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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Frisky Cod Help Redefine the Word “Delicacy”

When daddy cod loves mommy cod very much, the result is usually lots of really tiny baby cod eggs. Yay! But sometimes, when a chef is involved, the result is called “cod milt,” and it’s apparently delicious.

New York magazine is all over the cod spooge phenomenon, describing the dish as looking like a “cluster-bomb explosion in bocconcini factory.”

You can find cod milt on the menu of Brooklyn’s Zenkichi restaurant, where the “creamy and custardlike” dish is billed as shirako and either served with seaweed in a tangy ponzu sauce or cooked to an uni-like consistency as tempura with bonito broth.

Attention Brooklynite foodies: You’ve long claimed that you’ll eat anything, as long as it’s delicious. You now have a stellar opportunity to put your money where your mouth is. Or your mouth where a lady cod should be. Or whatever. Pucker up!

One of America’s Most Fascinating Undiscovered Restaurants

Lowell, Massachusetts

I first visited Lowell years ago, hunting for Cambodian and Laotian food. I’d heard that many Southeast Asian immigrants lived in the area, but drove for hours without finding a single restaurant. Finally, in desperation, I walked into City Hall and queried the restaurant inspector, who kindly hipped me to Southeast Asian Restaurant (343 Market Street, Lowell, Massachusetts; 978-452-3182).

Despite Lowell’s burgeoning Southeast Asian community, this remains one of only a tiny handful of local outposts cooking that food. But it’s quite a place … and has one of the most interesting stories of any restaurant I know.

Owner Joe Antonaccio is a Vietnam vet who hung around after the war, married a local woman, learned the language and culture, and deeply immersed himself in the food. He traveled around, learning Burmese, Cambodian, Laotian, Vietnamese, and Thai cuisines. When his family moved back to the States, he and his wife, Chanthip, opened a little restaurant with a great big menu crammed with impossibly obscure dishes described with the depth and precision of a museum program. Antonaccio is such a stickler that he often has to train new kitchen staff—even new immigrants—in their own cuisines because too much Western influence has crept into their cooking!

For a sample of Antonaccio’s enthusiasm and commitment (and also to learn a lot), read his notes on Southeast Asian food culture.

My first meals at Southeast Asian Restaurant were revelations. I plunged joyfully into the enormous menu, sampling multiple iterations of larb (one a bit more Thai-style, another a bit more Laotian). Spicy meant spicy. I knew that I’d found one of the most fascinating restaurants in America, but I couldn’t persuade any of the food magazines to let me write a profile.

The food press’s neglect seemed to be mirrored by foodie neglect. A lunch buffet was added—always a bad sign. In their downtown location, they had to cater to the mainstream lunch crowd to stay afloat. The epic menu gradually shrank, and it became harder and harder to be served genuinely spicy food (the kitchen’s assumptions about gringo preferences were likely conditioned by the spice-averse buffet crowd). How sad that such a unique and wonderful operation couldn’t pull in a critical mass of hip customers. Blasé reaction to greatness discourages prospective restaurateurs from knocking themselves out. It makes more sense to just open an Olive Garden franchise.

Though diminished, Southeast Asian Restaurant is still an invigoratingly good place to eat. This time I had “Phat Prik Gra Pao—T-3 [the code indicates that the dish is Thai and level 3 spicy]: Chopped chicken breast and thigh meat quick fried with chili pepper, Thai basil, onion, and a special sauce combine to make this dish qualify as a bowl of fire (and brimstone for our religious friends). Served with rice”:

... and “Nuer Dat Deo/Beef Jerky—L-0 [Laotian and level 0 spicy]: Dried beef, similar to beef jerky. Typically eaten with Lao Dum Som and sticky rice”:

For dessert, charming “Laotian Soy Bean Custard Cake”:

The phat prik gra pao was, alas, only medium spicy in spite of my supplications. But it was luscious. And the beef jerky (with intense dipping sauce) may not have matched the textural wonderment of the version at Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, but it was easily worth a special trip from Boston. Despite the spice decrescendo and shrinking menu, Southeast Asian Restaurant is still great if you catch it on a good night—like tonight. And a great bargain: The total cost of sufficient food for two or three is a mere $20.

