The CHOW Blog rss

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

Before and After Portsmouth, New Hampshire

I didn’t have a chance to eat in Portsmouth itself. All chowconnaissance was executed on my way in and out of town. I’ve merged both legs into this one gigunda report.

Riding Toward Portsmouth …

I passed the worst-looking Italian bakery ever, in a soulless, antiseptic shopping strip. The following photo was taken through the windshield while driving, but it gives a general sense of the vibe:

DeFusco & Son Italian Bakery (1211 Osgood St., North Andover, Massachusetts; 978-689-2055) was no more promising from the inside. This was exactly the blanded-out Italian bakery one would expect to find in the boonies near the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border. But still, my chow-dar kept buzzing, so I ordered a cannoli. It turned out to be top-drawer:

I also ordered perhaps the wrongest thing one can possibly order in a suburban Italian bakery: a cup of soup. Corn chowder.

Listen to the details in this podcast—MP3—and a postscript podcast—MP3—about this stellar chowder.

As bad as the great Italian bakery looked from the outside, David’s Famous Chicken Pies (2 South Pleasant St., Bradford, Massachusetts; 978-521-7070), actually a merely-pretty-good place, looked fantastic. Appearances deceive!


Would you, could you resist a storefront like this?

I’ve damned via faint praise, which is unfair. Maybe this wasn’t the poultry-pie paradise I’d hoped for as I screeched my car to a halt in a hail of gravel on the shoulder in front of David’s Famous Chicken Pies, panting and sweating and sending flocks of birds scrambling into the air. But their pies are good … and honest.

Hear my brief pie-chomping analysis in this podcast: MP3.

Azzi’s Bakery (87 Newbury St., Lawrence, Massachusetts; 978- 686-9043), as you can see in the photo below, advertises “Exquisite Lebanese Food.” Who wouldn’t want exquisite Lebanese food? Well, I’m writing this a couple of days later, and can’t remember a thing about the place or anything I may have eaten there. Either they were closed … or they ain’t all that exquisite.

Riding Out of Portsmouth …

First, we need to talk for a minute about the eerie New Hampshire State liquor stores. Listen to this podcast: MP3.

Here’s their price list (prices are uniform in all NH liquor stores). They do carry some interesting items at bargain prices, if you’re willing to brave the creepiness!

But after the booze comes breakfast. I liked the looks of Betty’s
Kitchen (164 Lafayette Road, Route 1, North Hampton, New Hampshire; 603-964-9870).

I didn’t catch the official name of this extravagant French toast dish:

... but it amounts to strawberry shortfrenchtoastcake. It may be French toast, but it is made with a strawberry shortcake mindset. The egginess of the bread is what strawberry shortcake always needed— though the resultant richness nearly left me giddy. Oh, and adding on all those wild blueberries and bananas just … Words fail.

These are real good peels on greasy, chunky home fries from waxy Maine potatoes. Click the photo and just stare at the large view for hours. I know I just did.

I’m not sure life gets much better than these two dishes. Sole downside (which I luckily managed to avoid via careful questioning of the staff): Though the breakfast menu makes frequent reference to hash in various contexts, it’s not homemade hash.

OK, time for some failure!

I can’t say that Li Yuen Chinese Cooking School and Carry Out (112C Lafayette Road, North Hampton, New Hampshire; 603-964-8181) looked good, exactly. But who could resist checking it out?

This flier explains their deal:

It’s a clever concept that has gotten them plenty of press coverage:

I ordered Szechuan twice-cooked pork, prepared by a young fellow who looked like a recent graduate of the school. He needs to go back for extra tutoring.

Each ingredient was painstakingly cut into precisely even trapezoids, and the result was unarguably colorful. But it was weirdly sweet, and the pork was neither twice-fried nor Szechuan—just some pork tossed around in a wok.

I loved this sign just down the street:

Copywriting gets less thoughtful as one approaches the Maine border.

Bob’s Clam Hut (315 US Route 1, Kittery, Maine; 207-439-4919) is famous, but my clams were totally soggy and greasy. A disaster. The clams themselves were of good quality.

Look at this awesome “pizza bread” from Garofoli’s Fine Foods (180 Lafayette Road, North Hampton, 603-964-7500):

After driving a few miles happily munching pizza bread slightly more addictive than crack cocaine, I happened to flip it over and noticed the wonderfully burnty crispy troughs and bumps. I pulled over to capture its geography for your vicarious enjoyment:

They also make dynamite chocolate chip cookies, which disappeared too quickly to be photographed.

