The CHOW Blog rss

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

In the Wong Place

There’s no doubt about it, Lee Anne Wong was my favorite Top Chef from the first season. Until she got booted after the Napa challenge, I had her picked as the winner. Or, at the very least, one of the final two.

Imagine my delight when I learned that Bravo.com would be giving us hungry surfers “Top Recipe: The Wong Way to Cook.” In the form of two-minute-long vids, Lee Anne teaches us—from her post at the French Culinary Institute in New York, no less—how to make each week’s winning dish.

However, if you want to make them exactly like you saw on television, you might be disappointed, because Lee Anne puts her own spin on the dishes. For instance, when making Frank’s low-calorie pizza, Lee Anne uses whole-wheat pita bread instead of making her own crust. (Admittedly, we could blame that choice on time constraints.) However, it would also be nice if they demonstrated the winning Quickfire dish as well. I certainly could use some sushi tips.

Too bad the Bravo site is so overwrought with fripperies and furbelows that it makes the video clips difficult to access and play at a respectable speed.

The blog TVWeek shares my frustration, and suggests:

Here’s my two cents. And take it for what it’s worth from someone who believes that if the universe intended for me to cook then restaurants wouldn’t exist, but this video needs to be much easier to find. It’s a great clip—for an escargot recipe—and a smart tie-in, but I wouldn’t even know it was a video from the image on the home page.”

Feed Me, Seymour!

BBC News recently reported that scientists at the Institute for Food Research have created a nifty computer-controlled artificial stomach that can be fed real food. According to its designers, the slick research device “mimics both the physical and chemical reactions that take place during digestion—and can even vomit.”

This makes it a step up from previous models, which focused mainly on chemistry, although we don’t want to be there when some frisky lab intern hits the puke button for a lark.

Says chief designer Dr. Martin Wickham, “Our knowledge of what actually happens in the gut is still very rudimentary, but we hope that this model can help fill in some of the blanks.”

Wafer-thin mint, anyone?

The Best Story About Wine Labels You’ll Read This Week

E/The Environmental Magazine fronts a tastefully busty brunette holding a glass of red vino to add a bit of pizzazz to an informative cover story on organic wines.

The wines are apparently hitting their stride, with U.S. sales of certified organic wine and those made with organic grapes hitting $80 million last year, up 28 percent since 2004. Moreover, the Organic Trade Association expects organic wine sales to grow about 17 percent each year through 2008.

As is usual with these sort of write-ups, the piece spends a good deal of its time sorting out its terms—”made from organic grapes” versus “USDA organic” versus “biodynamic,” and so on. A lot rides on sulfites—although the stuff occurs naturally in the winemaking process, winemakers who add a bit of the preservative to their wine blow their shot at a straight-up organic certification.

E also dedicates a sidebar to the all-important issue of whether organic wines, in addition to helping save the planet or whatever, also taste as good as their nonorganic counterparts. The verdict, as rendered by Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, is pretty positive. Other critics are less kind, but the article’s reasonable conclusion is that organic wine has the potential to be as good as wine produced by more industrial processes, and that a lot rides on the particular winemaker and the particular year.

The Stink of Progress

The Wall Street Journal reports that Kraft is ringing in the holidays with a pricey gimmick—scratch ‘n’ sniff ads in a special edition of People.

The magazine’s copy features stories about the holiday habits of dead-eyed celebs as well as suggestions on how to celebrate the season (I’m thinking buy Kraft products is probably the message here). Five of the ads sprinkled throughout the magazine contain microscopic fragrance capsules mixed into a special varnish. If consumers want to experience the industrial-dairy-fresh fragrance of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, they can have a whiff with a scratch and a sniff.

I dunno, I’m thinking one could use the scented ads as perfume. A little Chips Ahoy behind the ears? Cherry Jell-O on the pulse points? Is that crappy snack food, or is that the smell of progress?

God’s Own Flapjack

At the Prather Ranch stand at the Ferry Building farmer’s market, you can get big, fluffy buttermilk pancakes, topped with whiskey-laced maple syrup, served alongside a richly flavored sausage made from heritage pork. For $7 it’s enough food to feed two chowhounds. Really. The pancakes are tender and slightly tangy, some of the best Melanie Wong has had in a long time. And the sausage is satisfying and juicy.

