The CHOW Blog rss

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

Ramen Nation

In The Man Who Ate Everything, Jeffrey Steingarten explored subsistence diets, from Gray’s Papaya to the USDA Thrifty Food Plan, finally settling on a meaty-grainy concoction from M.F.K. Fisher’s great tome on subsistence, How to Cook a Wolf. It set him back about $1.60 per day. The Hillbilly Housewife has invented a menu that she claims will feed a family of six for $45 per week.

These guys are eating like kings compared to Evan. A blogger who chooses a different project each month to write on, Evan decided to gain some insight into what it’s like to be poor by spending only $30 for food. For the entire month of November. That’s $1 per day, folks, not even enough to buy a seven-layer burrito at Taco Bell (which is sad, because Evan loves the Bell).

The results of that experiment, documented on Evan’s blog Hungry for a Month, are riveting. Not much of a cook, Evan ended up eating a lot of rice mixed with frozen veggies and mashed potato flakes, as well as that poverty staple, ramen. Like Morgan Spurlock, who was an inspiration, Evan saw his body go through some changes:

It hit me around 12:15pm today. I was on a conference call and my stomach started to hurt. It wasn’t too bad at first, but over the span of about 15 minutes, the pain turned from some dull rumblings to sharp pains. Sharp enough that it was hard to stand up. My arms started to feel heavy. For the first time, I wondered if my dollar-a-day-diet was simply going to give out on me.

In the comments section, people became alarmed at the sheer amount of carbs in Evan’s diet and began to offer plenty of unsolicited advice.

In the end, Evan lost 18 pounds, but gained insights on everything from the nature of comfort food to the hair-raising ease of slipping into anorexia. And what did he do with all the extra dollars he hadn’t spent at Taco Bell? At the end of the month he sent a check for more than $200 to the local food bank.

What’s your food budget? What would you cook if you had only $30 to spend for a month?

Restaurant Tragedy Hits Home

The San Francisco food blogger community has been shaken by news of the hit and run accident that left one restaurant worker dead and two injured during a late-night cab ride home.

Food bloggers Sam of Becks & Posh and Catherine of Food Musings have both written about the accident earlier this month that killed one waitress and left a sous chef and the head chef/co-owner of San Francisco’s Bar Crudo severely injured. The restaurant closed for a week to deal with the devastating losses but has since reopened, hosting a benefit mid-month to raise funds for the medical bills and expenses from the crash.

As Catherine writes:

I want to make a plea to those of you who live in the Bay Area. These guys don’t have any health insurance. The employees who didn’t work during Bar Crudo’s closure did so without pay. This is a small, family-owned business and a week without customers has a huge impact on their ability to pay their bills and keep their staff…. They could all really use our support in the form of our business. In exchange, you will get to eat some of the sweetest lobster in the country and expertly prepared crudo that will tickle your tastebuds.

Shuna, pastry chef and blogger at Eggbeater, is asking some hard questions in her post Is the Public Ready for a Transparent Restaurant Industry? “When I heard about the horrible accident involving 3 of Bar Crudo’s staff and a taxi driver, I was deeply saddened,” Shuna writes. “But I cannot say that my sadness is not also mixed with anger.”

Shuna’s anger has to do with an industry where more concern is put into ingredients than into caring for the people who do the hard work of preparing them for the table.

Do you ask the waiter if the chicken is free-range if you don’t care whether he/she’s making a living wage? Can you say you believe in immigrant’s rights if you eat in a restaurant that hires undocumented workers because they’re cheaper and won’t complain…. How transparent do you want the place you go for a nice warm meal to be?

Another blogger who’s been moved by this tragedy is Joy, at Confessions of a Restaurant Whore. Proving that she is a whore with a heart of gold, Joy and her husband have decided to donate half of his holiday bonus to help defray the expenses associated with this accident. Joy explains the decision on her site:

I am a restaurant whore not only because I love dining at restaurants, but also because I love the people who work in them … I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend that money…. Even if you can’t afford to donate, just go and have a meal there. Show your support in any way you can.

A commenter on Joy’s site reports on the Bar Crudo benefit. “A huge crowd had spilled out onto the sidewalk, and even the bar next door was part of the scene and filled with fund-raising-guests…. As one blogger in the crowd put it, ‘this turnout is so heart-warming. It really says a lot about our foodie community pulling together.’”

