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

Inviting New Bistro in Williamsburg

Williamsburg hounds are taking to the solid bistro fare and welcoming vibe at Juliette. Smart orders lean toward the classic—onion soup, mussels, steak au poivre, pate (served with delicious apple chutney)—but less conventional offerings like spicy chicken and paella (an occasional special) are worth a try, too. Also noteworthy: vegetable-goat cheese salad, standout fries and, for brunch, perfectly done French toast, served with roasted potatoes and lardons.

Service is attentive and attitude free—”definitely un-Williamsburg,” observes deancicle—and the soundtrack of Piaf, Jacques Brel et cie sets a suitably Gallic mood.

Juliette [Williamsburg]
135 N. 5th St., near Bedford Ave., Brooklyn
718-388-9222
Locater

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New french Bistro in Williamsburg, Juliette

Get in the Cauldron

It’s the place whose logo is a happy little lamb wearing a bow tie. He looks happy, doesn’t he? He might not be so happy when he gets sliced paper thin and served alongside a cauldron of bubbling, cumin-scented broth. He may not be happy, but you will be.

There’s not just little lambs, but also fish balls, tofu, mushrooms, winter melon, hand-pulled noodles, and a ton of other uncooked items that show up ready for you to cook in that vat of spiced broth. All items are fresh and delicious, says Martin Strell, and the broth itself is a work of art. Actually, there are multiple broths to try, and you can get your hot pot half-and-half, one side full of spicy Sichuan broth, the other full of a milder broth of cumin, garlic, clove, and other spice treasures. Turns out you may not have to go to China for superior hot pot.

Little Lamb Mongolian Hot Pot [East Bay]
34396 Alvarado Niles Rd., at Decoto, Union City
510-675-9919
Map

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Little Lamb Mongolian Hot Pot in Union City

Portobello Mushroom Fritti

Dunkin Donut likes the Lafayette branch of Pizza Antica, both for the goat cheese pizza with a cracker-thin crust, and for the portobello mushroom fritti–like french fries, but made with beautiful strips of portobello mushrooms, served with a great dipping sauce.

The place is packed, so call ahead and put yourself on the wait list.

Pizza Antica [East Bay]

3600 Mount Diablo Blvd., Lafayette

925-299-0500

Locater

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Pizza Antica

Citizen Cane

As with Cabbage Patch Dolls and Tickle Me Elmo, the unexpected popularity of these seasonal cookies has already caused a shortage.

I learned of Joe-Joe’s in this Chowhound thread. But when I tried to buy a pack at my local Trader Joe’s, I found out a woman had just come in and bought $700 worth, their whole stock.

Are they delicious? Yes. But don’t take my word for it; check out the big big love.

The truly desperate for a Joe-Joe fix can always go to the gray market.

The Tip of the Iceberg

Scallions may be off the hook: It’s looking (registration required) more and more like lettuce is the culprit in the Taco Bell E. coli outbreak. The fast-food chain’s iceberg shreds hail from (where else?) California—specifically Irwindale-based Ready Pac Produce, although Taco Bell canceled its contract with the company last week and hired Taylor Farms of Salinas instead.

The whole story reinforces the growing awareness that something ain’t right with our food-safety regulations. Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser helps explain why in a recent opinion piece (registration required). Hint: it has something to do with fast-food and meatpacking lobbyists, political donations, and Republican elected officials.

But this latest development also raises another, admittedly far more frivolous question: Why use lettuce in Mexican (or even “Mexican”) food in the first place? As plenty of true burritophiles and burrito eaters will tell you, lettuce has no place in a burrito. Ditto for a taco, where in my humble opinion (and in others’ as well), the only garnishes, if any, should be salsa, onion, and cilantro. Shredded lettuce has virtually no taste, and it doesn’t add crunch, no matter what anyone tells you—it gets watery and dilutes flavor, a far cry from the crisp, lovely lettuce cups common in Korean fare. The so-called vegetable doesn’t add any health benefits, either: Iceberg lettuce is a nutritional black hole, and even the other varieties (romaine and Bibb, for example) don’t bring a whole lot more to the table.

If there are any lettuce-in-burrito lovers out there, come forth and defend yourselves!

