The CHOW Blog rss

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

Lobstah Impostah

First, animal-rights groups got the little red lobster dropped from the Maine license plate. Now, a cheap shrimplike crab is muscling out the real deal. An Associated Press wire story about the use of “imposter lobster” got plenty of play this week, showing up on the websites of The Washington Post, CNN, the Guardian UK, The Sacramento Bee, and elsewhere.

Seems the regally named Maine senator Olympia Snowe is ready to throw a few thunderbolts to protect her state’s most iconic and lucrative industry. Turns out fast-food outlets like Red Lobster, Long John Silver’s, and Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill are using a small South American crab dubbed “langostino lobster” (from the Spanish word for “prawn”) as a stand-in for the more expensive Homarus Americanus.

Snowe’s goal? To get the FDA to reverse its decision to allow the term “langostino lobster” on restaurant menus, assuming that most Americans, unfamiliar with the term “langostino,” will simply zero in on the word “lobster” and assume they’re getting the real thing. Or, as Snowe insists, “Use of this term is misleading to consumers and unfairly affiliates langostino with actual lobster to the detriment of the lobster industry in Maine.”

The FDA’s agreement came as part of an out-of-court settlement last year with Rubio’s, which got busted for using langostino, not lobster, in its highly touted but too-cheap-to-be-true lobster burrito.

But Down Easters aren’t the only ones seeing red over lobsters. Down in Boston, Globe columnist Brian McGrory is insulted by the new campaign by the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, which implies that only Maine-caught lobsters are “real” lobsters. Writes McGrory,

So what they’re saying is that the men and women who work out of Cohasset, Scituate, Rockport, Hingham, Gloucester, people who go out in cold and heat, sun and rain, on seas that are calm and rough, that they’re hauling up pretend lobsters?

McGrory goes on to conduct a blind taste test with three top Boston chefs, offering up side-by-side forkfuls from each state. Amazingly, all three chefs can tell which is the Maine product and which the Massachusetts. The verdict? Maine is saltier, Massachusetts is sweeter. But they’re both real lobster.

Say Cheese!

My favorite thing about food is eating it. My second favorite thing about food is looking at dreamy pictures of it. And with all the great food blogs out there, there sure are a lot of mouth-watering food pics floating around.

The minds behind the blogs Becks & Posh and Spittoon have figured out a way to harness this energy with their monthly Foodography contest. Now in its tenth month, Foodography invites food bloggers (and anyone else who can wrangle a kiwi or cappuccino) to submit photos to a dedicated Foodography Flickr group. There’s no prize; instead, posters get a venue for their food shots and constructive critiques from other members.

Past contests have brought museum-worthy photos on topics from “Tools of the Trade” to “Cake,” while October’s homophone-tastic theme is “Pear/Pair/Pare.” The hosts invite armchair stylists to interpret the theme as they wish. Photos will be accepted until sometime around the middle of November.

Gilt-Free Cooking

Gilt-Free Cooking

CHOW interviews bad-boy chef Paul Liebrandt, recently let go from NYC's Gilt restaurant, now striking out on his own. READ MORE

Fried Chicken, Frozen Custard, and Barbecue

Eastern-ish North Carolina

As discussed in the podcast I recorded en route (MP3 file), I had lunch at the Farmer’s Market Restaurant (Raleigh Farmer’s Market, 1240 Farmer’s Market Drive, Raleigh, North Carolina; 919-833-7973), a very well-known spot that had piqued my interest since I read about it in the book Southern Belly. I’ll let the photos do the talking:

The South is a place where a grown-up can order chocolate milk without compunction.

Experience the thrill of arriving dishes via PlateCam (be sure you’re seated; the profusion of amazing-looking dishes could make strong men dizzy!): Movie file

Main conclusion … MAN that fried chicken’s great. I don’t need to describe it to you because it tastes exactly like it looks (click the photos for the full-sized food-porn view).

The Raleigh Farmer’s Market itself is very laid-back, and quality is high.

Cornhounds vie for position to spy the best ears.

The ice cream tastes as simple, homespun, and irresistible as the sign.

Could you imagine a more transportive array? I hope Atkinson’s stays in business another 250 years.

Blenheim, a super-potent ginger ale.

The cute blonde woman who sat next to me at the counter of the Farmer’s Market Restaurant urged me to try Goodberry’s Frozen Custard (1146 Kildaire Farm Road, Cary, North Carolina; 919-467-2386). I checked it out, and it was honest-to-goodness real frozen custard, not just glorified soft-serve. Wow!

Experience the extruding suspense of CustardCam: Movie file

Hear the exultant slurping in Podcast 2: MP3 file

The great New Jersey frozen custard mentioned in the podcast is at CustardThing (100 North Washington Avenue, Bergenfield, New Jersey; 201-439-1818).

