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

Scottish Oatcakes

Scottish oatcakes will surprise you, if you’re expecting them to taste like cookies. A real deal oatcake is 100% oats, with some sort of shortening, baking soda, salt, and water. That’s it. The result is a coarse, very dry, thin biscuit that’s strangely addictive.

Oat cakes are easy to find in the UK, where they’re eaten with butter, jelly, or as a vehicle for cheese, fish, or meat. Paul J has seen them at Cost Plus World Market (an Oakland, CA-based chain with stores all over the US). British import shops would likely carry them, as well.

Walker’s makes a variety of them, which you can buy online via web site.

Board Links: Scottish Oat Cakes

Tender Stir-Fried Beef

The two keys to making tender stir-fried beef are 1) how you slice the meat and 2) how you cook it. Hounds’ favorite cut for stir-frying is flank steak, but they also like top round and sirloin. Here’s how to slice and cook for tender results.

-Slice the meat against the grain in even, very thin slices. Partial freezing makes it easier to cut thin and evenly.

-Make sure the oil is very hot. Stir-fry for just a minute or two. Once the pink is almost gone, it’s done.

TorontoJo offers these tips for making a great beef-and-vegetable stir-fry: 1) marinate the beef for 15-20 minutes before cooking in some soy sauce and sherry (add a couple teaspoons of cornstarch if you’d like for thickening); 2) fry garlic/ginger for a few seconds before adding beef; when beef is done, remove to a bowl; 3) add more oil to pan if needed, then stir-fry vegetables until almost done. Return beef to pan, along with whatever sauce ingredients you are using, and cook for a just a few seconds more to marry everything together.

mhoffman add this tip for those with electric stoves or who otherwise need help getting pans really hot: preheat your pan in a 500 or 550 degree oven. Just make sure to use a pot holder!

Board Links: Best Beef for Stir-Fry ?

Sprouts in Garlic: To Remove or Not to Remove?

Traditional wisdom, along with most cookbooks, says to remove the little green sprouts that grow in older cloves of garlic, which are supposedly indigestible. Chowhounds say there’s no evidence of that, but the sprouts can be bitter, especially when raw. So their removal is entirely up to you–but removing is advisable if you’ll be using the garlic uncooked.

Board Links: The sprout in the garlic clove

Jack the Horse – Pub Fare with Breeding in Brooklyn Heights

A couple months out of the gate, Jack the Horse Tavern is earning a following in Brooklyn Heights with refined chow and a comfortable neighborhood vibe. Some, however, find it too expensive. “The food is good, nicely prepared and presented. The space is lovely, the atmosphere very much like a country inn or tavern. This is a nice place to spend an evening with friends,” sums up Fleur. “But the prices seem a little high for what it is.”

The brief menu offers salads and other starters plus grilled and roasted meats and seafood. Early winners include salmon medallions with orange reduction; chopped chicken liver with rhubarb compote on toasted baguette; kale, chorizo, and cranberry bean soup; and herbed fries with homemade-tasting ketchup and blue cheese sauce. Some stumbles: dried-out roast pork breast and chewy, under-salted hanger steak. The well-chosen wine list tops out at $45 a bottle. Draft beers are mostly from craft brewers, including Brooklyn Brewery and Six Point.

“Overall, very good,” reports queue, “a real restaurant along the lines of the others we frequent in the neighborhood”–including Noodle Pudding and Henry’s End, and roughly between the two in price. “We will probably return often.”

Jack the Horse Tavern [Brooklyn Heights]
66 Hicks St., at Cranberry, Brooklyn

Board Links: Jack the Horse Tavern in Brooklyn Heights

Around the World with New York Pork Chop Lovers

Esperanto, the pan-Latin place in the East Village, grills a nice pork chop and serves it with chayote and pineapple salsa. The setting is casual and fun, and often there’s live music, says Peter Cherches. Great caipirinhas and mojitos, too.

For another Latin take on the pork chop, there’s El Deportivo, a Puerto Rican joint in Hell’s Kitchen that fries up killer chuletas empanizada with crisp, garlicky breading, “so good I was gnawing the bones,” confesses Pupster. Also on the menu: grilled pork chops with gravy.

