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

Legit Vietnamese at Nha Toi

The pho ga is flavorful, the eel is delicious, the salted fish fried rice is dangerously addictive, and it you’re looking for real Vietnamese food that can hang with the home cooking of people’s grandmothers from the Old Country, you NEED this place. Alice Patis and Carb Lover are both pleasantly reminded of childhood and Mom’s home cooking when they eat here.

The menu offers so many choices that it’s hard to pick just a few things to order. Salads are full of interesting textures and fresh, herbal flavors. Crispy “burnt” rice (com chay, $4.50) makes a perfect foil to pungent, salty, oily minced pork (mam ruoc hue xao xa ot thit heo, $8.95). And the fried rice (com chien ca man, $7.95) is humble in appearance but transcendent in flavor and texture. The rice is amazingly tender, and the “dried salted fish reminded me of the transformative power of anchovies,” says Carb Lover. Luon xao lan (stir-fried eel, $9.95) is a very tasty dish–the eel is served in chunks, bone-in, stir-fried with mild, sweet onions and glass noodles, and sauced with a very fine blend of yellow curry, coconut juice, lemongrass, and hot pepper.

Have a refreshing avocado smoothie if you like ($3). And if you’re not sure what to order, ask the staff–they’re very nice, helpful, and friendly.

Nha Toi Restaurant [South Bay]
480 E. William St., btwn. 10th and 11th Streets, San Jose 95112

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San Jose Viet Lunch Group goes to Nha Toi
San Jose Viet Lunch Group Repeats Nha Toi
Lunch for two at Nha Toi (San Jose)

Holy Gelato

Holy Gelato sells gelato from Latest Scoop, Classico, and Maggie Mudd. It’s pretty expensive–a mini-size is just under $3–but it’s excellent, particularly for the selection of soy- and coconut milk-based vegan gelati. Maggie Mudd’s Dubliner, for instance, is a coconut milk-based vegan concoction, coffee-flavored with chocolate cookie crumbs and a slug of Irish whiskey. The whiskey leaves a long, alcoholic tingle on the tongue and there’s so much going on, you don’t even miss the butterfat or dairy, says Melanie Wong.

Holy Gelato [Sunset]
1392 9th Ave., at Judah St., San Francisco

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Holy Gelato, San Francisco

The First Rule of Meat Club Is, You Must Eat Meat

Meat-lovin’ Tuscan fanciers should be booking their Alitalia flights now, after S. Irene Virbila’s Los Angeles Times ode to a five-course, all-meat dinner she recently enjoyed in the heart of Chianti. We picked up the story from Shuna on Eggbeater, who, while salivating herself, gave a cautionary shout-out to the sensitive dispositions of her Bay Area readers, warning that the article was “for meat-eating audiences only.”

And how. Virbila’s meal is served up by Dario Cecchini, the gruff, opinionated butcher made famous in Bill Buford’s book Heat. In Buford’s quest to become (or at least emulate) SuperMario, the New Yorker writer turned Babbo apprentice is subjected to maestro Cecchini’s operatic declarations about everything from the superiority of true Tuscan Chianina beef to the right—and only—way to hold a knife, butcher a steer, and grind sausage. Cecchini is no less dogmatic in his dealings with Virbila and the rest of the diners at Solociccio, the family-style restaurant attached to his butcher shop, Antica Macelleria Cecchini.

His rules? Five courses of meat, no choices, plus two vegetables. Bring your own wine. No turning up your nose at the dicey bits, like cow’s knee and pig’s trotters. Respect the animal.

While Virbila’s piece does rely rather heavily on the joyful-Italian cliche—you get the impression that a rousing, roomwide Puccini chorus was just a third glass of grappa away—the cooking does sound dreamy, from the burro di Chianti (lardo, or fresh pork fat, mixed with garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper) to brasato al midollo, a boned beef shank braised for hours with shallots and beef marrow.

DB Wine Bar: For Forest Hills, a Taste of Something New

Before DB Wine Bar came along in summer, Forest Hills had nothing like it. So the place quickly got the attention of neighborhood hounds, who have taken to its clean and modern look, reasonably priced wines, and thoughtfully conceived menu of Mediterranean-ish small plates.

Early hits include polenta sandwiches, risotto cakes, chicken cooked under a brick, and well put-together cured meat and cheese plates (recent winning choices include a French blue, Humboldt Fog chevre, and ripe, earthy Brie). “A promising addition to the decidedly unambitious dining scene of Forest Hills,” says DaveS, who enjoyed a 2003 Chateau de Pez, fairly priced at $52. The kitchen has kinks to work out. Grilled calamari, well seasoned and done to a turn one night, can be overcooked the next. Serrano ham croquettes might be just fine or unpleasantly gooey inside.

DB Wine Bar replaces Dee’s Brick Oven Pizza, which has moved a few blocks down Metropolitan.

