The CHOW Blog rss

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

Michoacan Paletas

The Mexican state of Michoacan is known for its excellent paletas (popsicles). A popsicle may not sound that exciting, but a truly superior paleta can mean an icy, slightly creamy block of frozen arroz con leche (Mexican rice pudding), studded with raisins, chunks of cinnamon bark, and nubbly, soft grains of rice. If you’re lucky enough to live in Southern California, you buy them from guys with hand carts walking around your neighborhood, or from well-stocked Mexican markets. Sometimes you can find street vendors in the Bay. Quality varies depending on the manufacturer, and it’s especially confusing because there are a ton of different brands of paletas, all called something like “La Michoacana.”

If you’re near Vallejo, La Michoacana Ice Cream & Bakery can let you in on the paleta action. The pineapple paleta has the intensity and tartness of fresh pineapple, and the coconut paleta has great texture and flavor, too. Tops of paletas are icy but flavorful; the bottoms are full of chunks of fruit. They’re $1.50 each. If you like, you can get your paletas dipped in chocolate for an extra 50 cents.

You might also try the tuna ice cream (not the fish–it’s cactus pear); it’s rough-hewn in texture, with a pleasant but subtle taste, says josquared.

La Michoacana Ice Cream & Bakery [Solano County]
504 Broadway, Vallejo

Board Links: La Michoacana–Vallejo’s Newest Ice Cream/Paleta/Bakery Place

Cappuccino Update: Beans and Balance at Sant Ambroeus

A couple of things lift Sant Ambroeus’s cappuccino above the pack, says Sean Dell: top-notch coffee, made from Danesi beans from Italy, and milk gently steamed to the perfect temperature–“steamed, not scalded, as is usually the case in New York coffee shops,” says Sean. So no spoiled coffee, and no burnt mouth.

Via Quadronno also uses first-rate beans (Antica Tostatura Triestina) in a well-crafted cappuccino that Desidero compares to the ones in Italy.

Also recommended: Tarallucci e, Ninth Street Espresso, and hound hangout Joe which has just opened a third location inside the new Alessi store in Soho.

Sant Ambroeus [West Village]
259 W. 4th St., at Perry St., Manhattan

Sant Ambroeus [Upper East Side]
1000 Madison Ave., between E. 77th and 78th Sts., Manhattan

Via Quadronno [Upper East Side]
25 E. 73rd St., between Madison and 5th Aves., Manhattan

Tarallucci e Vino [Gramercy]
15 E. 18th St., between 5th Ave. and Broadway, Manhattan

Tarallucci e Vino [East Village]
163 1st Ave., at E. 10th St., Manhattan

Ninth Street Espresso [East Village]
700 E. 9th St., at Ave. C, Manhattan

Joe [Soho]
130 Greene St. near Prince, in Alessi store, Manhattan

Joe [Greenwich Village]
141 Waverly Pl., between 6th Ave. and Gay St., Manhattan

Joe [East Village]
9 E. 13th St., between 5th Ave. and University Pl., Manhattan

Board Links
Joe (The Art of Coffee) Opens in SoHo
Best Latte or Cappucino

Make Your Maki More Memorable

If you make your own maki sushi at home, but are looking for ways to change it up, here are some goodies chowhounds love tucked into their rolls.

Crunchy stuff: takuan (pickled daikon); crunchy, sweet, tart, and salty, all at the same time. Thin strips of green apple. Cucumber with umeboshi (pickled plum) paste.

Cooked stuff: tempura shrimp, oysters, or squid.

Flavoring stuff: bits of dill or mint; spicy mayo; other flavored mayos.

Really unexpected but delicious stuff: tangerine or orange segments.

Board Links
homemade sushi just got a little more boring…

Food of the Hunanese Proletariat

The San Gabriel Valley has another new Hunanese restaurant, reports Chandavkl. The menu leans toward working-class fare, including family-style rabbit, duck tongue, and organ dishes. Also exotica like frog, turtle and snail, and the mysterious-sounding “bangly with chicken.”

Xiao Xiang Garden [San Gabriel Valley]
534 E. Valley #2, San Gabriel

Board Links
Hunan Family Style Rabbit

Hazelnut Oil

Hazelnut oil is great in a dressing for bitter salad greens. It pairs well with lemon juice and sherry vinegar–they don’t overwhelm its delicate flavor. For a cool complement: dress a salad with hazelnut oil, and add roasted hazelnuts.