Joy seems to speak for many when she writes, “Bar Crudo, we are here for you.”

Actress in the Kitchen

Actress in the Kitchen

An interview with Madhur Jaffrey. READ MORE

Time Out for Pork

Fall River, Massachusetts, and Tiverton, Rhode Island

Soares Restaurant (190 Alden Street, Fall River, Massachusetts; 508-324-0800), a.k.a. Benevides Restaurant, was a nice find for real Portuguese home cooking, as opposed to the Portuguese-American fare found around New Bedford, Massachusetts. Listen to a podcast in which I explain how I found the place: MP3.

The cruddy-looking building and location on a bleak residential block just add to the charm, as do the hapless but kindhearted waitress and the taciturn old Portuguese dudes glumly downing their Budweisers. To someone who’s never been to Portugal and sopped up that beautiful, melancholy culture, such an experience might seem depressive. But I’ve spent a lot of time there, and have fallen deeply in love with the country. So I sighed with contentment throughout the meal.

As I mention in the podcast, this porco alentejana isn’t authentically Alentejan—the application of coriander is way too cursory. But it is an authentically Portuguese mis-rendition of porco alentejana—the sort of thing a chef from Porto or Coimbra might whip up. The strewing of lemon, olives, and clams is unmistakably the work of a Portuguese-born chef. His kids won’t be able to do this. Nor will they have the courage to cut the pork aiming not for tenderness but for chewiness. That’s a dying art.

Portuguese pork—the way they butcher it, the way they cut it, the way they cook it and season it, the way they feel it—is an evocative last vestige of how humanity conceived of pig for the previous umpteen millennia. Niman Ranch my ass.

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I stumbled into Cross I’d Cow Ice Cream (532 Main Road, Tiverton, Rhode Island; 401-624-1555) in a shopping strip. Chowconnaissance means dropping any attempt to control the sequence of savory and salty. Dessert is had as dessert appears.

Is it just me, or is their flavor menu really hard to choose from?

The counter girl decoded mysterious flavors like Moose Tracks, Cowagunga Crunch, and White Thunder for me, but I failed to diligently write it all down. Forgive me; I’m starting to get a bit punchy (hopefully the Rhode Island seaside air will do me some good).

I ordered Apple Crisp ice cream, and it was charming and honest in a non-gourmet, relatively low-butterfattish way.

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On my way down to the shore, I passed over a bridge that spanned an inlet. I noticed in my rearview mirror a bunch of old houses and fishing piers quietly clustered on the opposite bank. So I swung a U-turn and tried to get down to the bank, hoping to find supernal seafood.

It took lots of winding and wending, but I eventually navigated to the enclave just as a spectacular sunset appeared across the water. If I timed this right, I’d be munching clams in the perfect setting. But there were no clams to be found. Lots of salty private homes, shuttered boat rental offices, and inexplicable storage facilities, but nary a bar or a clam shack. Determined to score before the sunset died, I sped along the shoreline, finding only a coffee bar with a single plastic table affording a partial view of the water. But the owner was closing up.

I asked her to recommend a restaurant, and she suggested I drive a few more miles along the shore to Evelyn’s Drive-In (2335 Main Road, Tiverton, Rhode Island; 401-624-3100), good for clams. I blurred over to Evelyn’s, which has a waterside deck out back, lunged for the sole empty table, dropped my equipment and guidebooks, and tried to soak in as much sunset as I could.

The temperature plunged and I was dressed lightly. All the other patrons were sensible enough to withdraw inside the restaurant, but I was determined to see this through, and tore into a combo plate of fried whole belly clams and scallops. Very delicate frying nicely accentuated the flavor of the seafood. The clams had a good funky, earthy flavor. Scallops were impeccably fresh and sweet. Even slightly overcooked, they still spoke to me.

Smug about my find (which, after all, I had worked hard for), I checked Elizabeth Bougerol’s book New England’s Favorite Seafood Shacks. Elizabeth, damn her, had found this place and devoted two full pages to it. I sure hope this isn’t a pattern.

Bite This

Someone please alert my husband that this is what I want for Christmas: The unbelievably sultry Alex Kapranos, front man for snappy pop band Franz Ferdinand, has just burst forth with a book of eating essays, Sound Bites. The book collects together all of Kapranos’s beautiful, evocative food columns for the UK paper The Guardian, which chronicled his eating experiences as he toured around the world with Franz Ferdinand.

