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

Downtown’s Great Mexican Bakery

The new panaderia at Grand Central Market is a fab addition, says joe. One triangular pastry yields a filling of what seems like pineapple-coconut paste. Or try the tamales, especially tamales de elote (corn). They’ll knock you down, especially with the crema, promises abrahamincpt.

La Adelita 6 [Downtown]
in Grand Central Market
317 S Broadway, at 3rd., Los Angeles

Board Links: finally, a high-quality panaderia downtown

Tlapazola Branches Out

Tlapazola Grill has a new location down around Marina del Rey, and the kitchen and staff are up to speed in their first week in business, says Just Larry. It’s a good thing, because the crowds have turned out for Cal-Oaxacan fare like top-notch barramundi over vegetables with lime-caper sauce, nontraditional crab cake, spinach crepe, and good vegetable tamale with mole coloradito.

First courses are $7-8, mains $12-16. Glass of Zin or Syrah, $6.

Tlapazola Grill [Beaches]
4059 Lincoln Blvd., at Washington, Marina Del Rey

Tlapazola Grill [West LA]
11676 Gateway Blvd., at Barrington, Los Angeles

Board Links: New Tlapazola Grill dinner

Mokka: Equator Coffee and Dagoba Drinking Chocolate

Mokka is an impressive new organic coffee and sandwich shop. This is a hard-core place.

Take coffee, for instance. Their house-blend is Equator coffee, the same coffee served at the French Laundry. You can order it brewed, or, for 25 cents more, ground to order and drip-brewed. rworange, compulsive chowhound that she is, ordered both side-by-side and found them utterly different. The brewed version is mellow and lovely. The drip version is assertive, and similar to Graffeo’s dark roast. Both are likeable, but the brewed version has a certain winning smoothness.

Mokka’s Dagoba sipping chocolate is intense and very true to the taste of Dagoba chocolates. It comes in two versions–sweet, and not so sweet. Be aware that this is nothing like your usual American-style hot chocolate. We’re talking pure, intense, nearly brutal levels of chocolate. You can savor a little cup over an entire day.

Also: gelato made by the Latest Scoop. The Mokka gelato flavor has a good coffee taste.

Mokka [East Bay]
3075 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley

Board Links: Berkeley – Mokka … Latest Scoop mokka gelato, Equator coffee (drip & brew), & Dagoba organic sipping chocolate

New Med Tasties at Ziryab

Ziryab is a new Middle Eastern place, a little more upscale looking than most of the other shwarma factories in San Francisco. The food is a mixed bag–some failures, but some truly excellent items.

Mezze platter, with hummus, babaganoush, dolmas, olives, tabblouleh, cucumber yogurt, and little hunks of feta, is truly delicious, each flavor fresh and distinct. Their various dips are, says pane, entirely unlike the usual muddleed-tasting mashes at other local Middle Eastern restaurants. Mezze platter for two ($13) boasts even more stuff, including first-rate falafel.

Truly delicious is their chicken shawerma wrap ($8); it’s even better than the version at Truly Mediterranean, says Robert Lauriston. Lentil soup is simple and good. Arales ($6), spiced ground lamb on focaccia, is very tasty, as is spinach sauteed with garlic confit ($7).

Lesser dishes include chicken kebab that’s pretty good–but not quite as excellent as Ziryab’s top-flight dishes. Vegetable tajine, a special, is a bit bland. But, notes Absonot, this is a new restaurant, still straightening out kinks, and each visit has yielded better experiences than the last.

Service is friendly, but a bit forgetful.

Ziryab Mediterranean Grill [Western Addition]
528 Divisadero St., San Francisco

Board Links: Ziryab

Food Shopping 101: Bad Apple

A mushy or “floury” apple is not easy to detect without biting into it, and by that time it’s too late! Here are some tips to guide you in buying the best apples.

Your best bet is to buy in season (i.e., in cool weather) from a grower or at a farmers’ market.

Look for apples that have some heft to them, and don’t yield when you apply pressure with your fingers. Check the blossom end (bottom) of the apple. It should be nice and tight with no signs of splitting, mold, or discoloration, advises Non Cognomina.

Note that apples packaged in “dimpled” cardboard, with a space for each apple, arrive in better shape, too.

Your supermarket, of course, sells apples year-round. Hopefully, the trucks that delivered them have ethylene gas filters. Here’s why: apples (and other fruits) produce ethylene as they ripen, which accelerates the aging process. In a truckload of fruit, the cumulative gas begins to age the fruit prematurely. Trucks with filters help extend shelf life.

Final note: Never hesitate to return bad fruit.

Board Links: floury apples.

Hot and Sour Soup

Trader Joe’s makes jarred hot and sour soup that’s nicely sour, with a bit of heat (if you want more, add some white pepper). A bit of white vinegar enhances the sourness.

