec; 514-281-1114) was also opening, to much fanfare.

Initial buzz focused, as a surprising amount of restaurant buzz seems to, around foie gras. Au Pied de Cochon made foie gras poutine, a conceit that titillated an international cadre of food journalists in town for some conference. Give that publicist a medal for timing things to a T.

I didn’t try Au Pied de Cochon at that time; it was too booked up by imperious pundits. But I gave it a go this time, and ordered the aforementioned foie gras poutine, which was sublimely luxurious:

Blood sausage with mashed potato and roasted apple was all kinds of hearty goodness:

And, for dessert, pouding chômeur, which translates as “poor man’s pudding,” a spongy biscuit afloat in maple-y soup.

Joel went cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs over the pudding, swearing and kvelling dramatically as he scraped persistently at the dish with his spoon:

This place is a carnivore’s bastion; take a look at the entrees:

Our first blessed slice of the astounding bread of Montreal:

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Patati Patata Friterie de Luxe (4177 Boulevard St. Laurent; 514-844-0216) is just a corner coffee shop. Only Montrealers could make it a place with style, verve, and soul. Here’s my original review (which still holds true):

Even the diners in this town kill … and are hip enough to make you feel as if you’re in an indie movie … and are run by people who care a lot about food. What sad world do we inhabit where it’s surprising that a place exists where all restaurants are run by people who care about food!

The menu at this thoroughly warm and inviting little corner luncheonette is posted on a wall board, and it’s uninspiring. Burgers, fries, salads, some crepes, etc. You search for the interesting item, the catchy wrinkle, but there is none. But observe the skinny kids cooking behind the counter. They’re working very fast, but … they’re seriously COOKING. These short order cooks are preparing their food with great pride and also palpable awareness that it will be eaten by someone. Watching them work is intoxicating, not to mention hunger-inducing, and the result is pure culinary warmth.

French fries are done in peanut oil (nice!) and are extraordinarily satisfying and came with good tart dipping mayo. The personable waiter/chef asked how I liked them, and cared about my answer. And he’s proud of the local microbeer (Les Brasseurs du Nord, which makes unexceptional beer which nonetheless has a certain charm, like humble French table wine), and pours it with gusto.

Lots of zip, pride, warmth, and a friendly, intelligent youthful crowd. Salads look awesome. The whole thing is dreamy.

This time I got borscht (simple, good) with more of those terrific fries:

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Coco Rico Rotisserie (3907 Boulevard St. Laurent at Napoleon, Montreal; 514-849-5554) is a cheap late-night joint for rotisserie chicken and potatoes. Plump birds are roasted to a brown, salty, juicy turn, and the potatoes (which sit beneath the spinning poultry, catching the fat) are a megacaloric delight. The place is owned by Portuguese, and they also sell swell egg custard tarts (pasteis de nata).

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Barry eats with me frequently, so he’s learned to pace. Joel, as photos above indicate, made the mistake of eating full-out at each stop (hear the precise moment—after the horse steak, after the foie gras poutine, and after the blood sausage—when he realized what he was in for in this podcast: MP3). He was not a happy camper by the time we came to our final bite of the day—a nightcap of smoked-meat sandwiches from the legendary Schwartz’s Deli (3895 Boulevard St. Laurent, Montreal, Quebec; 514-842-4813). Smoked beef is sort of halfway between corned beef and pastrami.

The midnight queue at Schwartz’s.

Meaty delights seen through a greasy window.

We smuggled the sandwiches into the hotel and scarfed them in an empty conference room, where Joel was miraculously revived by the magic of Schwartz’s fleshly delights.

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The Chow That Got Away

The following wonderful Chilean alfajor (lardy shortbread cookie stuffed with rich dolce de leche) came from a bakery/cafe whose business card was lost. It’s on a north-south side road not far from Au Pied de Cochon. I won’t forgive myself until I’ve found the place and tried more stuff.

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Sustainability Smackdown

Journalist Michael Pollan and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey plan to meet mano a mano on February 27 in the face-off that has the San Francisco Bay Area food-politics community buzzing with excitement.

The talk is titled “The Past, Present, and Future of Food,” but those in the know are calling it the sustainability smackdown. The roots of this lie in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, published last year to great acclaim. In it, Pollan criticizes Whole Foods for presenting a pastoral facade—the supermarket alternative—while not living up to this promise in terms of sourcing their produce from small-scale and local farms.

Mackey, a cofounder of the Whole Foods chain, took umbrage at Pollan’s assertions and posted an open letter to Pollan disputing his assessment. Shortly after this, “locally grown” signs started sprouting at Whole Foods stores. The two men have had a dialogue on the topic ever since—chronicled on their blogs.

