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

For Great Tacos, Head to the Table

The best tacos these days aren’t from taco trucks, they’re at taco tables, says Dommy. She recently stopped by a taco table conveniently sandwiched between the 101 and 10 and 5 freeways, where the specialties the separate the hardcore from the weak: cabeza and lengua.

The head and tongue meat are served in tissue-thin, handmade tortillas that are warmed in the steam from the grill. Cabeza comes in big, thin slices, with not much seasoning, just its own strong flavor. Lengua is chopped into big chunks, also without much seasoning. It’s nice and soft, and flavorful without being as funky as the cabeza. Salsa burns enough to numb your lips.

Taco table [East LA-ish]
4th St. and Boyle Ave, next to the 76 station, Los Angeles

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East Side Adventures: The Tacos that made me cry….

Dragon Fruit

The exotic and beautiful dragon fruit is also called pitahaya. Some of them are a bright, hot pink color. They’re in season now. rworange says to select those with a shiny, thin skin. A ripe one will have a little give, like a slightly ripe avocado, adds chocolatetartguy.

When ripe, they’re wonderfully sweet. Just peel them and eat.

Here’s more info, with a good picture.

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How to eat dragon fruit?

Baked Brie

Baked brie is a surefire hit at parties, and very easy to put together. Many chowhounds favor sweet additions to the cheese, but there are delicious savory versions, too. Most place toppings on a wheel of brie, wrap the whole in prepared puff pastry, bake until the puff pastry turns golden, and serve warm.

Favorite sweet toppings include fresh berries, apricot preserves, cranberry sauce, fig jam, mango chutney, and brown sugar and sliced almonds. Savory favorites include pesto, ham and roasted red peppers, blue cheese and port reduction, caramelized onions, and lox.

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Baked brie?

Customized M&M’s

What a literally sweet idea for a gift! M&M’s will print your own sentiment or special date on two color candies of your choice. As Caitlin McGrath explains, you choose two colors from a range of eighteen, and you can have a different message printed on each color. You get two lines of text, with eight characters/spaces per line, printed in black. The standard ‘M’ is printed on the reverse side. And you get a preview of how your M&M’s will look on the web site.

They’re not cheap. The minimum order is four 7-oz. bags, at $11.25 per bag, plus shipping,; the total for their minimum four bag order is $58, including shipping.
Artemis has received several bags of these, and reports that the printing is very clear, and the colors are vibrant.

Order here. Use the promotion code EVERYDAY7 and get a free bag with every order, through November 7, 2006.

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Custom-Printed M&M’s

Wine Cellars of the Rich and Fictional

After bagging on Food & Wine in a previous post, it seems only fair to point out their highly entertaining “Three Inspiring Cellars” feature from this month’s issue.

While it can be argued that the downside of Gourmet and Food & Wine is that they’re basically choking on $100 bills, this weakness can also be a strength. For example: when they do stuff like having three chic design firms create fantasy wine cellars.

Now that’s a good use of buckets of wealth. Paying $4,000 for a dress in order to look trendy for an overpriced restaurant? That’s the kind of “I done won me the Powerball!” fantasy that gives America’s elite a bad name. But spending $400,000 for a wine storage unit that Spock would probably find “fascinating”? This is where money-porn gets interesting.

The best of the three models featured is by David Rockwell, who designed Nobu and Country in New York City. It’s a straight-from-Twin Peaks “cabin” designed to sit outdoors, featuring—wait for it— fireplaces on both the interior and the exterior of the wine vault. Also, dig this:

The 30-by-20-foot cabin is constructed from wine-related materials—oak for the exterior, cork for the floor and ceiling, and glass for displaying the stored bottles.

Now, they never quite go into the purpose of the outdoor fireplace (for roasting marshmallows? a gathering place for chilly squirrels?), but it’s the kind of nutty flair that brightens your day, whether or not you—or your entire extended family—can afford it.

Lobstah Impostah

First, animal-rights groups got the little red lobster dropped from the Maine license plate. Now, a cheap shrimplike crab is muscling out the real deal. An Associated Press wire story about the use of “imposter lobster” got plenty of play this week, showing up on the websites of The Washington Post, CNN, the Guardian UK, The Sacramento Bee, and elsewhere.

Seems the regally named Maine senator Olympia Snowe is ready to throw a few thunderbolts to protect her state’s most iconic and lucrative industry. Turns out fast-food outlets like Red Lobster, Long John Silver’s, and Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill are using a small South American crab dubbed “langostino lobster” (from the Spanish word for “prawn”) as a stand-in for the more expensive Homarus Americanus.

