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

Eggs Benedict

The selection of eggs Benedict at Zazie is highly recommended by several hounds. shnigglebob and Maya particularly like the Eggs Monaco, a toasted English muffin topped with prosciutto, tomatoes provencale, poached eggs, and hollandaise. Sip some hot chocolate on the sidewalk while you’re waiting for a table.

peterme’s favorite eggs Benedict is served at Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe, with “super divine” hollandaise. And many hounds like the eggs Benedict at Canteen, even self-described hollandaise snob Frosty Melon. Hounds warn that the Canteen stuff is only superior if main chef Leary is there.

The Benedict at Mama’s is also great. StewartsDinDin loves the Marco Polo (creative eggs Benedict) at Home Plate, and vwbug7 likes the Benedict–and the potatoes–at All You Knead.

Zazie [Cole Valley]
941 Cole St., San Francisco

Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café [East Bay]
4081 Hollis St., Emeryville

Canteen [Union Square]
817 Sutter St., in Commodore Hotel, San Francisco

Home Plate [Marina]
2274 Lombard St., San Francisco

All You Knead [Haight]
1466 Haight St., San Francisco

Board Links

Good Eggs Benedict in San Francisco?

Boqueria: Crowd-Pleasing Spanish Flavors in Chelsea

Hounds who have squeezed into Boqueria, the hot Spanish spot in Chelsea, report inventive, flavorful tapas and other Catalan-inspired bites. “Terrific! It was almost like each dish was competing to outdo the previous one,” raves RCC, who was knocked out by crispy roast pork, salt cod fritters, fried quail egg and chorizo on toast, and a stellar special of chopped razor clams on the shell.

Also recommended: potato-onion tortilla, blistered Padron peppers, skewered grilled lamb marinated in lemon and cumin, and bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almond and Cabrales. It’s not all tapas, pinxtos, and other nibbles; the menu also offers larger plates like roast lamb shoulder, braised chicken with mushrooms, and New York strip steak.

Detractors complain of meager portions, close quarters, and a deafening din. “Intolerably loud, and the food isn’t that good. Tia Pol is many times better,” grouses gutsofsteel. “This place is very noisy,” acknowledges RCC, “noisier than the Barcelona marketplace it is named after. Tight, crowded, and extremely busy. A potential turn-off–unless you’re into very good Spanish food and a decent selection of Spanish wines.”

Boqueria [Chelsea]
formerly L’Acajou
53 W. 19th St., between 5th and 6th Aves., Manhattan

Board Links

Bouqueria in Chelsea–Terrific!
Boqueria Review
Boqueria, new tapas restaurant in the Flatiron District?

Superior Dumplings and Other Flushing Mini-Mall Finds

Best North Dumpling Shop lives up to its name. This new shopping-mall stand serves delicate, well-seasoned boiled dumplings, Shandong style. Flavors are fresh and light, reports HLing. She singles out pork and sour cabbage dumplings, which top the version at Waterfront, a nearby northeastern Chinese restaurant.

Best North makes at least nine other fillings, and unlike many competitors they offer most varieties fresh, not just frozen to go. The herbaceous dumplings with pork and dill (sometimes translated as fennel) boast fine flavor, texture, and filling-to-dough ratio–better than at Manhattan’s Tasty Dumpling, says HLing. Other choices include vegetable, seafood, mutton, beef-turnip, cabbage-celery-pork, and the classic chive-shrimp-pork. This new shopping center also has a tiny sushi stand and a larger stall called Old Northeast.

Another chowish Flushing mini-mall is at Main Street and 41st Road, where a handful of food vendors are spread out on two floors, tucked in among hair salons and shoe and handbag shops. On street level, near the back of a narrow row of shopping stalls, you’ll find excellent lamb noodle soup–$4 for a large tub of wide, flat hand-rolled noodles in fresh, subtle broth. “A great noodle experience, the best I’ve had in ages,” raves Polecat. “What kicked this into the stratosphere, however, is the slide-off-the-bone chunks of fatty lamb.” Look for a sign with a picture of a man in a chef’s hat.

Downstairs, Chengdu Tian Fu offers Sichuan dishes like meats or vegetables in chile oil, ma la rabbit or beef tendon, and fiery “water cooked” pork, beef, or fish. eade ranks it among the three most authentic Sichuan places in Flushing; the others, he says, are Little Pepper and the Sichuan stand in Main Street’s J & L Mall (see below).

Across the aisle from Chengdu Tian Fu is Happy Family, a Fuzhou-leaning place with a brief menu of dumplings, fish balls, stews and noodle soups, with nothing over $5. (This is the owners’ second try in this space; their first was a Fuzhou vegetarian place whose dishes were tasty, unusual, and made with care, yet never found an audience, laments HLing.) The third vendor downstairs is a closet-size Wenzhou place called Lui; no reports yet on the chow.

