The CHOW Blog rss

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

Rinconcito Mexicano II: Killer Quesadillas in the South Bronx

If you think you know quesadillas, try the one at Rinconcito Mexicano II in the South Bronx. “Quesadillas will never be the same again,” promises PAL, who declares this “one of the greatest little Mexican restaurants in all of New York City.” A thick tortilla of fresh-made masa encloses fresh, possibly house-made white cheese and comes with deep, spicy, garlicky red salsa. Order it with carnitas: you’ll get rich, flavorful roast pork, nicely crisped in places, reports Spoony Bard. Tacos are also good, he adds, including one with deliciously goaty barbacoa.

Rinconcito is a charming, narrow storefront joint, one of many Mexican establishments in the surrounding Mott Haven neighborhood–and apparently unconnected with a restaurant of the same name on 39th Street in Manhattan.

Rinconcito Mexicano II [Bronx]
381 E. 138th St., between Willis and Alexander Aves., Bronx

Board Links
Chow-worthy Bruckner Blvd. and South Bronx?

Golden Deli’s Secret Sibling

Pho lovers, beware: Because of a fire in the strip mall, Golden Deli is currently out of commission. The good news is, a previously unknown sister restaurant has come to light: Saigon Flavor (no relation to the one in Torrance).

It’s almost like being at good old Golden Deli: same menus, same numbers. The cha gio (spring roll) is just as savory as ever, says copacetic. Yet there are differences. The house special pho (#1) actually has better broth! And there’s a ton of parking in back! And the room is much nicer!

Although it was pretty uncrowded on one hound’s visit, another witnessed a crowd waiting to get in a few days ago. So maybe the word is out.

Vietnam House, across the street from Golden Deli and under the same ownership, also has basically the same food as Golden Deli, plus beer, parking, and they take credit cards.

Saigon’s Flavor San Gabriel Valley]
208 E. Valley Blvd., at Del Mar, San Gabriel

Golden Deli [San Gabriel Valley]
815 W. Las Tunas Dr., at Main, San Gabriel

Vietnam House [San Gabriel Valley]
710 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel

Board Links
Golden Deli Fire? Sister Restaurant Saigon Flavor

Giving Edamame a Kick

Boiled, salted edamame are a terrific snack. But chowhounds have a few tricks to make them truly irresistible:

Grind lapsang souchong tea leaves with a little salt, and sprinkle the mixture over the edamame for a nice smoky snack. Smoked salt achieves a similar effect. Curry-infused oil and citrus zest is an inspired combination for edamame. Also try grinding chili peppers, star anise, and garlic together for the topping.

In a different vein, Old Bay seasoning is great on edamame, says ClaireLiz.

Board Links
edamame tip

Homemade Gummy Bears

Who knew? A lot of gelatin, a little water, and you can make homemade gummy bears! Or gummy anythings, really–for their shapes are limited only by your imagination. And by the molds you can create. As for flavor, that depends on what you find in gelatin mixes; S_K recommends looking in Asian groceries, where she finds flavors like passion fruit and blackcurrant. This recipe calls for a sugar-free gelatin mix, but any kind will work fine, S_K notes.

For the simplest of shapes, pour the mix in a thin layer onto the bottom of mini muffin tins. You’ll get little gummy coins. Or, use regular muffin tins for fatter, sassier gummy medals. You can also use any ice cube trays–the trays with decorative shapes work particularly great. The above recipe also provides instructions for making gummi worms.

For more ambitious projects, with fancy shapes, check out these sources for candy molds:

Sugarcraft has kits especially for making gummy candies in fun shapes like feet and bugs.

Candyland Crafts has candy molds in any and every shape you could imagine.

Board Links
Homemade Gummy Bears?

Heinz Organic Ketchup

Fans of Heinz ketchup have discovered their organic tomato ketchup. The flavor’s still recognizable as Heinz, but it’s way better than the original. rworange calls it a miracle–the only sequel that’s better than the original. And it’s all organic: organic tomatoes, organic vinegar, organic sugar, right down to the organic onion powder.

In some markets, it’s shelved right next to the regular Heinz ketchups; in others it’s in the organic section.

Heinz Organic Ketchup

Board Links
Heinz Organic Tomato Ketchup–better than the original

Dealing with a Whole Fish

Being served a whole fish can be daunting if you don’t know how to deal with it. This is how mnosyne suggests you proceed: first, make a vertical cut through the flesh behind the head, down to the backbone. Make a similar cut just above the tail. Then gently lift the meat off the bone, and onto your plate.

The backbone is now exposed, and can be lifted out by the tail end, making the flesh underneath available. The backbone usually comes out in one handy piece. Be sure to use this method when you’re served whole fish in a Chinese restaurant, where turning the fish over is considered bad luck. Remove any smaller bones, and enjoy your fish!

