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

La Fonda Has Its Act Together

Initial reports on La Fonda Taqueria said the place was disappointingly poor–all the food was either too salty or too bland. But give it another shot, says China–they deserve it. The sope with chicken tinga ($3) has a handmade, fried-to-order masa shell. This shell is crispy on the outside, but tender and just slightly sweet on the inside, and nearly greaseless. It’s filled with well-seasoned pinto beans and spicy, smoky chicken tinga with a touch of cinnamon, and topped with lettuce, avocados, and crema. They also have freshly fried tortilla chips, a nice salsa bar, and an excellent limon agua fresca with tiny slices of lime floating in it. China will still skip the oversized burritos–“I just get sort of overwhelmed trying to eat something the size of my upper arm.”

La Fonda Taqueria [Sunset]
712 Irving St., San Francisco
415-681-9205
Locater

Board Links
La Fonda Update

Taco Time: Two Good Bets in Westchester

Head for the back of Lupita’s, a Mexican and Central American grocery in Mamaroneck, and you’ll find a counter where they serve tasty, authentic tacos–juicy meat (carnitas, beef adobada, chorizo, chicken, etc.) tucked into warm tortillas with a bit of onion and cilantro, reports wesfoodie. Also: burritos, tortas, enchiladas, soups, entrees like pollo guisado (chicken stew). “And you can pick up a can of iguana soup while you’re at it,” adds wes.

At El Tio in Port Chester, go for the roast pork taco, urges Amy Mintzer–“one of the tastiest pork things I’ve ever eaten.” Also delicious: chuleta de res (T-bone steak with onions) and even chicken fingers for the kids, a superior rendition, well seasoned and juicy.

Lupita’s Deli [Westchester County]
122 Mamaroneck Ave., between Boston Post Rd. and Prospect Ave., Mamaroneck, NY
914-381-5003
Map

Mexican American El Tio [Westchester County]
143 Westchester Ave., between Pearl and Broad Sts., Port Chester, NY
914-939-1494
Locater

Board Links
I Found the Tacos…
El Tio in Port Chester—Great!

Mound of Tunis – Maschera’s N. African Burger

This Italian restaurant with Tunisian influences serves an unusual and delicious burger, raves garnishgirly. It’s a lamb burger with Tunisian spices on brioche with tomato, cucumber, and onion. At the bar, you can get slider versions–mini burgers.


La Maschera [Pasadena-ish]
82 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena
626-304-0004
Map

Board Links
La Maschera = Best Burger?

Zabb Thai Comes to Manhattan; and Other New York News

Things may be looking up for Thai food in Manhattan. Zabb Thai, a Queens favorite for the rustic, fiery chow of Thailand’s northeastern Isaan region, has branched out into the East Village.

Unlike in Jackson Heights, the Manhattan menu is all in English and offers relatively few Isaan specialties, at least for now. But hounds are hopeful. “Probably need to give it time and encouragement to see what develops,” suggests jen kalb.

So far, reports on the food are mixed. However, Abbylovi says the new place seems willing to deliver full-throttle seasoning for those who ask. Her strategy: tell the server you love the original Zabb, order dishes by their Thai names, and insist you like it hot–for her, the result was delicious, robustly spiced laab and grilled beef salad.

A few blocks south, the Jewel Bako mini-empire has remade itself yet again. Owners Jack and Grace Lamb have moved Jack’s Luxury Oyster around the corner into the space that used to house Jewel Bako Makimono. Jack’s now offers a recast menu of tasting plates. Some of Makimono’s signature sushi rolls and small plates have been added to the menu at Jewel Bako.

And in other neighborhood news, Mamoun’s Falafel, purveyor of cheap Middle Eastern chow on MacDougal Street since 1971, has a brand-new East Village shop on St. Marks Place.

