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Bruni Takes It Rare

Why does New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni write so much about burgers on his blog? What national chain’s fast-food burgers does he deign to devour? Adam Kuban of A Hamburger Today gets to the bottom of these and other issues in a fun interview with the much-maligned critic. The questions are respectful, the banter is light, the discussion is refreshingly un–New York-centric, and Bruni wins points with me for his description of the ideal burger (thick, rounded, and grilled, made with ground chuck and topped with Swiss—never mozzarella or jack).

It’s interesting to see Bruni approached from this neutral, Q&A angle by a blogger, since the critic has long been lambasted in the land of blogs and message boards (most hilariously by Jules at The Bruni Digest) for turning his reviews into off-topic points about the restaurant industry, being unfair and pompous (not to mention being a cocktail rube), engaging in “star inflation,” and of course abusing the English language.

For my part, while I enjoy my share of Bruni-bashing, it’s refreshing to take a break. (I think reading Ruth Reichl’s enjoyable Garlic and Sapphires has also made me more sensitive to the plight of restaurant critics.) Still, Bruni does bring up a potentially annoying reason for his frequent burger-focused blog entries:

I don’t think I’ve written many—or maybe any—burger stories in the actual paper, other than my fast-food trip across the country. But you’re right that I’ve done a lot of blog posts about burgers. I think burgers are good Internet/blog material—they’re accessible; many people have experiences with and strong feelings about them; and so the subject of burgers often fosters an interesting, fun dialogue.

I agree that people have endless fun picking, panning, and dissecting burgers, but there’s a slight whiff of snobbery about this quote, as though Bruni is implying that “accessible” food is better left to the unwashed masses on the Internet, keeping the actual paper reserved for more rarified tastes. Is that breakdown roughly true? What should be the role of the food blog as opposed to the dining section of a given newspaper?

Your Morning Spray

The Chicago Sun-Times reported today that that mad alchemist of the culinary world, Ferran Adria, has made an, um, improvement on the traditional espresso. Adria’s new coffee thingy is known as espesso (note the missing “R”), and it’s more like a custard than a cuppa.

Sez the Sun-Times:

Espesso consists of espresso and an ingredient the company won’t divulge, combined in a pressurized canister and left to set for 12 hours. The result is a mousselike, cold solid sprayed right out of the canister.

Oooohkay. Should you want to try this unusual treat, you’ll find it any of the three branches of Chicago coffeehouse Lavazza’s —and nowhere else. You can, however, order variations on the espesso theme: espesso cappuccino or espesso macchiatto, both with solidified milk served in the same cup as the espesso. Anyone tasted it yet? It sounds sort of intriguing, but the name alone makes me want to punch a wall.

NOVA Wine-Geek Meet-Up (Plus: Eartha “Goes HAL”)

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

I scored a great slice of whole-wheat shoofly pie at an organic roadside farmstand on my way south from Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Maple Arch Farm is along Route 10 between Parkesburg and Cochranville, Pennsylvania; (610) 593-7105. They’re open May through October (except Sundays).

Thus fortified, I headed down to Our Nation’s Capital. But on the way, I had a terrifying problem with Eartha, my GPS navigation assistant. Hear my podcast: MP3 file. If you doubt the story, go to Google Maps and plug in “Thankless Lane, Rising Sun, MD,” and you’ll see that this is indeed where the scenic route (Route 273, marked “scenic” in maps and atlases) starts diverging from Route 95 as one leaves Lancaster county headed toward DC.

Wine Geek Meet-up

Arlington, Virginia
Having extricated myself from my high-tech nightmare, I made it to DC just in time to throw on a sport jacket and have a blow-out dinner with a couple of friends (who’d never met each other). Robert Mitchell is a former Navy SEAL (he currently “works for the Army mumble mumble mumble project management mumble mumble”) and food/wine aesthete, and Dave Sit is a television executive, playwright, ping-pong champion, crack chef (both French, having studied with Paul Bocuse, and Chinese, having been born in Canton), and food/wine aesthete (his palate and encyclopedic mental database are renowned among collectors). You’ve probably noticed the point where we all intersect.

What I like about both is that while they have somewhat intimidating credentials in their real-life occupations, and have intimidating knowledge and experience in food and wine, there’s not an iota of snobbery between the two of them. They just love and appreciate great stuff, and live to share/analyze/discuss it with kindred spirits.