Space Grain

Space Grain

Rice Cookers Go High-Tech. READ MORE

Time Machine Steakhouse and Killer Szechuan

Framingham, Massachusetts

While I’ve always viewed Framingham as a Brazilian wonderland, I’ve also been aware of other nationalities. Obviously there’s wonderful Dakshin, and there also used to be a very good south Indian place right in the Framingham train station. But other ethnicities have caught my peripheral vision on previous visits, so while continuing to try to hit every Brazilian café in town (I’ve already strafed a bunch but haven’t yet found greatness worth reporting), I’ve decided to challenge myself to find treasure that’s neither Brazilian nor Indian.

Shortly after making that resolution, I blundered into venerable Ken’s Steak House (95 Worcester Road, Framingham, Massachusetts; 508-875-4455). What’s more evocative than a real old-fashioned steakhouse? Not the contemporary ilk, with self-conscious Rat Pack vibe and fancy meat-aging techniques. I mean the steakhouses you’d find in the 1960s and 1970s, with well-rounded menus and merely high, not extravagant, prices. The sort of place one took one’s wife with her beehive hairdo for an anniversary dinner, back in the days when dining out was a special occasion.

You still find such places in burgs like Framingham. Ken’s Steakhouse was clearly a big name in town once, but is reduced to huddling alongside overgrown Route 9, the sort of sprawly road that sucks the dignity from every venue along its glaring length.

Inside there’s still lots of dignity left. Dark wood, padded bar, stained glass, couples dancing, wise-cracking career waiters and bartenders, dark wood—it’s like attending a dining museum. The passage of time has revealed this, the most mainstream type of American eatery, to be as stylized and transportive as any Polynesian tiki restaurant or Sicilian red-sauce palace. I gleefully hoped to immerse in a patently ethnic dining experience, and was not disappointed.

Hear a podcast recorded in the lounge as I awaited my scallops wrapped in bacon, sipped my Shiraz, and contemplated the contrariness of choosing such a bland place in a town rife with jazzy wonderment (which itself is little known to most outsiders): MP3.

Hear a post-meal rundown (synopsis: everything was right on the money, and you can’t find this sort of cuisine so easily anymore), as I head to a full dinner (I’d just had a few bites at Ken’s) in a Szechuan restaurant I’d spotted up the block: MP3.

+ + +

Sichuan Gourmet (271 Worcester Road, Framingham, Massachusetts; 508-626-0248) looked good, but I didn’t realize how good. This crummy photo was the best shot I could get of the place, from across the street (where I was ordering in yet another restaurant, but we’ll get to that in a minute):

All alone, and raving into a voice recorder, I faced down three plates:


Beef tendon with spicy wonder sauce.


Dan dan noodles.


Cumin lamb (a seasonal special).

The food was phenomenal. The beef tendon was floatingly light (and subtly, soulfully spiced); the lamb was oh-so-tender and dosed with tons of fragrant cumin; dan dan noodles tasted hand-pulled, were properly oily and hysterical with chili, and hit notes I’d never before experienced with dan dan noodles. And I’ve had lots of really great dan dan noodles.

Listen to my screaming, gasping podcasts:
MP3 and MP3.

I need to return to try more things. One problem with my streak is that I tend to order all the best dishes right away, so these may be the only three great dishes on the menu. But I doubt it.

Across the street I spotted a Shanghai restaurant called Uncle Cheung’s (266 Worcester Road, Framingham, Massachusetts; 508-872-9200). Could lightning strike twice in this supposed Chinese-food desert? Likely not, but I always like to give serendipity a shot, so I ordered, takeout (as I was stuffed), Shanghai soup dumplings plus the ultimate Shanghai soul food: soybeans with minced pork and bean curd threads. Nice people, authentic menu, no pandering, more or less “correct” cooking, but just no flair at all. My delicious-o-meter flatlined.

+ + +

Earlier in the day, between the tiniest chowconnaissance bites at a zillion Brazilian holes-in-walls, I managed to do something I’d always dreamed of: I ordered one of the wacky hamburgers at Magic Oven.

The Magic Burger, for a mere $5.75, fills a small grocery bag to bursting with a burger with cheese, bacon, egg, corn, ham, chicken, pineapple, lettuce, tomato, and a blizzard of potato sticks. How does it taste? Really really good. Obviously, it’s something you need to be in the mood for. I’d suggest, as a prerequisite, two weeks starving in a cave.

Beyond Uncle Ben’s

Beyond Uncle Ben’s

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Aussie Apocalypse Continues

As we reported last month, Australia is in the grip of an eight-year-long drought that’s threatening the wonderfully chow-obsessed country’s food supply. Looks like that impending food crisis is closer than we thought, judging from a piece in Tuesday’s Sydney Morning Herald: A recent 40 percent rise in flour costs is poised to push up bread prices significantly, and veggies might double in price by the end of January, according to producers.

