The CHOW Blog rss

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

Williamsburg Taco Update: Mexican Bites at an Italian Eatery

Taco Bite is a streetside window taqueria that sprouted late last year from one wall of an Italian restaurant. Tacos are $2 each and tasty–steak, carnitas, or chicken on a pair of lightly griddled corn tortillas with onions, cilantro, and salsa, reports thievery. The benchmark for Williamsburg taco lovers is Matamoros Puebla Grocery, and a couple of hounds say Taco Bite measures up (though another finds its stuff on the dry side).

Also on the menu: burritos, a “Mexican cheeseburger,” and daily specials such as chicken quesadillas. They serve beer and have some outdoor tables for hanging out.

Another decent neighborhood spot is Mexico 2000–like Matamoros, a grocery with a kitchen in back. Its tacos are pretty good, says bill-p, though a notch below Matamoros’s.

Speaking of Matamoros, it continues to turn out great tacos, tortas, and other Mexican chow–months after the owner told regulars that rising rents were about to force him to sell the business. Seems it isn’t a seller’s market, so he’s rethinking his plans. In the meantime, pass the salsa.

Taco Bite [Williamsburg]
905 Lorimer St., at Bedford Ave., at Monsignor’s Italian Restaurant, Brooklyn

Mexico 2000 Grocery [Williamsburg]
367 Broadway, between Keap and Hooper Sts., Brooklyn

Matamoros Puebla Grocery [Williamsburg]
193 Bedford Ave., between N. 6th and 7th Sts., Brooklyn

Board Links: Just one taco, one at a time, in Williamsburg

More Room for Tasting, and Other New York News

The Tasting Room, the East Village hideaway whose daily-changing menu showcases superior ingredients simply prepared, has opened new, larger quarters in Nolita. The old menu, which offered smaller “taste” and larger “share” portions of the same dishes, has given way to a more conventional appetizer-entree plan. The appetizers cost more than the old “tastes” did, but portions are said to be larger.

And the chow? Excellent as ever, reports xavier. Fish is always a smart order; preparations might include olive oil-cured butterfish with pickled ramps and Brazilian chiles, or braised wild striped bass with smoked eel, fingerlings, and leeks. The original space on 1st Street is closed for now but reportedly will reopen as an all-day cafe serving coffee, baked goods, and small plates.

In other news, Hummus Place has gone uptown. The Israeli outfit with the minimalist menu of freshly made chickpea puree, served three ways–plus decent salads and pitas–just opened a shop on the Upper West Side.

Tasting Room [Little Italy]
264 Elizabeth St., between Houston and Prince, Manhattan

Tasting Room [East Village]
72 E. 1st St., at 1st Ave., Manhattan

Hummus Place [Upper West Side]
305 Amsterdam Ave., between W. 74th and 75th Sts., Manhattan

Hummus Place [East Village]
109 St. Marks Pl., between 1st Ave. and Ave. A, Manhattan

Hummus Place [Greenwich Village]
99 MacDougal St., between Bleecker and W. 3rd Sts., Manhattan

Board Links: Wonderful meal at Tasting Room
Hummus Place on UWS ?!?
Has anyone been to the new Tasting Room location?

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