Zabb Kitchen [East Village]
formerly Pat Pong
244 E. 13th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan
212-529-8770
Locater

Zabb Queens Restaurant [Woodside]
71-28 Roosevelt Ave., between 70th and 72nd Sts., Jackson Heights, Queens
718-426-7992
Map

Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar [East Village]
formerly Jewel Bako Makimono
101 2nd Ave., near E. 6th St., Manhattan
212-253-7848
Map

Jewel Bako [East Village]
239 E. 5th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan
212-979-1012
Locater

Mamoun’s Falafel [East Village]
22 St. Marks Pl., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan, NY 10003
212-387-7747
Map

Mamoun’s Falafel [Greenwich Village]
119 MacDougal St., between Minetta Ln. and W. 3rd St., Manhattan
212-674-8685
Locater

Mamoun’s Falafel [New Haven County]
85 Howe St., near Edgewood Ave., New Haven, CT
203-562-8444
Locater

Board Links
Zabb Thai Now In The East Village
JB Makimono is gone, and…
Mamoun’s on St Marks

Anonymous no More: La Bodeguita and Awesome Carnitas

It’s been recommended enthusiastically under its alias, “the no-name market at Summit and Hammond,” but Wild Swede has solved the mystery–this great Mexican spot is actually called La Bodeguita. That won’t help you find it, though, since the name isn’t anywhere on the storefront.

(Apparently, this is their fourth location; all other locations are in the north Pasadena/Fair Oaks area).

But it’s worth seeking out for excellent carnitas, crispy in some parts, juicy in others, and for tripas fried crisp like calamari. In fact, you can get anything fried crispy if you just ask. Burritos are monstrous, and absolutely delicious. For $4 you’ll get a groaning tortilla-wrapped package of rice, beans, meat (of your choice), onions, cilantro and red or green salsa. There’s also guacamole (run through the blender) on the table.

This place is family-run: Isaura and her son Ismael, who speaks English, work during the day and Isaura’s husband Fernando runs the place in the evenings. The food is cooked in back all day, but in the evenings (5-8 p.m.) and at lunchtime they make the tacos at a cart out front. You can even get the taco cart to come to your place for a party!

Important note: Isaura will make corn tortillas by hand on request (not the ones they use in the taqueria). They’re $1.50 for 4.

mr mouther, one of the original boosters of “the no-name market,” loves their tamales.

La Bodeguita Mini Market [Pasadena-ish]
1135 N. Summit Ave., Hammond, Pasadena
626-296-0238
Locater

Board Links
La Bodeguita, Tacos, Burritos, Pasadena–Update

Creamy Coleslaw Dressing

Tossing together a bowl of coleslaw is easier than ever, thanks to bags of pre-shredded slaw veggies in the produce section. But whether you shred the cabbage yourself or not, you need a real good dressing to make a worthy slaw. Here are chowhounds’ best recipes for creamy-style slaw dressings.

Will Owen’s recipe begins with equal parts mayonnaise (preferably Hellman’s/Best Foods) and buttermilk. Then add to taste: wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice, sweet pickle relish, Tabasco, salt, and a little sugar, if you like. Toss it with the vegetables, cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours. The salt will draw moisture from the raw veggies and wilt them a bit. About a cup will dress a standard bag of slaw mix.

The key seasoning in dfrostnh’s recipe is celery seed. It dresses a big batch of slaw; if you want to cut down the recipe, just keep the ratios of sugar, vinegar, and mayo the same, he says, and add the other ingredients to taste.

2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup kosher dill pickle juice
1 tsp salt
1 T celery seed
1 1/3 cups mayonnaise

Rubee makes a crowd-pleasing Caesar coleslaw, using the mayo-based dressing in this recipe and thinning it with sour cream. She tosses it with regular green cabbage and shredded carrots, or Savoy cabbage and scallions.

For another unconventional take, Millicent recommends using half regular mayo and half wasabi mayo (she likes Trader Joe’s version), and adding scallions.