Eggs and milk are also discernibly costlier at Sydney’s supermarkets already, but the price of meat hasn’t risen significantly—even though farmers are selling their livestock for pennies at wholesale markets. The federal agriculture minister has just ordered a commission to get to the bottom of this, er, curious pricing disparity.

Paying 10 cents more for a carton of eggs or a couple bucks extra for a bunch of basil might not sound like such a big deal to those of us used to paying a premium for the organic or locally grown versions, but when an entire society’s food prices—right down to its bread—increase, that’s pretty scary news. But what’s the solution? One possibility is that the country will end up ditching its historically anti-GMO stance and start engineering genetically modified crops (requires free site pass) to be drought resistant. Would you get behind that kind of decision, or do you think there are other proven solutions to drought-related food shortages?

What You Call Sprawl, I Call Heaven

Framingham, Massachusetts

I’ve been infatuated with Framingham, Massachusetts, for years. To Bostonians, this is a boring boonie amid undifferentiated sprawl—an area to drive past quickly on the Massachusetts Turnpike. But I love sprawl in general—the tastiest nuggets can often be found therein—and Framingham in particular, which at some point in the past few years turned shiningly Brazilian. I’ve spent only a few tantalizing hours in this town, on my way to other destinations, but have long dreamed of settling in for a few days of serious exploration. This CHOW Tour is my big chance!

My first-ever bite here, lo those many years ago, was at the Magic Oven (470 Waverly Street, Framingham, Massachusetts; 508-370-8008). Like a slot-machine player hitting big with his first coin, it’s given Framingham an enduring allure for me. As always, I made a beeline to this Brazilian bakery as soon as I got into town, and ordered everything in sight:


Shish kebab.


Shish kebab (spicy, tender, fun).


Biscoito de Polvilho (progenitor of the cheese doodle).


Bolinho de mandioca (one of their best items, a fried yucca ball stuffed with oniony ground meat), quibe (same as Lebanese kibbe), and risole de frango.


Empadão de bacalau.


Yeasty, irresistible coconut bread.

I also ordered plenty of pao de queijo, the Brazilian cheese rolls made from sweet and sour yucca flour and lots of mild white cheese worked into the dough. I’ll get more tomorrow and photograph them in daylight (they’re really a breakfast item, anyway).

+ + +

Thus fortified, I revisited Dakshin (672 Waverly Road, Framingham, Massachusetts; 508-424-1030), the only Indian Tamil restaurant I know of in North America. More specifically, it specializes in the cuisine of Chettinad, which is renowned throughout India and extremely hard to find.

We ordered heavy on the Chettinad dishes:


Vetha kuzhambu with gooseberries (made with garam masala and tamarind).


Chicken Chettinad (in spicy garlicky/gingery sauce).


Chili paneer.


Potato varval (very traditional, very oniony Chettinad dish).


Thayir rice (soupy with homemade yogurt).


Mango lassi.

Everything, as usual, was wonderful. But this is a high-difficulty-rating restaurant, requiring some palate agility to enjoy. The Chettinad stuff doesn’t taste familiarly Indian, and the cooking is unforgivingly authentic, so eating here creates the sensation of having stumbled into the holiday dinner of some family with traditions extraordinarily unlike your own. If that sounds like your sort of thing, Dakshin’s for you. Those who require hand-holding and reference points will have their doors blasted off. I’ll never forget my first dish here: garlic curry. I expected garlicky curry. What I was served was a plate of sweet, salty, bitter and sour tamarind curry sauce studded with big chunks of garlic. The garlic is the meat! I realized I’d gone far beyond vindaloo.

This place also makes north Indian dishes, a full range of south Indian dosas and such, and Indian-Chinese dishes including burnt chicken garlic fried rice—offered in addition to regular chicken fried rice (what a restaurant!).

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen as severe a service melt-down as took place at Dakshin tonight. Patrons were walking out after waiting an hour for menus. By the end of the night, our check was given us by some dude who’d never worked in a restaurant before who the panicked staff had apparently deputized. Hey, it’s all part of the experience! Dues must be paid for the opportunity to eat anything as rare and prized as Chettinad food!

Note: Nearby Worcester is also full of great stuff (read a Boston Globe article on my last chowconnaissance run there, which also includes some Framingham places). But I’ve decided to focus on Framingham for now.