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Recipe inspiration, tips, and kitchen hacks from the Chowhound editors.

Florence’s: Flavors of Home, West African Style, in Harlem

Florence’s is a cozy joint that serves spicy, satisfying chow from Ghana and Ivory Coast. An Ivorian braised fish dish, attieke poisson braisse, is a knockout, according to our first report, from Peter Cherches. It’s a whole tilapia topped with onions, tomatoes and peppers, and served with starchy attieke (fermented cassava) and wonderful, incendiary chile sauce.

As with other West African cuisines, expect plenty of soups and stews, and dishes featuring peanut sauces, fermented grains, and fufu (starchy mashes of cassava, plantain, and the like). A thick, long-cooked Ivorian okra stew, gombo, is smoky, slightly spicy, and a tad funky from dried shrimp. Peanut soup with goat can be bland, though the meat is tasty and not at all gamy. Among the appetizers, a Ghanaian street snack called kelewele–cubes of ripe plantain fried with chile, ginger, and other spices–is addictively delicious.

Service is friendly and helpful, and the Ghanaian family that owns the place sets a warm, inviting mood. “It was like being a guest in their home,” Peter marvels. “I want to hang out there again. I want to try everything on the menu. I want to take all my friends.”

Florence’s Restaurant [Harlem]
2099 Frederick Douglass Boulevard (between W. 113th and 114th streets), Manhattan
212-531-0387
Map

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Florence’s: Fabulous West African in Harlem

K-Zo Does a Fusion Japanese K-O

Easily confused with the also-new-and-good Sushi, K-Zo actually specializes in, let’s say, sushi japonaise–a kind of Japanese-French fusion. It works, say WBGuy and zivagolee. Small bites are creative, like seared white fish on top of pureed taro, layered with fried gobo; or ankimo mousse on endive leaf; or beet salad with goat cheese. Also impressive: red snapper carpaccio drizzled with yuzu dressing, and grilled sea bass. Sashimi is very, very fresh, although nigiri sushi is good but not mindblowing.

At lunch, it’s possible to do omakase for around $40–ask the chef. Combination lunches are in the $15 range, and small plate appetizers are mostly in the $7-9 range.

D

A Temple of Traditional Sushi

Japanese folks visiting L.A. know to head to Kasen for high-end omakase sushi. It’s very old school–sometimes they try to persuade non-Japanese people to go elsewhere, thinking they want California rolls, teriyaki and the like. Stick with it and profess your love for traditional sushi, and you’ll get excellent, super-fresh sushi; russkar prefers it to Costa Mesa’s well-regarded Shibucho.

Omakase is pricey, but at lunch it’s a reasonable $35-60.

Kasen [South OC]
9039 Garfield Ave., Fountain Valley
714-963-8769
Locater

Sushi Shibucho [South OC]
590 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa
949-642-2677
Locater

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fountain valley sushi hunt question

Italian Tomato Salad

During summer tomato season, simple tomato salads are a staple on the table in many Italian-American homes. They include tomatoes, sliced onions, dried oregano and/or fresh basil, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and any of the following: green bell pepper, cucumber, sweet or hot banana peppers, red wine vinegar, capers. Be sure to have crusty bread on hand to soak up all the delicious juices!

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Italian tomato salad

“Start with a Pound of Butter”: Real, Old-Fashioned Pound Cake

They just don’t write pound cake recipes like they used to, laments Das Ubergeek. After all, the cake got its name because it took a pound of each ingredient. His recipe stays true to the old ways, and also bakes for two hours! gus tried it out, and says it has a beautiful crust and an incredibly dense and buttery crumb. “It’s a heavy cake, but that didn’t stop anyone from wolfing it down!” he raves.

Real Pound Cake

1 lb. butter, softened
1 lb. sugar
1 lb. eggs (8 large)
1 lb. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 300F.
2. Beat the butter with an electric mixer until light and creamy.
3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the sugar and beat until incorporated.
4. Scrape down the sides again, add the eggs, salt and vanilla, and beat until incorporated.
5. Scrape down the sides of the bowl; using your mixer’s lowest speed, add the flour a little at a time, and stop as soon as it’s incorporated.
6. Pour into a buttered, floured loaf pan and smooth the top.
7. Bake 2 hours, or until a skewer poked in the center comes out completely dry (the top center will be the last part to bake fully–don’t pull it out early or you’ll have “pudding cake”).
8. Let cool until you can handle the pan, then turn cake out and let cool fully before slicing.

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Uebergeek’s Pound Cake–Thanks!

Squeaky Cheese

Squeaky cheese, a.k.a. cheese curds, are the very fresh curds of cheddar cheese, before they’ve been gathered in a mold and pressed. Squeaky cheese looks sort of like irregular packing peanuts. Fresh ones squeak when you chew them.