Download the current menu in Word format. The restaurant also offers, with 24 hours’ notice, meticulously authentic banquets and specialty dinners. This page links to full descriptions, including scholarly explanations of the pertinent traditions.

Here’s an interesting Lowell Cambodian Neighborhood Walking Tour.

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Lowell’s got a lot more than Southeast Asian going on. For example, Bany Restaurant (681 Merrimack Street, Lowell, Massachusetts; 978-458-6384), a real bare-bones joint, makes super-delicious, super-authentic Puerto Rican soul food. The roast chicken can only be described as beautiful—in both appearance and flavor. It comes with good moist rice and very nice plantains.

To roughly estimate food quality from my photos, observe how much is eaten. You’ll notice that I ravaged almost the entire half-chicken before remembering to whip out my camera. That’s a good sign.

They make good cuchifritos, too, like papa rellena (fried potato stuffed with ground meat). The counter guy seems gruff, but he has a heart of gold (he unsmilingly threw an extra papa rellena into my bag; it’s that sort of place).

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There’s at least a tinge of Brazilian and Portuguese immigration in most parts of Massachusetts (most recently, the Berkshires). In Lowell, I found a pretty good Portuguese bakery called, logically enough, Lowell Portuguese Bakery (930 Gorham Street, Lowell, Massachusetts; 978-458-3111).

They make swell pasteis de nata (similar to Chinese egg custard pastries—which, actually, were brought to China by Portuguese).

Nearby is a cute little Brazilian place called Oasis Grill (910 Gorham Street, Lowell, Massachusetts; 978-452-0833), which I didn’t have a chance to try (they make feijoada, the Brazilian equivalent of cassoulet, on Wednesdays and Saturdays).

The place I’m most sorry I missed is Cavaleiro’s Restaurant (573 Lawrence Street, Lowell, Massachusetts; 978-458-2800), an upscale Portuguese place that looked primo to my chow-dar. They keep difficult hours, and I never managed to catch them open.

There’s a cool bohemian area right in the middle of downtown. It’s all bricky industrial-chic, great to walk through at night with lots of little bars and eateries to stumble across. I’m a fan of the Revolving Museum, which sponsors all sorts of high jinks.

Here are some of the wacky installations currently on display in the Garden of Big Heads and Earthly Delights just outside the museum:

Next to the Garden, extraordinarily nice people serve extraordinarily tasteless vegetarian fare at Life Alive Urban Oasis and Organic Café (194 Middle Street, Lowell, Massachusetts; 978-453-1311). You’d need to be really nice to make me want to return for bad food, but the folks here are actually that nice.

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Note: I have now worked through one large box of Shout stain-removing wipes.

Seafood Saturation

The plan is this: to zip frenetically around Rhode Island’s jagged shoreline, trying bites of seafood here and there, while attempting to remain relaxed and seashoreish about it all. This is the gorgeous peak of Indian summer, and I aim to bask in balminess throughout my intense chowconnaissance.

I’ve found the perfect place to stay: Middletown. It truly is the Middle Town, 15 to 20 minutes from just about everywhere. What’s more, Middletown itself has some good places. Finally, it’s quite close to Newport, though outside the bubble of expense and traffic.

Newport has little in common with the rest of the state. Rhode island is the New Jersey of New England: working class, “ethnic,” just a bit scruffy but with lots of raw beauty. People aren’t just unpretentious, they’re anti-pretentious. And amid this blue-collar stew is the non sequitur of old-money Newport. I hear there are some good things to eat in Newport, and I like to plunge into the widest range of scenes—especially non sequiturs! But I was so wrapped up in shacks that I ran out of time and missed hitting Newport proper.

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The day started in unexpected triumph. Rather than spoil the tale, I’ll let you listen to the podcast I recorded just after the Chowhounding Gods smiled upon me: MP3.

