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

Road Trip: Filling Up on the New Jersey Turnpike

Along the New Jersey Turnpike, there’s no shortage of places to refuel. If you’re around Bordentown, Mastoris Diner (exit 7 or 7A) is a good one, especially for breakfast, says bgut1. Breads, cakes, and pastries are baked in-house. Try the cheese bread, which is really more like a Danish. Non-breakfast dishes are just OK, advises val ann c.

In East Windsor, Americana Diner (exit 8) serves a terrific breakfast, including standout omelettes that are finished off in the oven, says JessKidden. The flagship of a Jersey mini-chain, the Americana also makes its own bread and other baked goods. Scagnetti reports uncommonly good toast, part of a satisfying Sunday breakfast of hash, eggs over easy, and home fries.

Away from the Turnpike but close to its Newark Bay extension, the Flamingo (exit 14 to I-78) is a Jersey City landmark and a dependable spot for breakfast, including exceptional sausage and a sandwich with egg, cheese, and Taylor ham, says jerseyguy2000. Beyond breakfast, he recommends the BLT, tuna melt, Yankee bean soup, Greek-style chicken, and rice pudding.

Mastoris Diner [Burlington County]
144 US Hwy. 130, near Rte. 206 N, Bordentown, NJ

Americana Diner [Mercer County]
359 Rte. 130 N, near Stockton St., East Windsor, NJ

Flamingo Restaurant [Hudson County]
31 Montgomery St., at Greene, Jersey City, NJ

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Flamingo Diner comments
Breakfast along NJ Turnpike

Eating the Big Easy

Creole Chef has probably the best New Orleans food in Los Angeles right now, says Norm Man, who asserts he’d rather drive there from MDR than walk to the closer Uncle Darrow’s. Shrimp Yvonne, crawfish bisque and pretty much all the po’ boys blow the competition out of the water, says Dommy.

Harold & Belle’s is the next runner-up, but Uncle Darrow’s is pretty good too–they’ll give you samples if you can’t decide what to get. Go for gumbo and jambalaya, says gourmetla, and sign up for the email list to hear about crawfish boils.

Mardi Gras in Toluca Lake is no more, but for those who miss it, the same owners also have Michael’s Bar & Grill in Burbank (see also ChowNews #199), where they’re serving the same menu.

Creole Chef [South LA]
3715 Santa Rosalia Dr., Stocker, Los Angeles

Harold & Belle’s Restaurant [Crenshaw]
2920 W Jefferson Blvd, at 10th Ave between Arlington and Crenshaw, Los Angeles

Uncle Darrow’s [South LA]
5185 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles

Michael’s Bar & Grill [East San Fernando Valley]
2825 West Olive Ave., Burbank

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Best Cajun/Creole???

Diamond Dairy Revisited: Hidden Old World Comforts

Invisible from the street, Diamond Dairy is a breakfast and lunch spot that’s been tucked away on the mezzanine of the National Jewelers Exchange for more than five decades. The chow receives mixed marks from hounds, and some of the menu is best avoided (vegetable lo mein or linguine marinara, for example).

But order carefully and you can enjoy a cheap, sturdy, and comforting lunch. Peter Cherches reports excellent cheese blintzes, potato pancakes, and especially bowtie noodles with cabbage–a delightfully simple dish of sauteed chopped cabbage with black pepper over perfectly chewy noodles. “The waitress was delightful, too,” he adds, “the ‘nice’ Jewish mother I never had.”

Diamond Dairy Kosher Luncheonette [Diamond District]
4 W. 47th St., between 5th and 6th Aves., in National Jewelers Exchange, Manhattan

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Thumbs up to Diamond Dairy
Diamond Dairy-EXCELLENT

Just One Door Down

The Little Door restaurant has opened an adjoining gourmet store called Little Next Door. Or Next Door Little Door. Or…well, whatever, you know where it is. They’ve got your cheese plates, wines, house-made confits and confitures, and chocolates made by a 15-year-old wunderkind, says rbw.

Little Door [Fairfax Village]
8164 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles

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Little Door Next Door store open

Delicious Fall Desserts: Roasted Bosc Pear Variations

While scrambling to find an impressive do-ahead dessert for a recent dinner party, Deenso stumbled on a recipe for “drunken pears” that she deemed a keeper, and shares it here:

Bring 3 cups of Chianti Classico (or another good, full-bodied red wine), 1/2 cup sugar, and the zest of 2 oranges to a boil in a saucepan, stirring as the sugar dissolves. Peel 6 Bosc pears (keep the stems intact for a nice presentation, if you like) and slice the bottoms off, so they stands up straight. Place them upright and close together in a deep baking dish, and pour the wine over them. Bake at 350F, basting with the wine occasionally, until you can pierce them with a thin knife without resistance.

Remove the pears to a plate and cool to room temperature. Put the wine sauce in a saucepan and reduce over medium heat to a syrupy consistency. When the pears are cool, either slice them in half lengthwise or leave them whole, and remove the cores–from the bottom, if you’ve left them whole–using a melon baller or spoon, To serve, plate the pears with some gorogonzola cheese, and drizzle the reduced wine syrup over all.

caitybirdie adds that pears roasted this way are great in a salad with any blue cheese.

JoanN recommends another recipe for roasted Bosc pears that makes a great do-ahead party dessert. Here, they’re roasted in an amaretto caramel sauce and sprinkled with sugar-toasted crumbled almonds. This one’s so good it’s Thanksgiving-worthy, Joan declares.

