The CHOW Blog rss

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

Not Just Rioja

Not Just Rioja

Wines from the Spanish region of Priorat are the new cult find. READ MORE

A Classy Drunk

A Classy Drunk

Decades-old cocktails get resurrected-- with a twist-- in the country's most fashionable bars. READ MORE

Freeze-Dried Guanciale and Squid Ink Bar Codes

Freeze-Dried Guanciale and Squid Ink Bar Codes

What we learned at Madrid Fusión. READ MORE

Peanut Butter Burgers, French Fry Titans, and Bye-Bye “Streak”

Halifax, Nova Scotia

I’m staying at the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront, a terrific and underpriced new hotel with surprisingly good room service and a fun, lively bar. Best of all, it’s right on the waterfront, an irresistible part of Halifax. One can amble for hours among pleasant shops along a scenic harbor rife with tugboats and hardworking mariners.

Take a virtual walk down Halifax’s waterfront with Jeff Pinney (and hear about a very good Nova Scotian wine as well as an explanation of The Nature of Reality) via this podcast: MP3.

This shot of shimmery tugboats is the sole example of a failed attempt at impressionistic photography:

My favorite waterfront food shop is Botticelli Mercato Italiano (1477 Lower Water Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia; 902-425-7466), which makes excellent gelato. Pear tastes like you’re eating a cold, creamy pear, and pistachio is the essence of toasty pistachio. Both a bit too sweet, but I quibble: Experience GelatoCam: Movie.

You’ll notice that as I shot the video, I was struck dumb by the sight of brownies. Sure enough, they were amazing, with as long a flavor fade as anything I’ve ever eaten:

The big don’t-miss weekly waterfront event is the Saturday morning farmer’s market. I somehow managed to miss it (hotel bed too comfy).

+ + +

I’ve never seen a city with such an intensely focused french fry culture. The scene hinges on big tater-spewing fry trucks parked in front of a statue of Winston Churchill.

Bud the Spud pretty much owns fried potatoes in this town. Bud, an artiste held in much awed esteem by the populace (slightly less so his brother, Bill the Spud), only deigns to fry in optimal weather. It was a bit drizzly during my stay, so Monster Fries, a lesser truck that pops in strictly at the whim of the almighty Bud, was my sole choice.

Monster Fries’ product was damned good, making me dreamily wonder what tuberous majesty Bud’s blessed pommes frites might have offered.

Halifax french fry trucks are actually big business: Truck, permit, equipment, and parking space cost umpteen thousand dollars, I’m told.

+ + +

In my last report I described the no-frills Ardmore Tea Room as “no-nonsense.” But that place was downright jolly compared with the Midtown Tavern and Grill (1684 Grafton Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia; 902-422-5213), a time capsule where giant waiters with forearms like fireplugs stalk the floor, slamming down tankards of beer and growling hardily at their fellow roughneck customers. I felt like a little girl suddenly beamed from some Hello Kitty boutique to the movie set for The Gangs of Nova Scotia.



Behold, the Nova Scotian boiled dinner.

Was the food good? That’s totally beside the point. Any landmark this characterful, evocative, and steeped in long tradition is inherently perfect. One must calibrate to such places.

+ + +

One of the callers in to yesterday’s radio show tipped me to great home fries. South End Diner (1128 Barrington Street, Halifax: 902-429-6439), a sweet, calm white-tiled mom-and-pop parlor from another era, is a bastion of care. The from-scratch cooking is glacially painstaking; it took forever for our puny order to arrive, and we were the only customers. The methodical, stoic chef simply doesn’t do shortcuts. Similar care seems to have gone into the amazing collection of decorative plates, which occupy virtually every inch of wall space.

South End keeps their home fries close to the vest—you can’t simply ask for them. They must be requested with earnestness; the request will be mulled over and, if you’re lucky, approved.

I was moved by these little stones of staunchly unseasoned hand-cut potato, diligently parboiled and then fried in fresh oil. The opportunity to eat things like this, impossible to find at home, is the very reason for traveling. All photos in these reports enlarge when clicked, but we’ll blow this one way up so that you can ponder the subtle depths of these spuds:

+ + +

Sweet Jane’s (5431 Doyle Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia; 902-425-0168) is famous for New York–style cupcakes. Did you know there even were New York–style cupcakes? I sure didn’t—though, come to think of it, growing up on Long Island I was never aware of a duck connection. Anyway, New York cupcakes seem to be a standard item up here.


Regionality aside, they were fine cupcakes, with tangy frosting.

+ + +

The appeal of Darrell’s peanut butter burger, one of the city’s most titillating culinary oddities, can be explained via one word: satay. As Southeast Asians long ago discovered, peanut sauce and meat work together beautifully. I doubt that Darrell and company were aiming for satay, however. This is what cultural anthropologists might call “parallel innovation.”

The restaurant’s full name is My Other Brother Darrell’s (5576 Fenwick Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia; 902-492-2344), and they’ve won all sorts of local awards for this culinary achievement.

Just down the block, Tarboosh (5566 Fenwick Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia; 902-405-4000), a new Lebanese place, looked good, and a few quick bites confirmed quality. These guys actually make foul madamas from scratch (rather than with canned favas), which is way beyond the call of duty.

