The CHOW Blog rss

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

Cafe Riazor: Rewarding Old-School Tapas in Chelsea

Hounds have had little to say about Cafe Riazor, a downstairs Spanish hideaway that’s been around since the ‘70s, and jungirl thinks it deserves better. She reports a satisfying spread of tapas–stuffed piquillo peppers, chorizo asado (grilled sausage), patatas bravas (fried potatoes in tomato sauce), pulpo a la gallega (octopus in olive oil and paprika)–plus paella negra (with squid ink) and a couple pitchers of sangria. “I don’t think they’ve renovated in ages, but I like the old-school charm,” she adds. “I honestly don’t know why this place is so overlooked.”

Cafe Riazor [Chelsea]
245 W. 16th St. #1, between 7th and 8th Aves., Manhattan

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where is LA NACIONAL, the great tapas restaurant everyone speaks of?

Chowish Lamb Options

Chowhounds weigh in on their favorite moderately-priced lamb dishes in town.

david kaplan likes the lamb burger at Bocadillos; two of them with a garnish salad are only $8. The cumin lamb at Old Mandarin Islamic, peppery and strongly cumin-y, is also recommended.

Another option is Woodward’s Garden. The braised lamb shank with melted gypsy peppers, braised endive, couscous, and cilantro oil tastes amazing and is a great value at about $20, says chefinthecity.

Chez Nous, a small plates place on Fillmore, serves simply-prepared lamb chops served with rosemary salt, perfectly cooked, says laaronson.

Helmand has one of the best racks of lamb in the city for only about $18, says Joan Kureczka; stonefruit also likes their seekh kabab, cubes of lamb not served on skewers.

Morton the Mousse loves the stewed lamb with charred eggplant at Aziza for $19.

The barbacoa at La Gran Chiquita is very tasty if you’re a lamb fan, says jmarek.

Bocadillos [Financial District]
710 Montgomery St., Washington, San Francisco

Old Mandarin Islamic [Sunset]
3132 Vicente St., San Francisco

Woodward’s Garden [Mission]
1700 Mission St., San Francisco

Chez Nous [Fillmore]
1911 Fillmore St., San Francisco

Helmand Restaurant [North Beach]
430 Broadway, San Francisco

Aziza [Richmond]
5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco

Taqueria La Gran Chiquita [Fruitvale]
3503 International Blvd., Oakland

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Best place to have some Lamb in SF, non-curry, non-expensive? POSSIBLE?

The Sweetest Thing

Rajjot Sweet & Snacks in Sunnyvale makes its own jalebi, a super-sweet Indian confection. They’re so fresh that they’re still crunchy, and the rosewater-perfumed soaking syrup is still liquid. Melanie Wong likes them very much. They also have a full chaat and snacks menu.

This place is Bengali, says howler, so try for Bengali specialties, like ras malai.

Rajjot Sweet & Snacks [South Bay]
1234 S Wolfe Rd., El Camino, Sunnyvale

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Jalebi from Rajjot Sweet & Snacks in Sunnyvale

Making Your Own Smoked Salt

Smoked sea salt is a delicious condiment, and it’s super-easy to make your own if you have a smoker. When you’re firing up your smoker for a long session, just pour sea salt into a foil pan and put it on a high rack, above any meat you’re smoking. You definitely don’t want any meat drippage in your salt. The longer you smoke it, the better, says ricepad. Six hours at minimum; ten hours is even better.

Here’s a money-saving tip from Pei: Korean markets sell 2.5-lb. bags of sea salt for just a few bucks, and it tastes just as good as pricier stuff.

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Smoked Sea Salt

Ideas for Using Preserved Lemons

Chowhounds share some novel ideas for using Moroccan-style preserved lemons:

Add preserved lemons to ceviche and similar seafood dishes. Mince and add to aioli. Add a little to hummus. Or, stuff large olives with a strip of preserved lemon peel each–this is particularly fabulous as a Martini garnish.