My recorder’s battery died in mid-podcast, but here’s the rest of the story. This diner, which I’d found ten years earlier and dreamed of ever since (but was never able to identify), suddenly appeared. Ecstatic, I pulled off the road, recorded the above jubilant podcast, and went into Bishop’s 4th Street Diner (184 Admiral Kalbfus Road, Newport, Rhode Island; 401-847-2069).

It is, as I’d recalled, on a traffic circle:

And it’s still a beautifully preserved old-fashioned railroad-car-style diner.

The diner is under new ownership, and I was crestfallen to spot a young kid in the kitchen who looked like he’d rather be out skateboarding. I couldn’t have been more wrong. His cooking was fabulous (more on that in a minute), and this chef’s a formidable dude. He walked by as I was browsing New England’s Favorite Seafood Shacks, and at a mere glance—without slowing down!—spewed comments about food quality at each place mentioned on the page. He doesn’t miss a thing, and is totally passionate about his job, boasting that “some people say we do better seafood than the shacks.” I didn’t order seafood there, but I completely believe it’s true.

Chowhounding requires constant theorizing. But theories require presumptions. And once again, I’d been shown the pitfalls of stereotyping based on preconceptions. Preconceptions are inevitable, I suppose, but the trick is to be flexible enough to abandon them on a dime.

But about the food. Yikes, have a look at this amazing sandwich of roast turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. It works! So delicious. I’ll never forget it:

This strawberry shortcake may have been less refined than the masterpiece served me at Canyon Grill, back in Rising Fawn, Georgia (see report #25), but it contained no less love or intrinsic deliciousness:

I missed johnnycakes by a mere 15 minutes. God …

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Flo’s Clam Shack (4 Wave Avenue, Middletown, Rhode Island; 401-847-8141) is so archetypally clam-shacky that it’s hard to believe this place is real, and not just some cynical evocation of genre.

But let’s talk about clam cakes.

Clam cakes aren’t what you think. If the name makes you visualize crab cakes with clam instead of crab, you’re way off. These are clearly Italian—like zeppole (fried dough) studded with vestigial bits of clam. They are crunchy/fluffy delicious (when served straight from the fryer, which is the only way to have them), and they live to be dunked in Rhode Island clam chowder (a grayish brine rife with diced potatoes that lives to have clam cakes dunked in it). Flo’s is excellent for both clam cakes and chowder. And, as you can see in the photos, it’s a fun place to hang out in.

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Champlin’s Seafood (256 Great Island Road, Narragansett, Rhode Island; 401-783-3152) is also picturesque. It’s a tourist magnet, hence the queue. They make excellent fried seafood and chowder. I wasn’t reduced to a sobbing wreck or anything, but every bite tasted right on the money.

If you ever go here, pass on the ice cream stand situated beneath the restaurant. I had one lick and almost choked on an industrial-tasting chemical flavor. It was obviously an error, but still …

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Chopmist Charlie’s (40 Narragansett Avenue, Jamestown, Rhode Island; 401-423-1020) is a homey sit-down restaurant run by a gregarious dude named Charlie. I got the broiled-seafood platter (for $22.95), which consisted of fresh scrod and sea scallops broiled with buttercrumb topping, along with a stuffie and two baked stuffed shrimp. The vegetables were actually the best thing. Stuffies (bread stuffing mixed with chopped clams and baked in clam shells) were fun, and scallops were just OK. I didn’t love the apple crisp. This is a cool, convivial place, with the sort of bar where strangers talk. Their luxurious lobster bisque is real good.

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Gray’s Ice Cream (16 East Road, Tiverton, Rhode Island; 401-624-4500) is killer great. Put it on your short list if you’re ever around here. How many ice cream stands afford an opportunity to meet your cows?

Gray’s butterscotch ice cream is sensational, one of the best butterscotch items I’ve ever had. It’s not a precious butterscotch hard-candy flavor; it’s more rich butterscotch-puddingish flavor. It’s a must-slurp … though only if you can tear yourself away from the ginger ice cream. It’s full-flavored in its ginger flavor and reasonably potent, but doesn’t quite crest into over-the-top heat.

