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

Seafood Saturation

The plan is this: to zip frenetically around Rhode Island’s jagged shoreline, trying bites of seafood here and there, while attempting to remain relaxed and seashoreish about it all. This is the gorgeous peak of Indian summer, and I aim to bask in balminess throughout my intense chowconnaissance.

I’ve found the perfect place to stay: Middletown. It truly is the Middle Town, 15 to 20 minutes from just about everywhere. What’s more, Middletown itself has some good places. Finally, it’s quite close to Newport, though outside the bubble of expense and traffic.

Newport has little in common with the rest of the state. Rhode island is the New Jersey of New England: working class, “ethnic,” just a bit scruffy but with lots of raw beauty. People aren’t just unpretentious, they’re anti-pretentious. And amid this blue-collar stew is the non sequitur of old-money Newport. I hear there are some good things to eat in Newport, and I like to plunge into the widest range of scenes—especially non sequiturs! But I was so wrapped up in shacks that I ran out of time and missed hitting Newport proper.

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The day started in unexpected triumph. Rather than spoil the tale, I’ll let you listen to the podcast I recorded just after the Chowhounding Gods smiled upon me: MP3.

My recorder’s battery died in mid-podcast, but here’s the rest of the story. This diner, which I’d found ten years earlier and dreamed of ever since (but was never able to identify), suddenly appeared. Ecstatic, I pulled off the road, recorded the above jubilant podcast, and went into Bishop’s 4th Street Diner (184 Admiral Kalbfus Road, Newport, Rhode Island; 401-847-2069).

It is, as I’d recalled, on a traffic circle:

And it’s still a beautifully preserved old-fashioned railroad-car-style diner.

The diner is under new ownership, and I was crestfallen to spot a young kid in the kitchen who looked like he’d rather be out skateboarding. I couldn’t have been more wrong. His cooking was fabulous (more on that in a minute), and this chef’s a formidable dude. He walked by as I was browsing New England’s Favorite Seafood Shacks, and at a mere glance—without slowing down!—spewed comments about food quality at each place mentioned on the page. He doesn’t miss a thing, and is totally passionate about his job, boasting that “some people say we do better seafood than the shacks.” I didn’t order seafood there, but I completely believe it’s true.

Chowhounding requires constant theorizing. But theories require presumptions. And once again, I’d been shown the pitfalls of stereotyping based on preconceptions. Preconceptions are inevitable, I suppose, but the trick is to be flexible enough to abandon them on a dime.

But about the food. Yikes, have a look at this amazing sandwich of roast turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. It works! So delicious. I’ll never forget it:

This strawberry shortcake may have been less refined than the masterpiece served me at Canyon Grill, back in Rising Fawn, Georgia (see report #25), but it contained no less love or intrinsic deliciousness:

I missed johnnycakes by a mere 15 minutes. God …

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Flo’s Clam Shack (4 Wave Avenue, Middletown, Rhode Island; 401-847-8141) is so archetypally clam-shacky that it’s hard to believe this place is real, and not just some cynical evocation of genre.

But let’s talk about clam cakes.

Clam cakes aren’t what you think. If the name makes you visualize crab cakes with clam instead of crab, you’re way off. These are clearly Italian—like zeppole (fried dough) studded with vestigial bits of clam. They are crunchy/fluffy delicious (when served straight from the fryer, which is the only way to have them), and they live to be dunked in Rhode Island clam chowder (a grayish brine rife with diced potatoes that lives to have clam cakes dunked in it). Flo’s is excellent for both clam cakes and chowder. And, as you can see in the photos, it’s a fun place to hang out in.

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Champlin’s Seafood (256 Great Island Road, Narragansett, Rhode Island; 401-783-3152) is also picturesque. It’s a tourist magnet, hence the queue. They make excellent fried seafood and chowder. I wasn’t reduced to a sobbing wreck or anything, but every bite tasted right on the money.

If you ever go here, pass on the ice cream stand situated beneath the restaurant. I had one lick and almost choked on an industrial-tasting chemical flavor. It was obviously an error, but still …

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Chopmist Charlie’s (40 Narragansett Avenue, Jamestown, Rhode Island; 401-423-1020) is a homey sit-down restaurant run by a gregarious dude named Charlie. I got the broiled-seafood platter (for $22.95), which consisted of fresh scrod and sea scallops broiled with buttercrumb topping, along with a stuffie and two baked stuffed shrimp. The vegetables were actually the best thing. Stuffies (bread stuffing mixed with chopped clams and baked in clam shells) were fun, and scallops were just OK. I didn’t love the apple crisp. This is a cool, convivial place, with the sort of bar where strangers talk. Their luxurious lobster bisque is real good.

