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

Bruni Goes Normal for a Night

Frank Bruni, restaurant critic for The New York Times, joined the rest of the world this week, dining just like a “normal” person.

As he explains in his blog, it happened just as it does to the rest of us. Feeling hungry after a movie, Bruni and a friend popped into a neighborhood restaurant—without reservations, without prior research, and without great expectations beyond the hope for a decent meal. Just like the rest of us.

In Bruni’s own words, “I ate spontaneously. I ate imperfectly. I ate without agenda.”

‘Cause sometimes even restaurant critics get hungry.

Congratulations, Frank. You’re normal.

Don’t Get KidFresh with Me

New York magazine has a one-page story on KidFresh, “an Upper East Side children’s food store” that caters to “time-starved parents and juvenile taste buds.” The piece is nominally about the store, which lets kids push miniature carts around and browse 35 elegant little prepared refrigerated—and mostly organic—meals. But the star of the show is 10-year-old Jake, a precocious little foodie who says stuff like this:

‘I expected the food to be like Campbell’s soup, but it’s not at all. It’s pretty good, but not for a guy like me. I prefer Citarella or Dean & DeLuca. I treasure things like an aged balsamic vinegar and truffles—the mushrooms, not the chocolate.’

The moral of the story: Raise your kids on the Upper East Side, and brace yourself for wisecracking little adults who are freebasing and making commercial-quality crunk mix tapes by the time they’re 14.

The Littlest Foodies

Foodism has hit the pre-kindergarten set, The New York Times reports (registration required). That grown-up gastronomes are producing offspring with a taste for sushi and stinky cheese is no secret, but apparently now a growing number of restaurants and recreational cooking schools are catering to the tiniest of these tots, offering child-size portions and kid-friendly cooking classes for kids as young as 2 1/2. A culinary center in Texas teaches toddlers how to make finger sandwiches, and five-year-olds in New York’s celeb-chef-centric meatpacking district knead pizza dough with yeast pebbles and sea salt before topping with pungent Gruyère.

As Sunday Style pieces go, this article has a high concentration of funny quotes, particularly from Chef Eric Ripert of New York’s four-star Le Bernardin:

[Ripert] thinks his dress code helps keep children in line. ‘They have a tie, so they are almost strangled already,’ he said. ‘They don’t move much.’

Of course there are exceptions: On a birthday trip to Blue Hill at Stone Barns last year, I was seated a table away from a suit-wearing six-year-old, who seemed to be enjoying the food. But about halfway through the meal, he freaked out and run into the garden, shortly after telling his mom she needed a facial and then crying loudly, “I don’t want to go to prep school!” Clearly his palate had developed more quickly than his ability to detect irony.

Read Your Vitamins

The blogosphere is enraptured by Michael Pollan’s (The Omnivore’s Dilemma in case you were snoozing under a rock last food year) piece in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

“Unhappy Meals” is a polemic against processed food and the cult of “nutritionism”—that is, eating nutrients (often found in boxes of fortified crap) instead of eating whole foods. Don’t have time to read the thousands of words that encompass the history of nutrients, the rise of high-fructose corn syrup (boo, hiss), and the crucial differences between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids? Skip to the end, where Pollan gives nine “rules of thumb” he has collected.

More than 100 blogs have already weighed in on the story. Most are effusive in their praise. “Brilliant,” notes sustainable-food blog Post-Haste Taste. “Wonderful,” says nutrition blog Guerilla Nutrition. “So simple and so true,” says Calorie Restriction blogger Christina’s CR Journal. Some bloggers, like Waisted in the Wasteland, are so inspired by the article that they’ve vowed to move The Omnivore’s Dilemma to the top of their to-be-read stack. Not even a blog called Snarkmarket could work up any snark for Mr. Pollan. Everyone, it seems, loves him.

Well, except those malcontents on Metafilter, who bring a refreshing skepticism to the party, bashing Pollan for sins that range from essentially “writing the same article/book over and over again” to not even bringing up the concept of exercise. Posters on Chowhound (Chow’s sister site) are also having a thoughtful discussion around elements of the article.

Is “Unhappy Meals” the seed that will turn into another Michael Pollan best-seller? Stay tuned!

