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

Damage Control: It’s What’s for Dinner

After yesterday’s hot mess, Food & Wine is backpedaling as quickly as possible. Today their homepage announces: “Hungry for the Truth: Who’s the Real Top Chef? See profiles of both finalists that we prepared in advance [emphasis mine] of the last episode.” When you click through, you are informed:

Yesterday, an intrepid reality tv fan found a Top Chef story on Food & Wine’s server. Food & Wine prepared profiles of both Top Chef finalists in advance of the last episode so that we had a story on the winner ready to publish immediately after the season finale. Now for everyone to see, here are profiles of both finalists, Marcel and Ilan. Watch Top Chef on Wednesday, January 31 at 10PM EST to find out the real winner.

Nice try, Food & Wine. You can argue until you’re Cabernet in the face that the profile “found” yesterday is not necessarily that of the winner, but not many will believe you. Especially not the rapacious posters in the spoiler thread at Television Without Pity. A few posters in the aforementioned thread suggest differences in the writing quality between the two pieces, opining that one feels more forced or faked than the other.

Honzo Steel cracked me up with this comment in the Television Without Pity forums: “Wow! This is just like the movies. Roxie Hart Guilty. Roxie Hart Not Guilty. Superman Dead. Superman Lives.” Superant adds, “Maybe it’s like the movie “Clue,” with multiple endings. One, where Ilan wins. One, Marcel wins. Another, Tom C executes everyone by firing squad.”

Personally, I’d be partial to a Scooby-Doo ending where Hubert Keller gets his mask pulled off, revealing himself to be Old Man Bourdain, and says, “And I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for you f*cking kids!”

Al Pastor Hot Off the Spit, Pineapple and All

Weekend nights on Central Ave, there’s an outdoor taco table that makes some of the best al pastor Dommy has ever tasted in her Eastside eating adventures.

Al pastor is cooked the way it should be, roasted on a spit that’s crowned with pineapple dripping its juices onto the meat. To really appreciate the smoky flavor, skip the salsa. Al pastor taco includes bits of braised onion and pineapple, anyway. Grab a whole braised onion, too. Tortillas are freshly made (though not by hand) on the spot–they’re wonderfully soft and have nice flavor.

Chorizo tacos are fantastic, adds Mr Taster–“super flavor that busted our tastebuds wide open.” But chicken tacos are dry, chewy, and bland.

There are also cemitas burritos and other kinds of meats.

The al pastor spit is always running, although it’s only outside on weekend (Fri-Sun) evenings. The stand itself is open every day.

Really good al pastor can be had farther afield (Whittier) at Chema’s Tacos, says mdpilam. Asada is delicious as well.


Taqueria La Fogata [Downtown]
2534 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles
Map

Chema’s Tacos [Inland of LA]
11527 Whittier Blvd., Whittier
562-699-2335
Locater

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Eastside taco adventure
The best Mexican in LA
Awesome al pastor and asada

El Rey Pakal

El Rey Pakal is a new Yucatan restaurant with a deep and fairly exciting menu. One draw is that they serve very fresh hand-made corn tortillas, says wineguy7. The salsa is some of the best josquared has had in a while, though the chicken in black chimole sauce is good, but not earth shaking. Mick Ruthven suggests you come with a group of at least four so you can try lots of dishes. He likes the empanadas–“different from anything I’ve had before, simple, fresh, and very good.”


El Rey Pakal [Marin County]
227 3rd Avenue, San Rafael
415-256-9484
Map

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El Rey Pakal

Messob Ethiopian

Messob is the most brightly lit of the Ethiopian restaurants around town–you may wonder if you’ve accidentally wandered into a Subway sandwich shop. But the waitstaff is warm and friendly, and the food is very good, according to daveena. Injera is thin and quite sour, kitfo is nicely spicy, and red lentils are delicious, if not as buttery as they might be in an ideal world. Dinner is about $16 including a beer, tax, and tip.

Messob is “not earth-shaking, genre-defining good, but I-plan-to-become-a-regular good,” says daveena.


Messob [Piedmont]
4301 Piedmont Ave., Oakland
510-839-2228
Map

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Messob–good Ethiopian on Piedmont

Tigerland: Stylish Southeast Asian in the East Village

Tigerland applies a dash of French technique to top-notch ingredients to make slightly upmarket Vietnamese and Thai food. Even some purists are impressed. “Not really a substitute for home-style Thai, but a lot of great dishes,” says Simon, who singles out shrimp sauteed with garlic and Berkshire bacon. “It’s not exactly fusion, but more like updated home cooking.”

A don’t-miss appetizer is Angel Wings (deboned chicken wings stuffed with seafood, noodles, and vegetables). Also recommended: tom ka gai (chicken coconut soup), papaya salad with Vietnamese sausage, banh xeo (Vietnamese crepe) with shrimp and pork, Shaking Beef (seared cubes of meat with garlic, black pepper, watercress). Meats are naturally raised, produce is mostly organic, and seafood is wild, not farmed.

Early diners can take advantage of an attractive prix fixe special: appetizer, entree, rice, and dessert for $22 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. “An amazing deal,” declares jungirl. “It is a ridiculous amount of food.”


