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

Aw, shucks

What to do with all those cast-off husks (requires registration) from your freshly shucked bounty of summer corn? Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Regina Schrambling has a culinary solution that redeems corn husks from a rapid route to the garbage can: Save them and use them to encase delicate green corn tamales or, better yet, turn them into a natural wrapper for grilling fish, such as halibut. It’s a technique that resonates with Florence Fabricant’s fish-grilling tips in the New York Times, which include wrapping whole fish in fennel fronds, rosemary branches, or grape leaves to enhance flavor and prevent sticking to the grill.

Save us a drumstick

Got time and a staple gun? The Southern Foodways Alliance wants you. One of New Orleans’ best fried-chicken joints, devastated by Katrina, will be rehabbed this weekend by an all-vol crew that needs a few more nail-pounders.

The SFA will be rebuilding Willie Mae’s Scotch House, a 54-year-old, 30-seat soul food spot honored as an “American Classic” at the 2005 James Beard Awards. More help is sought, since every bit of donated labor puts 89-year-old owner Willie Mae Seaton one step closer to battering up what insatiable NYC foodie Ed Levine calls “the best fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life.” While the hours are long, the chow’s good: feeding the volunteer teams (and writing plenty of checks for concrete and lumber) is chef John Currance of Oxford, Mississippi’s City Grocery, known for his suave updates of trad Southern dishes.

Ironically, hotshot native son Emeril—who was notoriously absent while the city’s eateries were losing their crawfish and clientele in the aftermath of Katrina last year—is doing New Orleans-themed shows on the Food Network. Anyone suppose he’ll show up at the Scotch House, hammer in hand?

Killer Apps

Cheese, yes. Olives, sure. But what else do you offer guests at a cocktail party? Here are the crowd-pleasing hors d'oeuvres, the ones that are never left over at the end of the party. READ MORE

Fresh Papaya Juice and Queso Fresco

rworange continues her quest to try all the Mexican markets between Richmond and Pinole. This time, she visits El Mercadito San Juan, a small, nothing-seeming, empty place that stocks mighty impressive goodies. They excel at aquas frescas and fresh juices. There’s more juice than water, and the fruit is fresh from the produce bins. Fresh papaya juice ($1.50) is deep orange-red and tastes beautiful.

They also make their own queso fresco, a light and lovely cheese with texture almost like goat cheese. It’s cheap, too. They’ve also got great house-made hot sauces, especially a salsa fresca full of tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and lots of lime. Guacamole is thin and has a nice spicy tingle. Both of these are available to take home for $2 a pint. There are also take-home pints of black mole.

They sell good tamales, too–a little dry, but with a nice touch of lard in the masa. These aren’t at the very top of rworange’s tamale list, but they’re pretty high.

There’s also decent dry chorizo, and various Brazilian items. Avoid, though, their bland fresh chorizo.

Mercadito San Juan [East Bay]
12899 San Pablo Ave., Richmond

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Chorizo crawl–El Mercadito San Juan (Richmond) –fresh juices, house-made salsas & queso fresco

A Perfect Chile Relleno Surprise

sarvey is shocked by the quality of the chile relleno at the East Oakland Taqueria San Jose. It’s delicious: a big poblano pepper, filled with melty cheese, and fried inside a thick, eggy batter. It’s then topped with tomato-onion broth, and a little chopped iceberg lettace and tomato. It’s actually one of the best things she’s had in a long, long time, and only $2.50.

Great al pastor here, too.

Taqueria San Jose INC [Fruitvale]
3433 E. 14th St. (International Blvd.), Oakland

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Surprize Chile Relleno at Taqueria San Jose O-town

Three Worthy Brunch Bites in Chelsea and the Village

The brunch menu at Bright Food Shop, the East-meets-Southwest fusion place in Chelsea, features a rewarding vegan variation on huevos rancheros–big chunks of smoked tofu (in place of egg) piled atop black beans and corn tortillas, topped with vegan cheese and sour cream. “Fabulous!” raves piccola. “Slightly spicy, very smoky, filling but not heavy.” Also recommended: green chile pozole, eggs with thick-cut bacon, nice chile-flecked cornbread, and the unlikely but surprisingly tasty smoked salmon “maki,” with egg and wasabi cream cheese rolled into a spinach tortilla. Pass on the stingy side of fruit.

