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

Killer chips

The chemical acrylamide, a “probable carcinogen,” has been found in potato chips, and the news is disturbing enough to make food science writer Robert L. Wolke swear off the snacks for good.

“I love potato chips,” writes Wolke in The Washington Post. “Doesn’t everyone? But I have just thrown away half a bag of them, and I intend to buy no more.”

According to Wolke, acrylamide is created by chemical reactions that occur during the cooking process when foods with starches and proteins are heated. The amount of the chemical produced varies depending on cooking time, temperature, and other factors.

Although the word is out on what level of acrylamide consumption is hazardous, Wolke is switching from chips to nuts, just to be safe:

But why did I swear off potato chips, when the jury has barely begun to consider the hazards of acrylamide at potato-chip consumption levels? When no safe maximum level of acrylamide in human foods has been determined? Well, it’s a lot easier to quit potato chips than to quit smoking, and there are many alternative salty crunchy-munchies that can accompany my cocktail without endangering my health —at least not so far as has been discovered. So I switched to peanuts. Will their time come?

For more information about acrylamide, Wolke points to a survey of acrylamide levels in foods conducted by the Food and Drug Administration and new federal legislation that would affect how states and localities can regulate toxin levels in foods.

Top Chef Preps for Season Two

After the savory success of last season, it is no surprise that Bravo moved their second season premiere date from March to October as well as upping their mince-meatable cheftestant count from twelve to fifteen. Just who will the cheftestants be? Reality Blurred reports. Those who were as glued to their sets as I was during last season’s show will recall how loud and repetitive the cheftestants were in their proclamations that they weren’t pastry chefs. However, this year’s crop will feature pastry chef Marisa Churchill fresh from the oven of San Francisco’s Ame Restaurant, which should crisp a few pie crusts out there.

Like last season’s crop of pressured cookers, the chefs hail primarily from New York, California and Las Vegas, which is kind of annoying, actually. I mean, aside from the huge fact that Jean-Georges Vongerichten is opening a new restaurant in Minneapolis in September, the Twin Cities was recently touted by Food & Wine magazine as being “the most exciting architectural hub in America, with brand-new buildings by the likes of Jean Nouvel and Cesar Pelli—and world-class restaurants to go with them.” Of course, that’s just Minnesota-raised me getting my personal dander up, but hello? What about Seattle, Portland, Santa Fe, or Boston, fer crissakes?

Top Chef premieres Wednesday, October 18 at 11 pm on Bravo. On October 25, the show will move to its regular Wednesdays at 10pm timeslot.

Hot for Hotdish

Over at Flak Magazine, I’ve written an extremely timely review of an extremely strange food: hotdish on a stick. It’s a fair food that’s been hyped to the point of being video-blogged.

For those unhappy few among us not originally from the Upper Midwest, hotdish is a casserole-like food closely associated with the cultural core of what it means to be Minnesotan; its primary unifying agent, cream of mushroom soup, is known colloquially as “the Lutheran binder.”

While hotdish is primarily a cold-weather favorite (read: roughly half the year) it emerges in its “on-a-stick” incarnation during the Great Minnesota Get Together (also known as the Minnesota State Fair). Minnesotans will have to hustle to get their mitts on this starchy rod of meat-n-potato stuffed goodness; the get-together ends on Labor Day.

A Really Righteous Fish Fry

Nevermind the charbroiler, says elmomonster–“Deep-frying is the only path to righteousness for tacos de pescado.”

The fish fillet in Las Cotijas’ fish tacos, dipped in batter and fried to golden crunchiness, could do double duty in an order of fish and chips. But here it gets wrapped lovingly in warm corn tortillas, topped with crisp shredded cabbage and squirted with pico de gallo and some tangy, mayo-y sauce.

Another nearby candidate for “best fish taco”: El Taco Nazo. Remember, there’s no relation to the other Taco Nazos, which are decent but pack a greasy punch.