Tigerland [East Village]
85 Ave. A, between E. 5th and 6th Sts., Manhattan
212-477-9887
Locater

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TIGERLAND!!
angel wings
Heaven chicken wings
need great thai or french vietnemese restaurant
Excellent Thai in les—Ama ya
Hip Intimate Ethnic Restaurant? Please Help

In Jackson Heights, a Burmese Discovery

Lephet thoke, or tea leaf salad–a brightly seasoned party-on-a-plate of fermented green tea, nuts, bean sprouts, and more–is a must-try at Jackson Heights’ promising new Burmese Cafe. It’s crunchy/smooth, dry/oily, fresh, surprising, and irresistible, says Peter Cuce.

Other winners: sour pork curry, chile-spiked fish cake salad, crispy squash fritters with sprightly sambal, and a rich, gingery duck soup, punched up by tangy pickled greens. The menu also offers Burmese-style Chinese dishes that include a stir-fried fish curry authentically redolent of garlic, onion, and chile, reports marachino–but also undistinguished kung pao chicken.

Prices are gentle, service exceptionally friendly. “Everything had a unique, different taste. I’m so glad about this new addition to the neighborhood!” writes welle.

In a city where good Burmese food is scarce, this place could be big news if it fulfills its potential. Burmese hound juhlee, who approves of the tea salad and fish curry–but is unmoved by mohinga (fish noodle soup) and coconut chicken noodle soup–ranks Burmese Cafe slightly ahead of Manhattan’s Village Mingala. “It does seem promising, and I would return to try other dishes since the options for Burmese food in New York are limited.”


Burmese Cafe [Jackson Heights]
71-34 Roosevelt Ave., at 72nd St., Jackson Heights, Queens
718-803-1820
Map

Village Mingala [East Village]
21 E. 7th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan
212-529-3656
Locater

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New ‘Burmese Cafe’ in Jackson Heights

Cronkite: Thin-Crust Bliss on the Lower East Side

First-class toppings on an uncommonly good thin-crust pie are the draw at Cronkite Pizzeria. Opened in November by the owner of Williamsburg’s Fornino, it shares its sister restaurant’s artisanal bent–home-grown herbs, house-made fennel sausage, carefully chosen wine list, imported Italian tomatoes and burrata.

“It’s the best thing I’ve eaten in a while,” raves Peter Cuce, who tried the Vongole (clams, mozzarella, Parmesan) and the Lombardi (arugula, mozzarella, prosciutto). ironfrank describes a nearly perfect crust, cracker crisp with just the right amount of char from the brick oven. “It’s no DiFara,” he adds, “but it’s quite good.” Beyond pizza, check out starters like the tomato-buffalo mozzarella salad or polenta with roasted wild mushrooms.

Dissenters say delivery orders can fall flat and suggest that some combos on the ambitious, two-dozen-plus topping list don’t quite work.


Cronkite Pizzeria and Wine Bar [Lower East Side]
133 Norfolk St., at Rivington, Manhattan
212-375-1500
Locater

Fornino [Williamsburg]
187 Bedford Ave., at N. 7th St., Brooklyn
718-384-6004
Locater

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Cronkite Pizza–Over Budget but NOT out of this world
Cronkite Pizzeria?

Rockenwagner’s Bakery Rises a Second Time: 3 Square

The folks of Rockenwagner have opened up another bakery-café: Three Square. Those who love their bacon-cheese twists and pretzel twists: be psyched. Cinnamon rolls, scones, and the like run $3 apiece. They also have sandwiches–brie with caramelized pears and figs on walnut bread is great, says sharkgirl88.

Decor is design-y, with cool retractable tables; the crowd, though, is more like “yuppies who think they’re Dogtowners,” says bulavinka.


Three Square Cafe + Bakery [Beaches]
1121 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice
310-399-6504
Map

Rockenwagner Bakery [Beaches]
12835 Washington Blvd., Mar Vista
310-578-8171
Locater

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Rockenwagner bakery is open
Checking out 3 Square bakery

The How-Tos of Browning Meat

Recipes often begin by ordering you to brown meat or poultry, before any braising or roasting or suchlike. Browning meat improves its flavor, and the bits left in the pan when you brown meat, called the fond, add flavor to sauces.

There are a few rules for successfully browning meat without having it stick to the pan. First, pat your meat dry with paper towels before you season and cook it. Heat your empty pan, and when it’s hot, add oil; with a good pan, it should get plenty hot over medium heat on a gas stove. When the oil is hot, add the meat. The next step is the most important: Leave the meat alone. All meat will stick initially when it hits the pan, but it will release when it has formed a crust. If you try to turn it too soon, it will stick. Wait a few minutes, then slide a spatula under your meat and see if it releases easily. If not, be patient and allow it to go a little longer. When it has browned, it will release; turn it over with a spatula or tongs and brown the other side the same way.

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Why do my meats stick when I try to brown them?

Smoked Mackerel

Mackerel is high in healthful omega-3 fatty acids, and smoked mackerel is delicious, on its own or used in recipes. It’s sold in vacuum-sealed packages, like smoked salmon, and can be found in specialty food stores, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s.

Here are some ideas for using it:

Scramble with eggs and sauteed onions.

Put in a hash with potatoes and onions (add the mackerel late, when the potatoes are almost done).

Add it to green salads with a citrus vinaigrette, or with citrus segments and a mustardy vinaigrette.

Make a smoked mackerel stew: use a recipe for Manhattan clam chowder, replacing the clams with mackerel.

Make a pate by pureeing with cream, lemon juice, and melted butter.

Combine with cream cheese, sliced green onions, and a dash of lemon juice, and eat on crackers.

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Smoked Mackerel