Mince preserved lemons with parsley and oil-cured black olives and sprinkle on anything fried (potatoes, fish, shrimp, etc.). Combine chopped preserved lemons, chopped red onion, and mayonnaise, and use to top fish.

La Dolce Vita makes preserved lemon relish that’s good with roast chicken, grilled fish, and vegetables: Finely chop the equivalent of one whole preserved lemon; add about 1/3 cup total of finely chopped parsley, cilantro, dill, and green onion in whatever proportion you prefer. Add 1-2 Tbs. of good olive oil and 1/4 tsp. each of sweet paprika and toasted ground cumin. Let sit for about 15 minutes to give the flavors a chance to blend before using.

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Creative used for Preserved Lemons?

Shucking Corn

While there’s still good corn to be had this summer, here are some hounds’ methods for getting it shucked cleanly.

JoanN suggests: pull back all the husk and snap off at the base. Rub the ear in a circular motion under cold running water to remove the silk.

SarahEats’s method: after the husk has been removed, use a soft vegetable brush to get rid of the silk.

Candy says: cut the tip of the ear and the bottom off with a sharp knife, before shucking. Remove the husk, and there’ll be very little silk left. A quick brushing will remove the rest.

Lstaff says: rub the cob with a paper towel to remove any leftover silk.

Grilling corn provides its own solution, says CovertOps. Soak the unhusked corn in water. Cook the corn over high heat on a grill. The heat will dry out the silk, which will comes off easily when you peel off the husks.

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Corn shucking

Bone Marrow Without the Bone

It’s pretty hard to find bone marrow that’s already been removed from the bone, but if you want to poach it, sear it, or use it in a confit, you need to get it on its own.

Luckily, Niman Ranch sells it online. It comes frozen, in 2-lb. bags.

Scroll down to code 95-1 in the Beef Offal section of their product list.

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Bone Marrow

Atlantic City Means “Coors”

I stayed at an Atlantic City casino, and the experience was pretty repulsive. I’m too traumatized to even rant about it. Just avoid the experience if you can. (One interesting note: I spotted “single-deck blackjack” tables. How on earth do they manage that without being beset by card counters?)

Nice nighttime view from the marina, though:

Aversa’s Italian Bakery (3101 Brigantine Boulevard, Brigantine, New Jersey; 609-264-8880) has real good sticky buns. Thanks to Peter Genovese (of the Newark Star-Ledger) for the tip.

MP3 file Listen to the first podcast.

At Tony’s Baltimore Grill (2800 Atlantic Avenue, Atlantic City, New Jersey; 609-345-5766), the sausage pizza slayed me. Sobs of grateful
appreciation to Peter Genovese for the tip.

I asked the rough-looking, pot-bellied bartender, “Is your sausage pizza as good as I’ve heard?” His reply: “When I took this gig, I weighed 150 pounds!” Another customer piped up and said he’d been coming here for 30 years and it still tastes precisely the same now as it did then. The bartender added, “Yup, that’s because we’re still working off the same hunk of dough …”

The bar has lots of gritty 1950s Atlantic City charm, and the only beer on tap is Coors Light. I was resigned to poor-quality suds but nonetheless asked the bartender what he had in bottles. He told me he had “everything.” I asked if he carried Westmalle Trappist Tripel, and he said, “No, but I do have Hoegaarden.” Touché! He even pronounced it the correct way (“HOO-harten”), which almost nobody this side of Belgium does. This touch (along with the excellent Belgian white beer) was the capper on a lunch of intense, memorable pleasure.

MP3 file Hear podcast 2 (and note that I misspoke: Mack & Manco Pizza is in Ocean City, not Atlantic City).

Then on to Ocean City, New Jersey, a totally pleasant place. It’s as if a genie conjured up the summer of your false nostalgia.

There’s a nice boardwalk, surprisingly well stocked with decent-looking food choices.

Best option on the section of boardwalk I scoped out is Mack & Manco Pizza (758 Boardwalk, Ocean City, New Jersey; 609-399-2783). It’s no artisanal pizza, but the buttery cheese is irresistible, and balances have been beautifully worked out over the decades. Time-machine pizza, indeed.