Board Links
Looking for a tasty creamy cole slaw recipe

Fresh Mint Ice Cream

Once you’ve tasted ice cream made with fresh mint leaves, you’ll never look at a scoop of commercial mint chocolate chip the same way again. We promise.

sugarbuzz shares her recipe:

2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 cup fresh peppermint leaves, bruised or torn
1 1/4 cup sugar
5 large yolks
pinch kosher salt

Heat cream, milk, mint, and sugar over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and cover. Let steep 15 to 20 minutes. Whisk yolks and salt in medium bowl. Whisk a small amount of the hot cream into the yolks to temper them, then slowly pour the rest of the cream into the yolks, whisking constantly. Return mix to pot and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture lightly coats a spoon. Strain into a clean bowl and place into a larger bowl of ice and water. Stir until cooled. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Pack into a container and freeze until firm enough to scoop.

Notes:

Check the freshness of your mint before you begin; older mint leaves often don’t have as strong a flavor, so you may need to use more to compensate. If you like your ice cream mintier, you can add even more; sugarbuzz likes a subtle mint flavor, and warns that if you overdo it, you’ll get an overpowering mouthwashy effect. You can try out spearmint, too, for a different flavor profile.

For chocolate mint ice cream, fold in finely chopped or shaved bits of bittersweet or white chocolate as the ice cream comes out of the ice cream maker, or just shower the chocolate bits on top when you serve. Larger chocolate chunks will overpower the amazing fresh mint taste.

Board Links
Mint ice cream recipe

Mooncakes by Mail

The Moon Festival is of Chinese origin, but Asians everywhere now celebrate Autumn and the harvest moon. This year’s festival is on October 6th. Asian markets and bakeries will soon have versions of the traditional Moon Festival dessert: moon cakes, pastries filled with sweet pastes like chestnut, or red bean. Some have a salted egg yolk tucked inside. This delicacy is very rich, so be sure to share each cakes with some willing participants.

Order online from Kee Wah Bakery, which has several different types.

Here’s a listing of bakeries and online vendors.

About the festival.

Board Links
Where to order mooncakes?

Nutty Butters

Peanut butter is just the beginning! There’s also pistachio, cashew, almond, sunflower seed, and macadamia butters. It’s relatively easy to make your own nut butters, too. Toast the nuts and whiz them into a spreadable paste in a food processor. It can’t handle as many nuts as once, but a blender makes an even smoother butter. If it’s too thick, add some neutral oil into the mix.

Adding flavors makes an even more interesting spread. PseudoNerd adds cinnamon and/or nutmeg to peanut butter. Sometimes, when he’s feeling crazy, he adds raisins, too. Almond butter benefits from chopped up dried apricots. Macadamia nuts combine well with orange or lemon zest, fresh or dried. And Fauchon suggests a bit of curry for almond butter.

Check out Peanut Butter & Co., with lots of flavors to order.

Board Links
Peanut butter, almond butter, pistachio butter?

Catskills, Cupcakes, and ‘Cuing

Crushing disappointment: I’d been looking forward to breakfast at Shandaken Inn (One Lower Golf Course Road, Shandaken, New York; 845-688-2622), which locals speak of in rapturous tones. Insanely delicious omelets. Little touches. Bucolic, woodsy idyll.

But I was confronted by that bane of chowhounds everywhere: a sign reading “Closed for Private Party.” If I ruled the world, private parties would not be allowed to render entire restaurants inaccessible to their loving and loyal fans. It’s so terribly unfair.

I did poke my head in, and it’s a charismatic, informal country place, sort of like the inn one would imagine at Walden. They rent rooms, which I hear are charming and reasonable. There’s a nice splashy pool out in the grassy back area. I must return.

As I headed out of town, I spotted a hand-scribbled sign for baked goods and screeched into a side-street in a hail of gravel. It was there that I made my first real find of the trip. An elderly woman named Yvonne sits immobile in a hut at the intersection of Route 28 and Ernst Road in Phoenicia, New York (845-688-7340) amid a wide range of knickknacks. (I get the sense that Yvonne is in a more or less perpetual state of garage sale.) I may have been the first person to stop in hours—days? weeks?—and she spun into action, peppering me with homilies, culinary theories, and alternative cupcake-flavor options, her bright, youthful eyes flashing all the while.

