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

Knishes KO’d

Vendy Award winners aside, ask any midtown office worker about the general quality of corner-cart chow in New York City and you’ll get, at best, a shrug; at worst, a diatribe. According to David Katz in the Jewish Quarterly, though, the worst street-cart offender isn’t the stale, salty pretzel or the waterlogged hot dog but the mass-produced knish,

incarnated as a flat square, factory-fried and frozen, to be steamed back to life and then lacquered with a coating of shiny French’s Golden Mustard. There’s a word for these street knishes, which are still sold today, and that word is vile.

Katz’s article goes on to laud the rounded, fist-sized baked knishes of Yonah Schimmel’s, served up via dumbwaiter in a nearly century-old hole in the wall on Houston Street. Once surrounded by the small Jewish-owned businesses of the Lower East Side, now incongruously lodged between a Howard Johnson Express Hotel and the hip Sunshine Cinema, Yonah Schimmel’s is heavy on the pushcart-era charm (a charm that consists mostly of having stayed exactly the same for decades on end), but does authentic always mean tasty? Nope, say the wags over at New York magazine’s Grub Street, “Truth be told, the knishes at Yonah Schimmel’s are as bland as cotton and heavy as depleted uranium.”

Instead, they advise a subway ride out to Queens for the “flaky and delicate” knishes dished out at the newly expanded Knish Nosh, or to Brooklyn for the “unexpected sweetness” of the kasha version at Glatt Zone in Midwood.

Is a knish throwdown in the works? Be careful—those things could hurt somebody.

What’s in the Bag, Kid?

What’s in the Bag, Kid?

A very special Halloween episode of our man-on-the-street series READ MORE

This Just In: Gordon Ramsay Offically Scary

Gordon Ramsay was voted Scariest Person on UK television in a poll conducted by the Irish Radio Times.

Heather, last year’s Hell’s Kitchen winner, once smirked, “He’s nothing, he’s a kitten,” but a few episodes later she was bawling in that wet “Oh, my God just wipe your nose already!” style that Heather Donahue perfected in The Blair Witch Project.

Now I’m not saying I want to cook in his kitchen, but personally, I’m far more scared of Janice Dickinson because not only am I convinced that she is the living dead, but I seriously believe she could fully kick my ass and then use bits of it for her lips, chin, or cheekbones.

However, fans of Ramsay’s newest show, Gordon Ramsay’s F Word, don’t seem to find the former Glasgow Ranger all that scary. Over at Television Without Pity, one poster says, “He really is a 12-year-old boy at heart! And take him out of the kitchen and we get a chance to see a very different side of him. He has a wonderfully dry sense of humour and is surprisingly charming,” and another poster adds, “He’s adorable and charming and is coming across as quite a decent fellow.”

By the way, if you think Ramsay is truly that bad, check out the man who wants to make certain the whole world knows that he made Ramsay cry. (Before Ramsay made anyone else cry, at that.) In his newly published autobiography, White Slave, London chef Marco Pierre White brags that he “broke” Ramsay back when the hellish chef was a lowly cook in his kitchen.

Babette’s Feast

Move over Friendster and MySpace—now there’s something tastier! The newest social networking website to hit the scene is geared toward the food obsessed, and it’s called BakeSpace.

Created by Babette Pepaj, a Los Angeles–based television producer and director, BakeSpace currently has 5,129 members, and it is a homey space on the Internet where people can gather to share and delight in all things food. But why go to BakeSpace when you can go to eGullet or CHOW’s sister site, Chowhound? Well, according to their press release, lots of reasons:

While many culinary-themed websites offer recipes and message boards, is unique in that members can post, search and share recipes, customize their own ‘online kitchen,’ raid the site’s ‘virtual pantry,’ make new friends, create blogs, upload photos and video, download coupons, and communicate in real-time with other members via instant messaging and chat.

Pepaj says, “For many people, the kitchen is the most important room in their home. But even the most passionate chef can sometimes forget that cooking should be fun. BakeSpace was created to enable members to share their kitchen with like-minded people from around the globe, and in the process forge new friendships and exercise their passion for one of life’s great pleasures.”

Sounds pretty delicious to me, and I’ve just signed up as Stephanie365. Come on over and visit my virtual kitchen—it’s probably much bigger than my real one!

Food Porn Goes Hardcore

Gourmet’s Restaurant Issue features some of the most egregious food porn to cross the transom in months: a look at private Las Vegas dining rooms for “whales.”

Standard food porn—defined here as detailed coverage of lavish edibles the reader is unlikely to ever be able to eat or prepare based on financial, temporal, or geographic hurdles—is normally at least within striking distance of the truly determined. Sure, white truffles are expensive and scarce. Sure, a meal at Masa will run you several hundred dollars. Sure, Barcelona is a long, long way away. But a determined foodie can clear those hurdles when the rewards are commensurate.

Not so with the private dining rooms profiled in “Strip Stakes.”

The Paiza Club, a by-invitation-only facility on the top floor of the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, caters to players who gamble at the million-dollar-plus level. “The other day,” says Tonie Roberts, Paiza’s Mandarin-speaking manager, as we settle into our plush chairs for lunch, “we served a cream puff surrounded by an ocean of blue Jell-O to symbolize a private island that a guest had just closed on.”