In the case of Kohr Bros. Frozen Custard (Seventh & Boardwalk, Ocean City, New Jersey; 609-399-6327), the years seem to have brought more corner-cutting than refinement. It’s OK, mindless custard, nothing more. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you …

What makes it weird?

What turns one diner’s stomach may be dinner to another. Chris Cosentino, chef at San Francisco’s Incanto restaurant, food blogger, and enthusiast of all the nasty bits, worries that he might not “have enough offal on the menu.” He solves the problem with a dish of grilled lamb liver, heart, and kidneys, dressed with salsa picante. A photo is posted to his blog, with a warning for viewers not to drool on their keyboard.

Food blogger Mary Ladd recently attended one of Cosentino’s “Whole Beast Dinners” at Incanto, and reported her experience eating an entire pig-pointy ears to curly tail-on SFist. She admits, “some of our pregnant friends cringed and kept their backs turned,” when the pig came out, but says, “the heart was petite, very tender and tasted and felt clean.”

No newcomer to adventurous eating is Eddie Lin, one of the authors of Deep End Dining, a blog devoted to consuming the unusual, odd, and sometimes illegal (a recent “outlaw dinner” featured foods that are banned or forbidden, or will be soon). Though being a devotee of the nasty bits can have its drawbacks. Eddie recently suggested a dinner out to his wife who replied, “Honey, I’m six months pregnant. I really can’t handle eating fetus or baby anything, not even veal. Nothing weird at all. Please tell me we’re going to a normal restaurant.”

Perhaps the larger question is, what really makes food “weird?” In response to her recent Chez Pim post about cooking with horse fat, Pim readily admits, “My weird meter is probably calibrated quite differently from other people’s.” She says that growing up in Thailand exposed her to “all kinds of stuff that people here or in Europe might find weird.”

Numerous and interesting comments on her post continue the conversation. “I’m still amazed at what the average American will/will not eat,” writes reader Linette. “They turn up their noses at things like tripe, calf brains, fish-head curry, and sea-urchin, then they go eat processed, packaged crap from the supermarket. Please! Who’s the crazy one here?”

In the end, is eating molded green jello salad with cubes of canned fruit floating in it any stranger than tripe?


The food bloggers sure have gotten buddy-buddy lately. A bunch of them got together in the Bay Area Sunday to eat a reportedly crazy-delicious meal, and now they can’t stop talking about it. Amy (of Cooking with Amy) not only got to attend that event, but she also hooked up with more food bloggers in Seattle and had some yummy meals there, too.

So maybe I’m a teensy bit jealous that I wasn’t on the guest list for these get-togethers (Okay, of course I’m jealous —so much deliciousness! Warm fuzzies flowing like wine!), but these posts got me thinking about a criticism of the food-writing community that I came across recently. Journalist and former New York Times food columnist Molly O’Neill chides contemporary writers for engaging in food porn, creating “a world that exists almost exclusively in the imagination, the ambitions, and the nostalgic underpinnings of American culture.” She doesn’t let the readers who buy her books off the hook, either: they’re the ones who demand this porn-y writing, and she says it’s up to the journalists not to pander to them and do some real “reportage” instead, a la James Beard or M.F.K. Fisher.

Of course a ton of wonderful blogs dabble (or revel) in food porn, and there are some great sites and meta-sites dedicated entirely to the genre, but this passel of posts about the bloggers’ potluck really seemed to hammer home the point: Food porn at its most stripped-down is really not about learning or doing, it’s about imagining (and of course wanting what the other guy has).

Is that really a problem, though? I generally agree with O’Neill that today’s food writing could use a little “more authority and less autobiography,” but nostalgia and fantasy are such important parts of any culinary experience that it seems odd to criticize their prevalence in gastro-journalism. Then again, maybe food porn only appeals to relatively well-off folks, as O’Neill suggests, and excludes the rest of the population. What’s your take?