And around the corner, Gingerbread Haus Bakery (1138 Queen Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia; 902-425-4333) broke my streak. I thought it looked great from outside, I thought it looked great from inside, and, infinitely confident about its grandeur, I ordered box after box of cookies, pastries, breads, and treats … none of which was the slightest bit remarkable.

Would you have been fooled, too? Have a look:

I wasn’t so upset about my streak, seized as I was by crashing disappointment over those luscious-looking chocolate elephant ears, adorable gingerbread men, lovely cakes, crusty loaves, and hand-dipped spritz cookies. Streak, shmeak; after being spoiled by all the great strawberry shortcake and pie in Maine, I need some decent baked goods, dammit!

+ + +

The Wooden Monkey is a sort of vegetarian place (serving lots of meat), offering nominally healthy fare (made with tons of oil). I stopped by on a tip to try their seitan sandwich, which was way more satisfying than its name would indicate.

This spicy sandwich went well with good, strong ginger beer made by Propeller, a local microbrewery.

I don’t know about those “baked” french fries (greasier than fried), though:

... and the blueberry pie was downright disturbing:

Its crust seemed to contain some health food oil (and no salt at all). More trans fats, please!

+ + +

The Chow Not Eaten: Halifax Leftovers

A grab bag of tips, spottings, and other leftovers … caveat eater!

Certainly Cinnamon

Smith’s Bakery

Nameless bakery in Dartmouth Ferry 2 mins. from the King of Donair branch near the ferry terminal.

Lamb sandwich in front of Pete’s Frootique.

Jamieson’s in Cole Harbour for really good food in the sprawl.

Chickenburger (“unique and trashily addictive”).

John’s Lunch (“you will not believe the pile of clams”).

Habbibi’s (Jeff’s find for great Lebanese in the middle of an industrial park).

Alexander’s Pizza.

Bitar’s Pizza & Grill in Elmsdale (just outside Halifax), for great pizza.

O’Carroll’s (“great bar”).

Sushi Bang.

Bar-Coded Meat

Just when you thought free-range pork couldn’t possibly get more expensive, the government is pushing to tag all U.S. livestock with scannable IDs—a program that could hit small farmers with whopping costs and drive many of them out of business. A recent AlterNet article explains that initially, the USDA set out to make its National Animal Identification System (NAIS) mandatory, announcing last year that it would require all farmers and ranchers to place a bar code on every cow, chicken, pig, turkey, goat, sheep, and horse they owned by 2009. Opposition from small farmers persuaded the federal agency to make the program voluntary, but now many states are deciding to require the ID tags, and sustainable-food advocates are worried.

The ostensible purpose of NAIS is to control animal disease outbreaks and protect consumers by quickly identifying infected livestock. The National Beef Cattlemen’s Association and the National Pork Producers Council are big proponents, arguing that an ID database is the only way they can reassure profitable international buyers that the U.S. meat supply is safe—i.e., not contaminated with mad cow disease or E. coli. As the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture ever-so-subtly put it, “You don’t ever want to put this massive economic system at risk.”

But small and organic ranchers say that NAIS will hit them hardest and won’t actually do anything to prevent animal disease. The ID system is about controlling disease outbreaks that have already happened, instead of cleaning up farming practices in the first place, farmers say. And while large producers can afford to buy the ID tags (three bucks a pop) and have the staff to handle tracking, for smaller farmers it just won’t be practical. “It will be like doing your taxes every week,” one farmer worries.

If you live in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, or Texas, where some of the NAIS requirements are soon to be implemented, now might be the time to stock up on steaks from your favorite local farm. Could be a great opportunity to create that meat-aging room you’ve always wanted …

Point Reyes – Fresh Oysters at The Marshall Store

The clam chowder is nothing special, but the raw oysters at the Marshall Store sing with a pure, sweet freshness. “They were the freshest I have ever tasted since I was on the Chesapeake Bay in 1972. My uncle caught them that time,” says Euonymous. BBQ oysters are wonderful as well; they’re just barely cooked, with just a tiny bit of sauce that doesn’t overpower the delicate flavor of the oysters.

Oysters Rockefeller are a bit of a train wreck, overwhelmed by too many ingredients–once you get past the Swiss cheese, spinach, yogurt, bread crumbs, and who knows what else, you can hardly perceive any of the perfect oyster flavor. It’s a decent prep if you have crappy oysters, but it’s a waste of seasonal, immaculately fresh oysters. “Next time I’m getting them all raw,” he says.


The Marshall Store [Marin County]
19225 Hwy. 1, Marshall
415-663-1339

Locater

Board Links

The Marshall Store–Report

Hardcore Thai, Despite the Great Wine List

With its yuppie crowd, upscale decor, and respectable wine list, Soi 4 would not exactly set off your chow-dar for great Thai food. But it’s not the lame fusion place it appears to be–hardcore Thai flavors are in evidence in the food, says Robert Lauriston, and the kitchen’s not shy with the fish sauce or chiles. Everyone loves the steamed turnip cakes, served nice and crispy with a great mung bean and herb salad. The grilled eggplant and minced pork salad is delicious, served with a nice, intense dressing. So is the crunchy Chinese broccoli with crisp pork belly. Janet thinks the green papaya salad is a masterpiece.