Let’s momentarily savor and then put aside the irony of serving a multimillionaire gambler a pile of blue Jell-O. The important thing is that for you, the reader, to enjoy the delights depicted in this article, you must first earn many millions of dollars. You must then develop a degenerate gambling habit that costs you a large percentage of your earnings. Finally, you must get the long-awaited invitation to the secret room where giant talking lobsters immolate themselves for your pleasure, and you can eat grilled baby pandas out of the skulls of elephants.

I guess if you’re going to do food porn, it may as well be exxxplicit. But even for Gourmet, this feature pushes the boundaries.

Asian Pearl With Pringle

You can get dim sum at Asian Pearl, but what hounds find really promising is the modern Chinese banquet food. Like, for instance, Peking duck, with the skin served over a green apple salad, on top of a Pringle.

As in, the chip.

Surprisingly, it works, say Peter Yee and others. The sweet and acid fruit with crispy, fatty skin is a pretty inspired combination, says alfairfax. Sea bass is perfectly cooked and luscious, says oakjoan, who puts it in the top five fish experiences of her life. Many hounds like the salt and pepper crab, and the tofu with crab and golden sauce, although some raise concerns about the not-in-season-ness of the crab right now. However, all hounds agree that the yellow corn fritters, served with sweetened condensed milk, are deadly good, even when you’re dangerously stuffed.

Asian Pearl [East Bay]
3288 Pierce St., Richmond

Board Links
Asia Pearl Banquet Chowdown

Candy Cap Mushroom Cheesecake

Far West Fungi is a shop dedicated wholly to mushrooms, located in the Ferry Building. Right now they are selling cheesecakes made with sweet Candy Cap mushrooms–$10 for a cupcake-sized cheesecake. lettuce loves it–the Candy Caps taste like maple syrup, and the cheesecake is deliciously sweet. Check out the store’s other offerings, too–“I love their, er, more dank fungi,” says slowcali.

Far West Fungi [Embarvadero]
Ferry Building Marketplace, Shop #34, One Ferry Building, San Francisco

Board Links
Have you had candy cap cheesecake?

Tony’s Hot Dogs: Deliciousness Delivered by Truck

Tony the hot dog guy has been at it for almost 40 years, long enough to figure out what people like. Crowds descend on his silver truck at Newark’s Branch Brook Park for dogs made with fat, boiled all-beef franks from Brooklyn’s Golden D Brand Meat Products, reports hotdoglover. They’re tasty but mild–for some kick, ask for fiery sauteed hot onions. Chili is first-rate, too.

Don’t be deterred by the lines. Tony’s truck is a well-oiled operation with two service windows that keep things moving along. It’s around from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Tony’s Hot Dogs [Essex County]
Lake St. and Park Ave., outside Branch Brook Park, Newark, NJ

Board Links
New Jersey, not Los Angeles, the hot dog capital of the world.

E-Mo: Fresh Rice Rolls at a Koreatown Hole-in-the-Wall

E-Mo does just one thing and does it well. At this closet-sized takeout shop in Koreatown, a husband-and-wife team turns out kimbap to order. The Korean-style seaweed rice rolls come with a choice of fillings, including beef, jalapeno, mushrooms, kimchi, squid, tuna, and spicy tuna. Just $4.50 buys around a dozen pieces, enough for a light lunch. It’s all fresh, tasty, and a good value, says Pupster–and a cut above the prepackaged kimbap that tends to sit around too long at rival shops.

E-Mo [Herald Square]
2 W. 32nd St., between 5th Ave. and Broadway, Manhattan

Board Links
E-mo: Kimbap made to order —A review

Sniffing Out Stinky Tofu

Stinky tofu is pretty much an acquired taste, but once you get it, you’ve got it good. Mr Taster, who was converted to the fried kind at the night markets in Taiwan, describes it as crispy and golden on the outside but very soft and silky inside. To eat, poke a hole in it and stuff a little fermented cabbage inside, and dip it in a sauce.

Stinky tofu is also served in hotpot, like at Boiling Point, but the deep-fried crispiness, he says, “helps to temper the bouquet of the rotten vegetable and shrimp brine and also adds a really lovely crispy texture that is quintessential to enjoying the experience (and gets me past the smell).”

A couple of hounds report that the best fried stinky tofu to be had can be found at the HK Supermarket Plaza in Rowland Heights, the epicenter of Taiwanese food in the Southland. The vendor used to have a cart, but the operation’s been moved inside (with a big fan to blow out the aroma). Follow your nose.

Ay-Chung has fried stinky tofu, although it’s not quite up to the authentic level of funkiness. For some, this may be a good thing.

And Yung Ho Tou Chiang, the well-known Taiwanese breakfast joint, also serves stinky tofu.

Boiling Point [Inland of LA]
2020 S. Hacienda Blvd., Hacienda Heights

Stinky tofu cart [Inland of LA]
in HK Supermarket Plaza
18414 E. Colima Rd. Unit #S-2, Rowland Heights

Ay-Chung Rice Noodle [South OC]
formerly Bin Bin Konjac
5406 Walnut Ave. #C, Irvine

Ay-Chung Flour-Rice Noodle [San Gabriel Valley]
140 W. Valley Blvd. #208, San Gabriel

Yung Ho Tou Chiang Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
1045 E. Valley Blvd. # 105, San Gabriel

Board Links
NEED stinky tofu. Not the squishy hotpot kind.