Here’s a simple, wonderful salad, says toodie jane: halve a ripe Haas avocado. Toast some hazelnuts and chop coarsely. Plate avocado half on butter lettuce hearts. Drizzle avocado with warmed hazelnut oil and garnish with chopped nuts.

Another idea: roasted cauliflower with hazelnut oil. Spread cauliflower florets or thick slices in a single layer on a sheet pan, drizzle with the oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees until it’s nicely crusty (Tugboat). It’s a great side dish.

After cooking rice or quinoa, add herbs, seasonings, and a few drops of hazelnut oil and toss (lavery).

Try it in cake recipes that call for oil where the flavor will be complementary, suggests maureen; substitute in hazelnut oil for between 1/4 to 1/2 of the total amount of oil in the recipe. Or, for almond or hazelnut cookies, add a tablespoon of hazelnut oil to the dough (NYchowcook).

Board Links
Hazelnut Oil

Sweet and Savory Spanish Snack

Torta de aceite is a rustic, handmade Spanish crisp bread, typically made with lots of olive oil and often dusted with crunchy bits of sugar and sesame seeds, and a touch of anise. Says saltandpepper, it goes way beyond just being sweet and salty; it is flavor perfection.

They’re most often available in cheese shops and gourmet markets, or order from Casa Oliver.

Board Links
torta de aceite

Cool As a White Cucumber

White cucumbers are appearing this tear at some farmers’ markets; they taste a lot like their green cousins. Kater finds white cucumbers perfect for a cool summer soup: as long as the cucumbers aren’t waxed, you don’t have to worry about peeling them–just halve them and scoop out the seeds with a spoon, then add plain yogurt, chicken broth, minced scallions, salt, pepper, and dill.

White cucumbers also work great for sunomono: just combine cucumber, ginger, rice wine vinegar, salt and a little sugar. Taste ‘em before you sugar ‘em–this year’s crop has been much sweeter than average.

Board Links
White cucumbers?

Pennsylvania Dutch Country: Breakfasts, Buffets, and Beery Yearnings

All I’ve ever had in Pennsylvania Dutch Country is super-touristy food. I’ve only eaten in venues with (literally) busloads of tourists, so I was looking forward to digging deeper.

I’m not usually a B&B type of guy, but I figured that if I wanted to “go inside,” I needed to live inside. So I booked a room at the Old Stone Guesthouse (1599 Swan Road, Atglen, Pennsylvania; 888-642-9107), on a farm in the middle of nowhere, and prepared to relax into the simpler ways of centuries past (while, of course, relentlessly reporting on the experience with my flash audio recorder, seven-megapixel digital camera, and PowerBook, and guided via GPS navigation on my late-model Avis rental car blasting digital music through my DLO Transpod iPod Car Solution, and frequently checking email on my Treo). Ah, simplicity!

I think I may have startled Mrs. Stoltzfus as I crashed my way into her quaint premises with my Tasmanian Devil-ish whirlwind of gadgets, luggage, and road-trip manic brio. I tried to scale down and ratchet back, talk slower and less crazy, and say “Ma’am” a lot, but Mrs. Stolfzfus, in spite of her impeccable manners, couldn’t quite conceal her startledness. If you try to book a room at this place and are asked to provide references, you can blame me.

Actually, Mrs. Stoltzfus and I got along great once we got to know each other. Simple as she comes off, her shrewd gaze misses nothing. And her breakfasts are very good. The photos tell the tale. (For shots of the Old Stone Guesthouse itself, see their website.)

This is a local dish called “baked oatmeal,” a wonderful dessert (even after dinner) that can be made from rolled or steel-cut oats. Mrs. Stoltzfus uses rolled oats.

But that’s just breakfast, leaving two meals (or more!) to grab in the surrounding area. So each morning I’d drive off the farm (bidding adieu to the 7,000 turkeys, which looked surprisingly erudite with their craned necks and courtly wattles) to find what I could find.

First, the torture. Mrs. Stoltzfus, an ardent churchgoer, prohibits alcohol on her premises. And though I’m not a big drinker, the injunction gave me a wild and insatiable thirst. So every day, as I’d pass the beer store on the main road at the turnoff for Old Stone Guesthouse, I’d yen mightily. Problem is, you can’t buy individual bottles of beer in Pennsylvania. You can’t even buy six-packs. Only cases. And I had no way of keeping a case of beer chilled without triggering Mrs. Stoltzfus’s watchful eye. So several times a day I’d eye the beer store wistfully as I drove in and out.