These are the people who brought you pork from pigs fed on organic hops. They would not do you wrong.

Prather Ranch Meat Co [Embarcadero]
One Ferry Bldg, Shop #32, San Francisco
415-378-2917
Locater

Board Links
Pancake Breakfast @ Prather Ranch (San Francisco)

Secret Garden

Pepito’s is one of the most boring-looking stores on the street. But be a true Chowhound like rworange and go inside, and you’ll discover that the little Mexican grocery store is actually mostly a restaurant–with a surprise secret garden patio in back, shaded by trees, complete with fountain and flowers.

The enchilada suiza is recommended–stewed chicken in a complex mole sauce, topped with a little cheese and crema. Chips are thin, crisp, and deliciously lardy. Carnitas tacos are great, too, full of juicy, crispy, porky carnitas. J T likes the caldo de pollo (but recommends against the caldo de mariscos).

And cough up an extra 35 cents for a piece of rich, golden pound cake full of plump raisins, from the pan dulce case.

Pepito’s Deli [East Bay]
1087 23rd St., Richmond
510-232-7949
Locater

Board Links
Richmond–Pepito’s Deli – Sitting on the patio by the fountain eating the best enchilada Suiza & thin lardy chips ($2.50)
Richmond–Pepito’s Deli Mexicatessen – Mexican / Southwestern food & a patio

New Rochelle Mexican Update: Pork on Parade

New Rochelle, Westchester’s hot spot for Mexican chow, is loaded with rotisserie pork right now. “There seems to be a local mini-trend for tacos al pastor–I’m seeing the notices everywhere,” observes JSexton, whose favorite is the tender, peppery, brightly flavored version at Little Mexican Cafe. adamclyde loves its slight char, robust but not overpowering spicing, and touch of sweetness from the pineapple that crowns the rotating tower of meat.

But there’s lots more than al pastor at Little Mexican. Anything from the wood grill is a good bet–chorizo, carne asada, and cecina (dried salted beef) come out nice and smoky. Guacamole, mashed to order, is perfect. Their mole is deep and soulful–and not on the menu, but those in the know enjoy it with chicken or enchiladas. They’re on the top of their game right now; check ‘em out.

Around the corner at Taqueria El Chino Estilo Quitupan, look for above-average al pastor and standout carnitas, moist, rich, and flavorful. Pastelandya, a tiny tortilleria, draws crowds of locals for its al pastor tacos, which it bills as a specialty.

Some other Mexican notes from New Rochelle:

- At El Michoacano, don’t miss the carnitas. It’s a Michoacan specialty that you’d expect this past hound favorite to do at least competently, but adamclyde says their version absolutely kills–deep, moist, decadently rich, with unexpected sweetness from sauteed, almost caramelized onions and peppers.

- Mexican Corner Kitchen makes terrific chicken enchiladas with mole, generously sauced and stuffed with moist shredded chicken, reports cant talk…eating. Rice is better than average, cooked in chicken stock and sprinkled with cilantro. House-made horchata (made on premises) is worth a special trip. Carnitas and al pastor tacos are quite good but not great, says adamclyde. Past reports from this neighborly, diner-like joint praise pozole, tamales, and sopes.

- El Trigal bakes a lovely tres leches cake and corn muffins. Watch for the “Pan Caliente” sign that lights up when fresh stuff comes out of the oven.

- La Herradura: Mexican yeast bread pizzas are “strange but kinda good,” says JSexton. Also recommended: aguas frescas (including great horchata) and batidos (shakes). Other offerings are hit-or-miss.

