The CHOW Blog rss

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

Egghead vs. Bobblehead: Round One

Christopher Kimball, the bow tie–bedecked alpha male of New England’s food nerds, finally took his shot at Rachael Ray in this month’s edition of Cook’s Illustrated.

As you might expect, the jab emerged in the midst of a typically elegant yet rambling editor’s column that jumped around between rabbit-hunting, World War II, and teaching 11-year-old Charlie about “the birds and the bees.”

He was too cagey to call the yappy-trapped kitchen minx out by her proper name, but can there really be any debate about what he’s driving at here?

In cooking, there are folks who are fundamentally curious as to process … and sympathetic toward the notion of culinary education…. Others are content to believe that cooking is about no more than positive attitude—anyone with sufficient enthusiasm
can cook a great meal. This golden age of the American amateur has been a long time coming.

While not quite rising to the level of Anthony Bourdain (who famously dissed
Ray—by name—as a vomit-inducing “bobblehead”), the put-down is clear. Cook’s Illustrated readers are smart, curious, and humble before the awesome task of making good food—and the Food Network’s increasingly attractive and undereducated hosts are barking up the wrong tree.

Let it be known: There is no one more in Kimball’s corner on this issue than this writer. And yet … it’s hard not to feel sympathy for Ray after reading Kimball’s underhanded jab. Is Ray annoyingly upbeat? Sure. Undereducated? Arguably. But condescendingly catty? Not on camera, at least. Score one for the bobblehead.

Not Invited Back

Not Invited Back

Are you obliged to reciprocate dinner party invitations? READ MORE

Old Wine in New Boxes

OK, we wine drinkers got used to synthetic corks (less chance of cork taint) and even screw-top wines (no oxidation). Hell, we’ve even been known to quaff some of the higher-quality wines that come in a box.

So why am I shocked by an article in Restaurant Business noting that the House of Blues is set to become one of the first restaurants to serve Trinchero’s “Bandit Bullets,” pinot grigio and cabernet sauvignon in “single serve aseptic packages”—in other words, juice boxes?

Maybe it’s just the shock of the new. After all, the House of Blues is serving a glass alongside the recyclable containers, so there’s no need to sip your cab through a straw (although I’ve always heard you get drunk faster if you do).

When You’re Crying for Argentina but Don’t Need Steak

“Argentinean food” just means steak to a lot of people, but for more everyday food, there are a bunch of hole-in-the-wall joints that are pretty much like holes-in-the-wall in Buenos Aires.

Mercado Buenos Aires has good choripan (sausage sandwich), empanadas, and fried cheese. Service is straight outta BA–the staff would rather be watching futbol.

Grand Casino, a bakery, makes tasty empanadas that are baked instead of fried, says Dommy.

DiveFan points to the empanadas and Argentinean sandwiches at the deli counter of the Argentinean-owned Continental Market.

If it’s fugazza you want, the Argentinean answer to pizza, minus the sauce, try Carniceria Argentina, says Jerome. There’s also Catalina’s Market.

Colo’s is a tiny place tucked into the back of a North Hollywood mini-mall. It’s pretty darn good, says Steve Doggie-Dogg, and they have a butcher shop too.

It’s no longer a hole in the wall, says silvana, but Tito’s Market still is a great place to go for empanadas and other Argentinean goodies.

And if you just can’t live without a hunk of beef, you might as well hit up Carlito’s Gardel, which somehow isn’t as well known as it should be, for a melt-in-your-mouth steak.