The closest excellent beer bars are the Drafting Room (635 North Pottstown Pike, Exton, Pennsylvania; 610-363-0521) and, even better, Black Angus (Route 272, Adamstown, Pennsylvania; 717-484-4386), the superb steakhouse of Stoudt’s Brewing, maker of fine beers (mostly lagers). Black Angus also makes some of the best burgers I’ve ever had. But I didn’t get to either. Instead, in keeping with my Simpler Living aspirations, I went dry and just hit local buffet places where Mrs. Stoltzfus said I’d eat with the locals.

This was another time of guided eating rather than pure chowhounding, but it’s a vast rural area with well-hidden commercial pockets. It doesn’t lend itself to the driving-around school of free chowhounding.

First, a note about names. Yoder, Dienner, and Stoltzfus are the Smith, Jones, and Martin of Pennsylvania Dutch surnames. Most restaurants (as well as other businesses) have one of these three surnames, and though no two identically named places, given the rather hermetic gene pool, can be conclusively deemed “unrelated,” one must avoid falling into the “I think I’ve heard of that place” fallacy. The Dienner’s rotisserie chicken at Reading Market is not the same as Dienner’s buffet. The Yoder’s du jour is a whole other Yoder’s. As with Blarney Stones, cultural continuity belies shared ownership.

As mentioned in my previous report, Yoder’s was a buffet, frequented by locals, with food dismayingly similar to what’s served at tourist traps. My second night, I hit Dienner’s, which was a bit more touristy and actually a little better. The cooking is as charming (and as heavy) as it appears in these photos.

Really, it’s not a tourist/local thing. Even Mrs. Stoltzfus, a talented and caring chef who’s lived a long life on an isolated farm, uses shortcuts like Cool Whip and juice-drink crystals. Pennsylvania Dutch food is inherently unrefined, so the lines blur more easily. And you know what? To use a cliché I despise, it’s all good. There are times I’d rather have commercial-tasting buttery noodles than yet another Chilean sea bass or chocolate mousse cake.

As a postscript to my last report, I’d like to try to sneak in—over the exasperated pique of my editors—what I deem a vitally Important Innovation: BuffetCam, capturing in a mere 20 seconds the breadth of the steam-table offerings at Yoder’s Restaurant in New Holland. Yes, it’s out of focus, bumpy, and too fast. Yes, I missed an entire row of buffet. Yes, I almost took out a startled fellow diner as I shot. And yes, my sneakers are beyond hideous. But I am stoked to giddiness by the possibilities of BuffetCam, and hope you appreciate this new technical marvel, even in this experimental stage of development: Movie file.

One nonfood note—I spent the most relaxing afternoon imaginable wafting down the breathtakingly beautiful Brandywine River in a kayak rented from Northbrook Canoe Co. (1810 Beagle Road, West Chester, Pennsylvania; 800-898-2279). It was absolutely perfect. They also rent canoes and inner tubes. This is, I’ve found, an ideal pastime for between-meal hours in the midst of rigorous chow tours.

Chowhound published the following report six years ago, and it didn’t survive the transition to the new design. But since things change slowly in Amish country, some of this info is likely still useful, so I’m including it here for those planning trips.

Pennsylviania Dutch Secrets

Here are a few insider tips for eating in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, most of which I’m pretty sure you’ve not heard of. If, like me, you’re weary of the Disney Worldish Shartlesville Hotel or Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant, where tour buses crank out camera-toting diners by the score, you’ll be pleased to learn that there are plenty of places that aren’t commercialized.

Especially interesting on the following list is the church. Church dinners are still a tradition in this region, and they offer some of the best, most authentic eating in this area. You’ll find more info on church dinners and other special community meals in the community calender page of the Reading Eagle.

For what it’s worth, the in-the-know order at church dinners and other nontouristy haunts is pig’s stomach. But also keep an eye out for chicken and waffles; food historians have been struggling mightily to determine the origins of this dish, but it’s been served as long as anyone can remember here in Pennsylvania Dutch country. It serves the snobs right for shunning this homely-but-delicious cuisine for so long!

