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

Take My Garlic Press, Please

The Chicago Tribune asked chefs about kitchen gadgets they find utterly useless (registration required).

Egg slicers get mixed reviews from the assembled chefs, but garlic presses seem to be nearly universally despised by the professionals, not to mention what chef Pamela Denison describes as “those garlic peelers that look like cannoli” (full disclosure: I’m the proud owner of one).

Anthony Bourdain takes particular glee in gunning down the SaladShooter: “What the #$%@ is that?! You have to be pretty helpless if you’re in need of a salad-conveyance system.”

CHOW recently listed 10 kitchen items worth spending a pretty penny for. Which kitchen gadgets do you find truly ridiculous?

Promising Moroccan at Brooklyn’s Fez Cafe

The talented Moroccan chef who charmed Chowhounds at Carroll Gardens’ short-lived Marrackech has resurfaced in Windsor Terrace. At her new place, Fez Cafe, she makes an amazing lamb shank tagine with apricots and prunes, among other things, reports Barry Strugatz. Also recommended: vegetable couscous, chicken tagine, eggplant with charmoula, and moist, deftly seasoned rice.

The kitchen isn’t quite up to speed. Salads are hit or miss, and some dishes come out underseasoned. But service is friendly, the owner personable and accommodating, and there’s a lovely garden out back.

Fez Cafe and Hookah Garden [Windsor Terrace]
240 Prospect Park West, between Windsor St. and Prospect Ave., Brooklyn

Board Links
Moroccan in Windsor Terrace
Anyone been to new Fez Cafe & Hookah Garden on Prospect Park West?

Goodbye, Gertel’s; and Other Manhattan Casualties

Gertel’s Bake Shop is closing. They’re a piece of Lower East Side history, beloved for challah, hamentaschen, and especially dense, moist rugelach. Its Hester Street quarters, which it has occupied since 1914, will reportedly give way to a condo complex, and its owners will concentrate on their Brooklyn-based wholesale operation. “Oh, that is awful news!” laments abrocadabro. “What am I going to do for Passover cookies and cakes?!”

A couple other casualties, though not quite so venerable, will also be missed. Rinconcito Peruano, a Hell’s Kitchen hole-in-the-wall for great ceviches and aji de gallina (chicken casserole), has closed its doors. It’s apparently survived by a sister restaurant in Queens. Win49, a Lower East Side hound haunt for bento boxes, fried skewered stuff, and other cheap Japanese takeout, is also no more.

Meanwhile, in three-star land, Alain Ducasse is jumping hotels. The grand French restaurant will close January 6 at Essex House and reopen in spring at the St. Regis, three blocks south. Ducasse et Cie are checking out of Essex House on a high note, says baconstrip, who reports pampering service and sumptuous food highlighted by marinated escolar with apples, squab with radishes in huckleberry jus, and killer desserts including toasted peanut biscuit with chocolate cremeux. “Save up and go there before they close the door,” bacon advises.

Gertel’s Bake Shop [Lower East Side]
53 Hester St., between Ludlow and Essex, Manhattan

Rinconcito Peruano [Clinton]
803 9th Ave., between W. 53rd and 54th Sts., Manhattan

Rinconcito Peruano [Woodhaven]
97-05 Jamaica Ave., at 97th St., Woodhaven, Queens

Win49 [Lower East Side]
205 Allen St., between Houston and Stanton, Manhattan

Alain Ducasse [Midtown]
155 W. 58th St., in Essex House, Manhattan

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Win49 Gone!
What’s Up with Rinconcito Peruano (Ninth Ave. 53/54 Sts.)
Gertel’s RIP
Alain Ducasse

101 Noodle Stretches to Rowland Heights

101 Noodle Express has opened another branch, reports Chandavkl. The menu is the same as the Alhambra location, with their specialties of DeZhou chicken, luscious beef rolls, and fish, chicken, and scallop dumplings.

Speaking of dumplings, PeterL says the xiao long bao (soup dumplings) at Mandarin Restaurant are just as good, if not better, than Din Tai Fung’s. There aren’t as many varieties, but the classic XLB has thin skin and flavorful soup inside. Other Shanghainese dishes are very good also.

101 Noodle Express [Inland of LA]
1388 Fullerton Road, Rowland Heights

101 Noodle Express [San Gabriel Valley]
formerly Style Cafe
1408 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra

Mandarin Restaurant [South OC]
18420 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley

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Xiao lung bao in the OC.
101 Noodle Express Opens Up Second Branch

Loose Leaves and Loose Screws

Downtown office workers are psyched about Loose Leaf, a build-your-own salad place where you start with romaine, field greens, or baby spinach and add your choice of toppings–sliced steak, portobello mushrooms, edamame beans, dried cranberries, and goat cheese are just a few of the options. Dressings (made in-house) are tasty too, even fat-free options like cucumber mint. Soups are a good bet too.