The photos will give you the idea:


Rob (seeking absolution from a morsel of tender short rib).

We hit a newish wine bar/restaurant called Tallula (2761 Washington Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia; 703-778-5051), and it was terrific. It is a wine store, wine bar, and restaurant, and while the store isn’t bargain-priced, the café and restaurant hardly mark up the wines (those last five words are heady music to the ears of any wine geek). Dave and I met for a drink before, and we ordered a slew of Amuse Yourselfs, micro-tapas that are lots of fun to rip through along with wines by the glass. We tried these:

Risotto fritter (roasted corn and scallion, romesco sauce)
Crispy and soulful.

Duck spring roll (confit leg, chipotle chili, orange gastrique)
Well fried, and a wonderful unique flavor mélange, not at all fussy.

Steak tartare (Dijon mustard, capers, Parmesan cheese tuile)
Terrific; worth a visit just for this.

Lobster roll (tarragon aioli, brioche roll)
Good, but a bit blah.

Wild mushroom strudel
Clever and delicious.

Heirloom tomato salad
Fine but unmemorable.

Beer-battered corn dog (chorizo sausage, whole-grain mustard)
Contrived and disastrous; dry and weird.

For entrées, Dave and I ordered short ribs (with creamy cheddar grits and tomato salsa) (left) and house-smoked beef tenderloin (with duck-fat fried potatoes, black truffle, glazed carrots, Zinfandel reduction) (middle); then Robert asked for grilled saddle of venison (with chanterelle mushrooms, napa cabbage, cornbread, and ancho-Syrah reduction) (right). Dave and I were a bit startled. Three red-meat dishes … an ordering faux pas? No. Robert had nailed it; these were exactly the right things to get, and the carnivorous riches went beautifully with wine.

The wine list is excellent, atmosphere is high-end but convivial and laid back, prices are fine for the value, and service is good (one problem: Our waiter only somewhat grudgingly took away a patently bad bottle, which left us miffed, plus left the restaurant out the cost of the bottle, a lose-lose outcome). I’d recommend this place quite strongly. But I need to single out the short ribs, which were fantastic and interesting. The grits were quite firm and polenta-like, ribboned with soulful tomato sauce and dosed up with lots of cumin, evocative of Texas tamales—a beautiful and ingenious backdrop for the exquisitely tender short ribs. Unforgettable!

Join us for the meal via some audio snippets (notice the increasingly slurred speech … and buzzy background crowd—as the meal proceeds):

MP3 file #2

Introducing Dave and Rob.

MP3 file #3

App talk … plus the bittersweet phenomenon of “letting go.”

MP3 file #4

Left brain wine geek/right brain wine geek.

MP3 file #5

Everything’s in duck fat!

MP3 file #6

The 45 Chateau Latour was not ready.

MP3 file #7

Everything great tastes Cantonese.

MP3 file #8

Dave’s Childhood in Canton … and the Butter Story.

MP3 file #9

Heirloom tomatoes are overrated (also: the Dave Matthews fruit).

MP3 file #10

Chateau Palmer is like baseball player Dave Kingman … and why is Jim recording our meal?

MP3 file #11

Rob’s Zinfandel rant and Dave’s bizarre winemaker footware anecdote.

MP3 file #12

Deconstructing the short ribs.

The Famous Mr. Ed(ible)

Slate magazine quickly and clearly breaks down the arguments on either side of the U.S. House of Representatives bill that would ban the slaughter of horses for meat.

The arguments in favor of the ban boil down to the fact that horses are pretty and nice, and we like them. The arguments against boil down to the fact that warm, soft horseflesh equals cold, hard cash.

Somewhat shamefully, the question of deliciousness never enters the debate. I vividly remember my Italian TA in college, the bellissima Signorina Mangiameli, talking about the horsemeat entree she ate in Italy and how incredibly tasty it was. And hey, if the USDA endorsed it, how bad can it be?

Quoting the Unquotable

In an article published this week, Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Michael Klein takes us inside the sausage-making process whereby thousands of restaurant reviews are whittled away into those pithy quotes in the Zagat Survey.

