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

Where the Coctele Glass Runneth Over

After months of searching for a kick-ass Mexican seafood cocktail, Ollie reports finding the best campechana outside Mexico yet. At El Rinconcito, $9.50 gets you a cocktail glass brimming with seafood, tomatoes, diced cucumber, onions, and cilantro in a clamato broth.

El Rinconcito Del Mar [East LA-ish]
2908 E. 1st St., Los Angeles
323-269-8723
Locater

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Craving a Great Seafood Cocktail/Campechana!

A Pint of Clam Chowder

It’s not yet time for local crab, but in the meantime, Spud Point Crab Company has beautiful clam chowder. It’s a white chowder with tons of chunks of sweet, tender clams and irregular pieces of potato. The savory, creamy base has the rich sweetness of roasted garlic and the flavors of black pepper, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and oregano. The garlicky, herbed style reminds Melanie Wong of the Monterey Italian clam chowders she grew up with. A whole pint, with oyster crackers, is $6.75.

Spud Point Crab Company [Sonoma County]
1860 Westshore Rd., Bodega Bay
707-875-9472
Map

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Clam Chowder @ Spud Point Crab Co. in Bodega Bay

Not-So-French Dip

The great pitfall of Los Angeles’ great sandwich, the French dip, is that the beef is often bland and flavorless. Yes, even at Philippe’s (where most hounds prefer the lamb or pork). Want better beef? Go for a prime rib dip. Here’s a tip from Pesky Humans: if you happen to be at The Palm, they’ll sometimes have leftover prime rib from last night’s dinner, which will have been transformed into a French dip lunch special. It is the best such sandwich he has ever had. “Simple and awesome, and highly recommended.”

Bandera’s French dip, also with prime rib, is widely favored; Houston’s has a similar sandwich, but the bread is not as good and soft as at Bandera, says Ernie. They’re about $15.

Taylor’s has a prime rib dip sandwich for $13 at lunch, and it’s delicious, says ostudio. It comes with a mixed salad, but you can get their Molly salad instead for a few bucks more. At dinner, the sandwich is $16.

Tam O’Shanter, owned by Lawry’s, does a sandwich bar where they carve the prime rib or brisket right in front of you. Needless to say, the French dip is very good.

Weiler’s Deli has a very tasty beef dip made with brisket, says davinagr.

If you were from Chicago, says RSMBob, “beef dip” would mean an Italian beef sandwich. Best choices in these parts: Chicago’s Best in Irvine, Portillo’s in Buena Park, and Taste Chicago in Burbank. Go for broke and get a combo of beef and sausage.

Eastside Market also does an Italian-style French dip (!!!) that’s pretty damn good, says JAB, and heckonwheels recommends 322 in Sierra Madre for a good Italian beef dip with spectacular mountain views.

And chefnico really likes the beef dip at–another L.A. institution.

Philippe The Original Restaurant [Downtown]
1001 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles
213-628-3781
Locater

Palm Restaurant [Beaches]
9001 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles
310-278-6366
Locater

Palm Restaurant [Downtown]
1100 S. Flower St., Los Angeles
213-763-4600
Locater

Bandera Restaurant [Wealthy Westlands]
11700 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
310-477-3524
Locater

Bandera Restaurant [OC Beaches]
3201 E. Coast Hwy., Corona Del Mar
949-673-3524
Locater

Houston’s Restaurant [Century City]
10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles
310-557-1285
Locater

Houston’s Restaurant [Beaches]
202 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica
310-576-7558
Locater

Houston’s Restaurant [Beaches]
1550 Rosecrans Ave. # A, Manhattan Beach
310-643-7211
Locater

Houston’s Restaurant [Pasadena-ish]
320 S. Arroyo Pkwy., Pasadena
626-577-6001
Locater

Houston’s Restaurant [South OC]
2991 Michelson Dr., Irvine
949-833-0977
Locater

Taylor’s Steakhouse [Koreatown]
3361 W. 8th St., Los Angeles
213-382-8449
Locater