Good, hearty Southern-style smothered pork chops can be had at the Pink Tea Cup in the Village and Maroons in Chelsea, which serves them with white corn grits and sweet plantains–a nod to the Caribbean half of its menu.

In Chinatown, you’ll find excellent pork chops–surprise!–at the Excellent Pork Chop House, which serves them fried, over rice, or in soup with noodles. Good stuff and really cheap, says Greg.

Hounds also go for lemongrass-marinated grilled chops, Vietnamese style, at places like Saigon Grill. (By the way, Saigon Grill’s Upper East Side location has closed–purportedly for renovation–but there are signs that it’s gone for good now that its new Village location is open for business.)

In Brooklyn, Cobble Hill favorite Chestnut does a fabulous grilled pork chop, stuffed with fig and served atop white polenta, advises Pupster. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays you can order it as part of a $25 prix fixe three-course dinner, one of the better midweek bargains in town.

Esperanto [East Village]
145 Ave, C, at 9th St., Manhattan

El Deportivo [Clinton]
701 9th Ave., at W. 48th St., Manhattan

Pink Tea Cup [Greenwich Village]
42 Grove St., between Bleecker and Bedford, Manhattan

Maroons Restaurant [Chelsea]
244 W. 16th St., between 7th and 8th Aves., Manhattan

Excellent Pork Chop House [Chinatown]
3 Doyers St., between Pell and Bowery, Manhattan

Saigon Grill [Greenwich Village]
91 University Pl., between E. 11th and 12th Sts., Manhattan

Saigon Grill [Upper West Side]
620 Amsterdam Ave., at 90th St., Manhattan

Saigon Grill [Upper East Side]
1700 2nd Ave., at 88th St., Manhattan

Chestnut [Cobble Hill]
271 Smith St., near Degraw, Brooklyn

Board Links: Pork ChopsUES Saigon Grill Closed for “Renovations”?!

Boba- Keeping it Fresh

Boba drinks may all look alike, but a lot are flavored with artificial powder or syrup. But Little Bean uses real fruit and fresh taro in their drinks, says makalive45. The little tapioca balls are always fresh, never gummy, and on weekends they have mini-bobas. Also check out the shaved ice: $2.50 for a huge portion, with fresh toppings.

Former boba professional AquaW (who used to work at Tapioca Express) says the best milk tea is at Aloha Boba, where they brew your tea to order, by the cup. You can taste the difference between their stuff and the pre-made tea elsewhere.

Little Bean [Inland of LA]
18415 Colima Rd., at Batson, Rowland Heights

Little Bean [Artesia-ish]
18902 Norwalk Blvd., at Cerritos, Artesia

Aloha Boba [Pasadena-ish]
666 Huntington Blvd., at Shamrock, Monrovia

Board Links: BEST Boba EVER!!!

A First Look at Simon

The Sofitel has a new restaurant, headed by Kerry Simon (of Simon Kitchen & Bar in Las Vegas’s Hard Rock Hotel). First impressions are just trickling in, but Chowpatty says everything is well executed and service was good. Standouts: tuna dynamite appetizer, lobster roll, gazpacho with avocado, and a very light but tasty seared ahi salad. Some yummy pretzel bread and cornbread can be found in the bread basket.

Margherita pizza, with good crust and just the right ratio of cheese to tomatoes, is another winner, says ipse dixit, who wasn’t as keen on the pricey shellfish platter ($38 for just-OK lobster, crab legs, shrimp, clams, and mussels) and tasteless crab cake.

And of course it’s hard to mess up fried potatoes–fries are nicely well-done, tater tots are crunchy and just a bit sweet. Onion rings are good too, but for $8? As Chowpatty says, “Since it’s a hotel restaurant with trendy pretensions, of course prices are commensurate.”

Simon LA [West Hollywood]
at Sofitel Los Angeles
8555 Beverly Blvd., at La Cienega, Los Angeles

Board Links: SIMON (at the Hotel Sofitel) ... brief report

Going To The Source: Santi’s Perfect Chorizo

Is there a salumi revolution afoot in the Bay Area? Well, for starters, we’ve got the Fatted Calf, and we have Tavern Santi.

