The CHOW Blog rss

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

Quoting the Unquotable

In an article published this week, Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Michael Klein takes us inside the sausage-making process whereby thousands of restaurant reviews are whittled away into those pithy quotes in the Zagat Survey.

As the editor of Philadelphia’s Zagat Survey, it’s Klein’s job to string together bons mots from the myriad reviews that diners submit to the guide. But he says he takes the most pleasure in reading those comments that will never see the light of day: “The fun part is stumbling upon a comment that is so outrageous, so inappropriate—and so potentially libelous—that I can’t use it.”

He shares a few winners:

“We thought there was a wet dog in the restaurant, then realized the smell emanated from the food.”

“Better Peking duck is available at our local pond.”

“Is it kept dark so you can’t see the mediocre, overpriced food?”

“The creative decor is enough to give an epileptic seizures.”

“Portions fit for a woolly mammoth.”

“Blllllaaaaaggghhh! I just threw up. Sorry.”

“The geriatric singles scene is still sizzling on Fridays–if you are under 50 watch out.”

“We kept waiting for Ashton Kutcher to come out and tell us we were being Punk’d.”

Sure, Zagat doesn’t want to get sued, but these quotes make for much more interesting reading. For more quotes not fit for print, the Zagat website maintains a running list of outtakes, plus a “hall of fame.”

The Problem of Lunch

Once more, September brings a crop of obligatory back-to-school lunch articles in newspaper food sections.The passionate and profane Ann Cooper is raising the profile (and nutrition content) of school lunches in Berkeley, and it seems like schools everywhere (not to mention ex-presidents) are jumping on the improving-school-nutrition bandwagon.

Kids from St. Paul to Baltimore are weighing in on the removal of junk food from their diets. Some are happy to be healthy; others protest the loss of fries, chips, and other junky delights. Apparently, lunch is harder than it looks. As Cooper notes in a galvanizing New Yorker article, reprinted on her blog, it’s difficult to make a healthy meal for 4,000 when the ingredients you have access to are mainly USDA surplus (that means meat and milk and cheese, folks —not the most anti-obesity foodstuffs on the planet). Parents who are truly concerned can go the DIY route—just don’t go overboard.

Cooling Off

You don't even need to turn on the oven for these dishes. Sip a cool drink and enjoy the end-of-summer heat. READ MORE

Traipsing the Suncontinent

There is no one best Indian/South Asian restaurant in greater Los Angeles, but the local diaspora captures some of the variety of the subcontinent’s cuisine. losfelizhound breaks down some favorites by region:

Pakistani:

Noorani Halal is one of the best places around for kebabs and biryani. They also make a delicious lahori chargha (steamed and deep-fried chicken) that whoops the ass of the tandoori chicken. Curries are typically Pakistani–delicious but oily. Excellent rotis.

Clay Oven is also on the short list for best biryani joint; kebabs are excellent too.

At Shan, the curries are only OK–but the kababs, nihari and paaya are fantastic.

Bangladeshi:

Makkah Halal, Bangladeshi owned, is an interesting mix of Mughlai/Punjabi (north Indian) influences with Bengali (East Indian). Tandoori is juicy, spicy and luscious, and curries are outrageously good.

Punjabi:

India’s Grill is essentially Punjabi cuisine, with killer chicken tikka and seekh kebabs. Curries in general are good but not great, but chana masala, kaali sal and fried okra (bhindi masala) stand out. Bread is good and portions are sizeable. There is beer and wine.

India Sweet House, a quasi-fast food North Indian spot, has excellent parathas, but that’s about it.

The small, chef-owned Gate of India in Santa Monica is a fave of Lee by the Sea. The chef’s style is a personalized version of Punjabi cooking, layered in its spicing and rich with cream and ghee. losfelizhound found it disappointing; the buffet should definitely be avoided.

Nepali:

Tibet Nepal House is under-mentioned and underrated for its Nepali food, which is herbier and less spicy than Indian food. (The Tibetan fare is average.) But if you like the spicy, the lamb tikka will do it for you. It’s also pretty date-friendly.

South Indian:

Tirupathi Bhimas, a favorite of the Bay Area’s Melanie Wong, specializes in the food of Andhra Pradesh. What’s that like? Spicy and yummy! They serve a thali lunch special that includes two or three choices of vegetables and sambars/rasam, plus rice, dal, etc.

The food at Paru’s tastes more Tamil than anything else. They’ve got good dosas, idli, uttapam and the usual South Indian suspects. Rasam soup is particularly good. They claim to be the oldest Indian restaurant in L.A., and are purely vegetarian. They serve beer and wine.

