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

Dessert: The Final Frontier

New York magazine is up to its usual mischief: tempting already harried New York gastronomes and tantalizing the rest of us. This time, it previews dessert-centric lounges that put the sweet course first.

It’s reasonably easy to understand Kyotofu, which serves an ice cream made from soy milk and tofu. And while P*ong is more challenging (its offerings include a fifteen-layer Armagnac cake with pickled apricot) it still seems basically comprehensible.

But the enigmatic yet-to-be-named dessert bar from Sam Mason, pastry chef at trendy Manhattan restaurant wd-50 strains the old gray matter. It will offer terrines that combine foie gras and peanut butter, pork belly ladled with miso butterscotch, and dehydrated rum-and-Cokes.

Perhaps it could be named: Whaa?

Or El Bulli 2, Electric Boogaloo.

Or maybe just: Holy Crap, We’ve Gotten So Completely Tired of Normal Food That Now We’ve Started Throwing $60-a-Pound Ingredients into the Cuisinart Pretty Much At Random!

Other suggestions?

Sci-fi sommelier

The age of robotic wine tasting has arrived. Does this represent a technological advancement for mankind, or are we descending into a gastronomic Matrix?

First, there was the beer-pouring robot, and now comes the news that researchers at NEC System Technologies and Japan’s Mie University have designed a robot that can “taste” wine, cheese, and other foods.

The device uses an infrared spectrometer to analyze the chemical composition of wine and make a conclusion about its flavor. Says USA Today:

When it has identified a wine, the robot speaks up in a childlike voice. It names the brand and adds a comment or two on the taste, such as whether it is a buttery chardonnay or a full-bodied shiraz, and what kind of foods might go well on the side.

Should wine critics and sommeliers fear the rise of an army of robots that have mastered winespeak? Paging Morpheus?

Well, don’t worry just yet. It’s only a prototype, and apparently there are some kinks to be worked out in the technology. As noted in the USA Today story, “When a reporter’s hand was placed against the robot’s taste sensor, it was identified as prosciutto. A cameraman was mistaken for bacon.”

There you have it. Humans still have the upper hand over machines, at least when it comes to tasting…the media.

Oakland Airport Taco Trucks

El Novillo serves the best carnitas of any taco truck Ruth Lafler has ever tried. The tripas tacos are also excellent, even for those who don’t usually like tripe. Tripas tacos are like slightly chewy, chopped-up bacon, reminiscent of chicharrones, says chocolatetartguy. The carne asada can be chewy, though, says lainielou. Also, the night crew is better than the day crew–luckily, the truck is open until 2 a.m.

lainielou also likes the truck from La Pinata restaurant, located at the intersection of High Street and Interstate 880, behind the inexpensive gas station–NOT the truck inside the gas station! The carnitas are great, the sopes excellent. The taco truck at 98th Avenue, near the DMV, has great tortas.

El Novillo Taco Truck [Fruitvale]
in parking lot of Guadalajara Restaurant
1001 Fruitvale Ave., Oakland
Locater

La Pinata Taco Truck [Fruitvale]
720 High St., at Highway 880, Oakland
Locater

Taco Truck [Fruitvale]
at 98th Ave., near the DMV, Oakland
Map

Board Links
Taco trucks around Oakland Airport

Empress’s Mysterious Decline Diagnosed

Negative posts have been accumulating over the last year about the rapid and puzzling decline in quality at the previously reliable Empress Pavilion. Chandavkl passes on the word on the street in Chinatown: Apparently two chefs have left Empress for the kitchen at the Universal City Hilton, and a third has gone to the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas. Which leaves the Chinatown scene looking grim, but maybe this will give the Chinese seafood-centric buffet at Universal City Hilton the edge over its San Gabriel Hilton competition.