Some of the fancier local high-end places proudly serve Santi’s sausage, but you can skip the middle man and go to the source. Santi has tents at the Windsor farmer’s market on Sundays, and at the Saturday farmer’s market in Healdsburg. You eat some grilled sausages on the spot, or buy takeout for $8 a pound. Melanie Wong’s favorite: fresh linguica, filled with smoky Spanish paprika, wine, tangy sherry vinegar, a bit of sweetness, and the gentle smoke of alderwood. Layered into the heritage pig meat, the flavor is indescribably complex and delicious.

The sausage is made with Duroc pigs–Santi’s Franco Dunn buys whole pigs and splits them with Bruce Aidell, who takes the bellies for bacon.

Tavern Santi [Sonoma County]
21047 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville

Sunday Windsor Farmer’s Market [Sonoma County]
Windsor Town Green, Windsor

Healdsburg Saturday Farmers’ Market [Sonoma County]
North and Vine Sts., Healdsburg

Board Links: Saturday Farmers Market in Healdsburg
Portuguese Linguica by Santi

Persian Fight!

katya put two top Persian places–Shalizaar and Chelokababi–to a direct comparison. And the winner? Shalizaar, by a mile.

Chelokababi may have better atmosphere, what with the nice rugs on the walls and the nice Islamic architecture and all. But Shalizaar has it all over Chelokababi when it comes to the food.

Take, for example, the free stuff. At Chelokababi, you get a basket of pita on the house–thin, room temperature, and store-bought. At Shalizaar, you get a free basket of thin, bland lavash, accompanied by a free basket of exotic herbs, feta, and walnuts, which you can roll up to make perfect little mini-burritos. (You can order the same at Chelokababi, but it’ll cost you $5.50.)

Shalizaar’s non-free stuff is even better. Their chicken breast kabob is one of the best kabobs ever. Their polos (zeresht polo and shirin polo) are full-flavored. Their tahdig ($6.95) is texturally perfect–a big rice pot with stew on the top and a crunchy rice layer on the bottom. And they’ve got great gheymeh, a stew of tender lean beef, yellow peas, tomato sauce, and potato sticks. It’s hearty and tasty, and, unlike other gheymehs in the area, not at all watery. Now, if you’ve never tasted Shalizaar, Chelokababi might seem pretty great. And they have some very nice dishes–like their koobideh (lean ground meat kabobs, $9.50), juicy and bursting with flavor. But only Shalizaar inspires post facto dreams and yearnings.

Chelokababi’s chicken breast kabob is disappointing–nicely flavored, but dry. Zeresht polo is weak, too, lacking the proper dense flavor-melange.

Shalizaar has excellent service–knowledgeable servers, and omnipresent bus boys.

In her ranking of Persian restaurants, Chelokababi ranks in the middle of the worthwhile restaurants–above Rose Market and Yas, and below Shalizaar and Pomegranate.

Shalizar is open Tues-Sun, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.. They’re closed Mondays.

Shalizaar [Peninsula]
120 W. 25th Ave., San Mateo

Chelokababi [South Bay]
1236 S. Wolfe Rd. (at El Camino Real), Sunnyvale

Rose Market [Peninsula]
1060 Castro St., Mountain View

Yas Restaurant [South Bay]
1138 Saratoga Ave., San Jose

Pomegranate Restaurant [East Bay]
1585 University Ave., Berkeley

Board Links: San Mateo’s Shalizaar Puts the Persian Smackdown on Sunnyvale’s Chelokababi

Food Shopping 101: Buying Garlic

You needn’t be a garlic purist to prefer whole bulb garlic to the pre-peeled, pre-packaged cloves found in the supermarket vegetable department. Garlic you peel fresh for yourself is better and more potent in flavor. Yet there’s a time and place for the convenience of the pre-peeled product!

Buy peeled garlic at a market you trust to have good turnover. If you find the flavor a little weak, just add a few more cloves. They last a long time in the fridge, sealed in Tupperware-type container.

Board Links: Buying garlic: peeled cloves vs. whole bulbs?