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

Strategic Guest Ejection

Strategic Guest Ejection

How should we signal that it's time for guests to depart-- short of changing into our pajamas? READ MORE

New Blog, Bad Blood

Michael Ruhlman, writer of books and watcher of chefs, joined the ranks of food bloggers last week, becoming the latest pro journalist to launch his own blog. Ruhlman had some practice in blogland during his guest-columnist stint at seminal food blog megnut, where he wrote intelligently on gastropolitical issues (like the foie-gras ban) and provided great commentary on the world of celeb chefs. On his own blog, though, he veered into oddly negative territory on just his second day out of the gate, when he bashed fellow journo-cum-blogger Regina Schrambling of gastropoda:

About nastiness—I’m not a big fan of it, though some bloggers can be funny in their nastiness, such as Regina Schrambling at gastropoda—I imagine from reading her blog that it might be kind of scary to actually be Regina Schrambling (unlike say being John Malkovich), but I can’t help checking in on Wednesdays for the dirt and bile (I figure I can always wash afterward).

Yikes. Reading down a little farther, we learn that he dislikes her insideriness and her use of pseudonyms and anonymous references when talking about certain food-world folks, which he says “carries with it an element of the personal grudge vented in a public space.” But then he goes and vents a personal grudge himself:

Schrambling was once snide about something I’d written for the Times (her former employer which she attacks venomously and regularly) and she was also kind enough to get a correction into the LATimes, for whom she writes, when she got a fact about one of my books wrong (even though the error was so minor this wasn’t necessary), which was uncommonly nice of her.

Ruhlman is right to an extent, of course: Schrambling rips on Frank Bruni (whom she refers to as “Panchito,” the nickname Bush gave him) and The New York Times as often as possible, and she is nasty. Not hilarious-nasty and peppered with goofy photos, Bruni Digest style, either—clenched-jawed, dry-ice-spittin’ nasty. But of course that venom is why people read her: She has all the irreverence and anger of a food-world outsider but the access and experience of an insider, which makes for some good material.

Ruhlman must have known she would bite back the way she did a few days ago:

No wonder we’re bogged down in a lose-lose situation in Iraq. There are actually people out there, in the media no less, who do not know how Panchito got nicknamed Panchito. (Big honkin’ hint: Not by me.) Thanks to e-pals who alerted me with reviews ranging from ‘semi-coherent’ to ‘mean and pompous,’ I looked in on (or is it What is it with guys who read me and have to take to the fainting couch? It’s only guys, interestingly enough. Women must be more honest about how the food world works—not for nothing is it known as a coven. At least I don’t let my comment-monkeys fling the feces for me. And while I could never describe what it’s like being me, I can tell you what it’s not: boring.

Zi-ing. I just hope Ruhlman will make his blog a place to publish the kind of thinky writing he does best—and leave the trash-talking to Schrambling, the true master.

She Blinded Me with Liquor!

Wired is helping us bridge the gap between drinking insane, scientifically cutting-edge drinks at expensive urban bars, and drinking insane, scientifically cutting-edge drinks at home.

And all you need is some agar, some cola-flavored Pop Rocks, and a class-IV laser!

So, right. It’s kind of a long bridge. But the story is a diverting look at what it takes to dabble in drinks that will drop jaws, not only with their price or complexity, but also with the sheer ambition involved. It’s one thing to demand a whole vanilla bean—if you can’t handle that, go back to drinking Grain Belt and be done with it. But it’s another to insist upon hitting that vanilla bean with a super-concentrated beam of light until its mist coats the interior of a wineglass. This Wired article is to drinks what Real Genius was to popcorn.

Sure, it’s a bit over the top. But how can you hate anything with directions like this?

Warm gin and add gelatin. Pour into a shallow baking pan lined with plastic wrap, add tonic, and refrigerate for two hours. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Put cube onto lime chip, sprinkle on sugar-soda-acid mixture (the acid combines with the baking soda for a carbonated feeling on the tongue), and serve.

Is Nigella a Feast?

Nigella is gorgeous, her food makes you want to lick the TV, and she uses charmingly British phrases like “bung it in” and “a good scrunch” that give her show a nice foreign flavor not seen since Two Fat Ladies had their wild ride across the Food Network, but what do we think of her new show?

It seems that a lot of people were underwhelmed, sort of in a, “Yeah, isn’t this the same show I saw on the Style Network?” kind of way. Well, it is, because it doesn’t appear that any rejiggering of her original concept took place. All that’s really new is that it’s now on the Food Network. In their review of Nigella Feasts, Mississippi’s Sun Herald notes that the show “looks and flows a lot like ‘Nigella Bites,’ the program E! Entertainment Television picked up from the BBC several years back.”

Another subject of discussion has been about the filming, which the A.P.’s J. M. Hirsch describes as “unusual camera angles that can make viewers feel they are peering around corners.” For me, those “peering around corners” cuts and angles turned her probably very spacious London kitchen into a tight and tiny urban closet kitchen. As the show went on, I became more and more obsessed with the fact that Nigella just didn’t have enough room to work in. Come on, I feel like that every day in my own kitchen —I don’t need to experience kitchen claustrophobia on television.

Posters in the thread at Television Without Pity were downright irritated by the filming. One poster commented:

One close up of the chopped peppers going into the pan was out of focus till the last second—I know he was supposed to be artsy fartsy, but Mr. Camera Man needs to learn to focus the damn thing faster. That wasn’t artsy, it was annoying.