As the editor of Philadelphia’s Zagat Survey, it’s Klein’s job to string together bons mots from the myriad reviews that diners submit to the guide. But he says he takes the most pleasure in reading those comments that will never see the light of day: “The fun part is stumbling upon a comment that is so outrageous, so inappropriate—and so potentially libelous—that I can’t use it.”

He shares a few winners:

“We thought there was a wet dog in the restaurant, then realized the smell emanated from the food.”

“Better Peking duck is available at our local pond.”

“Is it kept dark so you can’t see the mediocre, overpriced food?”

“The creative decor is enough to give an epileptic seizures.”

“Portions fit for a woolly mammoth.”

“Blllllaaaaaggghhh! I just threw up. Sorry.”

“The geriatric singles scene is still sizzling on Fridays–if you are under 50 watch out.”

“We kept waiting for Ashton Kutcher to come out and tell us we were being Punk’d.”

Sure, Zagat doesn’t want to get sued, but these quotes make for much more interesting reading. For more quotes not fit for print, the Zagat website maintains a running list of outtakes, plus a “hall of fame.”

The Problem of Lunch

Once more, September brings a crop of obligatory back-to-school lunch articles in newspaper food sections.The passionate and profane Ann Cooper is raising the profile (and nutrition content) of school lunches in Berkeley, and it seems like schools everywhere (not to mention ex-presidents) are jumping on the improving-school-nutrition bandwagon.

Kids from St. Paul to Baltimore are weighing in on the removal of junk food from their diets. Some are happy to be healthy; others protest the loss of fries, chips, and other junky delights. Apparently, lunch is harder than it looks. As Cooper notes in a galvanizing New Yorker article, reprinted on her blog, it’s difficult to make a healthy meal for 4,000 when the ingredients you have access to are mainly USDA surplus (that means meat and milk and cheese, folks —not the most anti-obesity foodstuffs on the planet). Parents who are truly concerned can go the DIY route—just don’t go overboard.

Cooling Off

You don't even need to turn on the oven for these dishes. Sip a cool drink and enjoy the end-of-summer heat. READ MORE

Traipsing the Suncontinent

There is no one best Indian/South Asian restaurant in greater Los Angeles, but the local diaspora captures some of the variety of the subcontinent’s cuisine. losfelizhound breaks down some favorites by region:


Noorani Halal is one of the best places around for kebabs and biryani. They also make a delicious lahori chargha (steamed and deep-fried chicken) that whoops the ass of the tandoori chicken. Curries are typically Pakistani–delicious but oily. Excellent rotis.

Clay Oven is also on the short list for best biryani joint; kebabs are excellent too.

At Shan, the curries are only OK–but the kababs, nihari and paaya are fantastic.


Makkah Halal, Bangladeshi owned, is an interesting mix of Mughlai/Punjabi (north Indian) influences with Bengali (East Indian). Tandoori is juicy, spicy and luscious, and curries are outrageously good.


India’s Grill is essentially Punjabi cuisine, with killer chicken tikka and seekh kebabs. Curries in general are good but not great, but chana masala, kaali sal and fried okra (bhindi masala) stand out. Bread is good and portions are sizeable. There is beer and wine.

India Sweet House, a quasi-fast food North Indian spot, has excellent parathas, but that’s about it.

The small, chef-owned Gate of India in Santa Monica is a fave of Lee by the Sea. The chef’s style is a personalized version of Punjabi cooking, layered in its spicing and rich with cream and ghee. losfelizhound found it disappointing; the buffet should definitely be avoided.


Tibet Nepal House is under-mentioned and underrated for its Nepali food, which is herbier and less spicy than Indian food. (The Tibetan fare is average.) But if you like the spicy, the lamb tikka will do it for you. It’s also pretty date-friendly.

South Indian:

Tirupathi Bhimas, a favorite of the Bay Area’s Melanie Wong, specializes in the food of Andhra Pradesh. What’s that like? Spicy and yummy! They serve a thali lunch special that includes two or three choices of vegetables and sambars/rasam, plus rice, dal, etc.

The food at Paru’s tastes more Tamil than anything else. They’ve got good dosas, idli, uttapam and the usual South Indian suspects. Rasam soup is particularly good. They claim to be the oldest Indian restaurant in L.A., and are purely vegetarian. They serve beer and wine.

