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

Grimace Unbound

Man, the Internet is fun! Thank you, A Hamburger Today, for pointing the way to Confession of a Pop Culture Addict’s fun history of Grimace, a character prominent in early McDonald’s advertising. Remember him? Purple? Blobby?

In his earliest appearances in McDonald’s advertisements, Grimace was depicted as a four-armed cave-dwelling beast who emerged into McDonaldland only to steal milk shakes, like some kind of fearsome Chupacabra. Later, he morphed into a lovable bumbler, always trying to save Ronald from the Hamburglar’s predations. But these days he’s all from absent from the McDonald’s universe. In this Super Size Me era, does the fast-food giant want to distance itself from porky blobs? Or is the company just embarrassed by Grimace’s felonious past?

Sweet As Pie

Now is the time for all good bakers to come to the aid of their country. Yes, National Pie Day is just a goofy little promotional tool slapped together by the American Pie Council, but we have to admit that we do like it when our baking pals practice random acts of pieness in our vicinity. And why shouldn’t pie be properly honored at least one day a year?

NPR is celebrating with a lavish banana cream pie recipe from the upcoming Bubby’s Homemade Pies cookbook, a collection of desserts from Bubby’s Pie Company Restaurant in New York City.

And both pro pastry chefs and enthusiastic amateurs can get their eyes on the prize money up for grabs at the Pie Board’s annual National Pie Championship bake-off, happening in Orlando this April. It’s sponsored by Crisco (ick), but there’s no reason to use those nasty trans fats when, as we recently discovered, nothing is better than a pie crust made with fresh lard. Sooooeee!

The Tragedy of a One-Note Chowder

The New York Times has put together one of its brilliant half-tragic, half-fascinating stemwinders (requires registration)—this time about the decline of traditional Maine fish chowder.

Back in the day, a sea-weary captain might have warmed up with something like this:

Cod, haddock, white hake, halibut, cusk and dozens of other groundfish, fish that live near the ocean bottom, mingled with clams, shrimp, lobster and mussels under the creamy surface of the stew, cresting a puddle of yellow butter here, a slick of smoky pork fat there.

Nowadays, in terms of chowdah crittas, you get lobster…and that’s about it. And while there’s a certain elegant luxury to that, the diminished variety reflects a gutted environment. The destruction of the local groundfish stock has knocked much of the resiliance out of the ecosystem.

And, as the story makes clear, that destruction is nothing to be sneezed at. In 1985, seven million pounds of groudfish were landed in Stonington, Maine alone; after ten years of pressure, the fish had disappeared from the bay.

The piece is not merely a downer vis-a-vis the decline of species. It also charts the decline of the independent New England fisherman, a breed waning for decades and certainly threatened if not actively endangered by extinction.

This is the Gray Lady at her finest—thoroughly researched, elegantly written, and disturbingly sobering. Maybe I should stick to Gourmet.

Stop, Thief!

Stop, Thief!

Is it acceptable to eat off other people's plates? READ MORE

Paddling Padma

New York Magazine has a tasty little item this week about Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi. Lakshmi, who is straining to escape the massive penumbra of world-famous writer Salman Rushdie — who happens to be her husband — is best known to viewers of the program as the slightly dazed chick wearing the stomach-baring what-have-you.

The overall theme of New York’s interview with Top Chef contestants: the damning of Lakshmi with faint praise and implicit disrepect. After being told by a Bravo network flack that he couldn’t say anything disparaging about Lakshmi, Ilan Hall offered this: “She’s beautiful. Mostly, she just explained things, and she did a good job at that.”

Cliff Crooks and Sam Talbot tee off on the apparent “fire hazard” as well, making for a reasonably spicy gumbo of disrespect.

Kielbasa and Much More in Polish Greenpoint

Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is naturally a rich hunting ground for Polish meats–but its bustling butcher shops can scare off outsiders who don’t know the turf or speak the language. ballulah (with an assist from Mom, who grew up in Krakow) shares some current favorites–and a few insider tips:

Sikorski: Greenpoint’s premier one-stop butcher, in ballulah’s book, is especially strong in sausage. Don’t miss superior biala kielbasa, the fresh white sausage that’s great in zurek (white borscht) or roasted with onions. And if they bring out a batch of roast schab (pork loin), follow your nose. “I challenge you not to buy a whole hunk fresh from the oven,” ballulah adds. “I can’t imagine a better smell in the world.” Also recommended: smoked spare ribs, kabanosy (thin air-dried sausage), pasztecik (a coarse, rustic pate), fresh slab bacon, krajana or wiejska kielbasa, and white horseradish (terrific with kielbasy). The staff is friendlier and more helpful than at many rival shops. Look for Andy, the jovial, red-faced butcher quick to pass out samples.