They’re used in the popular Quebec dish poutine, which is french fries and cheese curds doused with gravy. Cheese curds are also popular in Wisconsin. You can fry them, like mozarella sticks.

Read about cheese curds.

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Cheese curds?

Stains on Plasticware

Tomato stains on plastic storage containers are really unsightly. To clean the stained ones you have, rworange says that Cascade Plastic Booster can’t be beat; it works every time.

A proactive solution is to buy the new Rubbermaid containers called StainShield. They even resist turmeric stains, says Buckethead. Target sells them.

Board Links
How to keep tomato based sauces from staining plastic wear?

Weighty issues

The bloggers at The Food Museum ruffled a few feathers yesterday with a snarky post about obesity rates in the U.S. Citing a new study that shows obesity on the rise in 33 states despite increasing nutrition-education funding, the TFM folks scoff at the idea that government might play a role in preventing the problem. “Frankly, my dears, each and every adult in this country has to wake up and take charge of his/her own health and well-being and that of their kiddies,” they write, after rattling off a litany of ostensibly failsafe weight-loss tips. One commenter lets ‘em have it for painting overweight people as those who “lack will power [SIC], are lazy, immoral, ignorant, inactive and bad parents.”

Only the briefest P.S. at the end of the bloggers’ post concedes that “there is a segment of the U.S. population that is hard-pressed to get access even to a supermarket…for them eating better is exceedingly difficult indeed.” It’s shocking that food-studies people could be so cavalier about the link between income level and food access in this day and age, given the mountains of recent reporting on the issue (never mind that TFM’s stated goals include “[tackling] childhood obesity by giving school children enlightening offbeat experiences that nudge them away from poor food choices and towards healthy eating” and “[delving] deeply into food issues affecting people, places and the planet itself”). What strange folks.

Meanwhile, a study released yesterday in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that people routinely underestimate the number of calories in large fast-food meals they’ve just eaten —but are surprisingly accurate in their calorie estimates after polishing off smaller combos. In its discussion of the research, the watchdog Diet Blog suggests that since people of all sizes are so bad at determining how much to eat when faced with a giant pile of food (and since large-scale efforts at teaching proper portion size don’t seem to be working), maybe the restaurants themselves should be responsible for reducing the caloric payloads of their meals.

That’s not a new idea, nor is it super-well-articulated in the DB post, but it’s still satisfying to see the medical evidence stacking up against horribly massive fast-food offerings. In this thread, too, one commenter reacts by busting out the old saw about Personal Responsibility (“If you are fat, you are eating too much! Eat less. What part of that is hard to figure out?”).

Not that personal responsibility is meaningless, but clearly the discourse has to go beyond these angry, simplistic rants. What’s your take on the issue? Found any good discussions in blogland?

Rich, Dark, Chocolatey Justice

Now that Norwegian police have recovered “The Scream”, the marketing types over at the Mars candy company are claiming credit for the painting’s recovery. The Motley Fool reports that a Mars subsidiary is citing its bounty of two million Dark Chocolate M&Ms offered for the return of the Edvard Munch masterwork.

A bounty, it should be noted, that they actually intend to pay — although details of how and to whom have yet to be clarified.

An important work of public service by a major corporate player, no doubt. But more importantly, it heralds the exciting day when Mars — after more than a year of flirting with the idea — actually pumps up the distribution of their reasonably tasty dark M&Ms. The things are damn near impossible to find. And they’re actually kind of good.

Philadelphia: Southeast Asian, Shrimp, and the Young Crab Men

Note: Those with limited reading time should scroll down to the “Northern Philadelphia” part, where things started getting amazing.

Downtown

Glatt kosher Maccabeam Restaurant has an unfinished quality to it that’s hard to pin down. You can get the vibe just from looking at the exterior:

I immediately suspected the menu to be land-mined with misses as well as hits, and I stumbled right into one of the former, even after having been warned.

I’d asked the waitress if they really make latkes (potato pancakes), which aren’t usually restaurant food. She answered “yes” in the halting hesitant rhythm that waitresses use to send coded messages. She was telling me to avoid the latkes at all costs. But I never met a latke I couldn’t eat, so I ordered one anyway, along with a falafel sandwich. Assuming I wasn’t hip enough to pick up her signal, she concluded I was a rube and tried the oldest trick in the book.

“That’s ALL? Just a latke and falafel sandwich?” she asked, in wide-eyed disbelief. I grinned, stared her in the eye, and replied “Yeah, just THAT.” I’d seen through the ploy, in spite of my latke gullibility. Perplexed, she retreated to the kitchen.