A block and a half south, there’s news from J & L Mall, a destination for uncompromisingly authentic Chinese chow. Until now, the lack of English signage at this bare-bones food court has frustrated those who don’t read Chinese. But hounds are beginning to crack the code, sharing a floor plan and translated menus from the Sichuan, Guizhou, and hand-pulled noodle stands at the back of the mall. Still largely a mystery, for now: the Muslim Chinese and Fuzhou stalls closer to Main Street.

Best North Dumpling Shop [Flushing]
135-08 Roosevelt Ave. #A4, near Prince St., in Prince Shopping Center, Flushing, Queens

Waterfront International Restaurant [Flushing]
40-09 Prince St., between Roosevelt Ave. and 40th Rd., Flushing, Queens

Tasty Dumpling [Chinatown]
54 Mulberry St., between Bayard and Mosco, Manhattan

Noodle soup vendor [Flushing]
41-28 Main St. (street level), at 41st Rd., Flushing, Queens

Chengdu Tian Fu [Flushing]
41-28 Main St. #31 (downstairs), at 41st Rd., Flushing, Queens

Happy Family Restaurant [Flushing]
41-28 Main St. #29 (downstairs), at 41st Rd., Flushing, Queens

Xiao La Jiao, a.k.a. Little Pepper [Flushing]
133-43 Roosevelt Ave., between Prince St. and College Point Blvd., Flushing, Queens

J & L Mall [Flushing]
41-82 Main St., between Sanford and Maple Aves., Flushing, Queens

Board Links

new favorites: Northeastern dumpling place and update on bakery in Flushing
ISO Vegetarian Restaurants in Queens
Happy Family Vegetarian–basement at 41 rd & Main street
Fantastic Big Flat Lamb Noodle Soup in Flushing, 41-28 Main
Floor plan of Flushing food court located on Main St between Maple and Sanford

Texturized Vegetable Protein

TVP, or texturized vegetable protein, is made from soy flour, in a variety of shapes. It’s a versatile source of vegetable protein, and makes a creditable meat substitute, according to Alan Divak.

Toast it in a non-stick skillet, with a bit of oil. Add boiling water to rehydrate, and flavoring, like beef or vegetarian bullion cubes. With something like chili, just toss the pieces in dry and add a bit more water, says Divamac.

For a sloppy Joe, TVP is VERY close to the real thing and it freezes really well. Add to rice for stuffing peppers, adds JRL.

For a protein-rich granola, Ira adds TVP to toasted and sweetened nuts and shredded coconut.

TVP recipes

Board Links

Textured or Texturized Protein???

Why Whey?

Whey is the liquid that separates from the curds in cheese making. It’s a useful byproduct that’s high in protein, so don’t throw it out!

You can make more cheese with it, like ricotta. (Fun fact for the day: “ricotta” means “recooked.”) It’s easy, says lisa13:

Heat the whey to 200F. If the whey is acidic enough, you’ll see flecks of albumin when it gets to about 200F. If that doesn’t happen, add a tablespoon or two of white vinegar. When the resulting albumin starts to separate, maintain the heat for a few minutes to allow it to set up. To drain, pour through very fine cheesecloth in a collander; it usually takes several hours to drain completely. Salt, if you like.

The yield is 1-1 1/2 cup of ricotta from the whey left over from cheese made from a gallon of milk.

Here’s another recipe from the web

Whey freezes well, so you can freeze it and save up enough to make a bigger batch of ricotta.

JGrey recommends the book Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon. She uses whey in nearly everything, from the liquid used in bread baking, to making sauerkraut and pickles.

Board Links

Uses for Whey–the Real Deal, Not Powder

Fruit with a Kick, Mexican Style

It’s a delicious Mexican custom to serve cool fruit with a squeeze of citrus juice and a sprinkle of chile powder. Street carts selling bags of sliced fruit this way are ubiquitous in cities with large Mexican-American populations, but chilied fruits are dead easy to make in your own home. The most common fruits served this way are tropical fruits (mango, pineapple, coconut) and watermelon, along with the occasional cucumber or jicama. Jicama’s a must for refreshing the tastebuds, says Dommy, who also recommends mixing a bit of orange juice with the more common lime. Just choose your favorite fruits, squeeze a bit of lime or lime and and orange over, and sprinkle with the right kind of chile powder. There are several types and brands, easily found at Mexican markets; the label will usually say “para frutas” and have a picture of fruit. You can also order online.

Board Links

Recreating street fruit salads like the ones sold in L.A.?