Lucia’s Kitchen (1151 US Route 1, York, Maine; 207-363-5557) is one of those clichéd gourmet/catering stores, which are invariably overpriced and underwhelming. Their motto, “What’s life without food?” doesn’t offer much reassurance, and the $4.65 price tag was no bargain for this smidge of food—called something silly like “chicken mole pastitsio.”

But I must admit, this place makes pretty good healthy foodie/precious Mexican-tinged stuff. The mole sauce was quite good, albeit with spicing tamed way down. Their chocolate chip cookies are nice. And they sell Madhouse Munchies potato chips and corn chips.

But $4.95/pound for cooked white rice?? In Maine???

+ + +

For tips on navigating from report to report (and a concise index of
all reports), see the
discussion
on our CHOW Tour message board.

Where’s the Beef?

Do you love your beef? Really, really love your meaty meat? Then the Cattlemen’s Beef Board might just have $50K with your name on it.

Thanks to Nicole over at Slashfood, we’re going to start chatting up our local beef purveyors to see what ideas they’ve got for the 27th National Beef Cook-Off, open to all amateur cooks. And it’s not all meatballs and BBQ; this year’s categories include Nuevo Latino, Dynamic New Dishes, Grilled Small Plates, and Kids in the Kitchen (which kids can enter with their parents).

The emphasis is on foods for a healthy, active family, so nix the beef Wellington—most entries have to be prepared and cooked in 60 minutes or less. Professional chefs, food writers, and other food-industry types can’t enter—but all you bloggers (unless you’re actually getting paid to post about your meaty adventures), go wild! We’d love to see someone out there get a high-profile win using naturally raised, grass-fed beef. Mr. Biggles, your thoughts?

A Colossal Ode to New York Eating

Writing in New York magazine, restaurant critic Adam Platt takes on the jaw-droppingly broad mandate of “select[ing] the best meals for every taste”—in New York City, no less. Including the boroughs (unless you happen to count Staten Island, the Bronx, or Queens—but hey, who other than the 4 million people who live in them really do?)

“The 2007 Platt List” sprawls over roughly 16 pages. In the margins, it rounds up everything from “Trends we’ve seen enough of …,” “The five best egg dishes in New York,” and “The best place for …” to “Best up-and-coming chefs.” And in the body of the pages, it scoots through just about every restaurant trend and style imaginable, popping out famous restaurant names (Aquavit! Masa! Del Posto!) in sexy boldface ink.

New Yorkers are almost guaranteed to stumble upon some sassily provocative red meat in here, but no matter where you’re from, there’s a lot to enjoy in this quilt-sized snapshot of a massive, lordly metropolitan area’s thriving restaurant industry. More than a mere capsule-based recap, Platt’s piece reads like a State of the Union address for New York gourmands.

Kentucky-Fried Intervention

The highly public Rosie O’Donnell versus Donald Trump celebrity death match has reached new and decidedly bizarre proportions.

The whole thing began when Rosie initially spoke out against Trump’s giving Miss USA 2006 a second chance, despite the rumors of her drug use and heavy underage drinking.

Names were called, fur and combovers flew, and now KFC has offered up a fried wing of peace. According to Access Hollywood, the fried chicken chain that seems to change its name more often than Prince “has extended an invitation to Donald and Rosie to bury the hatchet over a bucket of chicken.”

Seems like an odd sort of peace offering until you consider that Tara Conner, Miss USA 2006 herself, is from Kentucky.

‘In honor of Ms. Connor’s [sic] roots and in keeping with our tradition of Southern Hospitality, I’m writing to invite you both to a KFC location of your choice as a neutral meeting ground to sort out your differences. To help, we’ll provide a special 10-piece meal for you to share. Consider it our “10 Peace Offering,”’ said the letter from Gregg Dedrick, KFC President and Chief Concept Officer. ‘Why point fingers when you can lick ‘em?’

Sure, when you explain it that way, it all makes sense. Or something.

Thank God there was a food angle to this topic, because I was dying for an excuse to point the way to the new Rosie-Trump online video game.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

operagirl came in search of a sweet and sour Russian cabbage soup with tomatoes and beef she loves but doesn’t know how to make. Diane in Bexley’s Hungarian family recipe, not so strangely, fits the bill. If you like, add chopped carrots along with the onions.