The talk, which will be at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Auditorium, is bound to be an interesting one. As of this writing, tickets are still available. As noted on the blog Local Forage, the event will also be available via live webcast for those out of the area.

Chocolate Ice Cream Tarted Up with Olive Oil

You would not believe the stuff that is going on at Bi-Rite Creamery. For one, they’re serving double ginger ice cream, which is hot, intense, and the soul of ginger, says rworange–she’s never had better, period. But Sam’s Sundae ($4.50) will make you realize the point of pouring a golden drizzle of olive oil over ice cream. It adds rich velvetiness to the experience, especially when married with Maldon sea salt and chocolate ice cream. It’s all about the whole flavor of the dish, not the frou-frou aesthetic of daring-for-the-sake-of daring. The ice cream itself is solid, so “if it gets tarted up a little, it doesn’t matter because the foundation is good,” says rworange.

Whipped cream is of excellent quality, reminiscent of creme fraiche–but it’s misplaced on this sundae. Have it on something else. And davina loves Sam’s Sundae, too, but thinks it’s so intense in flavor that it should be half the size.

Emily Hope loves the salted caramel ice cream. The intense, rich, perfectly salty flavor is outstanding, with a caramel taste that stays just this side of burnt caramel. Totally worth the $8.00 a pint.

Bi-Rite Creamery
3692 18th Street, San Francisco

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SF–Bi-Rite Creamery update–Chocolate olive oil sundae with Malden salt, popsicles & the best ginger ice cream ever

Googly Food

Why should Amy Sedaris have all the fun? The actress/author/cupcake baker/cheeseball artiste (and yes, sister of Macy’s-elf-turned-bestseller David Sedaris, he of the whiny voice, New Yorker humor pieces, and house in France) has hit the big time with her entertaining guide to demented-kitsch theme parties, I Like You: The Art of Hospitality Under the Influence.

Now you can take a clue from Amy and make your own kooky krafts for fame and profit. Public TV station WYNC is holding an Amy Sedaris Craft Challenge in honor of Amy’s appearance on The Leonard Lopate Show on Friday, February 9.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to come up with the best interface between a set of stick-on googly eyes and an edible food product. A rapidly multiplying set of Flickr postings already reveals what the kindergartner favorites can do to a pot of baked beans, a bowl of flour, a plate of apple brown betty, a bundle of leeks, a broken fried egg, a plate of hamentaschen, numerous dumplings, and even a very disturbed-looking kitty molded out of cat food.

Winner gets a signed copy of I Like You and a fake cake made by Amy herself. Go crazy, kids!

A Big, Yummy Cake

Do you need a yummy cake to feed a crowd? One South Bay option is Prolific Oven, which can make you a large sheet cake of very good quality. jkg notes that if you’re not sure which flavor to get, they sell slices, so you can do “research.”

katg likes the Asian-style cakes sold by Sheng Kee Bakeries, with light, yummy frosting and fruit inside. They sell cakes big enough to feed 25-30 people.

And Lori SF likes the cakes at Fleur de Cocoa.

Prolific Oven [Peninsula]
550 Waverley St., Palo Alto 94301

Sheng Kee Bakery [Citywide]

Fleur de Cocoa [South Bay]
39 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos

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Where to get a yummy big cake?

Tacos Jaliscos – a Sure Thing at Belmont

Belmont Park has the ponies, but the smart money is on the truck. Tacos Jaliscos, which parks across Plainfield Avenue from the racetrack, turns out nicely seasoned beef, chorizo, chicken, and al pastor tacos, just $1.25 apiece, reports profjmm. Add-ons include beans, onions, cilantro, and two salsas, a green one and a killer red one. Also on the menu: burritos and refreshing agua fresca.

Tacos Jaliscos [Nassau County]
Plainfield Ave., north of Hempstead Tpke., Elmont, NY

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taco truck in elmont

At Devin Tavern, Waffles and Other Brunch Bites

Sunday brunchers can enjoy a near-perfect waffle at Devin Tavern: slightly fluffy, slightly browned, with time-delay deliciousness in the batter. “If it were a wine,” writes kathryn, “you’d say it finished well.” It comes with an exceptionally fresh fruit compote–raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, green apple, pineapple, and melon are a typical combo. Also: perilously luscious strawberry butter. “Be careful, it eats like ice cream,” the waiter warned, and kathryn happily agrees.

Other recommended brunch bites at this comfortable upscale joint: sweet/smoky pork maple sausage, crisp yet juicy thin-sliced bacon, and a breadbasket highlighted by moist, agreeably dense blueberry muffins.

Devin Tavern [Tribeca]
363 Greenwich St., near Franklin, Manhattan

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Devin Tavern Brunch