Taylor’s Steakhouse [East San Fernando Valley]
901 Foothill Blvd., La Canada
818-790-7668
Locater

Tam O’Shanter Inn [Atwater Village]
2980 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles
323-664-0228
Locater

Weiler’s Deli & Catering [West San Fernando Valley]
21161 Victory Blvd., Canoga Park
818-884-6611
Locater

Chicago’s Best [South OC]
2540 Main St., Irvine
949-757-1802
Locater

Portillo’s [South OC]
8390 La Palma Ave., Buena Park
714-220-6400
Locater

Taste Chicago [East San Fernando Valley]
603 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank
818-563-2800
Locater

Eastside Market and Italian Deli [Chinatown]
1013 Alpine St., Los Angeles
213-250-2464
Locater

Cafe 322 [San Gabriel Valley]
322 W. Sierra Madre Blvd,, Sierra Madre
626-836-5414
Locater

Canter’s Fairfax Restaurant [Fairfax Village]
419 N Fairfax Ave., Beverly, Los Angeles
323-651-2030
Locater

Board Links
Best Beef Dip Style Sandwich in Los Angeles (Long-ish)
Phillipe’s Famous French Dip

Stuffed French Toast

Stuffed french toast is most often filled with cream cheese or mascarpone, but fruit, chocolate, preserves, and any combination of these are also popular. There are two ways to achieve the “stuffed” effect. One is to use a soft, thick-sliced bread, cut a slit in the center, and literally stuff the filling inside. The other is to sandwich the filling between two regular-thickness pieces of bread and cook so the sandwich becomes one “slice” of French toast.

For soft breads to stuff, hounds recommend slicing your own brioche loaves or challah, or buying the thick-cut “Texas Toast” loaves that many supermarkets sell.

To make a creamy filling, add a sweetener of your choice to taste to cream cheese or mascarpone (try honey, maple syrup, or caramel sauce). Stuff your filling inside or sandwich between slices of bread before soaking in your favorite French toast batter and cooking as usual. Or add fresh fruit, or jam or preserves to the cheese in addition, or in place of, sweetener.

For a chocolaty French toast fix, use ganache, chopped chocolate, or Nutella as your filling, with or without the addition of fruit of preserves.

Texas Toast loves this unusual combo: brie-stuffed French toast, served with fried bananas, pecans, and maple syrup.

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French Toast with creamy filling

Baked Chip Tips

While many baked potato chips fall flat in the taste department, Kettle Foods baked chips are very crispy, with a good snap, unlike the Lay’s-style baked chips, says DivaMac. They’re actually made from whole potato slices. Much of the competition makes, well, potato patties, composed of chopped and re-formed potato pieces. Kettle Foods’ hickory-flavored BBQ chips have a nice balance of sweet, tangy, and salty.

For do-it-yourself unfried chips, slice potatoes paper thin, brush with oil, and nuke in the microwave on high for 8-12 minutes just until they turn golden (keep a close eye on them, so they don’t burn), then salt to taste (piccola).

As a backup plan. Guiltless Gourmet’s baked chips will do in a pinch.

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Any good potato chips that are baked rather than fried?

One-Pot Meals

Sometimes you have to make a whole meal in one pot. Here are a few chowhounds’ go-to recipes for those times.

Tuna puttanesca is one of Muppetgirl’s favorites. Saute tuna, anchovy, capers, olives, onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, dry basil and oregano; add a large can of peeled tomatoes, simmer until it thickens, and “presto: deliciousness!” For a true one-pot meal, pour in a can of rinsed cannellini beans and skip the pasta.

kmr offers a simple take on jambalaya: saute coarsely chopped onion, red or green bell peppers, and some celery in a bit of oil until soft and browned. Add canned chopped tomatoes and juice; it should be kind of soupy. Add some sliced smoked sausage, a couple spoons of brown sugar, and as much Tabasco as you can stand. Simmer for 10-15 minutes; add chicken, shrimp, or okra if you like and adjust the cooking time to accommodate. When it’s done, add some fresh parsley and serve over hot rice. If you feel like using two pans, you can slice the sausage and boil some of the grease out of it before adding it.