My order arrived, and … let’s not discuss the latke (suffice to say I spit out my sole bite). My bad. But let’s talk a LOT about the falafel, which was the best Israeli falafel I’ve ever had. This rule of thumb is so exception-prone that some would deem it useless, but I’ll state it nonetheless: Israeli falafel tends to be golden, made from chickpeas, whereas Arabic and North African falafel tends to be greenish and made from fava beans (and herbs). This was chickpea falafal, it was gloriously loose (it burst into microchunks at the mere proximity of molars), and it was optimally crusty in the right places and richly moist in others. This was killer falafel, though the rest of the sandwich—pita, tahini, and salad—was merely functional.

God bless seven-megapixel cameras; the takeout menu is readable in this shot.

Washington Avenue

Philadelphia is blooming with chow. There’s a fairly musty Chinatown, but also a vibrant and burgeoning Vietnamese/Chinese area on Washington Avenue, anchored by the Wing Phat Plaza shopping center (1122–1138 Washington Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).

Inside the plaza is Pho 75 (1122 Washington Avenue; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 215-271-5866), a very good-looking place for Vietnamese meat soup. It passed the all-essential smell test: If you don’t smell a deep, soulful, herbal aroma upon cracking open the front door, a pho place is no good. Pronunciation tip: Pronounce “pho” like “funk” without the “nk.” And raise your voice, as if asking a question.

Wait; I just noticed that this is a branch of the famous Pho 75 of northern Virginia, which makes my favorite rendition! I should have tried it; if it’s as good as the Arlington location, this place is worth a trek from NYC, which has no great pho. Even better, maybe the chain will keep spreading northward. All join hands in prayer.

There’s also a swell-looking Vietnamese noodle shop and other good stuff inside. And Hung Vuong (1122 Washington Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 215-336-2803), a large Asian supermarket, has a barbecued-meat counter selling very tasty (and reasonably priced) ready-to-eat ribs and other meats.

Further down Washington Avenue is an interesting, brand-new place, BaoBaoHao Chinese Seafood (1100 Washington Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 215-463-2981).

Here’s the menu:


You’ll notice that the menu lists enough Southeast Asian fare to make one suspect that, in spite of the name, this isn’t a Chinese place at all. But it’s very likely the other way around. The vast majority of Southeast Asian restaurants, both here as well as in Southeast Asia, are Chinese owned. Resourceful Chinese chefs learn how to produce local dishes there, just as they conjure up fried chicken wings and egg rolls here in America. My theory is that these guys are Chinese from Malaysia with Vietnamese sympathies.

I caught the grand opening of Saigon Tofu (215-339-0388), which makes their own very good tofu and pretty good Vietnamese bakery items. They also have steam tables with prepared Vietnamese tofu dishes. To my knowledge, there’s nothing like this in New York.


I was so sorry not to have time to actually try a meal at wonderful-looking Café de Laos (1117 South 11th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 215-467-1546).

Terrific-looking place, no? Their takeout menu particularly intrigued me:


Laotian is a very rare cuisine in this part of the country—I know of no Laotian in the New York tristate area. New York is missing far more things than most people realize. One travels to fill such gaps!

And if Café de Laos rang my chowhound bells, Taqueria la Veracruzana (908 Washington Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 215-465-1440) conked me over the head.

Driving by, I was sure it was great, and having gone in, grabbed a menu, and scanned plates, I’d bet my chowmobile these are among the best tacos in Philly. I also got a good vibe from the fish store/restaurant next door, Anastasi Seafood Ristorante (Ninth and Washington, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 215-462-0550). The place is less than no-frills, but the store has a fresh smell, and a fresh-smelling fish store with scattered tables inside for eating is an opportunity one must never pass up.

I passed it up, though (this sort of rigorous chowconnaissance work requires much sacrifice and trusting of instinct re places that “look good”), because I needed to head to north Philadelphia to scout expensive shrimp bars.

Northern Philadelphia: The Search for Extravagant Shrimp (and More)

In the poor, largely African-American northern reaches of Philly, there are bars with inexpensive drinks, inexpensive bar snacks, and extravagantly priced shrimp. We’re talking $15 to $20 for a half-dozen shrimp. I’ve never understood this phenomenon. As a jazz trombonist, I’ve hung out and performed in black bars all over the country, but I’ve never spotted extravagant shrimp elsewhere. Only in north Philadelphia.

What could be a shaggy dog story has an ending that’s both unsatisfying and triumphant. My quest was complete before I really started. I spotted, seconds after entering the nabe, Sid Booker’s Stinger La Pointe and fell immediately in love.

I can’t entirely grasp the extent of Sid Booker’s empire, but “The Colonel of Shrimp” certainly has a lot more going on than the small bulletproof takeout window at the corner of his vast pink edifice at 4600 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 215-329-4455.

