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

Taam-Tov Revisited: Kebabs and More in Midtown

Kebabs, dumplings and meat pies are smart orders among the Bukharan specialties at Taam-Tov, an upstairs hideaway in the Diamond District. Peter Cherches reports fabulous samsas (crisp baked meat pies stuffed with spiced chopped lamb) and tender, charcoal-grilled lamb shish kebab and lula kebab, made of well-seasoned chopped meat. Manti (steamed dumplings) boast sweet, oniony meat filling in delicate skins. Fresh-baked lepeshka bread is warm and hearty. For Peter’s party of four, lunch totaled $50 with tip, “and they had to roll us down the stairs.”

But most hounds rank Taam-Tov a step below the competition in Queens, where Cheburechnaya makes superior versions of Central Asian Jewish dishes like plov, the pilaf-like rice dish with stewed meat and vegetables. mishka finds this place solid but adds, “I don’t remember the food back home being this greasy.”

For excellent lagman, the sturdy Uzbek soup with lamb, noodles, and vegetables, the go-to place is Cafe Arzu in Rego Park, mishka advises.

Taam-Tov [Diamond District]
a.k.a. Avi Taam-Tov Corp.
46 W. 47th St., 4th floor, between 5th and 6th Aves., Manhattan
212-768-8001
Locater

Cheburechnaya [Rego Park]
92-09 63rd Dr., between Austin and Wetherole Sts., Rego Park, Queens
718-897-9080
Locater

Cafe Arzu [Rego Park]
101-05 Queens Blvd., at 67th Rd., Rego Park, Queens
718-830-3335
Map

Board Links
Taam-Tov in Manhattan’s Diamond District?
Any Uzbek restaurants in NYC?

Pork Kidney Is the New Monkfish Liver at Best Szechuan

Jerome’s recent dinner at Best Szechwan yielded some new favorites–like the “hot and numbing kidney flowers” (mala yao hua), actually called spicy fried kidney on the menu. It’s pork kidney, cut decoratively into little flowers like squid, stir-fried with lots of black wood-ear mushrooms and other vegetables in a thin gravy. The kidney isn’t as gamy as in, say, steak and kidney pie–it’s soft and mild, more like monkfish liver. The wood ear makes a great contrast.

Water-boiled fish slices (shuizhu yu pian), in this case sole, come in chile-oil broth with tons of yellow bean sprouts. It’s great, and very spicy, although it’s not a heat that burns on and on, and it’s balanced by other flavors like herbal and floral, and manages to be both rich and delicate.

Herbal smoked duck (zhang-cha ya) is warm and smoky, wonderfully balancing out the spicier typical Sichuan dishes. It’s smoked with camphor and tea leaf.

Three flavored sizzling rice soup (san-xian guoba tang) is short on soup–the broth is thickened and full of chicken, mushrooms, shrimp, pork, and bamboo shoots, but the house-made sizzling rice squares are smoky, crunchy, and really good.

Spicy wonton soup (chaos hour) isn’t a soup and doesn’t have wontons, but it is spicy. It’s actually Sichuanese boiled dumplings (different from wontons) in a chile-d up broth. No sauce needed.

Also good: braised shrimp (gan shao xia ren), nearly sauceless and mildly spiced.

Half a dozen main dishes and some cold appetizers, and four bottles of beer comes to about $70 with tax, before tip.

Best Szechuan Chili & Seafood [San Gabriel Valley]
230 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park
626-572-4629
Map

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Best Szechwan Chili etc in Monterey Park, new review

Lucques Lunch Update: BLT Is Back, Baby

The BLT, a seasonal item at Lucques, is back on the menu, along with a bunch of other new lunch items. The pork burger is fab, says Tom P. The BLT has been praised by Jonathan Gold as one of the best of its kind. It’s made with grilled fresh bread, luscious house-made mayonnaise, superior crisp bacon, a ton of avocado, heirloom tomatoes and (we think) butter lettuce. It’s $15 and well worth it–the thing is huge and comes with an excellent, garlicky arugula salad.

Lucques [West Hollywood]
8474 Melrose Ave., at La Cienega, Los Angeles
323-655-6277
Locater

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BLT Back at Lucques!