Divamac shares two of her staple one-pot recipes:

White Chili

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
1 lb. ground turkey
3 Tbsp. ground cumin
3 Tbsp. pickled sliced jalapenos
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 can white beans
1 cup white corn, fresh or frozen
2 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, saute onion and garlic in oil for 5 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add turkey, stirring occasionally until browned. Add cumin, jalapenos, oregano, beans, corn, broth, salt, and pepper. Stir well. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes until it reduces and thickens a bit. Taste to correct for salt and pepper. Serve with cheese, avocado, scallions, warmed tortillas, etc.

Mediterranean Skillet Dinner

1 1/2 cups bulgur wheat
1 14-oz. can reduced sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
3 Tbsp. pesto (or more, to taste)
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1 16-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Toast bulgar in a dry skilled until it starts to smell nutty. Add broth and cover. Cook until bulgur is tender, about 10-20 minutes, depending on how fine the bulgur is. Stir in pesto, tomatoes, and chickpeas. Cook until heated through. Serve topped with plain yogurt.

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Easy skillet meals

Local Farming 101

The choice between organic produce that has to travel great distances to market versus locally grown traditional produce can baffle even the most educated enviro-conscious Chowhound.

We’ve all heard the arguments for buying organic. Some hounds think it’s much more important to buy from local farms. Morton the Mousse thinks that it often makes sense to buy locally grown produce from small-scale farms who use environmentally sustainable, artisanal agricultural practices, regardless of whether or not those farmers are certified organic. Also, small farms can give more attention to their fields, which can mean less dependence on chemicals anyway, says ghbrooklyn. The organic buzzword has become overused; it’s more important to look for produce from “sustainable” local farms, argues Veggietales.

It may also be to your benefit. Large-scale organic produce is generally shipped in from far-away lands. It’ll be at least several days old, and will have been handled, stored in cold refrigeration, bounced, jostled, crossed time zones, handled again, shipped some more, and stuck in cold storage again, before finally making it to the grocery shelf, says Sethboy.

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Locally grown (not organic) v. Organic (not locally grown) ... which do you prefer?

Freezer, Filled

Most enthusiastic home cooks have dreamed about casting aside their day jobs in favor of a kitchen career. But the disadvantages of working in a restaurant (lousy pay, grueling physical demands, very ugly pants) chase away all those but the determined or the desperate.

But there is another option, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an article about personal chefs. These cooks typically shop for, make, and deliver custom-made meals that can be frozen and then nuked by the presumably busy professionals in the market for such services.

The job’s hardly a goldmine. The personal chefs quoted in the story quoted rather modest rates; the most expensive charges $375 for five meals for a family of four. That works out to $75 per meal for the whole gang, not a huge amount considering that it covers the cost of food and the labor of shopping for and then preparing said food. But considering that the chefs have exceedingly low overhead (most work out of their clients’ kitchens), they must find a way to make it work.

Interested? There are a whole bunch of professional associations that can provide more information. There’s also this neat blog from a personal chef in Los Angeles, and she talks about her job a lot.

Jive Tribal … but Great Buffet

Washington, DC

The cafeteria at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, a.k.a. Mitsitam Café, seems enticing. They have separate stations for various regions (“Northern Woodlands,” “Meso America,” “Northwest Coast,” etc.), each presuming to serve regional foods. Who could resist?

I’m ambivalent, so I’m moved to both pan and (tepidly) rave.