3-4 lbs. beef short ribs
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 large cabbage, cut in quarters, cored, and finely sliced
28 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
2 Tbsp. beef base
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
salt and pepper
4 quarts cold water

In an 8-quart soup pot, cook short ribs in olive oil until well browned. Remove to a plate. In the same pot, cook onions until lightly caramelized (15-20 minutes). Return meat to pot, and add cabbage and cook until cabbage starts to turn translucent. Add tomatoes, beef base, sugar, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste when finished and adjust seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, sugar, or vinegar as necessary. Allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight. Remove any fat that’s solidified on the surface, then remove short ribs and shred or dice meat in small pieces. Return meat to pot and reheat to serve.

This soup improves with age; it can be kept a week in the fridge in storage containers (not in original cooking pot), or frozen for several months.

Diane notes that, if you add beef meatballs made with rice and egg, you get “mock stuffed cabbage”!

Board Links

Russian Cabbage Soup

The Taste of Taiwan in Freshly Made Bao

Diho focuses on one thing: fresh, tasty Taiwanese pastries (steamed buns, dumplings, and cakes), says Chubbypanda. No boba or meal sets at this mom-and-pop Taiwanese bakery in Orange County.

The bao are the real standout. They’re made fresh each morning, and they’re at their very best right out of the steamer. That’s why large crowds gather at the bakery on weekend mornings. The selection of bao is massive.

Their top seller is the pork and vegetable steamed bun (cai rou bao), with ground pork, leeks, ginger, and rice noodles. The pork is juicy without being greasy, the seasonings are well balanced and bold, and the noodles…well, they’re nice to chew on.

Cha shu bao is an unusually good version of this old standby, the BBQ pork bun–not too sweet, juicy instead of dry. Good bun-to-pork ratio, too.

Mushroom bao (xiang gu bao) hold a flavorful mixture of sauteed shiitake mushrooms, ground beef, and onions.

Su cai bao, or vegetable steamed bun, is like a bao version of the best egg roll you’ve ever had. Stuffed with stir-fried shiitakes, cabbage, carrot, garlic, and seasonings, it even tastes healthy without sacrificing any flavor.

As for the breads, the pickled mustard green bun pretty much captures some quintessential flavors: pickled mustard greens and sauteed ground beef. This savory mixture comes enveloped in a light, soft, brioche-like dough.

Raisin bread is mildly sweet and studded with plump, juicy raisins. With a soft crust and thick, fluffy, chewy crumb, it’s like a cross between brioche and pain de mie.

If you really want to try a variety, get a four-in-one bun–four mini buns that are risen next to one another so they meld into one (easily separated) bun when baked. Diho’s has green onion and shredded pork, cha shao (char siu, or BBQ pork), custard, and sweet red bean fillings.


Diho Bakery [South OC]
14130 Culver Dr. # J, at Scottsdale, Irvine
949-857-6415
Map

Board Links

Awesome Taiwanese bakery

The Single Best Italian Rum Cake in the Bay Area

Where can you get the best Italian rum cake in the Bay Area? For once, there’s no debate–just go to Dianda’s. It’s the only Italian bakery that comes close to the great ones in Brooklyn and the Bronx, says sfoperalover. Robert Lauriston and RWCFoodie agree. Note that Dianda’s has two locations, one in San Francisco, one in San Mateo.


Dianda’s Italian American Pastry Co. [Mission]
2883 Mission St., San Francisco
415-647-5469
Locater

Dianda’s Italian American Pastry Co. [Peninsula]
117 De Anza Blvd., San Mateo
650-570-6260
Locater

Board Links

BEST Italian rum cake in the Bay Area

Gingerbread

Check out the gingerbread at Semifreddi’s Bakery, says Alexandra Eisler. It’s a small, old-fashioned tea loaf, very highly spiced with ginger and molasses, and very moist. It’s baked in a cute little decorative paper container.

Morton the Mousse and wally direct you to the gingerbread at Sketch. It’s one of their best cakes, and their cakes are transcendent. The gingerbread has great flavor and texture, and comes in a single-serving portion about the size of a large muffin. Enjoy.


Semifreddi’s Bakery [East Bay]
372 Colusa Ave., Kensington
510-596-9935

Locater

Sketch Ice Cream [East Bay]
1809A Fourth St., Berkeley
510-665-5650
Locater

Board Links

Gingerbread at Semifreddi’s

Great Goat at Coimbra and Other Jersey Iberian Tips

On Newark’s Spanish and Portuguese scene, Coimbra is the bright spot these days. If roast goat is among the specials, get it. Fabulous stuff, raves candace–pleasingly gamy meat, served with rice, potatoes, and broccoli rabe. Also noteworthy: shrimp in green sauce, pork with clams and potatoes, and free roasted chestnuts after your meal.