A few blocks away, Elmo serves a nice cheddar-avocado omelette, generously filled and perfectly cooked. Service is swift and the room is loud and loungey. A solid neighborhood place, says Lucia.

At Danal in the East Village, don’t miss the French toast, which is made with croissants. “I was blown away,” marvels Desidero. “Best I have had in a long while.” Excellent cafe au lait, too.

Bright Food Shop [Chelsea]
218 8th Ave., at W. 21st St., Manhattan

Elmo [Chelsea]
156 7th Ave., at W. 19th St., Manhattan

Danal [East Village]
90 E. 10th St, between 3rd and 4th Aves., Manhattan

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Brunch at Elmo (Chelsea)
Brunch at Bright Food Shop
Danal ?

Sheng Xiang: Fujianese Flowering in Sunset Park

One of the newest of the Fujianese restaurants that are changing the face of Sunset Park’s Chinatown is Sheng Xiang, whose chow is tasty, rustic, and uncompromisingly authentic, according to our first report. KRS describes a dinner highlighted by curry beef casserole, a pot of long-stewed miscellaneous meat plus taro, onion, bell pepper, ginger and greens–“food for peasants, but amazing.” Fuzhou dumpling soup is also quite good: modestly stuffed meat wonton in delicious pork broth. Other winners: sauteed snow pea shoots, house special noodles in terrific mushroom sauce, and taro pudding for dessert.

The menu is heavy on seafood, much of it pulled from tanks aswim with fish, crabs, turtles, and other critters. Also: numerous Fujianese soups and stewed dishes, duck or rabbit Fuzhou style, goose and pork innards in various preparations, and other regional specialties. “The dishes are not adapted to American tastes,” KRS writes. “The broth in the soup was unsalted and took a moment to get used to. The beef in the casserole was the cheapest possible cuts, cooked forever to make it chewable. Get there quick, while they’re serving the food as they themselves would eat it.”

Many of the same dishes turn up on the menu at Everett, another newish Fujianese restaurant just down 8th Avenue from Sheng Xiang. Isabel loves their pork dumplings and clams sauteed with chiles and cilantro. Two other places offer similar menus: Wang Cun Ju and, to a lesser extent, Min Jiang. “There seem to be a growing cluster of new Fujianese restaurants in this area ripe for exploration,” notes jen kalb. “Great to see a fullish menu with rabbit and mutton noodle soups, even a goat casserole, in addition to a lot of seafood, frog legs, interesting vegetable dishes, etc.”

For a lighter bite, Sunset Park is full of little shops that make northern Chinese-style dumplings. One neighborhood favorite is Family Dumpling, a bare-bones corner joint a block off the busy 8th Avenue strip. Dumplings with pork, chives, preserved vegetable and other fillings are made by hand as you watch, then steamed or pan-fried. It’s great stuff dirt cheap, says Amy Mintzer; she also loves their rich yet feathery-light scallion pancakes and noodles with a rotating choice of sauces.

Closer to 8th Avenue, Northern China is a fine option for dumplings and scallion pancakes, reports Chandavkl. Others recommend the nearby Kai Feng Fu Dumpling House, which offers a similar lineup of dumplings plus a huge, tasty sesame pancake that can be ordered stuffed with slices of spiced, long-cooked beef–a delicious budget sandwich, says jen kalb. All three shops are mostly takeout with limited seating.

Sheng Xiang Seafood Restaurant [Sunset Park]
5318 8th Ave., between 54th and 53rd Sts., Brooklyn

Everett [Sunset Park]
a.k.a. C & C Everett
5721 8th Ave., between 57th and 58th Sts., Brooklyn

Wang Cun Ju [Sunset Park]
5609 8th Ave., between 56th and 57th Sts., Brooklyn

Wang Cun Ju [Sunset Park]
4922 8th Ave., between 49th and 50th Sts., Brooklyn

Min Jiang [Sunset Park]
5121 8th Ave., between 51st and 52nd Sts., Brooklyn

Family Dumpling [Sunset Park]
5602 7th Ave., at 56th St., Brooklyn

Northern China Dumpling [Sunset Park]
775 49th St., between 8th and 7th Aves., Brooklyn

Kai Feng Fu Dumpling House [Sunset Park]
4801 8th Ave., at 48th St. (entrance on 48th), Brooklyn

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Restaurant named Everett in Brooklyn Chinatown
Where are the best dumplings in Brooklyn’s Chinatown?
Amazing Fujian Menu

Tacos Behind the Orange Curtain

Although there aren’t many great taco places in Orange County, El Granjenal makes a damn good grilled fish taco, says Professor Salt. And hey, it’s Gustavo Arellano’s favorite. Don’t forget the salsa verde, and maybe a licuado.

