The CHOW Blog rss

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

Fleur de Sel Gelato

Bacco has an incredible dessert: toasted olive oil cake with fleur de sel gelato and caramel baked pears. The fleur de sel gelato is amazing–smooth and distinctly salty. That gelato is, by itself, worth a special trip, says Robert Lauriston.

Ristorante Bacco [Noe Valley]
737 Diamond St., at 24th St., San Francisco

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Fleur de sel gelato at Bacar

People’s Choice: Unbeatable West Indian Oxtails in Harlem

Do not miss the oxtails at People’s Choice Kitchen, insists Uptownflavor. Great, refreshing juices, too, at this Caribbean takeout joint in Harlem. m de p’s favorite is half pineapple, half carrot with milk.

People’s Choice Kitchen [Harlem]
2733 Frederick Douglass Blvd. (8th Ave.), between W. 145th and 146th Sts., Manhattan

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Harlem? Does anyone eat uptown?

New “Oaxacan” Spot

La Morenita Oaxaquena is a clean, homey new restaurant in a mini-mall at Third and New Hampshire. Chile relleno here is great, says Chowpatty–stuffed with chicken in a delicate batter and swimming in a super-spicy picadillo sauce. Strangely, considering the Oaxacan pedigree, mole negro with chicken is just okay; it’s not the most complex or thick mole around. Still, there are a lot of other Oaxacan and other specialties, and reasonably price breakfasts (chorizo and eggs, chilaquiles, etc). No alcohol, but plenty of aguas including horchata with cactus fruit and walnuts (tuna y nuez).

Chiles rellenos with black beans, rice, and salad is $7, chicken mole is $7.50.

La Morenita Oaxaquena [Koreatown]
3550 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles

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review–La Morenita Oaxaquena, new in Koreatown

At Flushing Mall, Knockout Dumplings and Other Sichuan Chow

Recent dispatches from the Flushing Mall food have focused mostly on Taiwanese and northern Chinese bites, but there’s also a vendor of robust Sichuan chow to be found. It’s called Chengdu, and it’s tucked away in the corner of the food court. It’s on the far right as you enter the court from the south.

They serve pork-and-chive dumplings the size of golf balls in devilishly red chile oil–so fresh they’re bursting with juice, almost like soup dumplings, reports astrid. A sprinkling of minced raw garlic adds a pungent blast of flavor. Fiery beef noodle soup is another winner, says Chandavkl. Cold noodles in peanut sauce are also delicious, though not spicy. Hot and sour noodles look tempting: a giant bowl of dark red broth heaped with scallions and cilantro.

Chengdu [Flushing]
in Flushing Mall food court
133-31 39th Ave., between Prince St. and College Point Blvd., lower level, Flushing, Queens

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Awesome Sichuan Dumplings (Flushing Food Court)–long

Nanjing Cuisine, Just Ducky

Nanjing duck is completely unlike Peking or roasted duck, being boiled/braised and salted. At Nanjing Kitchen, an austere take-out joint in San Gabriel, you can go a la carte and pick up duck wings, legs, gizzards (very good), or whatever. Or you can get a half bird or a whole one. It’s usually pretty salty (but in a good way, says ipsedixit), but kevin found it rather bland–kind of like leftover dark turkey meat. A bum batch?

The noodles are quite good, especially jinling noodles, says Jerome. They have more Nanjing specialties, which are pretty tough to find around here.

Nan Jing Kitchen [San Gabriel Valley]
706 W. Las Tunas Dr., at Mission, San Gabriel

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a Triumpharite in the SGV: Nanjing Cuisine, Stuffed Sandwich, and Fosselman’s
Nanjiang Cuisine in San Gabriel and The Stuffed Sandwich in San Gabriel

Learning Chinese Cooking by the Book

Here are some recommendations for cookbooks that are both authoritative and accessible to those new to cooking authentic Chinese at home.

Comprehensive cookbooks:

Key to Chinese Cooking, by Irene Kuo, devotes its first half to teaching technique, and the second to recipes which build on the techniques.

The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking: Techniques and Recipes, by Barbara Tropp, is strong on technique and philosophy, very thorough, and the recipes come out great.

Yan-Kit’s Classic Chinese Cookbook, by Yan-Kit So, has a comprehensive ingredient guide with pictures and detailed instructions.

Regional cookbooks:

Land of Plenty, by Fuschia Dunlop, is chowhounds’ new English-language bible for authentic Sichuanese cooking, with clear explanations and terrific recipes.

The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, by Grace Young and Alan Richardson, focuses on Cantonese cuisine, with background information on techniques and ingredients, and adds some interesting history.

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Suggestions on great Chinese cookbooks?

Best Oil for Chinese Cooking

Peanut oil is used frequently in high-heat Chinese stir-frying. It has a high smoke point, so it won’t scorch in the intense heat of proper wok cooking, and it imparts a characteristic flavor. If you don’t like peanut oil’s flavor (some find it “too peanutty”) or have a peanut allergy, use an oil with a neutral flavor and a high smoke point, like grapeseed or safflower.

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Chinese food cooking question…what kind of oil?

Fried Clams 101

“Big bellies,” “piss clams,” “Ipswich,” “steamers,” “soft shells”–these are all names for the same type of clam, says our resident marine biologist, FlyFish. The species is Mya arenaria; they’re the ones most often used for frying. They’re almost always what you’re eating when you’re eating whole fried clams. Typically, the only other kind of clam that gets fried is surf clam, which gets cut up and sold as “fried clam strips.”