Empress Pavilion [Chinatown]
988 N. Hill St. # 201, Los Angeles
213-617-9898
Locater

Universal City Hilton & Towers [East San Fernando Valley]
555 Universal Hollywood Dr., Universal City
213-617-0666
Locater

San Gabriel Hilton Hotel [San Gabriel Valley]
209 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel
626-943-1900
Locater

Board Links
Explanation For Sudden Deterioration In Quality At Empress Pavilion

From the Magic Wok into the Saffron Spot

Having heard the raves about Magic Wok in Artesia, Abby went to see just how authentic this Filipino joint is, and declares that it was like eating her (Filipina) mom’s cooking–good, homey food without any fusioney flourishes.

Chicken adobo is the perfect example of this–slow-cooked in soy sauce, vinegar, crushed garlic, bay leaf, and black peppercorns. The chicken is actually fried, but the dish isn’t greasy at all. Paksiw na lechon is pork slow-cooked in a mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, peppercorns, bay leaves, sugar, salt, and liver sauce. Here, it’s a little sweeter than at some other places, but this is just part of whole range of flavors, from tangy to a little salty to sweet.

Also delicious is the ordinary-sounding bistek, which is basically thinly sliced beef steak, marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic and then fried with onions. The sauce is great over rice. Fried bangus, or milkfish, is super-delicate and moist. Add some vinegar to experience it the Filipino way–sour. Sinigang soup, tamarind based, uses sour vegetables as well to enhance the tanginess. It’s a well-done classic.

There are some fruity drinks, which can be too sweet. But it’s worth trying the drink made with calamansi, a citrus fruit native to the Philippines. The flavor is tough to describe–it’s kind of like a mandarin orange crossed with a kumquat, and maybe a lemon too–sour and tangy, but with some sweetness to balance it out.

The restaurant isn’t fancy, just plain white walls with wood-straw-shell Filipino crafts hanging as decoration. But it’s bustling with Filipino families and couples, and there’s also a busy takeout business.

For dessert, nearby in Little India is Saffron Spot, an ice cream and snack shop. There’s regular ice cream in not-so-regular flavors like saffron, rose, mango, pistachio, lychee, and chikoo. Chikoo is made from an Indian fruit called sapota and tastes like prunes and licorice. There’s also kulfi–traditional Indian ice cream–in mango, saffron, rose, and plain flavors. The kulfi is extra dense, rich, and creamy.

Magic Wok Enterprises [Artesia-ish]
11869 Artesia Blvd., Artesia
562-865-7340
Locater

Saffron Spot [Artesia-ish]
in the Little Indian Village center
18744 S. Pioneer Blvd., Artesia
562-809-4554
Map

Board Links
Magic Wok and Saffron Spot in Artesia (review)

Tracks: Seafood Central at Penn Station

No one goes to Penn Station just to eat at Tracks, but those who wind up there report surprisingly good seafood. Simple dishes are the way to go: sweet, briny St. Simon oysters and other shellfish from the raw bar; spinach salad with moist, flavorful grilled scallops and a nice balsamic dressing; a good-sized lobster roll with seasoned fries; and boiled lobster with a tasty salad and generous heaps of broccoli and mashed potatoes. “It was decent and I would come back,” says sivyaleah, who did take fault with their slipshod service, and watery tarragon cream sauce that came with her lobster ravioli.

You can eat at the bar, amid a loud, wired crowd that seems to turn over whenever a train pulls out, but if you’d rather not, head for the calmer dining room in back.

Tracks Raw Bar and Grill [Penn Station]
1 Penn Plaza #11, in Penn Station, LIRR level, Manhattan
212-244-6350
Locater

Board Links
Hate to Even Ask–Tracks in Penn Station?
Lobster Dinners or Lobster Rolls in Manhattan

Bocca Lupo: Italian Vittles and Vino in Cobble Hill

Cobble Hill’s Bocca Lupo has quickly become a neighborhood favorite for its casual vibe and Italian small plates–especially sandwiches and other bites with bread. A panino with nutty cheese, tangy broccoli rabe, and moist, meaty sausage is an early standout, says dianasiri. Also great: bruschetta with a creamy topping of spinach and artichoke–“a perfect late-night summer snack.”