For meats, El Toro Bravo is his go-to hole-in-the-wall tortilleria-taqueria. Their associated carneceria is across the street “The chile rojo kicks ass, as does the oniony carne asada, carnitas and pollo rostizado. The chicharron here are cubes of crunchy, crispy skin-on pork belly fried to a dark Crayola Brown. A combo plate of these is your ticket to a triple bypass, yet you’ll still be licking your chops in the ambulance on the way to the ER. Totally worth it when you’re in the mood for a really rich pork fat indulgence.” The house-made salsa roja and salsa fresca are awesome, but the straight-from-a-can salsa verde isn’t worth your time.

For fish tacos, SouthOCHound hears the ones at Los Cotijas are hard to beat.

Taqueria El Granjenal [South OC]
899 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa

Taqueria El Granjenal [South OC]
140 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana

El Toro Bravo [South OC]
745 W. 19th St. #G, Costa Mesa

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

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

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ISO of Tacos in the OC

Taco Run

The find of the week for The Oracle is El Super, the kind of place you might drive past for years without ever stopping in. The chicken is juicy and delicious, the asada solid, and the menu has plenty of tempting items from quesadillas to enchiladas to posole. One chicken and one asada taco comes to $2.60.

A South Pas favorite is La Estrella, especially for the fish. Shrimp for tacos are very lightly fried–they’re perfect. Ceviche is good too, but al pastor and carnitas are nothing to write home about. There’s also a no-name market (or more probably, a no-one-remembers-the-name-market) nearby that mr mouther says is better than anything else around. Pastor is especially good, and so are their prices–about $1 a taco.

El Parian is practically synonymous with “carne asada,” and it’s definitely good stuff, says The Oracle. But you’ll need a roll of paper towels–it’s that juicy. Birria taco, on the other hand, is much too oily and flavorless. On top of that, the tortillas and the chips had both seen better days. Tacos here are $2.25 each.

*WBGuy * recommends El Taco Llama for a more satisfying birria taco.

El Super Burrito [Pasadena-ish]
3631 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

La Estrella [Pasadena-ish]
502 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena

La Bodeguita Mini Market [Pasadena-ish]
1135 N. Summit Ave., at Hammond, Pasadena

El Parian Restaurant [Downtown]
1528 W. Pico Blvd., at Union, Los Angeles
Amazon Locater

El Taco Llama [East San Fernando Valley]
10501 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood

El Taco Llama [East San Fernando Valley]
12101 Saticoy St., North Hollywood

El Taco Llama [East San Fernando Valley]
7344 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys

El Taco Llama [East San Fernando Valley]
8111 Van Nuys Blvd. # 109, Van Nuys

El Taco Llama [East San Fernando Valley]
15708 Vanowen St., Van Nuys

El Taco Llama [West San Fernando Valley]
8709 Corbin Ave., Northridge

El Taco Llama [West San Fernando Valley]
7559 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park

El Taco Llama [Santa Clarita]
24374 San Fernando Rd., Santa Clarita

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Last week’s taco report —el parian (los angeles), el super burrito (pasadena), and a random taco truck (pasadena–fair oaks/california)

Potato Salad as Main Dish

It’s easy to take potato salad to main dish territory–just add some protein and complementary flavors. bigmackdaddy seasons potato salad with dill, then adds chunks of ham and special magic beer shrimp. (To make these magic beer shrimp, soak shrimp in beer for an hour, then fry in olive oil and salt.)

Terrie H. likes to combine potato salad and sausage with a mustardy vinaigrette. Try adding grilled, sliced kielbasa; or, simmer slices of sausage in white wine and a pinch of sugar until glazed, and add.

You can combine potato salad with pretty much any leftover meat or poultry. Make a salad of potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and leftover meats, dressed with vinaigrette.

Hard-boiled eggs and toasted cashews are great in a vegetarian potato salad.

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Potato Salad as entree? Ideas?