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

The Emperor’s New Chocolates

Fancy chocolate doesn’t come cheap, as anyone who’s swooned from sticker shock inside La Maison du Chocolat or Teuscher Chocolates knows. But at least the flown-over stuff comes with built-in import chic—and longtime chocolate-making know-how from some of the best truffle makers in the business.

But those dainty French and Swiss nibbles are priced like a Whitman’s Sampler compared to those sold by Noka Chocolates of Plano, Texas. Packed in one of their signature stainless steel boxes, 12 of Noka’s quarter-sized, bittersweet squares will set you back a stunning $99 ($39 if you skip the metal and opt for black cardboard instead). Oh, you wanted truffles? You can get eight truffles for $139 (in steel) or $70 (in cardboard). It’s hardly a surprise that Noka was founded by two accountants.

But is their chocolate really worth the price? And what’s so special about it, anyway? That’s what Texas blogger Dallas Food set out to discover, in an exhaustive nine-part expose. What starts with mild amazement at Noka’s pricing turns into an obsession with the source of chocolate for Noka’s simple confections, since (contrary to what’s implied in much of their press) the company doesn’t do their own bean-to-bar processing, but buys finished European couverture ready for molding. He narrows it down to one unconfirmed (but named) French company—a company whose own chocolate bars are readily available in many specialty shops at a comfortably reasonable price.

Interestingly enough, the Chowhound reaction focuses less on the audacity of Noka’s pricing (after all, anyone can try to kick their product into the stupid-luxury niche by charging ridiculous amounts of money; just ask the smart marketers at Grey Goose) and more on the journalistic ethics of telling only one side of the story. Not his fault, counters Dallas Food blogger Scott; when he tried to get info from the company, they “blew him off,” while his interactions with the French folks on the other end may become part of another piece.

New Wine in Old Bottles

Serious wine collectors must have a high tolerance for risk. Otherwise how could they pay thousands of dollars for a beverage that could be the nectar of the gods—or just a very expensive vinegar?

Now they have yet another thing to worry about: Experts say 5 percent of the world’s most expensive wines could be counterfeits.

There are no definite numbers on how many counterfeits are changing hands, but Serena Sutcliffe, Sotheby’s international wine director, had a sobering assessment for investors at a London meeting. The number of 1945 vintage wines being sold exceeds 1945’s output, she said.

Of course, no one is switching the Two-Buck Chuck for One-Buck Chuck, as evidenced by the fact that this news was reported in the Palm Beach Post rather than the Cleveland Plain Dealer. But just in case we’re lucky enough to be drinking a wine of spectacular vintage, Sutcliffe tells us how to tell the difference between the real and the faux:

‘The vast majority of counterfeits are drunk with enormous pleasure,’ Sutcliffe told Decanter magazine. In fact, that is one way to ferret out a fake: Very old wines are seldom drinkable; fakes tend to be consistently good.

New Food from the New EU

There’s no question that the ever-shrinking world brings with it a host of problems: new vectors for pandemics, global terrorism, monotonous rave compilations, and so on. But the shrinking globe (and growing EU, specifically) offers some exciting new culinary opportunities, or so writes the BBC.

In a brief but nicely illustrated story posted on its website, the Beeb introduces us to Bulgarian and Romanian favorites such as ciorba de perisoare (soup with meatballs), mititei (sausage-shaped hamburgers), and lyutenitsa (a roasted red pepper relish).

Although the story sheds some welcome light on the region’s folk favorites, it lacks recipes, which is sort of a shame. Those who traveled to Eastern Europe in days of yore and sampled the hotel fare (think: discs of gray mystery meat embalmed in clear gelatin) might enjoy a chance to redeem the cuisine without having to schlep back to Warsaw.

Death Be Not Hungry

We don’t yet know what Saddam Hussein’s last meal was, but the website the Spoof seems to have already put some thought into it. In one story, the Spoof suggested that Michael Jackson’s plea for Hussein’s life was unheard because of some cell phone company issues, so Saddam’s final meal of a Whopper with fries continued to be prepared. In another piece, the Spoof opined that he was pleading for “Death by Chocolate”.

Saddam Hussein has written an open letter to U.S. politicians and a human rights group requesting he be allowed to gorge himself on Mars chocolate bars until completely comatose, as part of his upcoming execution.

Riffing on the issue of botched executions by lethal injections, the Spoof suggests that death by Crock-Pot might be a good idea.

