Blog Posts by Andrew Knowlton, BA Foodist, Bon Appetit Magazine

  • When is it OK to eat with your hands in public?

    Dear BA Foodist,

    A foodie friend of mine is reluctant to use his hands when dining out. He says it's rude and unhygienic. Is he correct? He won't even use his hands when we go out for pizza.

    Jen Costanzo, Waterville, Maine


    Dear Jen,

    What looks more ridiculous: eating a burger or fried chicken or pizza--which, if you haven't already noticed, is what many fine-dining restaurants are supplementing their menus with in these bad economic times--with a fork and knife or with your hands? You only need to watch a European awkwardly eat a double-bacon cheeseburger with utensils to answer that question. Conventional wisdom is contradictory--it says asparagus and whole steamed artichokes are okay to eat with your hands, but not sugar snap peas and tomato wedges. Why? The best foods on the planet were meant to be eaten with your hands--barbecued ribs, grilled corn, tacos, fish and chips, and every sandwich imaginable. If a restaurant, no matter how starchy the table linens, decides to carry a

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  • My Top 5 Restaurant Service Pet Peeves

    Dear BA Foodist,

    I love going out to eat, but I'm puzzled by the odd practices that even some of the best restaurants seem to follow. No salt on the table is one of my biggest pet peeves. What are yours?

    Floyd Partinson, Skokie, Illinois


    Dear Floyd,

    I once had a colleague (a restaurant critic colleague, to be exact) who said that if she were awarding stars, restaurants would receive one for warm bread and another for saying "Thanks for coming" as she exited. The point she was making was that the little things a restaurant does (or does not do) can have a big effect on your meal--and many of them have nothing to do with your actual food. Some are minor (soft as opposed to rock-hard butter served with your dinner), and some are major (clean bathrooms). With that, here's my list of restaurant practices that tick me off. (And don't act as if you don't have a list of pet peeves, too.)

    No one to greet you as you arrive or say thanks as you leave.
    Both are equally important (just because

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  • Is the Daily Special the best or worst dish to order?

    Dear BA Foodist,

    I like to order a restaurant's daily specials with the obvious assumption that the ingredients in those dishes are the freshest. But it occurs to me that the kitchen may just be trying to move old product. Which is true?

    Alison Bates, Rancho Palos Verdes, California


    Dear Alison,

    At some restaurants, daily specials may be a way of moving ingredients that have seen better days, but most reputable places run specials for a number of more creative reasons. Specials often showcase hyper-seasonal ingredients--soft-shell crabs, heirloom tomatoes, or squash blossoms, for instance--that chefs have in limited supply. The ingredients are here today, gone tomorrow, and hence can't be put on the more permanent menu. Also, specials are often dishes that chefs are testing out, or that feature ingredients with limited appeal (e.g., sweetbreads, oxtail).

    Having said this, a restaurant is a business, and it needs to move product. If a place stocks up on a particular fish for the

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  • BA Foodist's Picks for the 10 Best Roof-to-Table Restaurants

    In this year's version of farm-to-table eating, restaurants in big cities are literally raising their roofs, harvesting everything from herbs and chiles to tomatoes and beans. Here are our favorites in extreme locavore dining.

    By Andrew Knowlton
    Photography by Misty Keasler

    Oliverio

    Beverly Hills

    The basil in the pesto with orecchiette and Manila clams and the arugula in the salad with Parmigiano-Reggiano and pine nuts at chef Mirko Paderno's Italian spot come from the rooftop garden.Avalon Hotel, 9400 West Olympic Boulevard; 310-277-5221; avalonbeverlyhills.com

    Pura Vida

    Atlanta

    All peppers are not created equal. Just ask Top Chef contestant Hector Santiago, who hails from Puerto Rico. From the "aji macho" in the tilapia ceviche to the aji amarillo in the "melted" white asparagus, he raises dozens of varieties on the roof of his Latin-inspired small-plates restaurant. 656 North Highland Avenue; 404-870-9797; puravidatapas.com

    Frontera Grill

    Chicago

    Atop his pioneering casual Mexican

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  • 3 Rules for Camera-Happy Diners (aka Food Bloggers)

    Dear BA Foodist:

    Isn't it time for restaurants to step in and ask diners to cool it with the mid-meal photography? I know everyone loves playing foodie photog for their blogs and Twitter accounts, but at some point, isn't enough enough?

    Sarah Rayer, Philadelphia


    Dear Sarah:

    These days it seems like everyone is a food paparazzo, and nothing brings a meal to a screeching halt quite like a food fanatic who must document every dish before letting you eat. Which, last time I checked, is the whole reason for going out. Okay, so as a food writer on assignment I've been known to snap a few shots to jog my memory at a later date. No harm, right? I always try to do it without anyone noticing, and I never use a flash. Using a flash in a restaurant is like letting your cell phone ring during a performance of Hedda Gabler on Broadway--a buzz kill that ruins the experience for everyone. Photographing food has become such a sport that some restaurants have banned the practice. They say it delays

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  • America's Best Donuts, Part 2

    Barring a breaking news story, I'll be a guest on NBC's Weekend Today this Sunday and I'm bringing donuts. Flavors from both Portland, Oregon's Voodoo Doughnut (known for their bacon ones) and Doughnut Plant in New York (think artisanal) will be part of the on-air tasting as well as others from our Best Places for Donuts list.