Only the long-gone Paru’s in Northridge had the consistently fresh flavors and textures of the food at the Culver City Annapurna, says Ravi, warning that the food doesn’t really stand up to the steam table–avoid the lunch buffet. losfelizhound says the Artesia branch can achieve greatness, but is tremendously inconsistent.

Sri Lankan:

The food of Sri Lanka is similar to southern Indian, yet distinct: it’s hot as hell and delicious. At Curry Bowl, try roti with eggs, chicken curry, and the awesome dried-fish pickle.

Gujarati:

Nothing beats Yogiraj–it’s THE places for homestyle Gujarati food, which is oily, buttery, and delectable. Try the village thali (#3) or the weekend buffet.

Goan:

Lee by the Sea puts in a good word for Addi’s Tandoor, just about the only place in these parts that makes a proper vindaloo–without tomatoes. Other dishes are really good too–it’s worth a drive.

Noorani Halal Restaurant [Little Saigon]
14178 Brookhurst St., Westminster Blvd., Garden Grove
714-636-1000
Locater

Clay Oven Indian Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
14611 1/2 Ventura Blvd,. Sherman Oaks
818-995-1777
Locater

Shan Restaurant [Artesia-ish]
18621 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia
562-865-3838
Locater

Makkah Halal Meat [Koreatown]
401 S Vermont Ave., Los Angeles
213-383-9976
Locater

India’s Grill [Midtown]
428 S. San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles
310-659-3903
Locater

India Sweet House [Midtown]
a.k.a. Paratha Place
5992 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
323-934-5193
Locater

Gate Of India [Hollywood]
7300 W. Sunset Blvd. # D, Los Angeles
323-874-6673
Locater

Tibet Nepal House [Pasadena-ish]
36 E. Holly St., Pasadena
626-585-9955
Locater

Tirupathi Bhimas [Artesia-ish]
18792 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia
562-809-3806
Map

Paru’s Indian Vegetarian Restaurant [Hollywood]
5140 W. Sunset Blvd., Normandie, Los Angeles
323-661-7600
Locater

Annapurna Cuisine [Artesia-ish]
17631 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia
562-403-2200
Locater

Curry Bowl Sri Lanka Cuisine [West San Fernando Valley]
19662 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana
818-609-7683
Locater

Yogiraj [South OC]
3107 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim
714-995-5900
Locater

Addi’s Tandoor [South Bay]
800 Torrance Blvd. Ste. 101, Redondo Beach
310-540-1616
Locater

Board Links
What is the best Indian restaurant in LA?

Udon at Rokko

Good udon can be hard to find, and the desire for an udon fix cannot always be satisfied by soba. Rokko has great udon–thick and chewy, says Wendy san, and comparable to noodles she had in Nagoya. Clams in broth are also delicious. The tempura is decent, and the serving sizes are very generous–a dinner special features a massive slab of tonkatsu, tuna sashimi, rice, miso soup, and salad, all for $10.75. They have nice small plates, too. Two appetizers, two entrees, an order of sake and an order of beer will run you about $50 before tip.

Rokko [South Bay]
190 S. Frances St., Sunnyvale
408-732-7550
Locater

Board Links
Rokko–Sunnyvale

Chowhounds and River Rats in the Thousand Islands

Some good eats morning to night in Clayton, NY, a gateway to the Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence River:

- The Koffee Kove: Hearty breakfasts–ham and eggs and the like. “If you’re lucky,” says Gary Soup, “you’ll hear some ancient river rats swapping rum-running stories at the counter.”

- Harbor Inn: Stick to the basics, like fresh fish simply prepared, and enjoy the view of the river from this popular brunch spot.

- Gold Cup Farms: Go for a brick of three-year-old River Rat Cheddar and a jar of Hot-as-Hell Mustard. Probably the most chowish thing to do in Clayton, suggests Gary.

- Clipper Inn: High-end dinner fare, mostly traditional (steaks, veal Oscar, shrimp scampi, etc.). “The best food on the U.S. side of Lake Ontario in the North Country,” declares catnip. Check out the lively bar, peopled by locals, summer regulars, and others who are just passing through.