Peanut Butter + Rice Krispies = Gooey Deliciousness

It’s simple to peanut butter-up standard Rice Krispies treats: just add a hefty spoonful of peanut butter to the melting marshmallow and butter mixture–anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3 of a cup–and stir until smooth, then proceed as usual.

coll makes a Rice Krispies and peanut butter truffle sort of thing: blend 1 cup creamy peanut butter, 1 stick softened butter, and 2 cups confectioner’s sugar. Fold in 1 cup Rice Krispies. Form into small balls and freeze. Roll the balls in 12 oz. melted chocolate and allow to set.

Becca Porter shares a family recipe that’s chock-full of peanut butter and much more like candy than Rice Krispies treats. Here’s her recipe:

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups light corn syrup
2 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
6 cups Rice Krispies (or less depending on taste), separated

In a large bowl place 5 cups Rice Krispies, reserving 1 cup. Bring sugar and corn syrup to a full boil over high heat. Count to 50 to 55 seconds. Immediately take pot off heat and stir in peanut butter. When it is fully combined pour over Rice Krispies in bowl. Add remaining Rice Krispies until the consistency is to your taste. Spread evenly in a 13×9” pan. Cool completely before cutting.

To make this treat softer and gooier, decrease the amount of Rice Krispies.

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Peanut Butter Rice Krispy Treats

Favorite Marinades

Chowhounds share their favorite marinades for veggies, meats, chicken, and seafood. Remember not to let fish or chicken sit in any marinade with citrus for long, as it will begin to break down their proteins. The max is fifteen minutes for fish, and thirty minutes for chicken.

Olive oil and fish sauce is foodio’s all time favorite marinade for veggies (especially zucchini and red onions). Sounds odd, but he swears the fish sauce penetrates the veggies as they cook, the fishy taste disappears, and the veggies melt in your mouth.

For lamb, cheryl h recommends red wine, soy, tamarind or vinegar, ground black and white peppercorns, and ground mustard seed.

For beef, Pei likes sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions, and some citrus.

For chicken, try diced onions, chopped rosemary, cracked black pepper, salt, and the juice of a lemon. Or cilantro, chiles, garlic, lime, and salt, pounded in a mortar and pestle.

For salmon: soy, maple syrup, minced fresh ginger, lime juice and zest. For tuna: lime juice, soy sauce, and honey. For shrimp or scallops: minced fresh ginger, lime juice and zest, cayenne pepper or ground fresh chiles.

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What is your favorite marinade?

Strawberries of a Different Color

There are white strawberries, and they have their own distinctive flavors and shapes. The delicate white ones are called Fraises des Bois, and are similar to a wild berry.

Look for them in season, or consider growing some of your own!

Read about them here.

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White Strawberries

Lilac Wood

Pruning lilacs can yield a lot of woody branches. Let them age, and they make wonderful fuel to use for the smoker. JMF says the light floral taste is recommended for fish and lamb. Lilbug reports using it for smoking chicken and ribs. It’s among the more expensive wood you can buy for smoking.

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Smoking with Lilac wood?

Salt This Away

If you’ve ever wondered whether throwing down four bucks for a bag of fancy fleur de sel is worth it, wonder no longer: David Lebovitz makes an excellent case for the pricey crystals (which, he shows, are actually a decent bargain, considering how few of them it takes to salt a dish). His post gives a lovely account of his visit to the salt marshes of France’s Guerande region and the intriguingly complex filtration and harvesting process that goes into producing Fleur de Sel de Guerande—now his all-time fave salt.

It’s inspirational to hear tales like this, since I’ve always been utilitarian when it comes to salt: I’ll use kosher when a recipe calls for it explicitly, sea salt when I have dinner guests, and good ol’ Morton Iodized sprinkled liberally on everything else (largely due to my weird paranoia about developing a goiter). But apparently I’m not really in danger of iodine deficiency, and I love the idea of using a “finishing” salt on my tomatoes and chocolate mousses, just like they do in the restaurants.

One little beef, though: A few of David’s observations are overly gushy. It always makes me skeptical when writers bust out sentences like this one (and he has several of ‘em):

Although the words ‘fleur de sel’ have been bantered around and used as marketing tools for many salts being promoted (nowadays you find salts labeled as such from Portugal, Italy, and elsewhere) nowhere else on earth does the salt have the same fine flavor and delicate crystals of Fleur de Sel de Guerande.