Little Mexican Cafe [Westchester County]
581 Main St., near Centre Ave., New Rochelle, NY
914-636-3926
Locater

Taqueria El Chino Estilo Quitupan [Westchester County]
72 Centre Ave., between Main St. and Westchester Pl., New Rochelle, NY
914-636-9615
Map

Pastelandya [Westchester County]
220 Union Ave., between 2nd and 3rd Sts., New Rochelle, NY
914-576-1951
Locater

El Michoacano [Westchester County]
485 Main St., between Lawton St. and North Ave., New Rochelle, NY
914-654-9315
Locater

Mexican Corner Kitchen [Westchester County]
497 Main St., at Lawton, New Rochelle, NY
914-633-9696
Map

El Trigal Mexican Bakery [Westchester County]
216 Union Ave., near 2nd St., New Rochelle, NY
914-633-9516
Map

La Herradura Mexican Restaurant [Westchester County]
563 Main St., between Centre Ave. and Division St., New Rochelle, NY
914-235-2055
Map

Board Links
New Rochelle Mexican–a report (finally)
Cheap Mexican, Peruvian, Columbian, Ecuadorian in Port Chester
Tacos al pastor in New Rochelle, Little Mexican Cafe
Mexican Roundup in New Rochelle

A Meatless, Frankless Surprise at Dash Dogs

At Dash Dogs, even those who shun hot dogs and meat can find a worthwhile bite. Vegetarian sliders–made in-house from portobellos, squash, bread crumbs, and eggs–come with the same eclectic choice of toppings that come with dogs. “Tasty isn’t even the word for them. Amazing!” sighs foodluv, whose favorite toppings include avocado salsa, cilantro aioli, corn relish, and wasabi mayonnaise. Veggie dogs also rock, adds wleatherette.

Dash Dogs [Lower East Side]
127 Rivington St., between Essex and Norfolk, Manhattan
212-254-8885
Locater

Board Links
Looking for a good veggie patty in the Lower East Side

Home-Style Cantonese Food

At Tasty Garden, henrychan888 finally found hearty home cooking like Grandma used to make. For example, the salty fish with steamed ground pork–a lot of places just don’t serve it because of the strong smell. Tasty Garden serves it alone or with a rice hot pot.

The same dish is served at Phoenix in Alhambra, says cfylong, where they also have minced squab on lettuce leaves, another home-style dish. Phoenix Inn in downtown Chinatown is the original location of Phoenix restaurant, notes monku, and still has the same owner. The must-try dish there is the boneless salted chicken.

Chinese restaurant scout Chandavkl points out a hot spot of four very good Cantonese restaurants within walking distance of one another in Monterey Park: NYC Seafood, Seafood Village, LYL Garden and Lucky City. Most of these have lunch specials and fill up quickly, especially on weekends.

Tin Tin has reopened after remodeling, says kure–they have good specials up until 6 p.m.

Har Lam Kee is a good Cantonese joint, says Will Owen, and cheap too.

And at Embassy, Ciao Bob reports having had many a fine meal.

Tasty Garden Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
288 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra
626-300-8262
Locater

Phoenix Inn Chinese Cuisine [San Gabriel Valley]
208 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra
626-299-1238
Locater

Phoenix Inn Chinese Cuisine [Chinatown]
301 Ord St., Los Angeles
213-629-2812
Locater

Har Lam Kee Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
150 E. Garvey Ave., Garfield, Monterey Park
626-288-7299
Locater

Tin Tin Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
7621 Garvey Ave., Rosemead
626-573-1983
Locater

Embassy Chinese Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
a.k.a. Embassy Kitchen
218 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel
626-286-8148
Locater

NYC Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
715 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park
626-289-9898
Locater

Seafood Village Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
684 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park
626-289-0088
Locater

LYL Garden [San Gabriel Valley]
500 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park
626-289-8329
Map

Lucky City [San Gabriel Valley]
415 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park
626-307-7338
Map

Board Links
Authentic home cooked Cantonese joints/restaurants in L.A.?

Lubricating Rice for Flavor and Texture

Many hounds like to toast long-grain rice, especially basmati, in oil or butter for a few minutes before adding water or stock to enhance its flavor. Whether you choose a neutral oil, olive oil, or butter depends on your taste and the dishes you’ll be serving the rice with. DanaB says she sometimes sautees rice in lightly browned butter, which gives the rice a nutty, extra-buttery taste. You can saute until the rice turns tranluscent or until it’s golden, again depending on taste. Fleur uses the method for texture as well as flavor, saying it comes out perfect, with the grains always fluffy, but separate.

Board Links
Do you pan-toast your rice before cooking?