The thinking behind the change of heart by death penalty opponents is the so-called ‘boiled frog’ analogy. ‘If you throw a frog in a pot of hot water he will jump out,’ says Nathanson. ‘If you put a frog in cold water and gradually raise the temperature he won’t notice and will invite friends over for a hot tub party.’

Slow-cooked meats tend to retain their juices, making them more succulent. At present, the bodies of executed inmates are disposed of by burial, where they are devoured by worms, if at all. ‘It’s such a waste,’ says Eli Mannheim of the Committee to Feed America. ‘Throw in a few carrots and a potato and you could feed a family of four with a crack dealer or a three-time check forger.’

And since I’ve already reserved that corner table in Hell, I might as well continue with this particular strain of morbidness.

For over 20 years, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice recorded the gory details of executed prisoners’ last meals on their website. Apparently, it was the most popular feature on the entire site. However, a few years ago the meals of over 300 executed killers were expunged from the site because of claims they were “tasteless and demeaning.” (Couldn’t have been that tasteless—a lot of them ordered fried chicken.) However, if you are rabidly curious, The Memory Hole has managed to, ahem, resurrect them. Pardon the pun.

But not, apparently, the prisoners.

Catch of the Day: Senegalese ‘Paella’ at La Marmite

La Marmite does a super job with the Senegalese fish specialty thiebou djenne–as good as any version around town. It’s a heaping plate of goodness, says Polecat: garlicky fish, rice, and huge chunks of carrot, yucca, and other vegetables, with an authentic sheen from palm oil and a unique green hot sauce served on the side. The difference here is the fish, more tender–and more of it–than you’ll get at other restaurants.

This paella-inspired dish (pronounced “cheb-boo jenn,” or just “cheb”) is on the lunch menu, which gives way to a lineup of grilled meats at dinnertime–though you might still be able to get it later in the day if they haven’t run out.

La Marmite will soon open a second location on 7th Avenue (Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.) between 133rd and 134th streets, Uptownflavor reports.

La Marmite Restaurant [Harlem]
2264 Frederick Douglass Blvd. (8th Ave.), at 121st St., Manhattan

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La Marmite in Harlem

Le Bistro Elephant

Le Bistro Elephant serves very good small plates at a good value, says A Amore, like thick-cut, buttermilk-battered onion rings, dusted with melted cotija cheese and accompanied by a ketchup doctored with powdered chilis. Lamb sliders, duck tacos, and barely seared three-day-boat scallops are also recommended. Food and drinks for two, including tax and tip, will run you about $58.

Le Bistro Elephant [East Bay]

2134 Oxford St., Berkeley



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Le Bistro Elephant–Berkeley

Pizza Margherita

Pizza margherita–straight-up pizza that’s just a crust with tomato, cheese, and some basil–is excellent at Bucci’s, says TopoTail. Another contender is Cugini, though they put fresh tomato slices on the pizza even when it’s not tomato season. The rest of the pizza is perfect, though.

wchane likes the pizza margherita at the Lafayette branch of Pizza Antica. And Robert Lauriston is partial to the version at Pizzaiolo.

All of the restaurants above have wood ovens except Bucci’s.

Bucci’s [East Bay]

6121 Hollis St., Emeryville



Cugini [East Bay]

1556 Solano Ave., Albany



Pizza Antica [East Bay]

3600 Mt Diablo Blvd, at Dewing Ave., Lafayette



Pizzaiolo [Temescal]

5008 Telegraph Ave., Oakland



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Margherita Pizza in East Bay

Tinto Fino: Spanish Wine Source for New Yorkers

Diners at Tia Pol, the popular tapas joint in Chelsea, kept asking owner Mani Dawes where they could buy the wines poured at the restaurant. And she couldn’t think of any place in New York. So in October she opened Tinto Fino, the city’s first store devoted exclusively to Spanish wine and sherry.

This tiny shop, organized by region, offers around 150 choices and counting, says RichardA. The selection is broad, including the familiar Tempranillo-based wines as well as less familiar varietals such as Bobal and Mencia. Among the sherries, Spoony Bard is partial to La Cigarrera and La Gitana, both a beautiful match for Spanish food.

In addition to the wines, hounds love the vibe and appreciate the helpful owner, who is often in the house. “She is very personable and obviously quite knowledgeable,” RichardA reports. “She possesses a true passion about Spanish wine, a trait I always seek in wine store owners.”