Snowe’s goal? To get the FDA to reverse its decision to allow the term “langostino lobster” on restaurant menus, assuming that most Americans, unfamiliar with the term “langostino,” will simply zero in on the word “lobster” and assume they’re getting the real thing. Or, as Snowe insists, “Use of this term is misleading to consumers and unfairly affiliates langostino with actual lobster to the detriment of the lobster industry in Maine.”

The FDA’s agreement came as part of an out-of-court settlement last year with Rubio’s, which got busted for using langostino, not lobster, in its highly touted but too-cheap-to-be-true lobster burrito.

But Down Easters aren’t the only ones seeing red over lobsters. Down in Boston, Globe columnist Brian McGrory is insulted by the new campaign by the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, which implies that only Maine-caught lobsters are “real” lobsters. Writes McGrory,

So what they’re saying is that the men and women who work out of Cohasset, Scituate, Rockport, Hingham, Gloucester, people who go out in cold and heat, sun and rain, on seas that are calm and rough, that they’re hauling up pretend lobsters?

McGrory goes on to conduct a blind taste test with three top Boston chefs, offering up side-by-side forkfuls from each state. Amazingly, all three chefs can tell which is the Maine product and which the Massachusetts. The verdict? Maine is saltier, Massachusetts is sweeter. But they’re both real lobster.

Say Cheese!

My favorite thing about food is eating it. My second favorite thing about food is looking at dreamy pictures of it. And with all the great food blogs out there, there sure are a lot of mouth-watering food pics floating around.

The minds behind the blogs Becks & Posh and Spittoon have figured out a way to harness this energy with their monthly Foodography contest. Now in its tenth month, Foodography invites food bloggers (and anyone else who can wrangle a kiwi or cappuccino) to submit photos to a dedicated Foodography Flickr group. There’s no prize; instead, posters get a venue for their food shots and constructive critiques from other members.

Past contests have brought museum-worthy photos on topics from “Tools of the Trade” to “Cake,” while October’s homophone-tastic theme is “Pear/Pair/Pare.” The hosts invite armchair stylists to interpret the theme as they wish. Photos will be accepted until sometime around the middle of November.

Gilt-Free Cooking

Gilt-Free Cooking

CHOW interviews bad-boy chef Paul Liebrandt, recently let go from NYC's Gilt restaurant, now striking out on his own. READ MORE

Fried Chicken, Frozen Custard, and Barbecue

Eastern-ish North Carolina

As discussed in the podcast I recorded en route (MP3 file), I had lunch at the Farmer’s Market Restaurant (Raleigh Farmer’s Market, 1240 Farmer’s Market Drive, Raleigh, North Carolina; 919-833-7973), a very well-known spot that had piqued my interest since I read about it in the book Southern Belly. I’ll let the photos do the talking:

The South is a place where a grown-up can order chocolate milk without compunction.

Experience the thrill of arriving dishes via PlateCam (be sure you’re seated; the profusion of amazing-looking dishes could make strong men dizzy!): Movie file

Main conclusion … MAN that fried chicken’s great. I don’t need to describe it to you because it tastes exactly like it looks (click the photos for the full-sized food-porn view).

The Raleigh Farmer’s Market itself is very laid-back, and quality is high.

Cornhounds vie for position to spy the best ears.

The ice cream tastes as simple, homespun, and irresistible as the sign.

Could you imagine a more transportive array? I hope Atkinson’s stays in business another 250 years.

Blenheim, a super-potent ginger ale.

The cute blonde woman who sat next to me at the counter of the Farmer’s Market Restaurant urged me to try Goodberry’s Frozen Custard (1146 Kildaire Farm Road, Cary, North Carolina; 919-467-2386). I checked it out, and it was honest-to-goodness real frozen custard, not just glorified soft-serve. Wow!

Experience the extruding suspense of CustardCam: Movie file

Hear the exultant slurping in Podcast 2: MP3 file

The great New Jersey frozen custard mentioned in the podcast is at CustardThing (100 North Washington Avenue, Bergenfield, New Jersey; 201-439-1818).

Wilber’s (4172 U.S. 70, East Goldsboro, North Carolina; 919-778-5218) makes great barbecue. It has vastly more depth of flavor and complexity than what I’d previously derided as “sloppy Joe” barbecue, in which the pork is mushy and one-dimensional. The meat seems hand-sliced but isn’t quite the textural marvel of Allen & Son’s. It’s also not as moist as Allen & Son’s —though it’s by no means dry. Saucing is very light.

BBQ chicken is moist and richly flavorful but tastes of no smoke at all. The rich yellow sauce is redolent of chicken fat and manages to taste sharp without any chili pepper.

Nice surprise —the cherry pie was made with sour cherries. Unfortunately, they microwaved it. Why does everyone down here nuke pie? And, for that matter, does anyone in the South still make real mashed potatoes?



CHOW throws our version of Oktoberfest: Moktoberfest! All the great beers, but better food. READ MORE