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

What makes it weird?

What turns one diner’s stomach may be dinner to another. Chris Cosentino, chef at San Francisco’s Incanto restaurant, food blogger, and enthusiast of all the nasty bits, worries that he might not “have enough offal on the menu.” He solves the problem with a dish of grilled lamb liver, heart, and kidneys, dressed with salsa picante. A photo is posted to his blog, with a warning for viewers not to drool on their keyboard.

Food blogger Mary Ladd recently attended one of Cosentino’s “Whole Beast Dinners” at Incanto, and reported her experience eating an entire pig-pointy ears to curly tail-on SFist. She admits, “some of our pregnant friends cringed and kept their backs turned,” when the pig came out, but says, “the heart was petite, very tender and tasted and felt clean.”

No newcomer to adventurous eating is Eddie Lin, one of the authors of Deep End Dining, a blog devoted to consuming the unusual, odd, and sometimes illegal (a recent “outlaw dinner” featured foods that are banned or forbidden, or will be soon). Though being a devotee of the nasty bits can have its drawbacks. Eddie recently suggested a dinner out to his wife who replied, “Honey, I’m six months pregnant. I really can’t handle eating fetus or baby anything, not even veal. Nothing weird at all. Please tell me we’re going to a normal restaurant.”

Perhaps the larger question is, what really makes food “weird?” In response to her recent Chez Pim post about cooking with horse fat, Pim readily admits, “My weird meter is probably calibrated quite differently from other people’s.” She says that growing up in Thailand exposed her to “all kinds of stuff that people here or in Europe might find weird.”

Numerous and interesting comments on her post continue the conversation. “I’m still amazed at what the average American will/will not eat,” writes reader Linette. “They turn up their noses at things like tripe, calf brains, fish-head curry, and sea-urchin, then they go eat processed, packaged crap from the supermarket. Please! Who’s the crazy one here?”

In the end, is eating molded green jello salad with cubes of canned fruit floating in it any stranger than tripe?

Gastro-gawking

The food bloggers sure have gotten buddy-buddy lately. A bunch of them got together in the Bay Area Sunday to eat a reportedly crazy-delicious meal, and now they can’t stop talking about it. Amy (of Cooking with Amy) not only got to attend that event, but she also hooked up with more food bloggers in Seattle and had some yummy meals there, too.

So maybe I’m a teensy bit jealous that I wasn’t on the guest list for these get-togethers (Okay, of course I’m jealous —so much deliciousness! Warm fuzzies flowing like wine!), but these posts got me thinking about a criticism of the food-writing community that I came across recently. Journalist and former New York Times food columnist Molly O’Neill chides contemporary writers for engaging in food porn, creating “a world that exists almost exclusively in the imagination, the ambitions, and the nostalgic underpinnings of American culture.” She doesn’t let the readers who buy her books off the hook, either: they’re the ones who demand this porn-y writing, and she says it’s up to the journalists not to pander to them and do some real “reportage” instead, a la James Beard or M.F.K. Fisher.

Of course a ton of wonderful blogs dabble (or revel) in food porn, and there are some great sites and meta-sites dedicated entirely to the genre, but this passel of posts about the bloggers’ potluck really seemed to hammer home the point: Food porn at its most stripped-down is really not about learning or doing, it’s about imagining (and of course wanting what the other guy has).

Is that really a problem, though? I generally agree with O’Neill that today’s food writing could use a little “more authority and less autobiography,” but nostalgia and fantasy are such important parts of any culinary experience that it seems odd to criticize their prevalence in gastro-journalism. Then again, maybe food porn only appeals to relatively well-off folks, as O’Neill suggests, and excludes the rest of the population. What’s your take?

Heirloom Holiday

Want to squeeze a nice pair of big, juicy tomatoes? Well, now’s your chance, as the bursting-ripe orbs are starring in last gasp of summer’s sweetness before the squash and apples start muscling in. China Daily is running fabulous red-on-red shots of La Tomatina, the tomato-hurling Spanish festival that left the streets of Buñol awash in human gazpacho on Wednesday.

Rather eat ‘em than wear ‘em? Gothamist and The Food Section get right to the plate, praising the delights of, respectively, the the heirloom-’mater salad at Blue Ribbon Brooklyn and a DIY tumble of tomatoes, watermelon, and feta, inspired by a similar dish on the menu at The Hungry Cat in Los Angeles.

Ready to get a little dirty? Head up to Stone Barns’ upcoming tomato fest in the Hudson Valley, or get on down to Mariquita Farms’ organic tomato u-pick and potluck in sunny Cali. Or just pick up some drippy-fresh mozzarella, a handful of basil, and a heap of local beauties, and have yourself a big ol’ Caprese party in your lap.

Big-Time Barbecue

Big-Time Barbecue

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Fresh Anchovies, or Let Them Eat Bait

The San Francisco Fish Company has fresh anchovies lately, reports MuppetGrrl. They’re delicious and only $3.99 a pound. Anchovies are plentiful this year in the waters outside the Gate, says TomG; he recommends them grilled with salt and pepper. Ask any fish supplier. For you more adventuresome souls, just go out there and buy them live from a bait supplier at the Berkeley Pier. Alan408 says they’re fine for human consumption, but might be expensive compared to dead ones. (Tip: don’t eat the ones that are already on somebody’s hook. It’ll be bad for all concerned.)