“Coimbra is the bomb,” writes Jim Leff. “Everything’s good and hugely authentic (and I’ve eaten a lot in Portugal).” Pass on the usual suspects and stick to the specials, he advises, and you’ll be rewarded with homey, lusty chow. Jim adds a service tip: “Not much English. Be nice to your waiter, who expects to deal with paisanos. Don’t be too high-maintenance or you’ll ruin the place for other gringos.”

Casa Vasca, a past hound favorite, continues to deliver the goods. But it does just a handful of dishes really well, cautions Jim, including razor clams, goat, and tortilla (potato omelette). To that list, Ike would add shrimp in garlic sauce or green sauce. Jim suggests sitting at the bar, not in the dining room, and going for a pitcher of sangria, red or white. “If you think you don’t like sangria,” he adds, “prepare to change your mind.”

In Belleville, Solar Do Minho makes hound-endorsed Portuguese seafood and grilled meats. Recommended: crab-stuffed swordfish, shrimp in garlic sauce, meltingly tender fried calamari. Rodizio meats are first-rate and not over-salted, as at many other places. “We have been there many times and have never been disappointed,” says nizza.


Coimbra Bar and Restaurant [Essex County]
637 Market St., at Somme St., Newark, NJ
973-491-9811
Locater

Casa Vasca [Essex County]
141 Elm St., between Prospect and Pacific, Newark, NJ
973-465-1350
Locater

Solar Do Minho [Essex County]
15 Cleveland St., near Quinton, Belleville, NJ
973-844-0500
Locater

Board Links

top portuguese/spanish/brazilian eats in newark area

Soup Destinations, Downtown and Uptown

Cafe Medina is a go-to spot for soup lovers, who especially love the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern choices that turn up alongside the chicken noodle and split pea. The rotating lineup, around 10 soups a day, might include Moroccan lamb or Yemenite chicken, cteats reports. bolletje can’t forget a fabulous bowl, more stew than soup, overflowing with lamb and vegetables. Some other recurring offerings: pumpkin corn bisque, Tuscan tomato-bread, Hungarian chicken, New England clam chowder, African chicken-peanut, and miso with tofu and seaweed.

In the East Village, the Italian restaurant Lamarca runs a cafe and cheese shop next door that serves terrific soups for weekday lunch, reports nyc123. Selections include tomato, white bean, onion, minestrone, potato-leek, red bean-escarole, broccoli rabe, and tortellini in broth, among others.

foodette frequents Soup Spot for such hearty choices as jambalaya, various bisques, and Thai coconut curry chicken soup. Not quite as good as the fondly remembered Soup Kitchen International, says a_and_w, but also half the price.

Cafe Sabarsky offers a handful of very good soups, including goulash soup with potatoes, says Sean Dell. Other choices this time of year might include chestnut and squash. In summer, look for refreshing pea soup with mint.

Others recommend Yura and Co., Karen’s (especially for lentil soup and chili), Printon 56, and Fashion Soup.


Cafe Medina [Union Square]
9 E. 17th St., between 5th Ave. and Broadway, Manhattan
212-242-2777
Locater

Lamarca Cafe [Gramercy]
161 E. 22nd St., at 3rd Ave., Manhattan
212-674-7920
Locater

Soup Spot [Herald Square]
220 W. 31st St., between 7th and 8th Aves., Manhattan
212-643-8623
Locater

Cafe Sabarsky [Upper East Side]
1048 5th Ave., at E. 86th St., in the Neue Galerie, Manhattan
212-288-0665
Locater

Yura and Co. [Upper East Side]
1645 3rd Ave., at E. 92nd St., Manhattan
212-860-8060
Locater

Yura and Co. [Upper East Side]
1292 Madison Ave., at E. 92nd St., Manhattan
212-860-8060
Map

Karen’s on Astor [East Village]
1 Astor Pl., between Broadway and Lafayette St., Manhattan
212-979-8000
Locater

Printon 56 [Midtown]
50 W. 56th St., between 5th and 6th Aves., Manhattan
212-245-0056
Locater

Fashion Soup [Midtown]
124 W. 41st St., near 6th Ave., Manhattan
212-704-0909
Locater

Board Links

Best Soup in New York