In the Soup

Vietnamese restaurants all around the country probably experienced an uptick in business last night as a comprehensive post on the life-giving Vietnamese breakfast soup pho appeared on the blog MetaFilter. With links to websites, blogs, interesting articles, and recipes, it’s a one-stop placeholder for all your pho needs.

The post garners a rather high 95 comments, turning MetaFilter briefly into Chowhound as commenters debate the merits of tripe and tendon versus flank and brisket; argue over whether to add sauces and sprouts, and discuss the best places to get a bowl of pho in their city.

The most prevalent comment? Variations on “I know what I’m eating tonight.”

Midcoast Maine in Pain (and Big Score in Damariscotta)

Lincoln County, Maine

Heading northward, I stopped at the legendary Red’s Eats (Main and Water streets, Wiscasset, Maine; 207-882-6128). They’re a landmark for lobster rolls, though opinion seems extraordinarily divided. A sizable number of Mainers seem to feel that Red’s makes an undistinguished lobster roll that’s been highly overrated by clueless tourists.

The photo below shows Red’s laughably tiny size, but also the supremacy of its location, location, location. This tiny shack occupies the central visual field of all drivers headed over the Sheepscot River bridge on Route 1 (you can just barely see the on-ramp in the photo)—which is to say: all coastal traffic headed northward.

I tried a lobster roll, and I don’t fathom the controversy. I can’t find a thing to complain about, and frankly can’t imagine any reason why anyone would ever want any other lobster roll. The Red’s lobster roll amounts to this: huge unbroken chunks of lobster meat expertly picked out of the shell, cooked to a T, sweet as can be, on carefully grilled bread. Nothing else. That’s it. If you don’t like this, you just don’t like lobster.

This is what it’s like to eat a perfect lobster (actually, it’s two lobsters’ worth of meat) whose shell has magically vanished. It is the epitome of everything crustacean:

The sole downside is that the unfamiliar ease of confronting two buck-naked lobsters tempts one into taking huge bites, which require mighty chewing. This can lead to the false impression that the lobster isn’t optimally tender. It is. You’re just wolfing down larger morsels than nature had intended.

Red’s “homemade” lemonade, however, is a sham. It tastes like lemon Tang. I don’t hear Mainers complaining about this.

Right after lunch, I had a slightly heated phone conversation with Maine native Pat Hammond over the propriety of Red’s lobster rolls. Listen in on this podcast: MP3.

A gaggle of restaurants and shops cluster around Red’s, hoping to glom tourism juju. Across the street, Sarah’s (US Route 1, Wiscasset, Maine; 207-882-7504) makes really good home-baked-tasting peanut butter cookies:

They pass the paper bag test:

+ + +

Later, I trekked way out of my way to Shaw’s Fish and Lobster Wharf (129 State Route 32, Pemaquid Peninsula, Maine; 207-677-2200), hearing there was great food and a fun bar with cool bartenders, but things were shutting down for winter, and only the dull upstairs cafeteria was open.

But I enjoyed walking around the pier and taking moody photos. While it was still quite warm, I could feel the season about to change.

I couldn’t possibly eat another lobster roll, though I’ve heard Shaw’s are good, so I opted instead for lobster stew, which was subtle and pristine.

The stew was chock full of tasty lobster chunks. But I feel spoiled by Red’s, which left me with the staunch conviction that there’s nothing one can do to lobster to make it better than just plain lobster. Hey, I sound like a New Englander!

+ + +

I was hoping to have dinner at the remote Anchor Inn (Anchor Inn Road, Round Pond, Maine; 207-529-5584)—or at least a dinnerish gesture, given that I’m extremely full, having scarfed the entire lobster roll at Red’s earlier today. I’m starting to worry about myself; I’ve been losing my food-writer discipline and consuming more than my usual mere bite or two. This has landed me near the pain point, and that’s not a good place to be.

I’d heard Anchor Inn is idyllic and serves great desserts, but they were closed for the season, so I headed to the Damariscotta River Grill (155 Main Street, Damariscotta, Maine; 207-563-2992), owned by the same people. This place is situated closer to civilization, in the charming town of Damariscotta, and it’s open year-round.

What a sweet, no-nonsense, romantic restaurant! I realize those adjectives don’t really go together, but I’ve never seen a place like this before. Well, that’s not true. Canyon Grill, from report #25, was similar. The vibe is upscale but not pretentious. You don’t feel your status buttons eagerly pushed to assure you that you’re getting value for the premium charged. Prices are justified by quality and care rather than smoke and mirrors.

And they’re not trying to offer a taste of big-city restaurant glamour to the provinces. Just as Canyon Grill is a world-class restaurant that firmly belongs on that mountain in Georgia, so does the Damariscotta River Grill fit the picture here in salty Damariscotta. But it’s really elegant and really good.