Armoise likes that the kitchen at Soi 4 will take it easy on the chiles for diners with heat-sensitive palates, without dumbing down the other funky, pungent flavors in the dish to please the gringos. And to top it off, you can get good wines for $6 or $7 a glass.


Soi 4 Bangkok Eatery [Rockridge]
5421 College Avenue, between Manila & Kale, Oakland
510-655-0889
Locater

Board Links

Thai in the East Bay: Soi 4 in Rockridge

Ceol – Sturdy Irish Breakfast in Cobble Hill

At Ceol in Cobble Hill, they lay out a serious Irish breakfast on weekends. It’s two eggs, Irish slab bacon, two link sausages, black pudding (blood sausage), white pudding (pork-oatmeal sausage), grilled tomato, fried potatoes, and soda bread with house-made jam, all for $11. “Everything was very good and fresh,” reports prunefeet, whose only complaint is that Ceol’s Irish breakfast deal, unlike many others, doesn’t include a drink.

Coffee is nothing special and surprisingly expensive (“just like Ireland, actually,” observes IrinaD). But the gracious staff encourages lingering–as does the cozy setting, especially when they stoke up the fireplace.


Ceol [Cobble Hill]
191 Smith St., at Warren, Brooklyn
347-643-9911
Locater

Board Links

Irish breakfast at that place on Smith St.

Uncommonly Fresh Filipino Flavors at Grill 21

Grill 21 does something many of Manhattan’s Filipino eateries do not: It cooks most of its menu to order. “Not a steam table place, which is a welcome change,” notes nyufoodie, who ranks it on par with Elvie’s and a step above Krystal’s and relative newcomer Bayan Cafe. Recommended: crispy pata (fried pork knuckle) and meaty, deftly fried lumpia.

Billed as a grill, this place offers plenty of Filipino barbecue: salmon, tilapia, bangus (milkfish), short ribs, pork belly, chicken, etc. Also on the menu: adobo (with chicken or pork), kare-kare (oxtail in peanut sauce), fish and shrimp (fried or cooked in coconut milk or tamarind broth), rice porridge, and breakfast fare like longsilog (sweet pork sausage, served with egg and fried rice). Lunch specials (curry, adobo, lumpia, etc.) are $6.


Grill 21 [Gramercy]
346 E. 21st St., between 1st and 2nd Aves., Manhattan
212-473-5921
Locater

Bayan Cafe [Grand Central]
212 E. 45th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan
212-450-8260
Locater

Board Links

Best lumpia/Filipino market?

Sfogliatelle Showdown in the Bronx and Beyond

New York chowhounds have been obsessed of late with sfogliatelle, the delicate Italian breakfast pastries with a sweet, creamy, cheesy filling. Among numerous deserving purveyors around town, three emerge as current favorites:

Morrone, the Bronx: “The ultimate in sfogliatelle pleasure,” declares rose water, who describes crisp, fresh pastry enclosing an alluring filling, perfumey and just sweet enough, with a refreshing citrus note. This Morris Park veteran just opened a bright little shop on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx’s Little Italy.

Court Pastry Shop, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn: Consistently fresh, with very thin, flaky pastry resembling a clamshell, observes Cheese Boy. “In a word, perfect,” swoons kenito799, who praises its shatteringly crisp pastry and moist, delicious filling, slightly eggy and slightly citrusy. After tasting Court’s sfogliatelle alongside Morrone’s, he throws up his hands and calls it a draw: “Both are absolutely top notch.”

De Lillo’s, the Bronx: rose water likes the buttery shell with its welcome touch of salt. The filling boasts more cheesy richness than Morrone’s, which is stronger on citrus. “Maybe the ideal solution is to have De Lillo’s as a breakfast pastry and Morrone’s as an evening dessert,” muses Striver. “May our lives be filled with such dilemmas!”

Other contenders include Enrico’s in Morris Park, though it doesn’t always have sfogliatelle, and 18th Avenue Bakery in Borough Park.


Morrone Bakery [Bronx]
1946 Williamsbridge Rd., between Neill and Rhinelander Aves., Bronx
718-828-8111
Locater

Morrone Pastry Shop Cafe [Bronx]
2349 Arthur Ave., between E. 186th St. and Crescent Ave., Bronx
718-733-0424
Map

Court Pastry Shop [Carroll Gardens]
298 Court St., between DeGraw and Douglass, Brooklyn
718-875-4820
Locater

De Lillo’s Pastry Shop [Bronx]
606 E. 187th St., between Arthur and Hughes Aves., Bronx
718-367-8198
Locater

Enrico’s Pastry Shop [Bronx]
1057 Morris Park Ave., between Hone and Lurting Aves., Bronx
718-823-7207
Locater

18th Avenue Bakery [Borough Park]
6016 18th Ave., near 60th St., Brooklyn
718-256-2441
Locater

Board Links

The great Bronx sfogliatelle showdown