Los Cotijas Taco Shop [South OC]
642 E. 1st St., Tustin

Los Cotijas Taco Shop [Little Saigon]
11951 Euclid St., Garden Grove

El Taconazo [Inland of LA]
14676 Pipeline Ave., Chino Hills

Board Links
Los Cotijas Taco Shop–Tustin–A Review with Photo

Hitting the Panchan Bar at Greenland

The newly renovated Greenland Market has way more products than before, including a “salad” bar with Korean side dishes (panchan) like dried little fishies, noodles, seaweed salad, Korean sushi rolls, rice cakes, and more. Great deals on fresh fruit and veggies, and there’s sushi-grade fish as well as live seafood and stew packages. For Valleyites, this blows away the Galleria market in Northridge.

Greenland Market [East San Fernando Valley]
17643 Sherman Way, Van Nuys

Greenland Market [Inland of LA]
18901 Colima Rd., Rowland Heights

Board Links
Asian Market Extraordinaire…......

Meatball Surprise

Several hounds express surprise about the deeply superior meatballs at Mary’s Pizza Shack, a small, local chain with all the trappings of a mediocre, family-friendly blandfest. They’re massive things–you get one giant meatball with your spaghetti, and it’s totally satisfying, says Melanie Wong. katya says they’re her favorite meatballs anywhere, hands down. The spicy sausage mixed in makes all the difference. Gerard can’t endorse the spaghetti itself, but the meatballs are great; he recommends the open-faced meatball sandwich, which comes with two of the gigantic meatballs, for $8.45.

Mary’s Pizza Shack [East Bay]
2246 Oak Grove Rd., Walnut Creek

Mary’s Pizza Shack [Marin County]
121 San Marin Dr., Novato

Mary’s Pizza Shack [Solano County]
1500 Oliver Rd. # E, Fairfield

Mary’s Pizza Shack [Solano County]
505 Davis St., Vacaville

Mary’s Pizza Shack [Solano County]
1460 Ary Ln., Dixon

Mary’s Pizza Shack [Sonoma County]
359 E. Washington St., Petaluma

Mary’s Pizza Shack [Sonoma County]
8 W. Spain St., Sonoma

Mary’s Pizza Shack [Sonoma County]
101 Golf Course Dr., Rohnert Park

Mary’s Pizza Shack [Sonoma County]
535 Summerfield Rd., Santa Rosa

Mary’s Pizza Shack [Sonoma County]
790 Gravenstein Hwy N, Sebastopol

Mary’s Pizza Shack [Sonoma County]
3084 Marlow Rd., Santa Rosa

Mary’s Pizza Shack [Napa County]
3085 Jefferson St., Napa

Board Links
Meatballs at Mary’s Pizza Shack (thanks katya)

Napa/Sonoma for Under $10

There’s good, cheap food in wine country if you know where to look. Carrie 218 recommends the corn dog guy on the corner of Napa Road and Eighth Street in Sonoma, who produces the most amazing corn dogs she has ever tasted. They’re entirely worth going out of your way for. Lakeside Grill at The Vintners golf course makes a mean burger for under $10, says djh.

The Michoacan taco truck on Salvador Avenue in Napa is a great option; Earl Grey goes two or three times a week. Especially good are the al pastor and the chile verde burrito, an indulgent treat with lots of crema.

The barbecue rig outside D’s Diner in Sebastopol does pork ribs, pork shoulder, chicken, and links in their smoker. The ribs are large and meaty, with a nice smoke ring and moderate smoke flavor; they’re falling-off-the-bone tender, for those who like that texture. The sauce is only okay, says Mick Ruthven, but the ribs are legit and some of the best in the San Francisco Bay area. And in Santa Rosa, Black Bean BBQ offers a hefty plate of food for $10, says Gerard.

Corn Dog Stand [Sonoma County]
Corner of Napa Rd. and Eighth St. E., Sonoma

Lakeside Grill [Napa County]
at The Vintners Golf Club
7901 Solano Ave., Yountville

Michoacan Taco Truck [Napa County]
Salvador Ave., Napa

Barbecue Rig [Sonoma County]
outside D’s Diner
7260 Healdsburg Ave. (Hwy. 116), Sebastopol

Black Bean BBQ [Sonoma County]
a.k.a. Stim’s Texas Bbq
557 Summerfield Rd., Santa Rosa

Board Links
Napa / Sonoma on the cheap – Eats for $10 and under?

