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Fresh Eats: Our weekly roundup of SFoodie news 

Wednesday, Oct 27 2010

Mission Chinese Food's Pork Dumplings
By Alex Hochman

Anthony Myint and Danny Bowien are at it again: The inspired operators of Mission Chinese Food have constructed an ad-hoc dumpling station in the front window of Lung Shan.

I experienced culinary déjà vu after a first bite of Bowien's pork dumplings (six for $6), feeling for a moment like I was in Richmond, Va. Turns out the chef bathed the dumplings in a broth made from Benton's country ham — it tasted almost exactly like a sandwich I ate last summer at the venerable Sally Bell's Kitchen in that Southern city. When the ham flavor subsided, a bolt of ginger kicked in. We polished off all six in less than three minutes, then picked up the bowl and slurped the broth with all the grace of Spalding pounding leftover drinks in Caddyshack.

Lamb dumplings (six for $7) were rich and salty, gamy from their filling of lamb shoulder, minced braised peanuts, and lamb sweetbreads — that's right, sweetbreads. Following the dumplings' initial liquid burst, the peanuts gave up a slightly crunchy bite.

Bowien told me he's planning on rotating the fillings and hopes to offer fish dumplings soon. What's next, immersion circulators for sous-vide cooking? Why yes, actually. Between dumplings, I observed Myint installing them.

Mission Chinese Food: 2234 Mission (at 18th St.), 863-2800.

25 Lusk's Short Rib Slider
By John Birdsall

You take in the sleekness of 25 Lusk — its smoked mirrors, gleaming Scandinavian fireplaces, and enough slate tiles to strip a Brazilian quarry bare — and wonder if you've been sucked into some portal that opens to Vegas or Chicago, cities that swing their shine around like Marc Jacobs bags.

The 10-day-old SOMA restaurant is a place engineered for gawking, home-page portfolio material for design firm Cass Calder Smith. In its opening days, the city's stylerati showed up to gape. One night last week I spotted a fedora'd Jeremy Kidson of Jeremy's in 25 Lusk's sprawling basement lounge, seated with a bro at the otherwise empty bar on stools plated with so much chrome you strain to slide them.

The menu, though, from chef and partner Matthew Dolan (Emeril's, Cafe des Artistes, Garibaldis) is framed in bistro restraint. I recently nursed a shot of rye and a trio of bar snacks, three items for $14 from a list of eight. A pair of bacon-capped fried Pacific oysters in a scant pool of Brie Mornay were too big and too flabby, but Manchego-draped cauliflower flatbread got its textures right. Best of all was a braised short rib slider ($3 additional charge), turned lavish with a soft puck of foie gras torchon and a smear of something sweet and jammy. I would've ordered three of those alone, if I'd had the cash. Overkill? That hardly seems possible here.

25 Lusk: 25 Lusk (at Townsend), 495-5875.

Is Ippuku's Chicken Tartare Safe?
By Jonathan Kauffman

In the week following simultaneous restaurant reviews in the Chronicle and SF Weekly of Ippuku, a Japanese restaurant in Berkeley, the Chronicle's comments sections filled with disgust over a dish that both Chron critic Michael Bauer and I had loved: (raw) chicken tartare. Both of us quizzed the chef, Christian Geideman, about the safety of the dish. Both of us were told that since salmonella lives only in the digestive tracts of chickens, and since Geideman dipped strips of raw breast meat in boiling water for 30 seconds before cutting it up and seasoning it, he'd eliminated the threat of contamination.

I thought I might call around to the appropriate agencies to reassure readers that eating Ippuku's chicken tartare was, indeed, as safe as it was delicious. I started out with the Berkeley Environmental Health Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which told me to contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Well, it was the weekend before a three-day weekend, so I left a few messages and let the question drop.

A week later, Manuel Ramirez, director of the Berkeley Environmental Health Department, called me back. And that's what I realized the implications of what I'd done.