Coffee cabinet (same as a shake or frappe) is also precision balanced. Not too sweet, not too ice creamy, not too milky, not too thin, not too thick … just dead dead-on. Wow.

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Hey, you wanna see some bad food?

Looks good, no? But no. It’s unredeemably empty soulless slop (from Sakonnet Fish Co., 657 Park Avenue, Portsmouth, Rhode Island; 401-683-1180).

I now mistrust my camera. If it makes bad food look good, then I can no longer rely on it to convey truth about things I love. Why is my camera, after many trustworthy weeks, suddenly lying? Is this covered by warranty?

“Dear Casio: My Casio Exilim EX-Z750 has turned dishonest …”

Real Oaxacan Mole

If you’ve been fortunate enough to travel in Oaxaca, you may feel cursed upon your return–because back home, there’s none of that mole. You wander the world like a junkie, seeking that full strength black mole paste with which to brutalize chicken.

Never fear–Karina’s has the good stuff, though at $10 a pound, it’s not cheap. Eat_Nopal thinks it’s a very decent version, based on aroma and consistency.

Also note that many Mexican markets in the area sell fresh mole in the carniceria, often in a paste so thick it gets cut into squares. rworange thinks the carniceria in Mi Tierra Supermercado has the most promising mole, but look around your neighborhood and poke around any exciting carnicerias you find.

Karina’s Mexican Bakery [Sonoma County]

827 Petaluma Blvd N., Petaluma

707-765-2772

Locater

Carniceria Mi Tierra [East Bay]

516 23rd Street, at Barrett, Richmond

510-232-0333

Locater

Board Links

Mole in the bay area

Don’t Miss the Boat

Sushi that comes by on a little boat on a conveyer belt isn’t going to provide you with the same epicurean enjoyment as omakase from a sushi master. But the stuff at Sushi Maru is extremely enjoyable and quite cheap, making it the perfect choice for when you’re cruising with, say, your four-year-old grandchild, says Sushi Monster. Other hounds agree. “Sushi Maru has better stuff on the conveyors than the majority of sushi bars in the Bay Area,” says Melanie Wong.

Check out their Japanese specials board, advises Humbucker. It often has unusual items you wouldn’t ordinarily find on the white boards at other cheap sushi-yas. And remember, you’re not limited to what’s on the conveyer belt–they’ll make sushi to order for you, too.

Sushi Maru [South Bay]
262 Jackson St., at 6th St., San Jose

408-998-8170

Locater

Board Links: Yuzu (San Mateo, sushi) updater —too steep for Sushi Monster

At MarkJoseph, a Seafood Tower Minus the Ice

MarkJoseph Steakhouse has a different take on the seafood tower. Rather than going raw and cold, theirs is cooked. It includes fried clams, calamari, lobster tail, shrimp, and mussels, and it’s great, swears wingman.

For a more conventional version, many hounds turn to Balthazar (see also ChowNews #206, #210, #236, #238, #239). Its plateau de fruits de mer gets a lift from standout sauces, including mignonette and a tomatoey tarragon one, says MMRuth.

Others swear by raw bar favorite Aquagrill for its plateau or plateau Royale (oysters, clams, shrimp, periwinkles, mussels, lobster, more).

Orsay and L’Absinthe also erect hound-endorsed seafood towers.

MarkJoseph Steakhouse [South Street Seaport]

261 Water St., near Peck Slip, Manhattan

212-277-0020

Locater

Balthazar [Soho]

80 Spring St., at Crosby, Manhattan

212-965-1785

Locater

Aquagrill [Soho]

210 Spring St., at 6th Ave., Manhattan

212-274-0505

Locater

Orsay Restaurant [Upper East Side]

1057 Lexington Ave., at E. 75th St., Manhattan

212-517-6400

Locater

L’Absinthe [Upper East Side]

227 E. 67th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan

212-794-4950

Locater

Board Links

Best Seafood Tower?

Pollos El Paisa: Stellar Chicken in Westbury, L.I.