The best soft shell clams are the ones with the biggest bellies. Luckily, says FlyFish, a lot of better claim joints will select only the bigger-bellied clams. (They’re wonderful simply steamed too.)

Here’s a clammy web site.

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Big belly fried clams

Savory Cheesecakes

Savory Secrets cheesecakes make a delicious and different hors d’oeuvre. They arrive frozen, so it’ll take a little longer to prepare them, but it’s basically just heat and serve. Jfields bought two: a red Pepper with feta cheese and pine nuts, and a gorgonzola/pear, and says they were a big hit. There are seven flavors available.

Savory Secrets also makes wonderful crackers to go with the cheesecake.

Order them here.

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Savory Secret Cheesecake

In Which Both Jim’s Credo and Upstate New York Are Unveiled

Many people think Kingston, New York, is a scrubby, scruffy place. Aw, contraire! There’s a charming part of town, with some good things to eat. I was hoping to hit Armadillo Bar & Grill (97 Abeel Street, 845-339-1550), which I’d heard boasts a Jewish owner, a Chinese chef, and a menu stocked with Oaxacan moles, rabbit posole, and awesome hamburgers.

Eartha, my GPS navigating assistant, had trouble getting her bearings, so it was a major ordeal to find the place. And it was, alas, closed (at lunchtime on a Friday?). Down the block, the Bridgewater Bar & Grill (50 Abeel Street, Kingston, New York; 845-340-4272), in a weather-worn antique brick building, looked intriguing. And it, too, was closed for Friday lunch. At this point, my friend Jan and I decided to opt for the touristic pleasure of a “fun” clam bar and margarita joint with outdoor patio perched picturesquely on a creek under a bridge. At Mariner’s Harbor (1 Broadway, Kingston, New York), the crab cakes were unfocused, the mussels slightly funky, and I bet the menu includes a bunch of other must-avoids. But the shrimp scampi was wonderful, and lobster salad was quite good. A local microbrew was available in stout, IPA, and pilsner flavors, and was fresh and creamy-delicious. Plus the staff was super-nice. We basked in the sunshine and sucked down beer and were happy. And happiness counts for a lot.

But we came away with different assessments. Jan averaged the peaks and troughs and offered a firm opinion of “so-so.” But I weight the peaks. A restaurant where everything is horrendous but one item is fantastic is, to me, a great restaurant. Jan deems that overly lenient, but consider your favorite restaurant. Its menu surely includes a few losers, and if one were to hit several on first visit, it might overly tarnish one’s opinion.

The restaurant critic’s fallacy is to underrate places where poor dishes were encountered early and good ones later. One must focus on the deliciousness. In fact, that’s a credo for life itself!

Just up the block, nice, sweetly charming, unfancy cookies and such are available at Alternative Bakery (35 Broadway, Kingston, New York; 845-331-5517). Also, quietly, a full stock of frozen Brazilian hors d’oeuvres.

Walton, New York

I’m such a sucker for rural county fairs. I drive hundreds of miles, seduced by dreams of cherry pie competitions, serious soulful fried chicken, jams, jellies, and all the other things America once prided itself on cooking and eating. I hope to find a window to simpler, better times before modern marketing convinced the masses that highly processed soulless crap is the normal, comfortable thing to eat.

The Delaware County Fair

Not even the Delaware County Fair—a relatively small, remote event at the northern edge of the Catskills mountains in upstate New York—has escaped the marketing juggernaut. Nearly all of the fair’s food offerings came from the same carnie concessions you’d find in Staten Island or any suburban sprawl. Funnel cakes, pizza, bloomin’ onions, fried dough, and the like were all slung by grizzled folks in shiny booths. Feelingless food with no sense of place.

I was exultant, though, at coming upon the Treadwell Franklin Walton United Methodist Church Pancake Griddle.

This was entirely a family operation, and the pancakes were light, airy, tangy, and ever so lively tasting. They were perfect. Of course, breakfast was not what I’d been hoping for at 6 p.m. after a long, hungry drive, but chowhounding means availing oneself of greatness when it arises, regardless of personal preference. So pancakes I had.

My waitress, a bright-eyed young teen, was an electronics whiz who required 15 seconds to decode all the controls on my new camera and have me fluently working the thing as I awaited my flapjacks. I wolfed down a plate of delightful pancakes, alone on a picnic table hours from home, with the stench of cow manure heavy in the air. The cashier, a feisty older woman, smiled and looked me in the eye as she handed me my change. I felt a chowhoundish bittersweetness—wishing I could be Methodist and part of the swell gang giving rise to these superb pancakes, but also a feeling of gratitude for being welcomed into the fold for just a moment. In the end, this brief encounter was worth the ride.

Amid the carnie dreck was one item of interest: potato ribbons. This is apparently a new carnival invention, but it’s spreading fast (I saw numerous booths making it). It looks like a vat of freshly fried potato chips, but as you hoist one chip, all the others hoist along with it, like a greasy tuberous string. Topped with (real) bacon bits, chives, and/or cheese, it’s irresistible—albeit trashy. No soul was applied, but the great thing about fried potatoes is that they are so inherently soulful that they make their own spiritual gravy.

Potato ribbons made a fine accompaniment to the plumes of dust and wafts of carbon monoxide fumes at the fair’s demolition derby.