    Have a favorite donut spot we missed? Of course you do! We received lots of emails and even a few letters telling us we'd blown it. "How could you leave X off your list..." the cries often began. We may never agree on the best donut spots, but let's be thankful that there are still so many great places to get one of America's most iconic foods. Below, you'll find recommendations from our readers and I'm betting there's still a few missing from this list too. Tell us your favorite donut spot and be sure to watch on Sunday.

    Arizona
    Le Cave's Bakery, Tucson
    Donut Wheel, Tucson

    California
    Stan's Donughnuts, Los Angeles
    Bob's Donuts, Los Angeles
    The Donut Man,

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  • The Whiskey Renaissance: Top 5 Rye Bottles

    America is experiencing a rye renaissance, with new and classic brands of the less sweet and spicier cousin to bourbon now de rigueur at better bars and liquor stores across the country. We blind-tasted 16 different bottles of rye with help from star bartender Jim Meehan of PDT in New York. Here are five of our favorites--each perfect in a Manhattan, on the rocks, or straight up.

    Rittenhouse Rye, 100 Proof, $20
    The go-to rye for many serious bartenders. Its low price and high proof make it ideal for mixing in modern and classic cocktails.

    Russell's Reserve Rye, 6 Year Old, $25
    This bottling from the Wild Turkey family has hints of smoked almond and, like many ryes, fresh-cut grass.

    Ri 1, $48
    The bottle's sleek design says vodka more than whiskey, but this balanced rye from the Jim Beam family is a great introduction to the spirit.

    Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, $70
    A sought-after rye from one of America's premier whiskey houses; they don't make much of it, so if you see it, buy

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  • Do food critics have better taste buds than you?

    Dear BA Foodist,

    I often hear chefs on cooking shows and reality shows talking about a person's palate. "So-and-so has an exquisite palate," they say. What exactly does that mean, and can I train my own palate?

    Kathy Byrom, Homewood, Alabama


    Dear Kathy,

    When it comes to professional chefs, I think a "great palate" is the ability to create or refine dishes simply by instinct. I've seen some of the world's most talented chefs, having tasted a flawed or incomplete dish, suggest improvements in a flash--adding a pinch of salt here or a squeeze of lemon there--with amazing success. For professional eaters--and folks who simply love food--the term means something slightly different: It's the ability to identify flavors, ingredients, and even techniques in a particular dish.

    But what really defines a great palate, I think, is taste memory. It has as much to do with your head as with your tongue. When I'm eating, say, a grilled cheese, I think about the best grilled cheese sandwich I've

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  • 10 Best Places for Doughnuts Across the Country

    Every culture has fried dough-German Berliners, Italian zeppole, French beignets, and Indian balushahi-but none can top the gut-busting pleasure of the American doughnut. It's the latest iconic food to undergo a renaissance; here are our picks for the best classic and newfangled donut purveyors across the country.

    • Randy's Donuts
      Los Angeles
      Los Angeles has doughnuts on just about every corner, but you can't beat this legendary stop near LAX. Look for the huge doughnut atop the building (a 1952 landmark). The buttermilk and crumb raised doughnuts are crowd-pleasers.805 West Manchester Avenue, Inglewood; 310-645-4707; randys-donuts.com

    • Dynamo Donuts
      San Francisco
      At this counter in the Mission District, long lines form early for Four Barrel coffee (roasted nearby) and inventive donuts including lemon-Sichuan, apricot-cardamom, and the excellent caramel de sel. 2760 24th Street; 415-920-1978; dynamodonut.com

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  • 5 Ways to Eat More (Winter) Veggies: Salsify

    Dear BA Foodist,

    I've officially got the winter cooking blues. I'm so sick of cooking potatoes and brussels sprouts. Any vegetable suggestions to tide me over until asparagus season?

    Sally Degage, Princeton, New Jersey


    Dear Sally,

    Because of ingredient availability, cooking in winter can be more challenging than in spring and summer. Perhaps you are buying the wrong vegetables. There's a whole world of unsung winter vegetables that are increasingly available in supermarkets across America. To inspire you, I've listed my favorite winter vegetables along with recipes from five great chefs. So far we've covered cardoon, celeriac, Jerusalem artichoke, and rutabaga. Last up is salsify (aka oyster plant), a mildly sweet root that looks like a dirty brown carrot.

    Salsify Soup
    from Bobby Duncan at Fort Defiance restaurant, Brooklyn

    6 salsify roots
    1 sprig of thyme
    2 tablespoons butter
    3-4 cups of whole milk
    2 cups of chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
    1 lemon

    1) Peel salsify with

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