Board Links
Eating a whole fish

New Jersey Shows Its Cards

The motto at Chef Charles is “Gotta Put LOVE In Your Cookin’!” (It’s at 6774 Washington Avenue, Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey; 609-641-7338. Ignore the address given on his own website.) I thought his barbecue was just dandy—authentic and very, very good (perhaps not the very peak of deliciousness). The ribs were slightly tough, but I attribute that to my early arrival on a Sunday, shortly after opening. Chef Charles’s soul food is also quite good (especially his slamming candy sweet potatoes and excellent cornbread). For dessert, he had no sweet potato pie, alas. But the lemon pound cake slayed me. It’s unrepentantly greasy, a dessert that says, “Hey, you’ve just been scarfing all those ribs: Drop all pretensions of being fat averse.”

MP3 file Listen to the first podcast.

Kelsey & Kim’s Soul Food (52 North Main Street, Pleasantville, New Jersey; 609-484-8448) is a nice place run by a sincere chef. It’s not set up to do ambitious Southern pit barbecue à la Chef Charles, but it’s one of those places that make up in deliciousness what they lack in authenticity and ambition. The ribs reminded me of Chinese restaurant ribs, because the meat has a penetrating sweetness that’s more addictive than annoying. Great tender texture. Their chicken wings are expertly fried; I’d order anything fried here (I bet the catfish is great).

The Clam Bar (910 Bay Avenue, Somers Point, New Jersey; 609-927-8783) is a lovely rustic seaside haunt. It’s spotlessly clean and run with friendly, expert efficiency. Nice place. Too bad I was too full to really try it.

Crabby Jack’s (on the dock behind the restaurant the Crab Trap, 2 Broadway, Somers Point, New Jersey; 609-927-7377) is a totally fun dockside summertime bar.

While sucking down drinks at Crabby Jack’s, the Newark Star-Ledger’s Peter Genovese and I recorded a manic double interview. (Note: The audio was not speeded up; we really talk like that. Bear in mind I was sucking down sugary rum drinks at a dizzying rate.) We covered the origins of Chowhound, the mission of Munchmobile, the pitfalls of restaurant reviewing, the appallingness of Jet Skis, and my big new discovery (suggested by the dude at a neighboring bar stool): Power Straws.

MP3 file Part One
MP3 file Part Two

Anti-gravity alimentation

If your idea of space food is that funky dehydrated ice cream your parents bought you at the gift shop at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, you might be surprised interstellar cuisine has matured.

In The New York Times, Dining In/Dining Out staff writer Kim Severson updates us on the latest developments in anti-gravity gastronomy, from the new menu being developed by the European Union to jambalaya created by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.

While today’s astronauts welcome the new changes in flavor and variety, Severson notes that the makers of space foods still have to contend with fundamental limitations on what can be served atop the atmosphere. Nothing that crumbles is allowed (“No one wants to chase a crumb around a space station”), and salt and pepper must be liquefied, for runaway grains could float away and “clog equipment or become lodged in an astronaut’s nose or eyes.” Ouch!

For space chefs, the final frontier, of course, is devising a menu for dining on the way to Mars. To boldly go where no meal has gone before, food will require new methods of preservation and packaging that can sustain a five-year shelf life.

Turkish delight

Saveur, one of the most reliably intelligent food magazines out on the stands, has a fascinating story on Turkish home cooking in this month’s edition.

An adequate story on the topic would include a broad overview of Turkey’s various regions and their culinary traditions. A good story would dig deeper, framing the piece by profiling a local woman who has made preserving traditional recipes her life’s calling. And a great story like Saveur’s would also connect Turkish cooking with the food-larded poetry of Sufi mystic Rumi, who used culinary metaphors to make sublimely inspired points about the relationship between man and God.

...Every object, every being,
is a jar full of delight.

Be a connoisseur,

and taste with caution.

Any wine will get you high.

Judge like a king, and choose the purest,

the ones unadulterated with fear,

or some urgency about “what’s needed.”

Drink the wine that moves you

as a camel moves when it’s been untied,

and is just ambling about.

Frank Prial, eat your heart out.

Dot gone

Dotty Griffith, queen of the Dallas food scene, is officially off the clock. D Magazine reports that after nearly 30 years with the Dallas Morning News, Griffith is taking the money and running.

After 17 years as the Morning News’s food editor, Griffith took over as the paper’s lead restaurant critic in 1997, where she made headlines herself when litigious chain-restaurant millionaire Phil Romano (Fuddrucker’s, Macaroni Grill, Cozymel’s) sued her over a critical review of his pricey hotspot Il Mulino New York–even though Griffith gave the restaurant four out of five stars. (Happily for opinionated critics everywhere, the suit was settled out of court and Il Mulino closed this summer after a 2-year run.)

But stripped of her News expense account, will Griffith be going hungry? Not a chance, say her pals in the biz. “She’s one hell of a shot and regularly hunts for her supper,” wrote fellow critic Nancy Nichols in D Magazine. No word yet on who’ll be picking up Dotty’s knife and fork; her last piece will run September 15.

Meanwhile, cookbook lovers, ashtray collectors, and just straight-up foodie fans of Griffith’s Morning News predecessor Waltrina Stovall should head over to Stovall’s big estate sale this weekend. (No, she’s not dead yet, just selling her stuff.) According to Teresa Gubbins at Dallas food blog News You Can Eat, Stovall’s personal purge includes thousands of vintage cookbooks along with an vast array of smoking-related paraphernalia, proving yet again that life is better when you’ve got something to stick in your mouth.