Steve’s Meat Market is a perennial favorite for first-rate meat and accommodating service. Recommended for any sausage, especially kabanosy–fresh, dried, or spicy, with powerful black pepper kick. KRS places Steve’s on top of the heap, right up with Kurowycky in the East Village.

Beata: Its rustic, double-smoked krajana sausage is just like what ballulah’s mom grew up with in Krakow. It’s available only late on Fridays and early on Saturdays.

W-Nassau Meat Market: This solid all-around butcher draws long lines for its well-priced fresh meats, including pork or veal cutlets and gorgeous whole cuts, which they’ll cube within seconds if you’re shopping for a stew or goulash. Parowki (large hot dog-shaped sausages) are exceptional, says ballulah, but other kielbasy and cold cuts show troubling signs of “liquid smoke” and other shortcuts.

Polam has delicious cold cuts, exceptional pickles, and fresh house-made ham studded with whole garlic cloves.

Hunting for meat sharpens the appetite, so you may want to drop in at Cafe Relax for a shopping break. Entrees (check out the handwritten menu above the counter) are typically enormous, served with two sides, and under $6. Try dill-laden zurek (white borscht) with hard boiled egg and mashed potato (dip small spoonfuls of the potato into the soup as you go). Other smart orders: pierogi (boiled or fried), nalesniki (stuffed crepes), potato pancakes, and pork or chicken cutlets. Among the sides, raw sauerkraut salad, mashed potatoes, buraczki (beets), and cucumber-sour cream salad are especially good.


Sikorski Meat Market [Greenpoint]
603 Manhattan Ave., between Nassau and Driggs, Brooklyn
718-389-6181
Map

Steve’s Meat Market [Greenpoint]
104 Nassau Ave., between Leonard and Eckford Sts., Brooklyn
718-383-1780
Locater

Kurowycky Meat Products [East Village]
124 1st Ave., between St. Marks Pl. and E. 7th St., Manhattan
212-477-0344
Locater

Beata Delicatessen [Greenpoint]
984 Manhattan Ave., between India and Huron Sts., Brooklyn
718-383-2534
Locater

W-Nassau Meat Market [Greenpoint]
915 Manhattan Ave., between Kent St. and Greenpoint Ave., Brooklyn
718-389-6149
Locater

Polam International [Greenpoint]
952 Manhattan Ave., between Java and India Sts., Brooklyn
718-383-2763
Locater

Cafe Relax [Greenpoint]
68 Newel St., near Nassau Ave., Brooklyn
718-389-1665
Locater

Board Links

Best kielbasa in Greenpoint

Cumin Get It

What’s the best cumin lamb dish within 60 miles of San Francisco? Many hounds think it’s the cumin lamb at China Village. “Run, do not walk, to try their Village Lamb,” says a_and_w.

Spices II serves a cumin lamb hot pot dish that you can smell as you walk into the restaurant, because everyone’s eating it, says Pei. It’s highly addictive. coolbean98 likes the cumin lamb at Spices! 3.

The cumin lamb at Ark is still great, even after the departure of chef Jimmy Zhang. Also try the shrimp on a stick with cumin. Lori SF likes the cumin lamb, and the hot pot dishes in general, at the great-but-expensive Old Mandarin Islamic. And Robert Lauriston prefers the cumin lamb at Darda to both China Village’s and Old Mandarin Islamic’s versions.