Royal Kabab: Masterly Pakistani Meats in Huntington Station

Royal Kabab Grill excels at Pakistani-style grilled and pan-fried meats. sbp has eaten a swath through the menu. His favorites:

- Chapli kabab: minced beef in a powerfully seasoned, burger-shaped patty, pan-fried to a thick, caramelized crust. “Crunchy, gooey, savory, sweet, the crust alone had it all. Simply amazing.”

- Gola kabab: a sausage-like ground-beef kabab, also highly seasoned, with cumin and cinnamon notes, among many others.

- Bihari kabab: shredded beef in a spicy marinade of mustard oil, yogurt, and papaya (a natural meat tenderizer), grilled over charcoal. “Charred, crusty, sour, salty, but also mushy. It’s definitely an acquired taste, but I’ve acquired it.”

Also recommended: saag, tandoori shrimp, even plain rice, which gets a lift from an alluring touch of cinnamon. “Please go to this place; every time I’ve been there, it seems empty,” implores sbp. “The food is very good. Give them a pass on the somewhat confused service.”

Royal Kabab Grill [Suffolk County]
135-9 W. Jericho Tpke., near Pine Tree Rd., Huntington Station, NY

Board Links
Royal Kebab in Huntington, NY: Revisited

Quiche Tips

Chowhounds offer their tried-and-true tricks for avoiding soggy- or burnt-crusted quiche, and for achieving the most luscious filling.

Crust magic:

Even if you’re beginning with a frozen crust, blind baking (partially baking the crust before you fill it) is key to avoiding that soggy bottom. Line the crust with foil and fill it with rice or dry beans to keep it from puffing up, and bake it at 400F for 12 minutes.

To create a seal between the liquid filling and the crust to further ward off sogginess, brush egg white over the crust or sprinkle shredded cheese in the bottom right after you’ve blind baked it, while it’s still hot.

cheryl h says if you’ve got a pizza stone, baking your quiche on it will assure the bottom crust is baked through and not soggy.

Filling tips:

You can use almost any combination of vegetables, meats, cheeses, and seasonings to flavor your quiche, but all quiche filling begin with a custard base of eggs beaten with milk, half and half, or cream. Egg/dairy ratios vary greatly from recipe to recipe; for a 9-inch quiche, Chocolatechipkt likes a ratio of 1 1/2 cups of milk to 3 eggs. MollyGee notes that using low-fat milk, with its higher water content, can lead to a watery quiche or conversely, to a rubbery one, since a watery appearance may lead you to overbake.


Once you’ve blind baked your crust, it’s easy to accidentally overbake and even burn the edges when baking the filled quiche. You can avoid this by covering the rim of your crust with thin strips of foil after it’s been filled.

Here are two tricks for getting a panful of liquid filling in to bake without making a mess of your oven: 1) Place the filled quiche on a sheet pan lined with foil and put the whole sheet pan in the oven. 2) Pull the oven rack out, place the unfilled pan on it, and pour the filling in, preferably from a bowl or measuring cup with a spout.

Board Links
First-time quiche tips?

Margon Revisited: Deep, Homey Latin Flavors in Midtown

There are plenty of reasons people keep going back to Margon, the homey Cuban-Dominican lunch counter on 46th Street, but the yellow rice is as good an explanation as any. lawrence was expecting neutral, starchy stomach fodder, but their’s serious flavor in those grains. “It tastes like they’re using stew broth from their chicken dishes to cook the rice, it’s so flavorful and hearty.”

His second thought is probably the hound-endorsed octopus salad, with refreshingly chewy bites of sliced octopus. Chew a while, and you’ll get hit with briny ocean energy, tart lime, and the sweetness of the octopus itself. There’s a beautiful textural contrast too: crunchy onions and chile peppers against soft, acidic tomatoes. Another winner: red snapper stew, a hearty and well-balanced melange of fish, tomato, green pepper, and spices.

Margon is a great, great option, agrees david sprague. Cuban sandwiches are the big favorite, but just about any plate meal with rice and beans will do you fine. Some say that their Cuban sandwiches are only decent. Their chicken sandwich, however, is superior, says E Eto.

Margon [Rockefeller Center]
136 W. 46th St., between 6th and 7th Aves., Manhattan

Board Links
Diamond District lunch places
margon report