Wilber’s (4172 U.S. 70, East Goldsboro, North Carolina; 919-778-5218) makes great barbecue. It has vastly more depth of flavor and complexity than what I’d previously derided as “sloppy Joe” barbecue, in which the pork is mushy and one-dimensional. The meat seems hand-sliced but isn’t quite the textural marvel of Allen & Son’s. It’s also not as moist as Allen & Son’s —though it’s by no means dry. Saucing is very light.

BBQ chicken is moist and richly flavorful but tastes of no smoke at all. The rich yellow sauce is redolent of chicken fat and manages to taste sharp without any chili pepper.

Nice surprise —the cherry pie was made with sour cherries. Unfortunately, they microwaved it. Why does everyone down here nuke pie? And, for that matter, does anyone in the South still make real mashed potatoes?



CHOW throws our version of Oktoberfest: Moktoberfest! All the great beers, but better food. READ MORE

Garbage Disposal Claims Pristine Image Sullied by Bloody Scene

Sort of sounds like a headline from The Onion, doesn’t it? But it’s not a joke. Emerson, the maker of the In-Sink-Erator garbage disposal, is trying to block NBC from re-airing a certain bloodtastic scene in the premiere episode of their most awesome new show, Heroes.

Heroes deals with everyday individuals who are coming to realize that they actually aren’t everyday individuals. They are superheroes endowed with such gifts as flight, split personalities (I know, it doesn’t sound like a super power, but it totally is), painting future apocalyptic events, and tissue regeneration. In the first episode, one of the characters tries repeatedly to hurt herself, only to find that she heals faster than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sticking her hand down a running disposal and watching her hand repair itself is one of those events.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

The filing comes complete with color printouts that show a re-creation of a woman putting her hand in the disposal and pulling it out mangled and bloody. The suit says the scene suggests that the Emerson In-Sink-Erator ‘will cause debilitating and severe injuries, including the loss of fingers, in the event consumers were to accidentally insert their hand into one.’

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it true that a garbage disposal will in fact “cause debilitating and severe injuries” if you had the occasion to stick your hand down one? However, a spokesman for Emerson says that “it’s a trademark thing” and added that “the issue is not the damage that a disposal might do.” So, I guess they’re basically more annoyed that they didn’t get money for the product placement than anything else.

Food Magazines: Out with the Old?

Over at Chowhound a lively discussion is simmering over the possibility that Food & Wine and Gourmet may no longer be the alpha and omega of food magazines.

The central charge: Both publications have forgone their original focus on edibles and potables, and become over-commercialized vehicles dedicated to the lifestyle excesses of loathesome celubutards.

Oakjoan’s original post also makes a telling point about the tried, true, and ever-so-frequent “kitchen makeover” feature:

They’re all the same—hugely expensive giant kitchens with professional ranges and walk-in fridges (kidding) and slate floors and granite counters, and blah blah blah. There’s no imagination in any of them … never a feature showing somebody’s regular kitchen make-over or examples of folks with tiny kitchens and how they’ve made them work.

The venom flows with particular pungency when the old-school (1950s and ‘60s-era) Gourmet is used as a point of comparison by eimac:

I especially loved the essays—memoirs of food writers from all over the world. M.F.K. Fisher, one of the great American essayists, was a regular contributor. The covers were amazing and the food pictures were works of art. What do I get now? Hack travel writers who only want to impress you with esoteric dishes, artsy food shots which do little to tempt you to cook and recipes that include too much time and too many “look at me” ingredients.

Scrapironchef makes what might be the best one-line comment of the whole thread:

The ability to go online and get recipes makes these mags less and less useful.


Viva Sous-Vide!

Viva Sous-Vide!

The controversial French practice of cooking vacuum-sealed food at low temperatures yields stellar results. READ MORE

Apple Fritters with Cointreau Chestnut Milkshake

Bistro 1689 is a nice, French-Californian place that serves things like yummy lamb chops and roast duck breast with roasted figs and spinach, says susancinsf. Entrees are in the $20 range. But the stand-out dish is one of the desserts–perfectly fried, hot fritters that taste deeply of apple, served with a “milkshake” in a bowl for dipping. It’s crunchy, sweet, creamy, and delicious. The restaurant is easy to get into, empty and quiet on a weekday, and just the apple fritters make it worth a visit.

Bistro 1689 [Noe Valley]
1689 Church St., San Francisco

Board Links
Bistro 1689 Report

In Park Slope, a Chicken Shwarma Sandwich Deconstructed

Miriam, the self-styled “modern Israeli” place in Park Slope, does something different with chicken shwarma. Grilled chicken strips are arrayed over a toasted pita and served with sauteed spinach, tahini, and amba (Iraqi mango chutney). “Quite an inventive way to serve a dish that’s become a standard at hole-in-the-wall places all over,” observes funkymonkey. “It’s definitely a knife-and-fork deal–you can’t pick it up and eat it–and it has a little bit of spice. It’s far better than the sum of its parts.”

Miriam [Park Slope]
79 5th Ave., at Prospect Pl., Brooklyn

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Any recent experiences at Miriam (Park Slope)?