Thirsty Business

Thirsty Business

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Nobody Ate My Dish

Nobody Ate My Dish

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Damage Control: It’s What’s for Dinner

After yesterday’s hot mess, Food & Wine is backpedaling as quickly as possible. Today their homepage announces: “Hungry for the Truth: Who’s the Real Top Chef? See profiles of both finalists that we prepared in advance [emphasis mine] of the last episode.” When you click through, you are informed:

Yesterday, an intrepid reality tv fan found a Top Chef story on Food & Wine’s server. Food & Wine prepared profiles of both Top Chef finalists in advance of the last episode so that we had a story on the winner ready to publish immediately after the season finale. Now for everyone to see, here are profiles of both finalists, Marcel and Ilan. Watch Top Chef on Wednesday, January 31 at 10PM EST to find out the real winner.

Nice try, Food & Wine. You can argue until you’re Cabernet in the face that the profile “found” yesterday is not necessarily that of the winner, but not many will believe you. Especially not the rapacious posters in the spoiler thread at Television Without Pity. A few posters in the aforementioned thread suggest differences in the writing quality between the two pieces, opining that one feels more forced or faked than the other.

Honzo Steel cracked me up with this comment in the Television Without Pity forums: “Wow! This is just like the movies. Roxie Hart Guilty. Roxie Hart Not Guilty. Superman Dead. Superman Lives.” Superant adds, “Maybe it’s like the movie “Clue,” with multiple endings. One, where Ilan wins. One, Marcel wins. Another, Tom C executes everyone by firing squad.”

Personally, I’d be partial to a Scooby-Doo ending where Hubert Keller gets his mask pulled off, revealing himself to be Old Man Bourdain, and says, “And I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for you f*cking kids!”

Al Pastor Hot Off the Spit, Pineapple and All

Weekend nights on Central Ave, there’s an outdoor taco table that makes some of the best al pastor Dommy has ever tasted in her Eastside eating adventures.

Al pastor is cooked the way it should be, roasted on a spit that’s crowned with pineapple dripping its juices onto the meat. To really appreciate the smoky flavor, skip the salsa. Al pastor taco includes bits of braised onion and pineapple, anyway. Grab a whole braised onion, too. Tortillas are freshly made (though not by hand) on the spot–they’re wonderfully soft and have nice flavor.

Chorizo tacos are fantastic, adds Mr Taster–“super flavor that busted our tastebuds wide open.” But chicken tacos are dry, chewy, and bland.

There are also cemitas burritos and other kinds of meats.

The al pastor spit is always running, although it’s only outside on weekend (Fri-Sun) evenings. The stand itself is open every day.

Really good al pastor can be had farther afield (Whittier) at Chema’s Tacos, says mdpilam. Asada is delicious as well.

Taqueria La Fogata [Downtown]
2534 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles

Chema’s Tacos [Inland of LA]
11527 Whittier Blvd., Whittier

Board Links

Eastside taco adventure
The best Mexican in LA
Awesome al pastor and asada

El Rey Pakal

El Rey Pakal is a new Yucatan restaurant with a deep and fairly exciting menu. One draw is that they serve very fresh hand-made corn tortillas, says wineguy7. The salsa is some of the best josquared has had in a while, though the chicken in black chimole sauce is good, but not earth shaking. Mick Ruthven suggests you come with a group of at least four so you can try lots of dishes. He likes the empanadas–“different from anything I’ve had before, simple, fresh, and very good.”

El Rey Pakal [Marin County]
227 3rd Avenue, San Rafael

Board Links

El Rey Pakal

Messob Ethiopian

Messob is the most brightly lit of the Ethiopian restaurants around town–you may wonder if you’ve accidentally wandered into a Subway sandwich shop. But the waitstaff is warm and friendly, and the food is very good, according to daveena. Injera is thin and quite sour, kitfo is nicely spicy, and red lentils are delicious, if not as buttery as they might be in an ideal world. Dinner is about $16 including a beer, tax, and tip.

Messob is “not earth-shaking, genre-defining good, but I-plan-to-become-a-regular good,” says daveena.

Messob [Piedmont]
4301 Piedmont Ave., Oakland

Board Links

Messob–good Ethiopian on Piedmont