Only the long-gone Paru’s in Northridge had the consistently fresh flavors and textures of the food at the Culver City Annapurna, says Ravi, warning that the food doesn’t really stand up to the steam table–avoid the lunch buffet. losfelizhound says the Artesia branch can achieve greatness, but is tremendously inconsistent.

Sri Lankan:

The food of Sri Lanka is similar to southern Indian, yet distinct: it’s hot as hell and delicious. At Curry Bowl, try roti with eggs, chicken curry, and the awesome dried-fish pickle.


Nothing beats Yogiraj–it’s THE places for homestyle Gujarati food, which is oily, buttery, and delectable. Try the village thali (#3) or the weekend buffet.


Lee by the Sea puts in a good word for Addi’s Tandoor, just about the only place in these parts that makes a proper vindaloo–without tomatoes. Other dishes are really good too–it’s worth a drive.

Noorani Halal Restaurant [Little Saigon]
14178 Brookhurst St., Westminster Blvd., Garden Grove

Clay Oven Indian Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
14611 1/2 Ventura Blvd,. Sherman Oaks

Shan Restaurant [Artesia-ish]
18621 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia

Makkah Halal Meat [Koreatown]
401 S Vermont Ave., Los Angeles

India’s Grill [Midtown]
428 S. San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles

India Sweet House [Midtown]
a.k.a. Paratha Place
5992 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

Gate Of India [Hollywood]
7300 W. Sunset Blvd. # D, Los Angeles

Tibet Nepal House [Pasadena-ish]
36 E. Holly St., Pasadena

Tirupathi Bhimas [Artesia-ish]
18792 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia

Paru’s Indian Vegetarian Restaurant [Hollywood]
5140 W. Sunset Blvd., Normandie, Los Angeles

Annapurna Cuisine [Artesia-ish]
17631 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia

Curry Bowl Sri Lanka Cuisine [West San Fernando Valley]
19662 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana

Yogiraj [South OC]
3107 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim

Addi’s Tandoor [South Bay]
800 Torrance Blvd. Ste. 101, Redondo Beach

Board Links
What is the best Indian restaurant in LA?

Udon at Rokko

Good udon can be hard to find, and the desire for an udon fix cannot always be satisfied by soba. Rokko has great udon–thick and chewy, says Wendy san, and comparable to noodles she had in Nagoya. Clams in broth are also delicious. The tempura is decent, and the serving sizes are very generous–a dinner special features a massive slab of tonkatsu, tuna sashimi, rice, miso soup, and salad, all for $10.75. They have nice small plates, too. Two appetizers, two entrees, an order of sake and an order of beer will run you about $50 before tip.

Rokko [South Bay]
190 S. Frances St., Sunnyvale

Board Links

Chowhounds and River Rats in the Thousand Islands

Some good eats morning to night in Clayton, NY, a gateway to the Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence River:

- The Koffee Kove: Hearty breakfasts–ham and eggs and the like. “If you’re lucky,” says Gary Soup, “you’ll hear some ancient river rats swapping rum-running stories at the counter.”

- Harbor Inn: Stick to the basics, like fresh fish simply prepared, and enjoy the view of the river from this popular brunch spot.

- Gold Cup Farms: Go for a brick of three-year-old River Rat Cheddar and a jar of Hot-as-Hell Mustard. Probably the most chowish thing to do in Clayton, suggests Gary.

- Clipper Inn: High-end dinner fare, mostly traditional (steaks, veal Oscar, shrimp scampi, etc.). “The best food on the U.S. side of Lake Ontario in the North Country,” declares catnip. Check out the lively bar, peopled by locals, summer regulars, and others who are just passing through.

Koffee Kove Restaurant [Jefferson County]
220 James St., near Riverside Dr., Clayton, NY

Harbor Inn [Jefferson County]
625 Mary St., at Riverside Dr., Clayton, NY

Gold Cup Farms [Jefferson County]
242 James St., between Riverside Dr. and Hugunin St., Clayton, NY

Clipper Inn [Jefferson County]
126 State St., between Cartier Ave. and Frontenac Blvd., Clayton, NY

Board Links
St. Lawrence, TIP, Welsley Island, A. Bay Recs