Mercado Buenos Aires [East San Fernando Valley]
7540 Sepulveda Blvd., Van Nuys
818-786-0522
Locater

Grand Casino French Bakery [Culver City-ish]
3826 Main St., Culver City
310-202-6969
Locater

Continental Gourmet Market [South LA]
12921 Prairie Ave., Hawthorne
310-676-5444
Locater

Carnicera Argentina [East San Fernando Valley]
11740 Victory Blvd., at Colfax, North Hollywood
818-762-9977
Locater

Catalina’s Market [East Hollywood]
1070 N. Western Ave., at Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles
323-464-3595
Locater

Colos [East San Fernando Valley]
11009 Burbank Blvd., at Vineland, North Hollywood
818-761-2363
Locater

Tito’s Market [East LA-ish]
9814 Garvey Ave., El Monte
626-579-1893
Locater

Carlitos Gardel [West Hollywood]
7963 Melrose Ave., at Fairfax, Los Angeles
323-655-0891
Locater

Board Links
Any Argentinean gems I don’t know about?

Chorizo and Eggs and Pumpkin Pancakes at Nena’s

DaveMP likes the chorizo and eggs at Nena’s Restaurant, with mild Salvadoran chorizo. It comes with queso fresco, crema, refried beans, and inch-thick sopes. And the pumpkin pancakes are really fantastic–they still make them, even though they may not be on the menu. The huge, fluffy pancakes have real pumpkin flavor, but it’s not overpowering.

susaninsf is impressed with the citrus French toast, made from orange bread and topped with fresh orange slices and fresh strawberries. A huge, beautiful portion is $8.25.

Nena’s Restaurant [Mission]
3459 Mission Street, San Francisco
415-285-8985
Locater

Board Links
Great breakfast at Nena’s (Bernal Heights) and sago at Creations in the Richmond
Report: Vietnamese Chicken at Cordon Bleu and excellent Pumpkin Pancakes at Nena’s

Perbacco

Perbacco is a delicious new choice for upscale Italian, says monday. Try the salumi misti, featuring their house-made finocchiona, which has a soft, lush texture and lovely fennel flavor. Pasta dishes are transcendent, like house-made pasta filled with roasted veal in a simple butter sauce with braised cabbage. The cheese plate, served with chestnut flower honey, marcona almonds, and local muscato grapes, is a nice dish, too.

MorganSF agrees wholeheartedly, and recommends pansotti stuffed with chard, ricotta, herbs, and walnut butter. Or try the pan-roasted chicken with Meyer lemon pan juices and broccoli with anchovy garlic butter. Gelati and other dessert items are extremely good, too. “Only potential embarassment stopped me from licking the plate,” says MorganSF.

Perbacco [Embarcadero]
230 California St., San Francisco
415-955-0663
Locater

Board Links
Perbacco, go there now!

Ferdinando’s Revisited: Sicilian Surprise in Brooklyn

Over a century of dishing up hearty Sicilian chow, Ferdinando’s has had its ups and downs–mostly downs in recent years, says Steve R. But his latest lunch there suggests things are looking up again. Panelle (chickpea fritters) and arancini (rice-cheese balls) are flavorful and clean-tasting, and vastedde are just right: fresh calf spleen and cheese in a nice, medium-soft sesame roll. “If the rest of their food is as well prepared,” adds Steve, “this place is back up there with Joe’s of Avenue U as one of the last remaining places to eat this type of Sicilian cooking in Brooklyn.”

Others recommend marinated eggplant, lightly dressed octopus or calamari salads, and the first-rate veal parmigiana sandwich, on fresh house-baked bread with smooth, flavorful tomato sauce.

Beyond the food, the ancient room looks brighter and spiffier than it has in years, and service is uncharacteristically friendly. Hours, as always, are variable. Recent reports say they’re open longer than before, as late as 10 p.m. But some regulars say the food is better and fresher earlier in the day.

Ferdinando’s Focacceria [Carroll Gardens]
151 Union St., between Hicks and Columbia, Brooklyn
718-855-1545
Locater

Joe’s of Avenue U Italian Cuisine [Gravesend]
287 Ave. U, between McDonald Ave. and Lake St., Brooklyn
718-449-9285
Locater

Board Links
Ferdinando’s

Sniffing Out White Truffles Around Manhattan

White truffles are here, and A Voce is making the most of the all-too-brief season. Phil E spotted three truffle specials on the menu early this month, including an egg dish and a delicious pasta, which arrived covered in truffle shavings. They run around $85 for appetizers and $105 for entrees.