I chose a butterscotch cheesecake cupcake and answered “yes” to fresh whipped cream. Yvonne drew from the refrigerator an ancient, heavyweight pastry bag, which emitted the thickest, most luxurious-looking cream imaginable. If you told me Yvonne’s refrigerator was actually a portal to Vienna circa 1870, I’d be inclined to believe you. The flavor of both whipped cream and cupcake was astounding, and a brownie was top-notch and full of personality, as well. (Note: Yvonne is really into moistness; the cheesecake is nearly liquid and even the brownies are runny. Go with it; it’s her aesthetic.) Foolishly scarfing the thing as I drove off, as one does with trifles bought from a roadside stand, I realized I was wrong—blasphemously wrong. I pulled over, got out, and sat, with impeccable posture, on the rear bumper, and gave this amazing pastry the full attention and respect it deserved. Do not pass within 35 miles without stopping at Yvonne’s.

Yvonne clearly comes with an interesting story (I just Googled a clue; see this 1986 article from The New York Times, which says she once owned a restaurant), and she was clearly eager to recount it to me, but I’ll have to wait for another time to hear it, because I was late to meet friends at …

The Hudson Valley Ribfest

Peekskill, New York

Hear my three podcasts:

MP3 file Arriving at the Ribfest.
MP3 file ‘Cue Geek Spiel
I could listen to ‘cue geeks go on all day about their craft. Here, I’m chatting with a fellow from Tennessee who lives up north and enters barbecue competitions on weekends to reconnect with his roots. See photo, below.
MP3 file Ribfest Redux

Photos of Commercial Vendors

Commercial vendor (“Eat well, stay fit, die anyway!”).

Another commercial vendor.

The third and final commercial vendor.

Photos of Amateur Competitors

Barbecue geek (a Tennessee fellow who lives up north and does barbecue competitions on weekends to reconnect with his roots … that’s him speaking in the ‘Cue Geek Spiel podcast, above).

Newbies on the circuit with their tiny little grill, next to veteran competitors with top-end equipment.

A drinkin’ team.

My party works through disappointing fare from the commercial vendors.

4H Milkshake Tent

Master chowhound Barry Strugatz always swears by milkshakes made by 4-H Club girls at county fairs. So I eagerly made my way to the 4-H milkshake window, where I spied bored-looking girls desultorily scooping cheap ice cream and squirting cheap generic syrups from big plastic containers. The shakes cost something like $4 each, and the whole thing showed no promise at all. But all the quality was injected during the final blending stage, which was managed by the only perky, cheerful girl in the entire squadron. On request, she recited the 4-H pledge. I forget what all the Hs stand for, but one of them is surely “Helluva milk shake”—a perfect, old-school rendition.

Strictly Local Legends
Mendham, New Jersey

New Jersey is chock-full of local food legends—places to eat that are widely known and loved within their areas, but never written about or patronized by outsiders. I find it irresistible to try to uncover as many of these as possible.

My cousins Bob and Cindy have for years regaled me with tales of Sammy’s Ye Old Cider Mill (353 Mendham Road West [Route 24], Mendham, New Jersey, 973-543-7675), a super-quirky, super-expensive local steakhouse established in 1933 and still run by the same family. They were certain I’d get a kick out of this extraordinarily characterful place, but, as is often the case with local legends, they were unsure whether the place stacks up in terms of pure deliciousness.

MP3 file Hear Bob and Cindy’s pre-meal briefing.

Sammy’s was actually startlingly good. The house salad (iceberg hued deep brown from way too much vinegar) was as off-putting as I’d been warned, but everything else rocked. Lobster was primo quality and cooked by a kitchen that really understands lobster; lamb chops were humongous, charry, and juicy; and superbly fried shrimp were doused with perfectly balanced lemon garlic sauce for scampi—a rendition I’ll forever hanker for. Sammy’s crunchy, slightly overcooked shoestring fries were fun. There’s great stuff to eat here, and you unquestionably walk out the door feeling like you’ve been somewhere.

MP3 file Hear Bob and Cindy’s post-meal appraisal.

Sammy’s (no signs!).

Across the street: Sammy’s Cider Mill.

Sammy’s dining room (it really feels this blurry; a clear photo simply couldn’t capture it).

Sammy himself!