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Baked Pears–impressive and easy dessert

Savory Oatmeal

For those who don’t like oatmeal with sweet accompaniments, there are plenty of interesting savory possibilities.

Especially with robustly textured steel cut oats, a combo as simple as butter and garlic can be deeply satisfying. Also try: scallions, toasted sesame seeds, sauteed spinach, poached or fried eggs, ham or sausage, etc.

maybelle makes oatmeal with chicken broth and adds savory bits (egg, meat, cilantro, etc.); it reminds her of Chinese jook.

bolivianita was raised on delicious “sopa de Quaker” (oatmeal soup), chicken soup with oats instead of noodles or rice.

Leftover oatmeal can be made into fritters: form into little patties and dip in grated cheese and then sesame seeds, then saute in butter until golden and toasty on the outside (peppermint pate).

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Savory Oatmeal

Dim Sum 101

Dim Sum is like a Chinese smorgasbord on wheels. It makes for a wonderful communal brunch or lunch. The more people you have, the more dishes you can sample. Scope out what others are choosing, if you’re unsure about the selections.

As the servers wheel the carts around, check out their offerings and, if you want some for yourself, flag the cart down. A smile and a nod of your head will communicate you want some, if they don’t speak your language. Each cart will have more than one item to select. Even if you don’t like what you’ve selected, you’ll just be out a couple of bucks per plate.

PaulGardner is always on the lookout for har gau (steamed dumplings with shrimp); shu mai (dumplingss with pork and black mushroom filling); beef meatballs; shrimp wrapped in rice noodle; sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf; steamed barbeque pork buns; and baby clams in black bean sauce. Candy says if they have chicken feet, go for them!

An important component of dim sum is tea. Jasmine is the most commonly offered, but a good place will have some choices. Ask what kind they have. Chrysanthemum tea is a nice choice.

Save the sweet items, like custards, for the end of the meal.

A handy little primer, “Dim Sum: A Pocket Guide,” by Kit Shan Li,is on sale at Amazon for $3.99.

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I’m decidedly ignorant about Dim Sum…
Help! Dim Sum for Beginners

Good-for-You Frozen Yogurt

You can freeze yogurt with no problem. All the healthy good stuff in it isn’t destroyed.

For a satisfying treat, freeze some of the yogurt-filled tubes available from Stonyfield farms and other brands. The active cultures become dormant when frozen, but will become active after the yogurt warms up in your stomach, says Non Cognomina

Making your own frozen yogurt dessert is another option. You can add fruit for sweetness and flavor, and control the amount of sugar that’s added to it.

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frozen yogurt

A Tale of Two Cooks

Spanish-American chef Jose Andres, a Ferran Adrià disciple who helms DC’s Minibar, is taking reader questions in an eGullet forum through Thursday. He hasn’t started answering yet, but the conversation so far looks like it will be fairly tame. As of Tuesday evening, the 14 user posts include a query about how Andres was influenced by Mr. El Bulli, and a reader’s photo of Andres’s cookbook in a Spanish airport bookstore. Some of the more interesting ones are a politely worded but transparent request that Andres open a can of Haterade on non-Spanish tapas restaurants, and a possibly pointed question about “the unrealized potential for excellent coffee in fine restaurants” from a fan of Andres’s cooking.

If you have a couple of cents to add to the conversation, go post your own question. And while you’re there, check out the great “Why I Cook” piece by chef Joseph Carey in Daily Gullet, the site’s “literary journal” (which actually looks an awful lot like a blog). In a series of four engaging posts so far, interspersed with reader comments (the posts themselves can be viewed here, here, here, and here), Carey talks about making baby caskets, pissing off Allen Ginsberg, cleaning out an abandoned whorehouse, and his roundabout route to culinary success. Carey, the author of Creole Nouvelle: Contemporary Creole Cookery and Chef on Fire: The Five Techniques for Using Heat Like a Pro, has a wild-and-woolly writing style that works well for the blog medium, where commentary and autobiography are often interwoven. Case in point: After describing how the manager of a local restaurant taught him how to make pizza and ride horses, Carey boasts:

I still make a mean pizza. And a couple of relatively tame ones, too. I can also deliver a mean pizza—just not as far as I used to—as that was another of my collegiate jobs. Don’t like riding mean horses. My first wife, Suzan, was quite a horsewoman, though. She actually won the Arabian costume class at the Grand Nationals at the Cow Palace one year. Today, she and her husband live near Lodi and raise and show quarter horses. More on Suzan in installment two when our antihero arrives in California.

I’m looking forward to it (even if it IS taking Carey forever to really get down to the actual food).

Honeycrisp. Ask for It by Name.

Unless you’ve been living under a pile of leaves all fall, you may have noticed that this apple has gotten a lot of media attention. It’s become the darling of the pome fruit world, an apple with its own Wikipedia page.

The fruit is a mere decade old (as opposed to the heirloom varieties that have been getting all the attention in the tomato world), but this mammoth apple has become an underground hit. It has even muscled its way into becoming the state fruit of Minnesota.

It turns out that, like California avocados and eggs, the Honeycrisp has some marketing muscle behind it. The New York Times likens it to the iPod of the food world. You can check out the official site, taste some for yourself, and then decide whether they’re the platonic ideal of an apple or just another flavor of the month.