Bottega del Vino offers a white truffle menu that includes a gorgeous risotto, perfectly cooked with rich, buttery cheese sauce–$110 and actually worth it, swears Hot Chocolate. Truffled asparagus-quail egg salad ($65) was not as good, marred by overcooked egg and soggy asparagus, though flavors were strong.

At Cru, truffle lovers have a couple of options: a full truffle tasting menu for $400 or truffles as an add-on to any dish for $50. Eleven Madison Park offers white truffles for a $65 supplement with Parmesan risotto, lobster lasagne, or frog legs with egg and chanterelles.

Hearth also has white truffles some nights. Mazzer, seated at the kitchen counter when neighboring diners coughed up the $50 supplement, watched a visibly excited chef Marco Canora cover a plate of risotto in a generous flurry of truffle slices.

WineTravel says Alain Ducasse gets the best truffles around for its amazing $320 tasting menu: “Killer!! Oh yeah, I had to pay.”

A Voce [Midtown]
41 Madison Ave., entrance on 26th St. between Madison and Park Ave. S., Manhattan
212-545-8555
Locater

Bottega del Vino [Midtown]
7 E. 59th St., between 5th and Madison Aves., Manhattan
212-223-3028
Locater

Cru [Greenwich Village]
24 5th Ave., at 9th St., Manhattan
212-529-1700
Locater

Eleven Madison Park [Gramercy]

11 Madison Ave., at E. 24th St., Manhattan
212-889-0905
Locater

Hearth [East Village]
403 E. 12th St., at 1st Ave., Manhattan
646-602-1300
Locater

Alain Ducasse [Midtown]
155 W. 58th St., in Essex House, Manhattan
212-265-7300
Locater

Board Links
It’s white truffle season (I think)

Tamale Time in the OC

Where to get Christmas tamales in Orange County? Las Golondrinas has the best, says jsl, who prefers their veggie and rajas (cheese with three kinds of peppers). El Toro Market has great tamales, says quinntran, but even better are those at Tamale Queen. Northgate Market makes a mean tamal oaxaqueno de puerco en chile rojo, says kare_raisu.

Las Golondrinas [South OC]
25800 Jeronimo Rd. Ste. 700, Mission Viejo
949-455-0155
Locater

Las Golondrinas Mexican Food [South OC]
27124 Paseo Espada # 803 (Ortega Highway), San Juan Capistrano
949-240-3440
Locater

Las Golondrinas Mexican Food [OC Beaches]
34069 Doheny Park Rd., Capistrano Beach
949-240-8659
Locater

Las Golondrinas Mexican Food [South OC]
27981 Greenfield Dr. # G, Laguna Niguel
949-362-1913
Locater

Las Golondrinas Mexican Food [South OC]
400 Camino De Estrella # B, San Clemente
949-240-9011
Locater

El Toro Carniceria-Meat Shop [South OC]
1340 W. 1st St., Santa Ana
714-836-1393
Locater

Tamale Queen [South OC]
a.k.a. Reyna’s Mexican Grill
1620 E. 1st St., Santa Ana
714-835-6227
Locater

Northgate Market [Citywide]

Board Links
Tamales in OC for a party on December 3rd

Feeling Kinda Corny

It’s probably not a surprise that Fresh Corn Grill has great corn. The grilled salmon and corn are really good, says waterisgood–you can’t get salmon of that quality for less than $10 anywhere else. And their top-notch corn chowder is reminiscent of the Ivy’s, where the owner reputedly used to work.

Despite some hounds’ criticism about the Ivy, there’s no beating their corn chowder, says Tom P–silky, full of corn and spicy.

Fresh Corn Grill [Wealthy Westlands]
1510 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles
310-470-0414
Map

The Ivy [West Hollywood]
113 N. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles
310-274-8303
Locater

Board Links
Have anyone been to: The abbey, Bistro of SM, or Fresh Corn
ISO Corn Chowder