DB Wine Bar and Kitchen [Forest Hills]
formerly Dee’s Brick Oven Pizza
104-02 Metropolitan Ave., at 71st Dr., Forest Hills, Queens

Dee’s Brick Oven Pizza [Forest Hills]
107-23 Metropolitan Ave., between Ascan and 74th Aves., Forest Hills, Queens

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DB Wine Bar, Forest Hills?
Danny Brown “DB” Wine Bar in Forest Hills

Bondi Road: From the Land Down Under, Simple Seafood

Pick a fish, decide how you want it cooked, and add a side. That’s all there is to it at Bondi Road, a laid-back fish house opened in summer by the Aussie owner of the Sunburnt Cow. Named after a Sydney surfer mecca, Bondi Road (say “bond-eye”) brings in Down Under exotics like barramundi, mulloway, trevally, and saddle tail sea perch. It’s billed as a fish and chips shop, but if you don’t want your catch fried, no worries–fish can also be ordered grilled, sauteed, or breaded and broiled.

Fried grouper and grilled snapper and ocean trout all pass muster with hounds, who also dig the casual vibe, friendly service, decent beer and wine choices, and side dishes (e.g., chili relish, citrus salad, potato scallops, roasted corn and basmati rice, mushrooms and haricots verts). Rounding out the menu: oysters, seafood wraps or hot pots, and non-fishy fare like burgers, chicken schnitzel, steak Diane, and rolled ‘roo fillet.

Bondi Road [Lower East Side]
formerly Cafe Juanita
153 Rivington St., between Clinton and Suffolk, Manhattan

The Sunburnt Cow [East Village]
137 Ave. C, between 8th and 9th Sts., Manhattan

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Bondi Rd. on Rivington
Delighted by Bondi Road on the Lower East Side

Coke Is It

Coca-Cola would like you to believe that the answer to the U.S. obesity crisis is at hand: a sparking green tea beverage called Enviga that purports to kick up your metabolism so that if you drink three cans per day (!), you can burn between 60 and 100 extra calories.

But can we trust our weight loss to a company that many claim has contributed to the abovementioned crisis? Green tea almost certainly has health-enhancing properties. And when you up the caffeine content of a tea-based drink to about the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee (as Coke has done with Enviga), you’re bound to get a warm feeling.

But The Wall Street Journal is skeptical. In an article picked up by several dailies, writers Betsy McKay and Chad Terhune counter the theory that Enviga is a miracle weight-loss medicine. Even Coke itself, through its head scientist Dr. Rhona Applebaum, isn’t calling Enviga a weight-loss pill.

‘This is not a magic bullet,’ she says. Enviga should be consumed as part of a healthy diet and regular physical activity, she says. Enviga ‘gently invigorates your metabolism. It gives your body this extra boost.’

But the biggest flaw in Coke’s research may be that they tested the beverage for metabolism-enhancing properties only on normal-weight men and women. The Journal article mentions this more than once:

And while overweight people are the logical market for a drink that promises to burn calories, Coke says it hasn’t tested the drink’s effects on them.

Oh well, it looks like I’ll have to look into that hoodia stuff I keep getting email about if I want to lose 10 pounds by next Friday.

Super Stuffed Cabbage Prep Tip

Instead of blanching cabbage in boiling water to prepare it for stuffing, here are two simpler alternatives that work great. First: try wrapping and freezing the whole head of cabbage. Before using it, let it thaw in the fridge overnight, then separate the leaves. The cabbage will be cool to the touch and easy to handle. It’s ready to stuff.

Or: EllenMM’s fast approach is to microwave the whole head of cabbage for 7 to 8 minutes instead of blanching.

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Lazy Cabbage Rolls: Frozen & thawed ilo Boiled ?

Marinated Artichoke Hearts

What can you do with jarred marinated artichoke hearts beyond tossing them in a salad? They’re great on pizza and garlic cheese bread, on hamburgers, in casseroles, in pasta sauces, and added to all sorts of dips (clam, spinach, onion, shrimp, etc.).

Here are a few more ideas:

Blend them into a paste as a spread for sandwiches.

Make an antipasto salad, with artichokes, some cubed cheese, salami, olives, beans, roasted peppers, and use the artichoke marinade as a dressing (sasha1).

Drain the artichokes, saute chicken in the marinade, throw in the artichokes and some mushrooms, thicken the marinade, and serve over rice (Janet).

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marinated artichokes

Cheese Rinds

Soft-ripened cheeses like Brie and Camembert develop a white bloom or rind as they mature. It’s not only edible, it’s delicious.

There’ll be a layer of cheesey paste just beneath the rind. Galleygirl makes the most of it by slicing off the rind and placing it, rind side up, on a slice of baguette, then broiling. “The rind will caramelize, and the cheese underneath becomes gooey. Add a dab of fig paste, or put it on a salad like a giant crouton.”

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Do You eat the SOFT Rind on Goat’s Cheese?

The Water Caltrop

The water caltrop (a.k.a. bull’s head, bull nut, buffalo nut, and bat nut) is an aquatic plant, native to Asia, that produces a starchy, hard fruit, with a distinctive shape, like a bull with horns. rworange says each side has a different little face.

Pei* loves them, and describes them as sort of a combination of chestnut and peanut. They have to be cooked–raw, they’re toxic. Boil them for about half an hour or more, with a few pieces of star anise. It’s actually quite hard to overcook these. They’re done when soft all the way through. Break them open, like roasted chestnuts, and consume.

More about the “bat nut”.

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Water Caltrop
Bat nuts roasting on an open fire (aka devil pod, bull’s head, bull nut, buffalo nut, water caltrop, trapa natans, Ling Jiao)