Koffee Kove Restaurant [Jefferson County]
220 James St., near Riverside Dr., Clayton, NY
315-686-2472
Locater

Harbor Inn [Jefferson County]
625 Mary St., at Riverside Dr., Clayton, NY
315-686-2293
Locater

Gold Cup Farms [Jefferson County]
242 James St., between Riverside Dr. and Hugunin St., Clayton, NY
315-686-2480
Locater

Clipper Inn [Jefferson County]
126 State St., between Cartier Ave. and Frontenac Blvd., Clayton, NY
315-686-3842
Locater

Board Links
St. Lawrence, TIP, Welsley Island, A. Bay Recs

Michoacan Paletas

The Mexican state of Michoacan is known for its excellent paletas (popsicles). A popsicle may not sound that exciting, but a truly superior paleta can mean an icy, slightly creamy block of frozen arroz con leche (Mexican rice pudding), studded with raisins, chunks of cinnamon bark, and nubbly, soft grains of rice. If you’re lucky enough to live in Southern California, you buy them from guys with hand carts walking around your neighborhood, or from well-stocked Mexican markets. Sometimes you can find street vendors in the Bay. Quality varies depending on the manufacturer, and it’s especially confusing because there are a ton of different brands of paletas, all called something like “La Michoacana.”

If you’re near Vallejo, La Michoacana Ice Cream & Bakery can let you in on the paleta action. The pineapple paleta has the intensity and tartness of fresh pineapple, and the coconut paleta has great texture and flavor, too. Tops of paletas are icy but flavorful; the bottoms are full of chunks of fruit. They’re $1.50 each. If you like, you can get your paletas dipped in chocolate for an extra 50 cents.

You might also try the tuna ice cream (not the fish–it’s cactus pear); it’s rough-hewn in texture, with a pleasant but subtle taste, says josquared.

La Michoacana Ice Cream & Bakery [Solano County]
504 Broadway, Vallejo
707-649-2140
Map

Board Links: La Michoacana–Vallejo’s Newest Ice Cream/Paleta/Bakery Place

Cappuccino Update: Beans and Balance at Sant Ambroeus

A couple of things lift Sant Ambroeus’s cappuccino above the pack, says Sean Dell: top-notch coffee, made from Danesi beans from Italy, and milk gently steamed to the perfect temperature–“steamed, not scalded, as is usually the case in New York coffee shops,” says Sean. So no spoiled coffee, and no burnt mouth.

Via Quadronno also uses first-rate beans (Antica Tostatura Triestina) in a well-crafted cappuccino that Desidero compares to the ones in Italy.

Also recommended: Tarallucci e, Ninth Street Espresso, and hound hangout Joe which has just opened a third location inside the new Alessi store in Soho.

Sant Ambroeus [West Village]
259 W. 4th St., at Perry St., Manhattan
212-604-9254
Locater

Sant Ambroeus [Upper East Side]
1000 Madison Ave., between E. 77th and 78th Sts., Manhattan
212-570-2211
Locater

Via Quadronno [Upper East Side]
25 E. 73rd St., between Madison and 5th Aves., Manhattan
212-650-9880
Locater

Tarallucci e Vino [Gramercy]
15 E. 18th St., between 5th Ave. and Broadway, Manhattan
212-228-5400
Locater

Tarallucci e Vino [East Village]
163 1st Ave., at E. 10th St., Manhattan
212-388-1190
Locater

Ninth Street Espresso [East Village]
700 E. 9th St., at Ave. C, Manhattan
212-358-9225
Locater

Joe [Soho]
130 Greene St. near Prince, in Alessi store, Manhattan
212-941-7330
Map

Joe [Greenwich Village]
141 Waverly Pl., between 6th Ave. and Gay St., Manhattan
212-924-6750
Locater

Joe [East Village]
9 E. 13th St., between 5th Ave. and University Pl., Manhattan
212-924-7400
Locater

Board Links
Joe (The Art of Coffee) Opens in SoHo
Best Latte or Cappucino

Make Your Maki More Memorable

If you make your own maki sushi at home, but are looking for ways to change it up, here are some goodies chowhounds love tucked into their rolls.

Crunchy stuff: takuan (pickled daikon); crunchy, sweet, tart, and salty, all at the same time. Thin strips of green apple. Cucumber with umeboshi (pickled plum) paste.

Cooked stuff: tempura shrimp, oysters, or squid.

Flavoring stuff: bits of dill or mint; spicy mayo; other flavored mayos.

Really unexpected but delicious stuff: tangerine or orange segments.

Board Links
homemade sushi just got a little more boring…

Food of the Hunanese Proletariat

The San Gabriel Valley has another new Hunanese restaurant, reports Chandavkl. The menu leans toward working-class fare, including family-style rabbit, duck tongue, and organ dishes. Also exotica like frog, turtle and snail, and the mysterious-sounding “bangly with chicken.”

Xiao Xiang Garden [San Gabriel Valley]
534 E. Valley #2, San Gabriel
626-288-7993
Map

Board Links
Hunan Family Style Rabbit