Service, however, seems to be of the “I just work here” variety–even when it comes to answering the question “What time do you close?” (Counter Guy’s reply to yinyangdi: “I don’t know, I leave at 5.” Correct answer: 8 p.m.)

Loose Leaf [Downtown]
630 W. 6th St., at Hope, Los Angeles

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FYI: Loose Leaf on 6th and Hope

Sumika Grill

The newly-opened yakitori bar Sumika gets high marks from Melanie Wong for tasty, tender, soft, beautifully fried chicken. Momo (grilled chicken thigh) is soft-textured, very juicy and delicious, with caramelized bits at the grill marks. Pretty much every grilled chicken item available comes impregnated with the rich essence of chicken.

The fried chicken appetizer actually ends up being one of the best dishes, with subtle ginger and garlic flavors, a soft, greaseless crust, and ultra-juicy chunks of dark meat. Another stand-out is ochazuke (chicken risotto, $4)–soft-cooked rice topped with nori, big flakes of shaved bonito, scallions, pickled plum, and wasabi–which then has savory, intense chicken stock poured in from a teapot.

Dinner for two, including tax, tip, and a generous pour of Harushika sake is $54. It’s a new place and the staff recommends reservations.

Sumika Grill [Peninsula]
236 Central Plaza, Los Altos

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Sumika in Los Altos–Get a reservation NOW

Hong Kong Style Desserts

100% Healthy Desserts is a new place specializing in Hong Kong-style desserts, both traditional and modern. Melanie Wong likes ji ma wu, black sesame sweet soup. ($3.25), an ebony-black concoction of smooth, unctuous sesame puree, with intense roasted sesame flavor and perfectly balanced sweetness. It’s clearly made from scratch, without a bunch of cornstarch to thicken it out. “I haven’t had real, lusciously rich ji ma wu like this since I was a wee one,” says Melanie.

She also rates their interesting lobster ball ramen ($5.95) 34th in the city.

As for fancy drinks, K K likes the #1, also known as the Old SF–separate layers of watermelon juice with ice, fresh pineapple juice with ice, sugar syrup, and black pearl. It’s refreshing and lovely. The tofu fa is kind of flavorless, but the texture of the tofu is remarkable–supremely soft, like flower petals.

It’s a new place, and service is slow and a bit exasperating. Go when you’re not in a hurry.

100% Healthy Desserts [Sunset]
1155 Taraval St., San Francisco

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Lobster Ball Ramen, Ji Ma Wu and Other Sweets at 100% Healthy Desserts, SF
100% Healthy Dessert in Millbrae now open

Crispy Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches

A regional specialty in Iowa and Indiana, the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich is much beloved by locals, and easy to reproduce at home. The pork is a take on schnitzel: it’s pounded thin, marinated in seasoned buttermilk, coated in breadcrumbs, and deep fried.

Big Al notes that the tenderloin should be served on a hamburger bun, that “proper” tenderloins are about 2-3 times the size of the bun, and that purists eat them only with onion, pickles, and mustard.

After following this recipe, Rubee says, “YUM–I can see why these are popular–a crispy, porky, guilty pleasure.”

Check out this pictorial ode to the pork tenderloin sandwich to see some more extreme examples of the genre.

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Crispy Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches

Latke Toppers

Latkes are a traditional Jewish holiday dish, fortunately available year ‘round. They’re fried pancakes made from grated potato, eggs, and often onion. Hot and crisp from the frying pan, they’re great topped with a dollop of sour cream, or a spoonful of apple sauce–or even a bit of both.

Chunky homemade applesauce is perfect during apple season. Leave the peels on! Sour cream should be thick. HillJ likes the two mixed together, with a dash of Kosher salt.

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latke debate: apple sauce v. sour cream

Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron

Lodge claims that Lodge Logic, their pre-seasoned cast iron pan, has an heirloom finish you can use straight out of the box. This is not exactly true; it doesn’t have a completely perfect finish right out of the box, say Chowhounds, but the factory head start on the seasoning process means you can get that wonderful, shiny black surface more quickly, whether you season yourself or just cook fatty foods like bacon in the pan for its first dozen or so uses. Procrastibaker does most of his cooking in cast iron, including vintage pans, and feels that Lodge Logic’s pre-seasoning is particularly durable.

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Preseasoned vs. not—Logic Cast Iron Skillet??