San Francisco Fish Company [Embarcadero]
1 Ferry Bldg. # 31, San Francisco
415-399-1111
Locater

Berkeley Marina Fishing Pier [East Bay]
160 University Ave., Berkeley
510-981-6720
Map

Board Links
Chowcooks: Fresh anchovies at the Ferry Building!

Grits, Crab, and Sweet Corn Porridge

Absonot loves porridge made from grits, crab, and sweet corn at The Front Porch, a brand-new restaurant. It’s an exceptional dish, prepared with habanero and green onion; it manages to be hearty, intriguing, and refreshing all at the same time. potatoe seconds the recommendation for crab porridge: “My toes were tapping.” Hounds also like Front Porch’s moist, buttery yellow cake, with a nicely balanced, sweet chocolate frosting. bernalbump says it’s just like your idealized grandmother’s cake.

The Front Porch [Mission]
65A 29th St., San Francisco
415-695-7800
Map

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The Front Porch Opens —(long)

Italian-Style Sandwiches from Downtown to Uptown

At Piada on the Lower East Side, the namesake specialty is a sandwich from Emilia-Romagna–a toasted flatbread stuffed with meat, cheese, vegetables, or sweet stuff like fruit, preserves, or Nutella. “Ingredients are fresh, the sandwiches are delicious, and the owners are Italian guys who are actually always there and make your sandwiches,” reports lia, who’s especially fond of their Amarcord (prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula), and pressed ciabatta with prosciutto or mortadella, fontina, and artichoke. Salads, soup, espresso drinks, and breakfast sandwiches with egg, cheese, or speck round out the menu.

On the Upper West Side, a sleeper pick for less authentic Italian-style sandwiches is Soup or Sandwich, whose name pretty much sums up its menu. Among the dozen fusioney panini, one tasty un-Italian choice is the Chicken Tijuana: moist grilled chicken with pepper jack, roasted peppers, and spicy mayonnaise. “A really good sandwich–not fake spicy, really spicy,” says Pupster. “Nothing to make a special trip for, but if you are heading into Central Park for a picnic, a convenient place to grab a couple panini.” Other options include a Cubano, tuna melt, churrasco, and even such Italianate varieties as the Tuscan Melt (fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, pesto mayonnaise) and San Pietro (prosciutto, fresh mozz, roasted peppers).

Piada [Lower East Side]
3 Clinton St., between Houston and Stanton, Manhattan
212-677-5415
Locater

Soup or Sandwich [Upper West Side]
265 Columbus Ave., between W. 72nd and 73rd Sts., Manhattan
212-362-6076
Locater

Board Links
best sandwiches in lower manhattan?

Rinconcito Mexicano II: Killer Quesadillas in the South Bronx

If you think you know quesadillas, try the one at Rinconcito Mexicano II in the South Bronx. “Quesadillas will never be the same again,” promises PAL, who declares this “one of the greatest little Mexican restaurants in all of New York City.” A thick tortilla of fresh-made masa encloses fresh, possibly house-made white cheese and comes with deep, spicy, garlicky red salsa. Order it with carnitas: you’ll get rich, flavorful roast pork, nicely crisped in places, reports Spoony Bard. Tacos are also good, he adds, including one with deliciously goaty barbacoa.

Rinconcito is a charming, narrow storefront joint, one of many Mexican establishments in the surrounding Mott Haven neighborhood–and apparently unconnected with a restaurant of the same name on 39th Street in Manhattan.

Rinconcito Mexicano II [Bronx]
381 E. 138th St., between Willis and Alexander Aves., Bronx
718-401-8314
Locater

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Chow-worthy Bruckner Blvd. and South Bronx?

Golden Deli’s Secret Sibling

Pho lovers, beware: Because of a fire in the strip mall, Golden Deli is currently out of commission. The good news is, a previously unknown sister restaurant has come to light: Saigon Flavor (no relation to the one in Torrance).

It’s almost like being at good old Golden Deli: same menus, same numbers. The cha gio (spring roll) is just as savory as ever, says copacetic. Yet there are differences. The house special pho (#1) actually has better broth! And there’s a ton of parking in back! And the room is much nicer!

Although it was pretty uncrowded on one hound’s visit, another witnessed a crowd waiting to get in a few days ago. So maybe the word is out.

Vietnam House, across the street from Golden Deli and under the same ownership, also has basically the same food as Golden Deli, plus beer, parking, and they take credit cards.

Saigon’s Flavor San Gabriel Valley]
208 E. Valley Blvd., at Del Mar, San Gabriel
626-572-6036
Locater

Golden Deli [San Gabriel Valley]
815 W. Las Tunas Dr., at Main, San Gabriel
626-308-0803
Locater

Vietnam House [San Gabriel Valley]
710 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel
626-282-6327
Locater

Board Links
Golden Deli Fire? Sister Restaurant Saigon Flavor

Giving Edamame a Kick

Boiled, salted edamame are a terrific snack. But chowhounds have a few tricks to make them truly irresistible:

Grind lapsang souchong tea leaves with a little salt, and sprinkle the mixture over the edamame for a nice smoky snack. Smoked salt achieves a similar effect. Curry-infused oil and citrus zest is an inspired combination for edamame. Also try grinding chili peppers, star anise, and garlic together for the topping.

In a different vein, Old Bay seasoning is great on edamame, says ClaireLiz.

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edamame tip