The soup is nice on its own, but you can also use it as a base for adding more solid ingredients.

Board Links: Hot & Sour SOUP

Cold Eggplant Serendipity

A simple saute of eggplant with sweet onion and cumin seeds tastes absolutely spectacular cold the next day, reports Aromatherapy.

Heat oil until fairly hot, add cumin seeds and cook until they pop. Then add chopped sweet yellow onion and chopped eggplant, and saute until tender. Chill, and dress with with a good squirt of fresh lemon juice. Warning: your eggplant may turn an odd blue-green-gray color upon chilling, but it tastes great regardless.

Board Links: Cold eggplant serendipity

Fresh Lychees

Fresh lychees are great eaten out of hand, but here are some other things to do with them.

Pop whole unpeeled lychees into zipper-top freezer bags and freeze them. They stay fresh tasting and juicy for months, and each piece, when peeled, is like a burst of lychee sorbet, says Fleur.

Pitted fresh lychees are excellent added to a cold custard (fya-dub).

A recipe for lychee granita (courtesty of bolletje):

About 1 lb. lychees, shelled and seeded
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
juice of one lemon

Boil water and sugar for 2 minutes to make simple syrup. Blend syrup, lychees and lemon juice in a blender, then strain through a mesh seive and let mixture cool in the fridge. Put it in a shallow pan in the freezer, stirring with a fork to break up ice crystals every 20 minutes or so (more frequently as it freezes more), until it reaches the texture of coarse shaved ice. Champagne and elderflower syrup make good additions.

Board Links: Lychees

Talking Pizza from Ronkonkoma to Riverhead

For hounds who hang around Ronkonkoma’s LIRR station, Scibelli’s is a go-to pizza destination. The near-perfect balance of sauce, cheese, and crust puts its regular slice ahead of the pack in that part of Long Island, says AmityGuy1. Also good: grandma slices and moist, dense garlic knots.

Other local contenders include Aegean Pizza in Holbrook, Gino’s in Patchogue, and La Margherita in Medford.

Out in Riverhead, coll sounds an uphill alert at Carlo’s Pizza Oven, which wasn’t bad to begin with but now, under new ownership, has refined its once-thickish crust to perfect Brooklyn-style thinness.

Scibelli’s Pizza [Suffolk County]
90 Railroad Ave., near Ronkonkoma LIRR station, Ronkonkoma, NY

Aegean Pizza [Suffolk County]
5801 Sunrise Hwy., in Sun Vet Mall, Holbrook, NY

Gino’s Pizzeria [Suffolk County]
22 W Main St., between Ocean and Railroad Aves., Patchogue, NY

La Margherita Pizzeria [Suffolk County]
1229 Station Rd., near Horse Block Rd., Medford, NY

Carlo’s Pizza Oven [Suffolk County]
435 Osborne Ave., between Lincoln and Pulaski Sts., Riverhead, NY

Board Links: Great pizza at Scibelli’s at LIRR Ronkonkoma Station.

East Side Italian, Old and New: La Cantina Toscana and Antonucci

La Cantina Toscana, which has been around for some time without attracting much attention from hounds, cooks true Tuscan chow, reports Peter Cherches. “I’ve been surprised it is so under the radar,” he adds. Yet other low-flying hounds have sussed out its typically Tuscan game menu, which features hearty pasta with cinghiale (wild boar) ragu. Boar also turns up in a sausage appetizer with cannellini and long-marinated in a sturdy stew served with chard and polenta. Other first-rate pastas include gnudi with spinach and ricotta in sage butter.

“I liked its good Italian feel–meaning fresh simple ingredients, a menu set up as Italian, not American, and actual Italians cooking and running the place,” writes eduardo. Adds Captain, “It is not a restaurant at which one gets the feeling the owners are seeking to make a killing. Rather, it feels like this is what they want to do, and are trying to make a living at it. Also, it is quite common to hear more of the diners speaking Italian than English.”

A mile or so uptown, there’s promising early word of satisfying, minimalist Italian dishes at Antonucci, a six-month-old trattoria from the former owner of Midtown Venetian restaurant Remi. jordana reports fresh, flavorful gnocchi with peas and pasta with mushrooms, as well as superior focaccia, not overpowered by herbs. The short menu also includes salt-baked branzino, braised lamb shank, beef short ribs, seafood risotto, and small plates including octopus with beans and bottarga, and roasted vegetables with bagna cauda.

La Cantina Toscana [Upper East Side]
1109 1st Ave., between E. 60th and 61st Sts., Manhattan

Antonucci [Upper East Side]
formerly Pearson’s Texas Barbecue
170 E. 81st St., near 3rd Ave., Manhattan

Board Links: great Italian on the UES
Out of Towners who used to live in Italy want some good Italian food. Suggestions?
Great Italian Uppereast