“Nowhere else on earth” sounds a bit like PR copy to me; the post doesn’t have me convinced that he’s tried all of the competition worldwide (though certainly he’s sampled more than I have). If I were editing this piece for a magazine, I’d tone down the grand statements —but then again, bloggers have a lot more license in this arena than magazine writers do, and by and large this freedom makes for refreshingly honest reading.

Pennsylvania Is for Potato Chips (and Indonesian)!

Reading Terminal Market

I’m actually losing weight. I just consume microbites when doing this sort of chowconnaissance. The unfortuitous food combinations still leave me feeling vaguely queasy, as if I’ve overeaten, but my total calorie count’s pretty low. The Chowhound Diet.

Reading Terminal Market is a wonderful place, especially Wednesdays through Saturdays, when the Pennsylvania Dutch section is open. I mostly stuck to that area, because 1. the food looked best there, and 2. I wanted to get myself calibrated for my trip to Lancaster County.

MP3 file Hear a podcast.

Podcast notes:

1. Yes, I know it’s pronounced “Redding,” not “Reeding.”
2. My interview subject is, in case it’s not obvious, just this woman who sat down at the next table. That’s how the best chow tips are elicited. Obnoxiousness pays.

The woman in the podcast was right: LeBus Bakery makes wonderful onion rolls. She was right about everything else too.

Hot news: The potato chips at Glick’s Salad look homemade, packaged in unmarked bags. I said in the podcast that they looked like they were fried in vegetable oil rather than lard, but no. I tasted (read: ravaged) them and found them properly lardy (a lard-fried chip emits the bouquet of fried pork chops). And, hot news, I dragged out of the stand’s proprietor the fact that these are repackaged red-bag Good’s chips. To explain: Blue-bag Good’s and red-bag Good’s look similar, and are made by different parts of the same family, but the rivalry is fierce. I’ve long ago taken sides, prefering Ralph Good’s red-bag chips to Lewis Good’s blue. So the glorious upshot is that red-bag Good’s can be found in downtown Philly (albeit repackaged in unmarked bags).

Amish bagels!

Here is the fantastic rotisserie chicken from Dienner’s Bar-B-Q that I was swooning over in the podcast. The wings were stunning—bones shattered easily, yet the meat was consummately moist. Perfection!



Hear a concluding podcast (MP3 file) about the unforgettable smoky ribs from the Rib Stand.


... and also mentioning the great soft handmade buttery pretzels (and very good ice cream) from Fisher’s:


Tracking Wonderful Ena

I’ve been tracking a brilliant Indonesian chef named Ena for many years. I first found her cooking in the basement of the Indonesian Consulate, and the story of her gig there is too good not to tell. Here’s the review I wrote for a guidebook about 10 years ago:

The Cafeteria in the Indonesian Consulate
Atmosphere/Setting: You walk down the stately steps of the Indonesian consulate, into the building’s basement. Open the massive iron door, buzz to be admitted through another set of doors, pass a receptionist (tell her you’re there for lunch), go through still another door and head straight toward what appears to be a large closet. In the center of this closet there’s a single long table (covered with a cheap plastic cloth), at which dignified Indonesian men in suits are eating from paper plates. To the right, in a small alcove, a good-humored Indonesian woman is juggling dozens of pots and pans on her huge antique stove. The smell is positively hypnotizing. Tell her you want to try everything, and go have a seat at the table (grab some plastic utensils from the big central bucket and water from the water cooler) and await bliss.

House Specialties: The menu changes every day; you’ll be served tastes of five or six different things, all piled high on your plate. Luscious possibilities include chicken or fish in spicy peanut sauce, spicy potatoes, tempeh concoctions, a vegetable hodgepodge or other, and lots of perfectly cooked rice. The sole complaint is that the sambal (fiery Indonesian chutney) is usually commercial … but at least it’s a good brand.

Other Recommendations: There’s optional soup, for an extra buck (raising your tab to a whopping $6). Go for it.

Summary and Comments: Not only is this by far the finest Indonesian food in town (perhaps in the entire country), but it’s also a regional style (Sundanese) hard to find cooked this well even in Indonesia. The cuisine will please even skittish eaters; its exoticness lies in the spicing and condiments, while staples are relatively familiar (the chef does cook pretty spicy, but rarely does she apply serious heat as you’d find in, say, Thai restaurants). While nobody minds well-behaved outsiders stopping by, this lunchroom is not particularly seeking our business, either. Be patient about waiting for your food, and expect little in the way of coddling. Remember, this is not a Real Restaurant.