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Gray’s Ice Cream (16 East Road, Tiverton, Rhode Island; 401-624-4500) is killer great. Put it on your short list if you’re ever around here. How many ice cream stands afford an opportunity to meet your cows?

Gray’s butterscotch ice cream is sensational, one of the best butterscotch items I’ve ever had. It’s not a precious butterscotch hard-candy flavor; it’s more rich butterscotch-puddingish flavor. It’s a must-slurp … though only if you can tear yourself away from the ginger ice cream. It’s full-flavored in its ginger flavor and reasonably potent, but doesn’t quite crest into over-the-top heat.

Coffee cabinet (same as a shake or frappe) is also precision balanced. Not too sweet, not too ice creamy, not too milky, not too thin, not too thick … just dead dead-on. Wow.

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Hey, you wanna see some bad food?

Looks good, no? But no. It’s unredeemably empty soulless slop (from Sakonnet Fish Co., 657 Park Avenue, Portsmouth, Rhode Island; 401-683-1180).

I now mistrust my camera. If it makes bad food look good, then I can no longer rely on it to convey truth about things I love. Why is my camera, after many trustworthy weeks, suddenly lying? Is this covered by warranty?

“Dear Casio: My Casio Exilim EX-Z750 has turned dishonest …”

Real Oaxacan Mole

If you’ve been fortunate enough to travel in Oaxaca, you may feel cursed upon your return–because back home, there’s none of that mole. You wander the world like a junkie, seeking that full strength black mole paste with which to brutalize chicken.

Never fear–Karina’s has the good stuff, though at $10 a pound, it’s not cheap. Eat_Nopal thinks it’s a very decent version, based on aroma and consistency.

Also note that many Mexican markets in the area sell fresh mole in the carniceria, often in a paste so thick it gets cut into squares. rworange thinks the carniceria in Mi Tierra Supermercado has the most promising mole, but look around your neighborhood and poke around any exciting carnicerias you find.

Karina’s Mexican Bakery [Sonoma County]

827 Petaluma Blvd N., Petaluma



Carniceria Mi Tierra [East Bay]

516 23rd Street, at Barrett, Richmond



Board Links

Mole in the bay area

Don’t Miss the Boat

Sushi that comes by on a little boat on a conveyer belt isn’t going to provide you with the same epicurean enjoyment as omakase from a sushi master. But the stuff at Sushi Maru is extremely enjoyable and quite cheap, making it the perfect choice for when you’re cruising with, say, your four-year-old grandchild, says Sushi Monster. Other hounds agree. “Sushi Maru has better stuff on the conveyors than the majority of sushi bars in the Bay Area,” says Melanie Wong.

Check out their Japanese specials board, advises Humbucker. It often has unusual items you wouldn’t ordinarily find on the white boards at other cheap sushi-yas. And remember, you’re not limited to what’s on the conveyer belt–they’ll make sushi to order for you, too.

Sushi Maru [South Bay]
262 Jackson St., at 6th St., San Jose



Board Links: Yuzu (San Mateo, sushi) updater —too steep for Sushi Monster

At MarkJoseph, a Seafood Tower Minus the Ice

MarkJoseph Steakhouse has a different take on the seafood tower. Rather than going raw and cold, theirs is cooked. It includes fried clams, calamari, lobster tail, shrimp, and mussels, and it’s great, swears wingman.

For a more conventional version, many hounds turn to Balthazar (see also ChowNews #206, #210, #236, #238, #239). Its plateau de fruits de mer gets a lift from standout sauces, including mignonette and a tomatoey tarragon one, says MMRuth.

Others swear by raw bar favorite Aquagrill for its plateau or plateau Royale (oysters, clams, shrimp, periwinkles, mussels, lobster, more).

Orsay and L’Absinthe also erect hound-endorsed seafood towers.

MarkJoseph Steakhouse [South Street Seaport]

261 Water St., near Peck Slip, Manhattan



Balthazar [Soho]

80 Spring St., at Crosby, Manhattan



Aquagrill [Soho]

210 Spring St., at 6th Ave., Manhattan



Orsay Restaurant [Upper East Side]

1057 Lexington Ave., at E. 75th St., Manhattan



L’Absinthe [Upper East Side]

227 E. 67th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan



Board Links

Best Seafood Tower?

Pollos El Paisa: Stellar Chicken in Westbury, L.I.

As the name would suggest, Pollos El Paisa is all about the chicken. Colombian-style rotisserie birds are the don’t-miss order. For a taste of the rest of the menu, the bandeja paisa (mountain platter) includes the chicken plus fried pork belly, grilled skirt steak, fried egg, plantains, avocado, rice, beans, and an arepa. Highly recommended, says halokiti, who loves just about everything here except the salty seafood paella.