Pan:

Restaurant Associates (Nick and Stef’s Steakhouse, Café Centro, Naples 45, etc., plus lots of catering) runs the cafeteria, and this is not a company with a deep commitment to culinary authenticity. Of course, I’d forgive inauthenticity if the food were at least decent. But most of it isn’t (I’d single out the mint agua fresca as the worst thing I’ve put in my mouth in ages). And the place is phenomenally overpriced. And the staff’s not even making an effort (I asked for “posole,” and a manager stared blankly until I said “chicken and corn soup”).

Basically, this is a fake, jive, lousy, crowded place hanging entirely on a hooky shtick that no one involved takes the least bit seriously (a Hispanic woman, displayed like a robot Santa in the Bloomingdale’s Christmas window, looked miserable making tamales from a bad, wrong recipe foisted on her by some corporate gringo scum).

Rave:

The recipes, though adapted, short-cut, compromised, and incompetently rendered from ludicrously substituted ingredients, sometimes show honest underpinnings—fleeting glimpses of real Indian cooking. At the start of the chain of events that led to the present culinary catastrophe, some earnest person seems to have really tried to do right (this individual is likely rotting in the dungeon of Restaurant Associates’ headquarters so that he can’t complain to the press).

The tamales, for example, are wrong, but there are mitigating notes of rightness, and they have a nice creaminess. The Indian pudding (does anyone, by the way, think Indian pudding is actually Indian?) is worth more than a single bite. And the tablespoon of chili ladeled onto my mess of an “Indian taco” (fry bread-– here rendered like cheap carny zeppole) tasted cuminy good.

But the real upside is this: Compared with the overpriced bad renditions of bad food found at other museum cafés in the area, the American Indian Museum’s overpriced poor renditions of interesting foods is a best-of-evils alternative. And so they draw in flocks of lunch-hour workers from the neighborhood, who literally could not do better. And so it’d be a particularly serious mistake to attempt to eat here between noon and 2 p.m.


This sign does not prepare you for what is to come.


Tamale (edible) and blue cornbread (insipid).


Indian taco (a smothered mess, mitigated by a dab of decent chili).


Buffalo flank steak sandwich (tasted like Arby’s).


Indian pudding (pretty good).

BuffetCam videos! Warning: My video skills are still severely lacking. I’m improving, but this footage is still fast, jumpy, and out of focus (which, come to think of it, is actually how I’m feeling nearly two weeks into my trip!).
Movie file

Falls Church, Virginia

On last night’s podcast, you heard Dave Sit raving about his dim sum find. I begged him to bring me there (Lucky Three Chinese Restaurant, 5900 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, Virginia; 703-998-8888).

When it comes to dim sum, Dave is the pickiest of picky. Precious few places merit his consideration, and the smallest shortcoming (slightly overthick dough on the har gow, fried items less than optimally crisp) can ruin his whole day. New York City has a half-dozen top-class dim sum places, but he’ll only eat at the Nice Restaurant on East Broadway, where everything is suitably refined and consistent. So I was stunned to hear that he’s fallen hard for a dim sum buffet, for goodness’ sake. Dave is not a buffet kind of guy!

But see the photos and hear the podcast to understand why this place has won Dave’s heart.

Lucky Three’s unassuming exterior.

Delicious-looking crab (though the Crab Fiend has picked out every single claw).

Podcasts:

I’ve been eating dim sum with Dave for two decades, and I continue to learn new things from him. Listen in so that you can share his tips and perspective:

MP3 file

Dave guides us through the big hot pot of fresh tofu.

MP3 file

Strategies: dim sum buffets versus classic dim sum.

MP3 file

Always select for succulence!

MP3 file

The Crab Fiend

... and the still-bumpy and amateurish BuffetCam:
Movie file.

Note: A suspicious manager came running over to question why I was filming, so I had to give him the Bugs Bunny treatment.

Things to Do with Stale Bread

Things to Do with Stale Bread

Ten uses for an old loaf of bread, from thickening gazpacho to soaking up the Grand Marnier in grown-up French toast READ MORE