I was forced to conclude this from mere dribs and drabs. Determined to experience the restaurant without actually eating anything of substance, I ordered a half-dozen raw oysters, a glass of apple cider, and bread pudding. But I was able to coast a little, thanks to a revelational bread basket.

What on earth was that sophisticated, amazing bread basket doing out here in the boonies? It included apparently housemade breadsticks and great fluffy Italian peasant bread (some of the best I’ve ever had … soft but chewy, with beautifully crunchy crust), and came with top-drawer olive oil for dipping. I’ve rarely seen this level of quality in top Manhattan spots!

The cider wasn’t just great and fresh; it was interesting. Someone had shown artistry in blending the apple varieties.

The oysters—local Pemaquids—were sublime. Even the best oyster bars in big cities are only an echo of oysters such as these: I wanted to sing to my mollusks, pet them, thank them for what they did for me:

Bread pudding was stately and thoughtful without being presumptuous or precious. It wasn’t just slammingly delicious. It had class.

Perfect oysters, perfect dessert, perfect bread, perfect breadsticks, perfect olive oil, perfect ambiance, perfect service (friendly, genuine, professional). Oh, how I wish I could have eaten a full meal here. I’ll return first chance I get.

It was late by the time I got to Moody’s Diner (Route 1, Waldoboro, Maine; 207-832-7785), and I thought I’d down a bite or two of their famed walnut pie. I finished most of the (wondrous) slice …

... and then worked myself into a lather out in the parking lot. Brace yourself for a delirious meltdown of a podcast: MP3.

Free Foie with Purchase

It’s no longer legal to sell foie gras in your Chicago restaurant. Flout the ban and you risk getting slapped with a $250 fine. But chic New American bistro Bin 36 breezed through a legal loophole when restaurant inspectors came knocking: According to their menu, the $15 wild-mushroom appetizer is just that. Oh, the foie gras on the plate? That’s compliments of the house.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, by describing the dish on the menu as “Wild Mushroom Confit Salad, Hudson Valley foie gras, on us,” the restaurant could claim that it was just handing out a freebie alongside a regular item.

Although the restaurant had previously received a warning, the supposed liver lagniappe was enough to get the swank River North joint off the hook. Said Health Department spokesman Tim Hadac, “The ordinance prohibits the sale of foie gras. It does not address giving it away.”

The ban isn’t filling city coffers; in fact, according to a recent wire story in the International Herald Tribune, the city “has yet to levy its first fine,” which is hardly a surprise, given Hadac’s acknowledgment that the ban is the department’s “lowest priority.”

At Hot Doug’s, a gourmet hot dog joint whose menu has included a foie-gras-and-duck sausage with black truffle butter and goat cheese, as well as a smoked-pheasant sausage topped with chunks of foie gras, owner Doug Sohn has framed his warning letter and put it on prominent display.

Other restaurants are simply switching back to plain English. Said Copperblue chef/owner Michael Tsonton to a reporter at the Chicago Tribune, “Right now I’ve got to play nice. I don’t serve foie gras, it’s duck liver.”

“Top Chef” Check-in

The opening of Perilla, last year’s Top Chef winner’s new restaurant, seems to be stalled for the moment, but Harold Dieterle is trying to keep his name alive by blogging about the second season of Top Chef on His recent post (“Why All the Hate?”), which threw all kinds of support Marcel’s way after the Seven Deadly Sins challenge, just proved what a gosh-darned nice guy he is. However, it also provoked this tongue-in-cheek response about his bathroom behavior in New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer.

Last year’s Top Chef runner-up, Tiffani Faison, spent her summer cooking at Straight Wharf on Nantucket, but has now moved down south to New Orleans, where she was named executive chef at Todd English’s Riche. (My Lord, how many restaurants does that guy have?!)

Tiffani also checked in with the blog Top Chef 2: They Cook. We Dish, where she talks about how Spain and Japan excite her and how she’s really into local New Orleans ingredients, like espelette pepper and artisanal sausages. The interview then turned to the topic of Bravo’s creative editing procedures.

BS: Bravo seems to have success with editing their programs to reflect the Hero/Villain/Clown trilogy, and Top Chef is no exception. What ended up on the editing room floor that you would have really liked for viewers to see?

TF: The amount of compliments I dished out to the other cast members in my interviews ended up on the floor. There were some people that I really liked and respected.

Those compliments must’ve ended up on the cutting room floor of those cast members’ brains as well.

And finally, posters on the Television Without Pity Top Chef discussion forums called my attention to this Top Chef–themed Kevin & Kell strip by cartoonist Bill Holbrook.