Another added:

The extreme closeups were a bit much, but what really bothered me was that the camera work seemed quite shaky. Hire someone who can hold the damn thing steady!

Some of that jerky, jangled filming made me and a friend feel downright nauseous. That’s not exactly the reaction you’d want from a food show. Unless you were bulemic.

Make Your Buzz Last Longer

Make Your Buzz Last Longer

CHOW tests wine-preservation systems to see if they really help save an opened bottle. READ MORE

Marcus Samuelsson’s Excellent Adventure

Fodor’s has an engaging Q&A with chef Marcus Samuelsson of New York City’s Aquavit. Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, he’s used his world-class cooking credentials and cross-cultural cred to mount a nation-hopping culinary tour of Africa.

In addition to his work at Aquavit, Samuelsson owns two other NYC restaurants: the AQ Cafe and the Japanese-American fusion spot Riingo. (The latter is a reference to an apple, not the least essential Beatle.)

Though the piece is in service of pimping his (rather interesting looking) new book, it covers some interesting ground, exploring the best Ethiopian restaurants in New York, why Cape Town is on par with San Francisco or Stockholm, and the origins of Africa’s sophisticated and hugely varied cooking styles:

In South Africa, you have fiery sambals that were brought by the Malay slaves who created Cape Malay cuisine. In Morocco, you see Arab influence in the spice blends, olives and preserved lemons. And in West Africa, I was surprised to find people using French-style condiments like mayonnaise and mustard.

As it goes in journalism and foreign affairs, so it goes in food writing: Africa is one of the most neglected yet sprawlingly diverse and important topics out there. It’s nice to see Fodor’s at least scratch the surface.

Beyond Salt and Pepper

Beyond Salt and Pepper

From Worcestershire sauce to paprika, here are ten ingredients that will boost flavor in your cooking. READ MORE

On Curing Salmon

On Curing Salmon

From raw to cured in 24 hours. READ MORE

Eat at Mom’s

It’s tough love, Japanese style, over at Passionate Nonchalance, where Aria’s addicted to the Nintendo game Cooking Mama. Using a pointer on a touch screen, you make dishes under the flaming gaze of Mama’s all-seeing eyes. If your knife slips or your dumplings flop, Mama will fix it, but you’ll lose points, and worse, Mama will be disappointed in you.

And, being a food blogger, Aria’s taking the game to heart.

“I’ve been playing the game so much I’m pretty sure I’m getting subliminally programmed because I’m now craving all the things Mama and I made. Like gyoza, I want those soft juicy little dumplings so bad right now I can’t stand it.”

After a link to a flash cartoon and theme song, Aria posts her own step-by-step gyoza-making adventure, including an imagined biography of the two-dimensional Mama. And whatever Mama says, those finished dumplings sure do look delish.

If the Rice Is Broken, Don’t Fix It

Pretty much every Vietnamese restaurant and pho joint serves com tam (broken rice) dishes, a peasant staple made with the cheapo broken grains of rice not fit for export. But few actually specialize in it, as Com Tam Thuan Kieu does.

The menu has a dizzying array of com tam dishes–64 of them. The house specialties, #7 and #8, offer seven toppings on a generous mound of rice. They’re seriously enough for two. The #7 includes, as elmomonster describes it:

-Bi (shredded pork)–Wispy strands of translucent pork skin and julienned meat tossed with toasted rice powder.

-Cha (baked egg)–A slice of something similar to quiche, with wood ear mushrooms, glass noodles, and pork cooked together with beaten egg.

-Nem (charbroiled meat)–A mixture of pureed pork meat, aggressively seasoned with pepper, formed into racquetball-sized spheres, and cooked to a springy, bouncy firmness.

-Lap Xuong (sausage)–Sweet Chinese sausage, splayed on the diagonal into bite-sized sections, pan-fried to an oily sheen.

-Tom Nuong (charbroiled shrimp)–Grilled shrimp skewered on a stick, basted with a sweet barbecue glaze.

-Tau Hu Ky (bean curd skin w/ shrimp)–A golden brick of shrimp minced to a paste, wrapped with a thin sheet of bean curd skin, and deep fried to a crisp.

-Suon (charbroiled pork chop)–A grilled, marinated pork chop, cut to the shape of a baseball mitt.

Less ambitious diners might want to get #22 instead, with the classic trio of baked egg, shredded pork and thit, grilled pork that’s actually preferable to the suon (grilled pork chop). The pieces are as tender as they are flavorful.

The rice bits themselves are steamed, and have a texture kind of like couscous. They absorb the juices from the toppings that seep into them.

Nuoc cham, a pungent sauce with vinegary, sweet, and fishy overtones, is meant to be drizzled over everything you eat–especially com tam, says elmomonster, adding that “com tam without it is pancakes without syrup; cereal without milk; sushi without wasabi…you get the picture.”

You can also amp up the flavor with some chile garlic paste, and by eating some of the whole bird chiles on the table. They’re super-hot–the key is to take a bite while your mouth is full of rice and toppings. The carrot-daikon pickles, also on the table, will neutralize the spiciness, and the scallion-and-fried-shallot-speckled broth that comes with the com tam will wash away the rest. Cleanse your palate with a bite of cucumber.

House special com tam is about $8, while the three-ingredient #22 is $5.

Com Tam Thuan Kieu [Little Saigon]
14282 Brookhurst St., #2, Garden Grove

Com Tam Thuan Kieu [San Gabriel Valley]
120 E. Valley Blvd. # I, Del Mar, San Gabriel

Board Links
Com Tam Thuan Kieu–Garden Grove–Review with Photos