The CHOW Blog rss

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

Tamale Taste-Off

When a few hounds got together recently for a taste-off of tamales from across L.A., best in show was Mama’s Hot Tamales’ black mole tamale. With rich and complex black mole and moist and flavorful masa, it’s a real tamale role model.

Runners-up included:

La Indiana’s chile and cheese tamale, astounding with good rajas and a ton of gooey cheese, plus great onion and tomato flavor. It blows their dry, dull chicken tamales out of the water. (russkar claims that their best tamales are actually red pork.)

Guatemalteca’s chuchito is a Guatemalan tamale with well-seasoned chicken filling and a startling tomato sauce that seems like it should be on spaghetti, but complements the flavors really well.

La Fiesta Market’s beef tamale is chock-full of meat, and studded with peas and garbanzo beans–probably a regional variation, but hard to say whose.

La Flor de Yucatan’s colado, or Yucatecan tamale, is kind of divisive–the jello-like texture of its strained masa puts some people off, while others love the taste of the fresh tomato and epazote topping.

And Debbie W reports having a chocolate tamale at Babita–the chocolate apparently being mixed into the masa before steaming. Great stuff, says she.


Mama’s Hot Tamales Café [Downtown]
2124 W. 7th St., Los Angeles
213-487-7474
Map

La Indiana Tamales [East LA-ish]
1142 S. Indiana St., Los Angeles
323-262-4682
Map

Guatemalteca Bakery [Koreatown]
4032 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles
213-382-9451
Map

La Fiesta Meat Market [South LA]
15020 Hawthorne Blvd., Lawndale
310-263-0463
Map

La Flor De Yucatan Bakery [Downtown]
1800 S. Hoover St., at Washington, Los Angeles
213-748-6090
Map

Babita [San Gabriel Valley]
1823 S. San Gabriel Blvd, South of Valley, San Gabriel
626-288-7265
Map

Board Links

The great tamale taste-off

Akbar Mashti: Easy Iranian-American Ice Cream (without an Ice Cream Maker)

rose water’s mother passed on this recipe for her “semi-homemade” version of akbar mashti, an Iranian ice cream flavored with saffron and rose water. Rose water can be an acquired taste, as it reminds some of soap, but avowed rose water-haters have scarfed this up with abandon.

The recipe:

heavy cream
grated orange zest (optional)
saffron threads
hot water
1 half gallon vanilla ice cream, softened
2 tsp. rose water

fresh pistachio slivers

Pour a 1-cm. layer of cream in a small (approx. 4×4-inch) container, stirring in a pinch of orange zest if desired, and freeze until solid. When frozen, cut into 1/2-cm. squares. Grind a large pinch of saffron to a powder in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Add 1/4 tsp. saffron to 1/4 cup hot water; the water should be a deep orange color. In a large mixing bowl, combine a few cups of ice cream, the rose water, the frozen cream chunks and some of the saffron water; stir until the color is uniform. Add more saffron water until the ice cream is sunflower yellow. Add more ice cream, more saffron water; stir. Continue until you’ve incorporated all the ice cream (combine more saffron powder and hot water if necessary to maintain the color of the ice cream). Scrape the mixture into a container and place in the freezer until it’s refrozen. Top servings with pistachio slivers.

Board Links

My Mom’s Iranian American Ice Cream

Saffron 685

rworange is excited about newly-opened Saffron 685, which serves stupendous tasties like Moroccan spiced hot cocoa (with cardamom) and french fries with saffron or balsamic aioli, as well as regular things like falafel, hummus, kebabs, etc. (lamb shawerma’s good stuff, says Benny Choi).

One of the standout items is the locally-made Turkish delight, especially the intoxicating cardamom flavor. And the house-made kanofa, a sort of shredded orange pastry full of cheese and orange blossom water and topped with pretty green chopped pistachios, is killer, even reheated in the microwave. Definitely worth checking out.


Saffron 865 [Design District]
685 Townsend St., San Francisco
415-863-2285
Map

Board Links

SF–(Townsend)–Home-made Turkish delight is delightful and so is Saffron 685

Eggs Benedict

The selection of eggs Benedict at Zazie is highly recommended by several hounds. shnigglebob and Maya particularly like the Eggs Monaco, a toasted English muffin topped with prosciutto, tomatoes provencale, poached eggs, and hollandaise. Sip some hot chocolate on the sidewalk while you’re waiting for a table.

peterme’s favorite eggs Benedict is served at Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe, with “super divine” hollandaise. And many hounds like the eggs Benedict at Canteen, even self-described hollandaise snob Frosty Melon. Hounds warn that the Canteen stuff is only superior if main chef Leary is there.

The Benedict at Mama’s is also great. StewartsDinDin loves the Marco Polo (creative eggs Benedict) at Home Plate, and vwbug7 likes the Benedict–and the potatoes–at All You Knead.