Tinto Fino [East Village]
85 1st Ave., between E. 5th and 6th Sts., Manhattan

Tia Pol [Chelsea]
205 10th Ave., between W. 22nd and 23rd Sts., Manhattan

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Tinto Fino—New York
Tia Pol First Date

Han Shin Pocha: Seoul-Style Pub and Grill in Flushing

As Korean pubs go, Han Shin Pocha is about as authentic as they come. Known as Goo Gong Tan to Koreans, this drinking and eating hangout is part of the often-overlooked Korean enclave in Flushing’s Murray Hill neighborhood, east of downtown and a few blocks off the bustling Northern Boulevard strip. E Eto recounts a terrific meal highlighted by the house specialty, charcoal-grilled shellfish. Here’s what his group enjoyed:

- Modeum jogae (assorted clam grill): This is a big heap of regular clams, razor clams, turban (sea snails), chopped seasoned scallops, chopped clams, oysters, and enoki mushrooms–all fresh and delicious–served with udon noodles in seafood broth. Eat the shellfish as soon as they expire and open up on your tableside grill, with a dash of garlicky, vinegary orange sauce if you like, and try not to lose the juices. Save the noodles for last; by the time you’ve put away the shellfish, the noodles will be soft and the tasty broth, containing bits of squid and crab, will be boiling. surly calls this dish “hard-core, down-and-dirty Korean comfort food,” difficult to find in mainstream restaurants even in Korea.

- Sauteed baby octopus and pork belly in red sauce: Spicy, hearty, and accompanied by shiso-like ggae-nyeep (sesame leaf) and slices of chile and raw garlic.

- Goon mandoo (fried dumplings): An exemplary version, filled with pork, chive, garlic, and clear noodles, and pan-fried to perfect crispness.

- Pajun (scallion pancake): Nice and crispy and uncommonly light–and brought to E Eto’s table on the house.

- Jwee-poh (dried fish or squid): Softened on the grill, cut into strips with scissors, this is a common pub bite, great with drinks, served with hot sauce or mayonnaise for dipping.

Other smart orders include gan jang soo yook (soy sauce pork belly), marinated and preboiled, then finished on the grill; al jjigae (fish roe stew); and oh-jing-uh soondae (steamed squid stuffed with sliced blood sausage). Drinks–which flow freely here–include beer, soju, and more unusual offerings like sweet Korean raspberry wine.

The vibe is much like a Japanese izakaya–worn but warm and comfortable–and non-Koreans might find the place intimidating. If possible, go with someone who speaks the language. surly says Goo Gong Tan is modeled on Korea’s po jang ma cha, little dives that operate out of basements and tents: “The menu offerings, the Korean pop music, the graffiti all over the walls, the utter lack of restraint in drinking and eating, the camaraderie, the lack of English spoken, the absence of gringos, the uncomfortable seats–this is truly what it’s like to eat and drink in Korea.”

Han Shin Pocha, a.k.a. Goo Gong Tan [Flushing]
40-03 149th Pl., near Roosevelt Ave., Flushing, Queens

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Han Shin Pocha, Flushing

A Nicer Place for Rice Noodles. Also, More Hunanese!

Guilin rice noodles at Dandan are as good as what you’ll find in Guilin itself, says Chandavkl, who should know, having eaten the stuff three times a day on a tour there. Rice noodle soup with fish fillet comes topped with peanuts and is very good. Not into fish? There are 18 different ways you can get your rice noodle soup, including with spicy beef, duck feet, tripe, and snail meat.

Dandan, it turns out, is actually a new, kind of upscale sister restaurant of Eight Café, another reliable place to get your rice-noodle fix.

In the same plaza as Dandan is another new restaurant, the Hunanese-style Dong Ting Spring. Fish head casserole is good, maybe even better than Crown Cafe’s, says WBGuy. The menu lists a lot of Dong Ting dishes, as well as paper pot dishes, hot pot and Chairman Mao’s braised pork.

Dandan Gulin Rice Noodle [San Gabriel Valley]
formerly Q Noodle
140 W. Valley Blvd. #203, at Del Mar, San Gabriel

Guilin Mifen [San Gabriel Valley]
a.k.a Eight Cafe or A Cafe
110 E Garvey Ave., at Garfield, Monterey Park

Dong Ting Spring [San Gabriel Valley]
formerly Green Village, Green City
140 W. Valley Blvd. #206, at Del Mar, San Gabriel

Board Links

Dandan Guilin Rice Noodle
SGV chinese rampage–new restaurants in focus plaza
Dong Ting Spring Hunan Restaurant in San Gabriel Square