Also on the menu: fish soup, stewed beef tongue, grilled beef steak or pork loin, garlicky camarones al ajillo and other shrimp dishes, and more. “This place is great–a very good value and very good food!” raves Gastronomos.

Pollos El Paisa [Nassau County]

989 Old Country Rd., between Brooklyn Ave. and State St., Westbury, NY



Board Links

Westbury Chicken

More Gelato, More Fro-Yo Flavors

Opening just in time for Christmas, the folks at Hollywood Gelato Company in Los Feliz clearly lack a sense of timing as well as geography. It’s cute inside, with a decent but not huge selection of flavors. Those flavors, by the way, are not nearly as interesting as the ones a few minutes away at Pazzo Gelato, comments Queequeg. The gelato itself, which isn’t made on-site, is actually too creamy, making it more like rich ice cream than gelato. A small cup is $2.95.

Change is in the air at Fiore, the tangy-yogurt place in Little Tokyo. Well, not the Pinkberry-knockoff decor–those Starck Ghost chairs are there to stay. But the name of the store is now “If,” perhaps adding an air of mystery, and they’ve branched out from their original two flavors (plain and green tea), adding sour and blueberry–or was that blackberry?

Hollywood Gelato Company [Los Feliz]
1936 Hillhurst

Pazzo Gelato [Silverlake]
3827 Sunset Blvd., at Hyperion

If Yogurt [Little Toyko]
formerly Fiore
134 Japanese Village Plaza Mall

Board Links

Hollywood Gelato Co in Los Feliz: Now Open!
Fiore Yogurt becomes ‘IF’

Ramen Alert: Sherman Oaks and West LA

Sherman Oaks has a new ramen joint, Koraku, a sister restaurant to the one in Little Tokyo. CarlieinLA checked it out and reports they have about 30 kinds of ramen as well as yakisoba, rice dishes and typical Japanese entrees like teriyaki, cutlets and on.

Miso yasai ramen comes with tons of fresh veggies (cabbage, mushrooms, and corn) but not so much pork. The portion of soup is generous, though, and the noodles fresh and perfectly cooked–they make it just behind the bar.

The place is small, but cute. Note that for the time being, it’s cash only.

Heads up, rameniacs: Santouka, revered as one of the best ramen joints around, just opened in the renovated West LA!

Koraku [East San Fernando Valley]
14425 Ventura Blvd., Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks


Koraku Restaurant [Little Tokyo]
314 E. 2nd St.

Santouka Ramen [Beaches]
in Mitsuwa Market
3760 Centinela Ave.

Board Links

Koraku Ramen Sherman Oaks–Open
Official Santkouta West LA opening date

Great-Great Aunt Josephine’s Sugar Cookies

Cream of tartar is the secret ingredient in pilotgirl210’s great-great aunt Josphine’s sugar cookies–it gives them a terrific, flaky texture. toodie jane says they’re marvelous: “The texture beats all the other sugar cookies I’ve ever made or eaten. Who knew sugar cookies could be this good.”

The recipe:

3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. cream of tartar

1 tsp. baking soda
2 sticks (1 cup) butter
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Using an electric mixer, blend the flour, sugar, cream of tartar, baking soda, and butter to a crumbly consistency (it should resemble shortening cut into flour for pie crust). In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the vanilla. Add the eggs slowly to the dry ingredients and mix well to form a dough. Roll out on lightly floured surface, cut out with cookie cutters, and bake at 375F for 10 minutes. When cooled, frost or decorate as desired.

Board Links

Toodie Jane: Great-Great-Aunt Josephine’s Sugar Cookie Recipe

A Winner of a Chocolate Cookie

These chocolate crinkle cookies are fabulous, raves AnneInMpls–they taste like gooey, chewy brownies. And though they’ve got lots of sugar and chocolate, no one who tries them would guess that they’re made without butter or egg yolks, and have less than 1/4 cup of oil for a recipe that yields a few dozen.

Board Links

A winner of a chocolate cookie

Kettle Potato Chips

There are bunch of new flavored chips from the Kettle folks. The chips are all naturally flavored, with no MSG, sugar, or trans fats, and the flavors are terrific:

Aztec Chocolate has dark Mexican chocolate, spiced with cumin and chile powder.

Royal Indian Curry has the right aroma, but the flavor is like chicken boullion, says Chowsmurph.

Twisted Chile Lime is pretty much like a lot of spicy lime chips out there.

Island Jerk has a great combo of spices, and tastes just like jerk sauce.

Dragon Five Spice is another winner.

Board Links

I’m on a mission- Kettle Chips New Flavor Voting- Aztec Chocolate must win