Zazie [Cole Valley]
941 Cole St., San Francisco
415-564-5332
Locater

Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café [East Bay]
4081 Hollis St., Emeryville
510-594-1221
Locater

Canteen [Union Square]
817 Sutter St., in Commodore Hotel, San Francisco
415-928-8870
Locater

Home Plate [Marina]
2274 Lombard St., San Francisco
415-922-4663
Locater

All You Knead [Haight]
1466 Haight St., San Francisco
415-552-4550
Locater

Board Links

Good Eggs Benedict in San Francisco?

Boqueria: Crowd-Pleasing Spanish Flavors in Chelsea

Hounds who have squeezed into Boqueria, the hot Spanish spot in Chelsea, report inventive, flavorful tapas and other Catalan-inspired bites. “Terrific! It was almost like each dish was competing to outdo the previous one,” raves RCC, who was knocked out by crispy roast pork, salt cod fritters, fried quail egg and chorizo on toast, and a stellar special of chopped razor clams on the shell.

Also recommended: potato-onion tortilla, blistered Padron peppers, skewered grilled lamb marinated in lemon and cumin, and bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almond and Cabrales. It’s not all tapas, pinxtos, and other nibbles; the menu also offers larger plates like roast lamb shoulder, braised chicken with mushrooms, and New York strip steak.

Detractors complain of meager portions, close quarters, and a deafening din. “Intolerably loud, and the food isn’t that good. Tia Pol is many times better,” grouses gutsofsteel. “This place is very noisy,” acknowledges RCC, “noisier than the Barcelona marketplace it is named after. Tight, crowded, and extremely busy. A potential turn-off–unless you’re into very good Spanish food and a decent selection of Spanish wines.”


Boqueria [Chelsea]
formerly L’Acajou
53 W. 19th St., between 5th and 6th Aves., Manhattan
212-255-4160
Locater

Board Links

Bouqueria in Chelsea–Terrific!
Boqueria Review
Boqueria, new tapas restaurant in the Flatiron District?

Superior Dumplings and Other Flushing Mini-Mall Finds

Best North Dumpling Shop lives up to its name. This new shopping-mall stand serves delicate, well-seasoned boiled dumplings, Shandong style. Flavors are fresh and light, reports HLing. She singles out pork and sour cabbage dumplings, which top the version at Waterfront, a nearby northeastern Chinese restaurant.

Best North makes at least nine other fillings, and unlike many competitors they offer most varieties fresh, not just frozen to go. The herbaceous dumplings with pork and dill (sometimes translated as fennel) boast fine flavor, texture, and filling-to-dough ratio–better than at Manhattan’s Tasty Dumpling, says HLing. Other choices include vegetable, seafood, mutton, beef-turnip, cabbage-celery-pork, and the classic chive-shrimp-pork. This new shopping center also has a tiny sushi stand and a larger stall called Old Northeast.

Another chowish Flushing mini-mall is at Main Street and 41st Road, where a handful of food vendors are spread out on two floors, tucked in among hair salons and shoe and handbag shops. On street level, near the back of a narrow row of shopping stalls, you’ll find excellent lamb noodle soup–$4 for a large tub of wide, flat hand-rolled noodles in fresh, subtle broth. “A great noodle experience, the best I’ve had in ages,” raves Polecat. “What kicked this into the stratosphere, however, is the slide-off-the-bone chunks of fatty lamb.” Look for a sign with a picture of a man in a chef’s hat.

Downstairs, Chengdu Tian Fu offers Sichuan dishes like meats or vegetables in chile oil, ma la rabbit or beef tendon, and fiery “water cooked” pork, beef, or fish. eade ranks it among the three most authentic Sichuan places in Flushing; the others, he says, are Little Pepper and the Sichuan stand in Main Street’s J & L Mall (see below).

Across the aisle from Chengdu Tian Fu is Happy Family, a Fuzhou-leaning place with a brief menu of dumplings, fish balls, stews and noodle soups, with nothing over $5. (This is the owners’ second try in this space; their first was a Fuzhou vegetarian place whose dishes were tasty, unusual, and made with care, yet never found an audience, laments HLing.) The third vendor downstairs is a closet-size Wenzhou place called Lui; no reports yet on the chow.

A block and a half south, there’s news from J & L Mall, a destination for uncompromisingly authentic Chinese chow. Until now, the lack of English signage at this bare-bones food court has frustrated those who don’t read Chinese. But hounds are beginning to crack the code, sharing a floor plan and translated menus from the Sichuan, Guizhou, and hand-pulled noodle stands at the back of the mall. Still largely a mystery, for now: the Muslim Chinese and Fuzhou stalls closer to Main Street.