OK, so maybe I’m just a sucker for a pouty-lipped fella, but can’t you hear a breath of Alice B. Toklas in this posting from Korea?

We’re wandering round the market in Incheon, Korea. Jean tells me that it’s quiet today. The stallholders normally shout at you about how good their food is. Koreans are rather like Italians. We pass a stall loaded with dried fish—big ones staring from sunken eyes like marine mummies, tiny silver ones like metal filings in a sack.

Christine points at some microscopic shrimp. They are soaked in salt for a very long time so all the juice comes out, and the flavour is magnificent. We eat them with kimchi pancakes. I bring my face close to a bucket of clams in seawater. Semi-opaque tubes protrude from the shells; one gently breaks the surface like a periscope and shoots an arc of water at me.

Sigh.

Hand Warmers

Hand Warmers

Drinks that'll keep you warm inside even when it's cold outside. READ MORE

Catch of the Day: Simple, Satisfying Seafood at Peter’s

Peter’s Fishery in Matawan is a dependable destination for solid, straightforward seafood, says RGR. Some good bets: Manhattan clam chowder, fried shrimp with fries, “Mediterranean Morsels” (mixed seafood) over linguine. Portions are generous; expect to take home leftovers. Prices are gentle, service efficient, the setting pleasant and diner-like.

Peter’s Fishery [Monmouth County]

921 State Rte. 34, between Main and Jackson Sts., Matawan, NJ

732-583-5666

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Matawan Restaurants?

An Underappreciated $24 Lunch at Perry Street

It’s the best $24 lunch in New York City, says Brian S, and few seem to know about it. At Perry Street, you’ll be offered a menu of 12 possible courses, from which you choose two plus a dessert. (You can add more courses for $12 each.) After an amuse of borscht made with apples, beets and horseradish, here’s how Brian’s lunch went:

- Five huge, luscious shrimp rubbed in spices and grilled, served atop a mild yellow vegetable puree alongside intensely flavored chorizo broth.

- A grilled sea bass filet, crispy skin on, atop a green puree laced with fennel. Topped with delicious caramelized radishes, reminiscent of sweet potatoes, and served with tangy ruby grapefruit coulis.

- For dessert, goat’s milk cheesecake, macerated cherries with celery leaves, fruit sorbet, and caramelized nuts.

All this comes in a lovely modern space with great service, a Hudson River view and, Brian adds, “for most of the time I was there, the place was empty except for me and the waiters. You’d expect a line out the door.”

Perry Street [Greenwich Village]

176 Perry St., at West St., Manhattan

212-352-1900

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Perry St —best $24 lunch in town

Sheba Piano Lounge

Maya loves Sheba Lounge for upscale Ethiopian food–especially a dish of sirloin tips cooked in clarified butter with Ethiopian spices. The vegetarian sampler platter and lentil sambussas are great, too, and the mild injera will be loved even by those who claim to hate Ethiopian food. Food for two, plus two beers and a fantastic pomegranate martini, will run you about $50.

Besides the food, the real draw of the place is the atmosphere, featuring the eponymous piano, a comfortable lounge with a fireplace, big armchairs, and “two female owners who spoil you with great service,” says Maya. It’s the best option in the area by far, and a great destination in its own right.

Sheba Piano Lounge [Fillmore]

1419 Fillmore Street, at Ellis, San Francisco

415-440-7414

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Sheba Lounge–what to order?

Savory Strawberry Salsa

Corundas (tamales) where the masa is made with olive oil instead of lard shouldn’t be good. Especially vegetarian corundas, topped with grilled cactus and potatoes. But, as it turns out, these abominations from the Emeryville branch of Cocina Poblana are indeed good–moist and tasty, and better than many lard versions. “This dish was just so wrong from every point of view that to win me over it had to be good,” says rworange. And it is.

The place gets extra points for its unusual and tasty salsas, like a hot peanut salsa and a savory, smoky strawberry salsa made with chunks of chopped fresh strawberry.

Cocina Poblana [Emeryville]

1320 65th Street, at Hollis, Emeryville

510-923-0497

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SF & Emeryville–Cocina Poblana–Corundas, 5 moles, 6 + salsas (peanut, strawberry,etc), breakfast soup & more.