As the name would suggest, Pollos El Paisa is all about the chicken. Colombian-style rotisserie birds are the don’t-miss order. For a taste of the rest of the menu, the bandeja paisa (mountain platter) includes the chicken plus fried pork belly, grilled skirt steak, fried egg, plantains, avocado, rice, beans, and an arepa. Highly recommended, says halokiti, who loves just about everything here except the salty seafood paella.

Also on the menu: fish soup, stewed beef tongue, grilled beef steak or pork loin, garlicky camarones al ajillo and other shrimp dishes, and more. “This place is great–a very good value and very good food!” raves Gastronomos.

Pollos El Paisa [Nassau County]

989 Old Country Rd., between Brooklyn Ave. and State St., Westbury, NY

516-338-5858

Locater

Board Links

Westbury Chicken

More Gelato, More Fro-Yo Flavors

Opening just in time for Christmas, the folks at Hollywood Gelato Company in Los Feliz clearly lack a sense of timing as well as geography. It’s cute inside, with a decent but not huge selection of flavors. Those flavors, by the way, are not nearly as interesting as the ones a few minutes away at Pazzo Gelato, comments Queequeg. The gelato itself, which isn’t made on-site, is actually too creamy, making it more like rich ice cream than gelato. A small cup is $2.95.

Change is in the air at Fiore, the tangy-yogurt place in Little Tokyo. Well, not the Pinkberry-knockoff decor–those Starck Ghost chairs are there to stay. But the name of the store is now “If,” perhaps adding an air of mystery, and they’ve branched out from their original two flavors (plain and green tea), adding sour and blueberry–or was that blackberry?


Hollywood Gelato Company [Los Feliz]
1936 Hillhurst
323-644-3311
Map

Pazzo Gelato [Silverlake]
3827 Sunset Blvd., at Hyperion
323-662-1410
Map

If Yogurt [Little Toyko]
formerly Fiore
134 Japanese Village Plaza Mall
213-626-0806
Map

Board Links

Hollywood Gelato Co in Los Feliz: Now Open!
Fiore Yogurt becomes ‘IF’

Ramen Alert: Sherman Oaks and West LA

Sherman Oaks has a new ramen joint, Koraku, a sister restaurant to the one in Little Tokyo. CarlieinLA checked it out and reports they have about 30 kinds of ramen as well as yakisoba, rice dishes and typical Japanese entrees like teriyaki, cutlets and on.

Miso yasai ramen comes with tons of fresh veggies (cabbage, mushrooms, and corn) but not so much pork. The portion of soup is generous, though, and the noodles fresh and perfectly cooked–they make it just behind the bar.

The place is small, but cute. Note that for the time being, it’s cash only.

Heads up, rameniacs: Santouka, revered as one of the best ramen joints around, just opened in the renovated West LA!


Koraku [East San Fernando Valley]
14425 Ventura Blvd., Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks

818-906-0045
Map

Koraku Restaurant [Little Tokyo]
314 E. 2nd St.
213-687-4972
Locater

Santouka Ramen [Beaches]
in Mitsuwa Market
3760 Centinela Ave.
310-398-2113
Locater

Board Links

Koraku Ramen Sherman Oaks–Open
Official Santkouta West LA opening date

Great-Great Aunt Josephine’s Sugar Cookies

Cream of tartar is the secret ingredient in pilotgirl210’s great-great aunt Josphine’s sugar cookies–it gives them a terrific, flaky texture. toodie jane says they’re marvelous: “The texture beats all the other sugar cookies I’ve ever made or eaten. Who knew sugar cookies could be this good.”

The recipe:

3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. cream of tartar

1 tsp. baking soda
2 sticks (1 cup) butter
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Using an electric mixer, blend the flour, sugar, cream of tartar, baking soda, and butter to a crumbly consistency (it should resemble shortening cut into flour for pie crust). In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the vanilla. Add the eggs slowly to the dry ingredients and mix well to form a dough. Roll out on lightly floured surface, cut out with cookie cutters, and bake at 375F for 10 minutes. When cooled, frost or decorate as desired.

Board Links

Toodie Jane: Great-Great-Aunt Josephine’s Sugar Cookie Recipe