Best North Dumpling Shop [Flushing]
135-08 Roosevelt Ave. #A4, near Prince St., in Prince Shopping Center, Flushing, Queens
917-834-4991
Map

Waterfront International Restaurant [Flushing]
40-09 Prince St., between Roosevelt Ave. and 40th Rd., Flushing, Queens
718-321-1363
Locater

Tasty Dumpling [Chinatown]
54 Mulberry St., between Bayard and Mosco, Manhattan
212-349-0070
Locater

Noodle soup vendor [Flushing]
41-28 Main St. (street level), at 41st Rd., Flushing, Queens
Map

Chengdu Tian Fu [Flushing]
41-28 Main St. #31 (downstairs), at 41st Rd., Flushing, Queens
Map

Happy Family Restaurant [Flushing]
41-28 Main St. #29 (downstairs), at 41st Rd., Flushing, Queens
718-360-7370
Map

Xiao La Jiao, a.k.a. Little Pepper [Flushing]
133-43 Roosevelt Ave., between Prince St. and College Point Blvd., Flushing, Queens
718-939-7788
Map

J & L Mall [Flushing]
41-82 Main St., between Sanford and Maple Aves., Flushing, Queens
Map

Board Links

new favorites: Northeastern dumpling place and update on bakery in Flushing
ISO Vegetarian Restaurants in Queens
Happy Family Vegetarian–basement at 41 rd & Main street
Fantastic Big Flat Lamb Noodle Soup in Flushing, 41-28 Main
Floor plan of Flushing food court located on Main St between Maple and Sanford

Texturized Vegetable Protein

TVP, or texturized vegetable protein, is made from soy flour, in a variety of shapes. It’s a versatile source of vegetable protein, and makes a creditable meat substitute, according to Alan Divak.

Toast it in a non-stick skillet, with a bit of oil. Add boiling water to rehydrate, and flavoring, like beef or vegetarian bullion cubes. With something like chili, just toss the pieces in dry and add a bit more water, says Divamac.

For a sloppy Joe, TVP is VERY close to the real thing and it freezes really well. Add to rice for stuffing peppers, adds JRL.

For a protein-rich granola, Ira adds TVP to toasted and sweetened nuts and shredded coconut.

TVP recipes

Board Links

Textured or Texturized Protein???

Why Whey?

Whey is the liquid that separates from the curds in cheese making. It’s a useful byproduct that’s high in protein, so don’t throw it out!

You can make more cheese with it, like ricotta. (Fun fact for the day: “ricotta” means “recooked.”) It’s easy, says lisa13:

Heat the whey to 200F. If the whey is acidic enough, you’ll see flecks of albumin when it gets to about 200F. If that doesn’t happen, add a tablespoon or two of white vinegar. When the resulting albumin starts to separate, maintain the heat for a few minutes to allow it to set up. To drain, pour through very fine cheesecloth in a collander; it usually takes several hours to drain completely. Salt, if you like.

The yield is 1-1 1/2 cup of ricotta from the whey left over from cheese made from a gallon of milk.

Here’s another recipe from the web

Whey freezes well, so you can freeze it and save up enough to make a bigger batch of ricotta.

JGrey recommends the book Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon. She uses whey in nearly everything, from the liquid used in bread baking, to making sauerkraut and pickles.

Board Links

Uses for Whey–the Real Deal, Not Powder

Fruit with a Kick, Mexican Style

It’s a delicious Mexican custom to serve cool fruit with a squeeze of citrus juice and a sprinkle of chile powder. Street carts selling bags of sliced fruit this way are ubiquitous in cities with large Mexican-American populations, but chilied fruits are dead easy to make in your own home. The most common fruits served this way are tropical fruits (mango, pineapple, coconut) and watermelon, along with the occasional cucumber or jicama. Jicama’s a must for refreshing the tastebuds, says Dommy, who also recommends mixing a bit of orange juice with the more common lime. Just choose your favorite fruits, squeeze a bit of lime or lime and and orange over, and sprinkle with the right kind of chile powder. There are several types and brands, easily found at Mexican markets; the label will usually say “para frutas” and have a picture of fruit. You can also order online.

Board Links

Recreating street fruit salads like the ones sold in L.A.?

In the Soup

Vietnamese restaurants all around the country probably experienced an uptick in business last night as a comprehensive post on the life-giving Vietnamese breakfast soup pho appeared on the blog MetaFilter. With links to websites, blogs, interesting articles, and recipes, it’s a one-stop placeholder for all your pho needs.

The post garners a rather high 95 comments, turning MetaFilter briefly into Chowhound as commenters debate the merits of tripe and tendon versus flank and brisket; argue over whether to add sauces and sprouts, and discuss the best places to get a bowl of pho in their city.

The most prevalent comment? Variations on “I know what I’m eating tonight.”