After that, Ena operated a quasilegal catering operation from her home in Queens, and was also, I’d heard, commuting to Philadelphia to run a secret place out there (serving the ever-growing community of Indonesian immigrants). The secret place has blossomed into a full-fledged restaurant, though you’d never know it from its anonymous position on an otherwise purely residential block.

Hardena Restaurant (1754 South Hicks Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 215-271-9442) is full of potfuls, panfuls, trayfuls, and steam tables full of Ena’s great cooking. She couldn’t cook only one thing at a time if she tried. I was almost delirious with happiness tearing through her adobos and vegetable patties and whatever else she piled onto my plate.

This place has been sort of discovered by the Philly food press, but they’re underrating it. Ena is one of the most talented chefs I know, and her restaurant is worth a drive from just about anywhere.


Pennsylvania Dutch Country (Lancaster County)

Then it was down to Pennsylvania Dutch Country, where I completely lost it while shopping at Yoder’s Country Market (14 South Tower Road, New Holland, Pennsylvania; 717-354-4748).

I couldn’t stop snapping photos of the snack food aisle, completely loaded as it was with a huge range of superb local pretzels and lard-fried potato chips, including nearly monumental supplies of both red-bag Good’s and blue-bag Good’s.





Just look at the beautiful variation in brownness among bags of Martin’s pretzels!

It’s downright surreal to see so many holy grail brands presented proudly, and in larger quantity than mainstream brands. It’s as startling as if a Truffaut film were to get top billing at a suburban multiplex. My pulse raced, my brow grew moist, and once I’d exhausted my camera’s flash, I compulsively loaded up a shopping cart with $30.17 worth of snack products:

I’ll assemble a tasting panel next week in North Carolina to work through this mother lode, so watch for my notes.

I ate dinner at Yoeder’s restaurant, near the market in the sprawling Yoder’s compound. Buffet’s the way to go here, and having been all riled up by potato chip shopping, I ate myself into a stupor. This is one of the rare Pennsylvania Dutch restaurants that’s patronized more by locals than by tourists, yet a lot of the food had the same tired-out, commercialized feeling as in the tourist meccas. This is a cuisine one must eat at home—or at church events. The hip church, I’m told, is Belleman’s Church (3650 Belleman’s Church Road, Mohrsville, Pennsylvania; 610-926-4280 or 610-916-1044), but my timing was off. No churches for me.

But along with exhausted greasy noodles and drab salads, Yoder’s did make a few real good things: great bacon salad dressing (quadruple your Lipitor tonight), very good rotisserie chicken, and a revelation: baked oatmeal, made from steel-cut oats and a recipe I need to try to re-create one day (after many return trips to try it again and again). They also do broasted chicken, a licensed term for chicken cooked on a type of frying equipment that was popular in the 1970s but seems to have disappeared everywhere but in this part of Pennsylvania. The fried chicken I tried had been sitting too long, but it’s my fault for dining at the ungodly hour of 7:30 p.m., just before closing. Damned city people …

No Gawking Allowed

Amateur food photographers beware: Superchef Gordon Ramsay is coming to New York City, and your digital cameras are not welcome in his restaurant.

Writing in The New York Times on the imminent arrival of Ramsay’s first eatery in New York City, Michael Ruhlman reports that the chef will not allow patrons to take photos of his dishes:

Mr. Ramsay described the food only as “very natural” and “very proper,” adding that any patron trying to take pictures of it would be banned.

“We’re not going to stand there and gawk,” he said.

Snap-happy bloggers have tried the patience of chefs on more than one occasion. Take Adam Roberts of The Amateur Gourmet, who has brandished his digital camera under disapproving eyes at Room 4 Dessert and Shopsin’s. Or regard the now legendary tangle between Jason Storch, who runs food blog D.C. Foodies, and Buck’s Fishing and Camping (discussed at length on eGullet).

So how should bloggers and other culinary camera buffs react to Ramsay’s photo ban?

On the one hand, it seems a wee bit disingenuous for a chef who has his own reality show to be pleading against “gawking” in his restaurant. On the other hand, you know that this ex-footballer could seriously kick any food blogger’s ass.

Who in their right mind would even consider going head-to-head, or camera-to-tongs as it were, against this guy?