This window was the only portion open at midday, but it sure expelled some mean shrimp. Let me back up, though, to the moment of my arrival at Sid Booker’s Stinger La Pointe, whereupon I pulled over, whipped out my camera, and started photographing the exterior through my car window. A rough-looking fellow in a van that was randomly driving by pulled up right next to me and, scowling in mistrust and malevolence, asked me who I was suing. I replied sunnily that I wasn’t suing anyone, and explained that I was, in fact, a food writer out to find the best shrimp in Philadelphia—and that I suspected I may have just hit pay dirt with Mr. Booker, the Colonel of Shrimp. Scowl turned to puzzlement, and then resolved into a glimmer of respect. “Man, those are the BEST MOTHERF*ING SHRIMP IN TOWN!” he hollered, driving off.

The Indian yoga masters write about “devas,” spirit guides who roam the earth directing human beings through rough times. I was sure I’d just encountered a chowhound deva—with neon wheel rims and a really, really loud stereo, no less.

Coughing in the dust he’d kicked up, but emboldened by his guidance, I stepped up to the window and ordered. The waitress asked me which of a half-dozen seasonings I wanted on my fried shrimp (cocktail sauce, hot sauce, salt-n-pepper, and a bunch of other things listed too fast to catch). I said “Salt and pepper.”

“That’s it? Just salt and pepper?” she asked, strangely parroting the glatt kosher waitress at Maccabeam Restaurant earlier in the day. I asked her to also add hot sauce.

“Nothing else?”

“Well,” I stammered, uneasily, “what else is good?”

“You could have cocktail sauce,” she suggested.

“OK, yeah. Cocktail sauce, too, please.”

“Do you LIKE cocktail sauce?” she asked, having telepathically surmised my aversion to cocktail sauce.

“Sure I do!” I lied.

The bulletproof window slid shut and she went to work, eventually handing me out a boat of fried shrimp and a boat of french fries.

They weren’t, as I’d feared, gloppy with multiple sauces. It was almost as if fries and shrimp had been tossed in a wok with hot sauce (I don’t think she’d applied cocktail sauce). The thinnest film was dried on, crunch was retained, counterpointed with a few happily soggy spots. I discovered that adding ample salt and pepper to Trappy’s Red Devil creates an entirely different result from any of those seasonings on their own. The shrimp were excellent, but the french fries were screamingly good. I think you can get a sense of them from this photo (I’m not a very good photographer, so if this evokes any emotional reaction in you, it’s purely the result of my own overflowing feelings for my subject. With that in mind, please view the french fries and know that you are seeing and feeling what I saw and felt):

Since Sid Booker’s Stinger La Pointe is a bar (and, I’m certain, much, much more), I feel that I fulfilled my extravagant shrimp mission, even though the bar was closed at this time. And these suckers WERE expensive, at $18.50 per dozen. But I still don’t understand why North Philly has developed this culture of expensive shrimp bars. I’ll have to keep hammering away at the puzzle.

Then I hit gold. I found young kids working in a tarp-covered roadside shack, in the poorest part of North Philly, cooking crabs with incredible skill. They worked amid buckets of squirming crabs and buckets of spicy cooked crabs (the spice blend was nothing you’ve ever had before—I think the kids just went to the grocery and bought random spice bottles and shook indiscriminantly, but it’s pure genius).
These are by far the best crabs I’ve ever had. Hear the story of their discovery in this podcast: MP3 file. Please understand that you’re hearing a recording made in a car strewn with severed bits of crab, as if a Tasmanian devil had whipped through the area. My clothes were stained and greasy from head to foot, my hands were completely caked with spices, my lips were swollen with chile—the whole scene must have looked straight out of Silence of the Lambs.

As I say in the podcast, they are near the intersection of Taney and Burkes. As with all previous investigations I’ve done in Philadelphia, it’s as if I dreamed it. Because there is no intersection of Taney and Burkes I can find on any map. Some things must remain a bit mysterious. But at least I have photos:

These young kids were cooking and serving the crabs with unearthly skill and panache.

Alas, my only photo of the staging buckets of crabs turned out blurry. Yet the vibe is still palpable, so I’m leaving this shot in:

Cool mural on the side of the building gets you in the mood for seafood:

My bag of crab … seconds before I devoured it like a crazed animal:

UPDATE:

SUCCESS! The spelling is “Berks,” not “Burkes,” so the locale has
been found and mapped!

North Taney Street and West Berks Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19121.

Unfortunately, I did not spot the Florida Boy’s Street Barbecue truck, which I’d last come upon years ago after countless hours of tracking. My notes from that encounter are sketchy, and Eartha, my GPS navigation concierge, couldn’t make sense out of them (and I had no maps). If you’d like to search for this truck yourself, here are some raw clues. I’m quoting from my scribbled notes:

Delfield and 18th (on Delfield). Or near Woode’s Poing (whatever that is). Or try 16th and Hunting Park Ave.

Happy hunting!