But this month-old place isn’t drawing crowds with bread alone. It’s also an enoteca, with an all-Italian list of around 50 wines, gently priced. “The wine list is comprehensive and reasonable, and the pours generous to the point of ridiculous,” adds dianasiri. The place is perfect for a casual evening with friends. It’s a great addition to the neighborhood–an unpretentious spot to linger, snack, and drink.

Beyond bruschette, panini, and tramezzini, the food wins mixed marks. Hounds praise seared baby lamb and roasted vegetables, but have also complained of soupy penne arrabbiata and tough roast pork shoulder. And some find the place just too pricey for the neighborhood.

Bocca Lupo is brought to you by the folks that own nearby juice joint Nectar.

Bocca Lupo [Cobble Hill]
391 Henry St., at Warren, Brooklyn
718-243-2522
Map

Nectar [Cobble Hill]
198 Court St., between Wyckoff and Congress, Brooklyn
718-855-6166
Locater

Board Links
new on henry and warren?

Factory Direct

El Molino is located in the back of a strip mall, but don’t be intimidated by the stark surroundings. It’s a working tortilla factory that also serves food in a small, five-table waiting area. Juicy carnitas tacos, each made with three tortillas fresh off the machine, are very tasty. There’s also a juice bar, and you can get fresh masa to make your own tortillas at home. Worth a trip if you live within 60 miles of the place, says Johnny E..


Tortilleria El Molino [East Bay]
1500 Monument Blvd., Concord
925-687-7066
Locater

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El Molino Tortilla Factory in Concord

Cooking with Orange Marmalade

Orange marmalade is a great condiment with cheeses and deli meats. Pour it over baked brie and top with salted nuts, or serve it with goat cheese. Use it in smoked turkey or hot ham and cheese sandwiches.

It’s terrific for glazing meats, especially pork and poultry. Mixed it up with an equivalent amount of dijon mustard to glaze a ham. Glaze pork tenderloin or shoulder with a mixture of orange marmalade, fish sauce, and sriracha chili paste. It’s great with Grand Marnier as a glaze for duck.

For a sophisticated tart, spread orange marmalade in a pre-baked tart shell and press in fresh fig halves and walnuts. Sprinkle a little brown sugar on top, and bake for a short while, until sugar melts and figs have softened (mnosyne). Or use it to glaze an apple tart: warm the marmalade until it spreads easily, brush or pour over the apple tart, and broil until the marmalade is bubbly and starting to char a little (cheryl h).

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what can you do with orange marmalade

Secrets of Searing Scallops

There are a few secrets to cooking perfectly seared sea scallops. The first is buying the right scallops. Most sea scallops out in the marketplace have been soaked in a solution of sodium tripolyphosphate, a process that helps to preserve them, and plumps them so they weigh more, explains Flyfish. These phosphated babies are wet throughout; if you try to sear them, they’ll just give off a ton of water and never form a crust. Beware–if you see scallops that are pure white in color, that’s a giveaway that they’re treated.

For searing, you want “dry scallops,” which haven’t been treated; they’re harder to find and more expensive. You should be able to buy them from a reputable fishmonger, or from a market with a good seafood counter. They’re often labeled “day boat” or “diver” scallops. Buy them and use them the same day.

Once you’ve found your dry scallops, don’t overcook them. Heat cooking oil in a pan until very hot. Hounds recommend using cast iron or stainless. Blot scallops dry, season with salt and pepper, and add them to the pan, placing them well apart. Cook for 1 minute, flip, and cook for 1 minute on the second side. They should have a nice brown crust on either side, and be just barely cooked through in the middle. Any further cooking tends to render them rubbery. Finish them with a squeeze of lemon, or deglaze the pan with a bit of wine or balsamic vinegar to make a nice pan sauce.

Board Links
Why were my seared scallops so terrible?