It’s easy to forget what a short trip this area is from New York City. I think I’ll jump in my chowmobile tomorrow and go get some stewed dried corn. And apple dumplings. And good home fries. And pies. And ice cream. And fried stuff made by people who know how to fry. And apple butter. And (I can hardly contain myself) noodles! Oh, God, how I miss noodles!!!

Many thanks to saxophonist Ron Bertolet and his parents for providing this info. If anyone has comments (or other tips), please leave them on our Pennsylvania Message Board.

Virginville Hotel
Main Street
Virginville, PA 19564
(610) 562-7072

Fancy Pantry
252 West Main Street
Kutztown, PA 19530
(610) 683-8642
Scrapple for breakfast and other good stuff (closes early).

Haag’s Hotel
Third & Main streets
Shartlesville, PA 19554
(610) 488-6692

Belleman’s Church
3650 Belleman’s Church Road
Mohrsville, PA 19541
(610) 926-4280 or (610) 916-1044

Shady Maple Smorgasbord
1352 Main Street
East Earl, PA 17519
(717) 354-8222
Particularly good for scrapple!

Miller’s Smorgasbord
2811 Lincoln Highway East
Ronks, PA 17572
(717) 687-6621

Deitsch Eck Restaurant
Old Routes 22 and 143
Lenhartsville, PA 19534
(610) 562-8520

The following four may be less obscure, but Ron’s parents still think they’re worth a try:

Yoder’s Restaurant & Buffet
14 South Tower Road
New Holland, PA 17557
(717) 354-4748

Stoltzfus Farm Restaurant
Route 772 East
Intercourse, PA 17534
(717) 768-8156
Eat in what looks like a farmhouse.

Good ‘N Plenty Restaurant
150 Eastbrook Road
Smoketown, PA 17576
(717) 394-7111

Plain & Fancy Farm Restaurant
Route 340 East
Bird-in-Hand, PA 17505
(717) 768-4400

Plats Perdus

When you’ve spent hours preparing a dish only to have it turn on you like an evil beast, what do you do? While there’s something satisfyingly maudlin about throwing everything in the trash/compost bin and starting over (or just ordering in), nothing beats the pure glee of stripping the dish for parts and creating something unique. The eponymous host of recently wrote an engaging blog post about his latest phoenix-from-the-ashes experience: turning hopelessly burned oven-dried tomatoes into divine-sounding charred tomato pesto.

Food blogs are great resources for these sorts of tips, which mainstream magazines and papers tend to shy away from (it’s not pretty or lovely to talk about burned, broken, or botched food, after all). A few weeks ago Adam at the Amateur Gourmet posted a cute and instructive poem to help people deal with shattered dreams of flaky pastry:

When your pie crust won’t roll out/ and your dreams and hopes start to tumble/ Throw those shreds right in the trash/ and make yourself a crumble.

I had a failed-pie episode of my own last week, though I went forward with the baking of the crust before finally admitting it was a lost cause. After the monstrous thing cooled (there was no filling —I had been baking it solo for use in a savory pie), I calmed myself down by reciting Adam’s poem in my head. But the contrarian in me couldn’t bring myself to follow his dictum to the letter: I ended up saving the crust, crumbling it up and sticking it in a jar once it had cooled. A few days later, I subbed those bits for half of the bread crumbs in James Beard’s yummy apple brown betty recipe, and the result was a nice brown-buttery flavor that was ever so slightly reminiscent of these fantastic spoon cookies.

Have you had any luck with “salvage food?” What new recipes have you concocted after botching a dish (or seen described in blogsville)?

Bon Appetit’s 50 Delicious Years

Bon Appetit celebrates its 50th year of publication with this month’s issue, which contains some real gems amid a field of mostly predictable retrospectives.

In addition to the obligatory “Timeline of Stories We Have Covered Over 50 Years As Selected and Summarized by One or More Junior Editorial Assistants” feature, the issue sports a low-key but deceptively cool cover. Fifty different photos of various food items, laid out in a grid, actually act as postage stamp-sized gateways to 50 different recipes housed thoughtfully on the magazine’s website. It’s a neat way to display a tremendous density of information with the help of the Internet.

Also notable: the magazine offers a fifty-year recap of the evolution of American bread culture. It opens with a brilliant counterpoint: the father of the author’s excitement upon discovering non-Wonder Bread 1956 France, stacked against the excitement of a nine-year-old tasting Wonder Bread for the first time in the present day.