"So what's the name of the restaurant?" he wanted to know. "We'll want to go check that out." I asked if anything was wrong. Ramirez told me that section 114004 of the California Health and Safety Code required restaurants to cook poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees for at least 15 seconds to ensure salmonella, campylobacter, and other pathogens were killed.

What about steak? I asked. Well, Ramirez said, checking the code, the allowed temperature was slightly lower, but the meat still needed to be fully cooked. And beef tartare? I pressed. Sushi?

Ramirez referred me to the online California Health and Safety Code and said, "If the restaurant is varying from what the code allows they would need to put together a HACCP [Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points] plan."

I believe that local and state health departments probably save the lives of millions of eaters every year. I also realized I'd just tattled on Geideman. Galvanized by a sense of urgency, I took up the search again.

The first piece of good news: After poring over the state code, which makes Robbe-Grillet read like US Weekly, I found the section dealing with tartare. Section 114093  states:

"Notwithstanding Section 114004, ... ready-to-eat foods made from or containing eggs, comminuted meat, or single pieces of meat, including beef, veal, lamb, pork, poultry, fish, and seafood, that are raw or have not been thoroughly cooked as specified in Section 114004 may be served if either of the following requirements is met:

(a) The consumer specifically orders that the food be individually prepared less than thoroughly cooked.

(b) The food facility notifies the consumer, orally or in writing, at the time of ordering, that the food is raw or less than thoroughly cooked."

Ippuku had met (b), so it seemed like the restaurant was fully in the clear. That didn't, however, answer my initial question. A round of phone calls — the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, back to the USDA — finally put me in touch with Kathy Bernard, spokeswoman for the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline. I explained Geideman's preparation to her and asked about its safety. "We give recommendations to people that, to make sure that poultry is safe to eat, they cook the chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees," she responded.

"What about steak or fish tartare?" I asked. She repeated her statement.

"Sushi?" I asked. Again: no. So I said, "Let me confirm: The USDA's position is that no one should eat meat or fish unless it's fully cooked?"

"That's right." Her tone was firm.

So glad to hear that millions of Americans flagrantly defy our nation's food safety recommendations every day. A few more days, a few more phone calls, and I finally found a man I wished I'd talked to in the first place. Harshavardhan Thippareddi is associate professor of food science at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. When I explained Geideman's treatment of the chicken breast and asked whether a 30-second plunge in boiling water would kill all the pathogens on the surface of the meat, Thippareddi said ... no. Not only would the surface temperature of the chicken stay too low to kill all pathogenic bacteria, the knife could have slipped and introduced salmonella into the interior of the chunk of meat. "It may be possible to REDUCE the risk (probability), but may not ELIMINATE the risk," he reiterated in an e-mail afterward.

Again, I asked him how chicken tartare would compare to steak tartare. "Actually, the risk is lower in beef," he said. "The normal percentage of beef carcasses contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 is 0.1 to 0.3 percent. In poultry, the prevalence of salmonella is higher — the legal limit for poultry processors is that less than 20 percent of the birds may be contaminated. In some processors, they may have lower rates — like 5 or 7 percent."

"But those rates are probably for confined chickens," I countered. "These chickens are pasture raised, and probably organic. Does that make a difference?"

"We'd like to think it does, but sadly, it doesn't," he replied.

So Thippareddi says wouldn't eat the chicken tartare. But as he stated in his last e-mail, "We all take risks in life. I suppose this is one of those 'acceptable' risks for some of us. However, I don't think you will ever find me eating steak tartare or sushi (knowing the risks)."

I sent a draft of this post to Christian Geideman and asked whether he would be willing to talk to me about the issue, but haven't heard back. In the meantime, I do eat beef tartare and sushi — quite frequently, in fact — and since the safety of Ippuku's chicken tartare is ultimately a question of risk tolerance, it's a delicious risk I'll take again. I wish my research had yielded the kind of assurance I'd hoped for. Given Thippareddi's caution, though, it seems prudent to recommend that anyone who has a compromised immune system should avoid chicken tartare — as well as beef carpaccio, kitfo, salmon tartare, or sushi.

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