China Village [East Bay]
1335 Solano Ave., Albany
510-525-2285
Locater

Spices II [Richmond]
291 6th Ave., San Francisco
415-752-8885
Locater

Spices! 3 [Chinatown]
369 12th St., between Franklin and Webster, Oakland
510-625-8883
Locater

Ark Restaurant [East Bay]
1405 Park St., Alameda
510-521-6862
Locater

Old Mandarin Islamic [Sunset]
3132 Vicente St., San Francisco
415-564-3481
Locater

Darda Seafood Restaurant [South Bay]
296 Barber Ct., Milpitas
408-433-5199
Locater

Board Links

Best Cumin Lamb dish within a 60 mile radius of SF

Western Food, Chinese Style

It turns out that, at Hong Kong-style Prince Cafe–whose menu includes such dishes as Japanese ramen, escargot, peanut butter porky bun, Denmark pork chop and a spam and egg sandwich–the thing NOT to order is the shrimp wonton noodle soup, as Dave MP recently found out. Instead, accept the place for what it is: American and European food, made by Chinese folks especially for Chinese audiences. This might sound suspicious at first, but if you’ve ever experienced the comforts of a Japanese home-style omelet filled with fried rice and ketchup, you will understand the possibilities here. So order the sizzling black pepper spaghetti. Or the borscht.

The presence of borscht on the menu is actually a good indicator that you’re dealing with a Hong Kong-style cafe. Hong Kong-style places often serve a tomato-based borscht, made with beef, potatoes, and cabbage, rather than the familiar beet-based variety, says Gary Soup.

PeterL recommends the Portuguese-influenced Macau Cafe, located in the Ranch 99 mall in Richmond, which offers a slightly different take on the standard Hong Kong-style tea cafes. anna thinks St. Anna Cafe Shop is one of the better Hong Kong-style cafés around in terms of food and value, and also recommends Denny’s Café (NOT to be confused with Denny’s Restaurant, of Grand Slam Breakfast fame) and Broadway Bistro in Burlingame, the latter of which serves an unusually wide variety of food.


Prince Cafe [Richmond]
5423 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
415-876-2828
Map

St. Anna Cafe Shop [Chinatown]
326 8th St., Oakland
510-893-1238
Locater

Macau Cafe [East Bay]
a.k.a. Orchid Bowl Cafe
3288 Pierce St., Richmond
510-559-7888
Locater

Denny’s Cafe [Richmond]
5530 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco
415-386-3288

Locater

Broadway Bistro [Peninsula]
349 Broadway St., Millbrae
650-692-3378
Locater

Board Links

Prince Cafe–19th and Geary, SF–Report
Oakland–Saint Anna Cafe Shop (HK style coffee shop)?

Birds of a Feather – Yakitori Totto Hatches Torys

If you like Totto, you’ll like Torys. New York’s favorite yakitori-ya has spawned an East Side twin, taking over the upstairs space briefly occupied by Tori-gen. “Essentially Totto East,” sums up kenito799, who reports a similar menu that showcases every imaginable part of the chicken, faultlessly seasoned and grilled, from the familiar (thigh, wing, breast with green onion) to the exotic (breast bone). The latter is worth a try–smoky and crunchy, with surprising complexity of flavor and play of textures.

Other winners, well known to Totto fans, include tsukune (skewered ground chicken), deeply chickeny rice porridge, and meaty eringi (king oyster) mushroom. Torys sets itself apart by offering more Okinawan-inspired dishes than its sister restaurant. It also features chicken sashimi–seasoned with sesame oil or Korean-style spices–which Totto no longer serves. At both restaurants, the setting is spare and comfortable. The vibe is unmistakably Japanese.


Yakitori Torys, a.k.a. Torys Japanese Grille [Midtown East]
formerly Tori-gen
248 E. 52nd St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., 2nd floor, Manhattan
212-813-1800
Map

Yakitori Totto [Clinton]
251 W. 55th St., between 8th Ave. and Broadway, 2nd floor, Manhattan
212-245-4555
Locater

Board Links

Torys Yakitori on 52nd st
Best Yakitori

The Faux-Hostess With the Mostest

Cupcakes from Dainties knocked FoodieMcFood for a loop. Dark chocolate with ganache frosting and a shot of whipped cream inside and on top make them like the Hostess cakes of childhood, but so, so much better.

There are five options for the whipped cream flavor–vanilla bean, raspberry, chocolate, caramel, and coffee–but the cupcakes are all chocolate with ganache frosting. Chocophobes need not apply.

Although it’s more of a catering operation, the owner welcomes drop-ins. Don’t expect a cafe atmosphere, though.

cvc says there’s another good new cupcake place in Pasadena, Dots.


Dainties Cupcakes [Beaches]
11058 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles
310-312-3632
Map

Dots Cupcakes [Pasadena-ish]
400 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena
626-568-DOTS (3687)
Map

Board Links

Ultra-chocolatey cupcakes.