The CHOW Blog rss

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

Anti-gravity alimentation

If your idea of space food is that funky dehydrated ice cream your parents bought you at the gift shop at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, you might be surprised interstellar cuisine has matured.

In The New York Times, Dining In/Dining Out staff writer Kim Severson updates us on the latest developments in anti-gravity gastronomy, from the new menu being developed by the European Union to jambalaya created by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.

While today’s astronauts welcome the new changes in flavor and variety, Severson notes that the makers of space foods still have to contend with fundamental limitations on what can be served atop the atmosphere. Nothing that crumbles is allowed (“No one wants to chase a crumb around a space station”), and salt and pepper must be liquefied, for runaway grains could float away and “clog equipment or become lodged in an astronaut’s nose or eyes.” Ouch!

For space chefs, the final frontier, of course, is devising a menu for dining on the way to Mars. To boldly go where no meal has gone before, food will require new methods of preservation and packaging that can sustain a five-year shelf life.

Turkish delight

Saveur, one of the most reliably intelligent food magazines out on the stands, has a fascinating story on Turkish home cooking in this month’s edition.

An adequate story on the topic would include a broad overview of Turkey’s various regions and their culinary traditions. A good story would dig deeper, framing the piece by profiling a local woman who has made preserving traditional recipes her life’s calling. And a great story like Saveur’s would also connect Turkish cooking with the food-larded poetry of Sufi mystic Rumi, who used culinary metaphors to make sublimely inspired points about the relationship between man and God.

...Every object, every being,
is a jar full of delight.

Be a connoisseur,

and taste with caution.

Any wine will get you high.

Judge like a king, and choose the purest,

the ones unadulterated with fear,

or some urgency about “what’s needed.”

Drink the wine that moves you

as a camel moves when it’s been untied,

and is just ambling about.

Frank Prial, eat your heart out.

Dot gone

Dotty Griffith, queen of the Dallas food scene, is officially off the clock. D Magazine reports that after nearly 30 years with the Dallas Morning News, Griffith is taking the money and running.

After 17 years as the Morning News’s food editor, Griffith took over as the paper’s lead restaurant critic in 1997, where she made headlines herself when litigious chain-restaurant millionaire Phil Romano (Fuddrucker’s, Macaroni Grill, Cozymel’s) sued her over a critical review of his pricey hotspot Il Mulino New York–even though Griffith gave the restaurant four out of five stars. (Happily for opinionated critics everywhere, the suit was settled out of court and Il Mulino closed this summer after a 2-year run.)

But stripped of her News expense account, will Griffith be going hungry? Not a chance, say her pals in the biz. “She’s one hell of a shot and regularly hunts for her supper,” wrote fellow critic Nancy Nichols in D Magazine. No word yet on who’ll be picking up Dotty’s knife and fork; her last piece will run September 15.

Meanwhile, cookbook lovers, ashtray collectors, and just straight-up foodie fans of Griffith’s Morning News predecessor Waltrina Stovall should head over to Stovall’s big estate sale this weekend. (No, she’s not dead yet, just selling her stuff.) According to Teresa Gubbins at Dallas food blog News You Can Eat, Stovall’s personal purge includes thousands of vintage cookbooks along with an vast array of smoking-related paraphernalia, proving yet again that life is better when you’ve got something to stick in your mouth.

Man vs. Cookie

On August 24th,Today’s Matt Lauer had a sit-down with Cookie Monster and grilled him about his eating habits.

At one point, the interview got extremely tense when Matt Lauer suggested Mr. Monster was going on an all-fruit diet, and Mr. Monster retorted, “No! You members of the media blow story way out of proportion! Me still like cookies!” The upshot is, Mr. Monster is trying to eat everything in moderation.

Although yours truly remains undamaged by a childhood spent watching Cookie Monster shove Styrofoam cookies down his black felt throat,
much ado was made a few years ago when it became clear that Mr. Monster was making an effort to rein in his sweet tooth in consideration of impressionable children.

The blog Kiss My Sass’ reaction to this ground-breaking interview was, “Blame the Cookie Monster for the American obesity epidemic? I’m so sure. I guess Super Size Me was a fluke and Fast Food Nation will change the script to do an expose on the fear-inducing Children of the Cookie!” MTV’s Best Week Ever blog had the best comment ever, “We somehow think a character named “The Fruit Monster” would give Jerry Falwell a heart attack.” Indeed.

See the rebroadcast on October 16th. Check your local listings. And your local cookie jar.

Egg on their faces

Ben and Jerry’s, after getting a serious beatdown by the Humane Society last week, has agreed to stop buying eggs from a large-scale producer that allegedly abuses chickens.

The animal rights group’s investigation of the Minnesota-based egg farm Michael Foods turned up a massive factory farm full of starving, sick, and injured chickens (plus dead ones in the same cages). The socially and environmentally conscious ice-cream company bought as many as 30 million eggs a year from the farm.

B&J still hasn’t committed to using cage-free eggs in the U.S. (though the company uses only free-range eggs in ice cream sold in Europe.) Perhaps none of this should be surprising, since the long-haired hippies who brought you Cherry Garcia and Phish Food sold out to food-and-household-products behemoth Unilever in 2000. Still, B&J’s purports to be as concerned as ever about the sourcing of its ingredients, pledging to support family farmers and fight global warming.

Granted, cage-free eggs are expensive. So maybe B&J should nix eggs from their recipes altogether and try substituting arrowroot, cornstarch, or soy powder. Or go for goose eggs, when they’re in season: These bad boys can be used in place of two chicken eggs (only 15 million needed that way!), and they’re more nutritious, too. Plus, geese are ill-suited to industrial-scale farming and it’s against the law to give ducks or geese hormones or antibiotics. Lucky birds.

Holy She Crab! Whole Fresh Crab Soup Dumplings

I know you hear constantly about Koi Palace, but news of their whole crab shanghai dumplings had me crawling under my writing desk and crying with need. They take an entire dungeness crab, pick out all the meat, and stuff it all into xiao long bau, a.k.a. soup dumplings, except there’s no soup inside–only the sweet, steamed juices of the crab. You also get the legs and claws, served deep fried. These pure crabmeat dumplings, with their thin, chewy skin and succulent meat, are even better than Koi’s whole lobster dumplings, says Porthos. Twenty-eight bucks gets you 10 or 11 dumplings, plus the rest of the crab.

Koi Palace Restaurant [Peninsula]
365 Gellert Blvd., Daly City

Board Links
Whole Crab Dumplings at Koi Palace

La Fonda Has Its Act Together

Initial reports on La Fonda Taqueria said the place was disappointingly poor–all the food was either too salty or too bland. But give it another shot, says China–they deserve it. The sope with chicken tinga ($3) has a handmade, fried-to-order masa shell. This shell is crispy on the outside, but tender and just slightly sweet on the inside, and nearly greaseless. It’s filled with well-seasoned pinto beans and spicy, smoky chicken tinga with a touch of cinnamon, and topped with lettuce, avocados, and crema. They also have freshly fried tortilla chips, a nice salsa bar, and an excellent limon agua fresca with tiny slices of lime floating in it. China will still skip the oversized burritos–“I just get sort of overwhelmed trying to eat something the size of my upper arm.”

La Fonda Taqueria [Sunset]
712 Irving St., San Francisco

Board Links
La Fonda Update

Taco Time: Two Good Bets in Westchester

Head for the back of Lupita’s, a Mexican and Central American grocery in Mamaroneck, and you’ll find a counter where they serve tasty, authentic tacos–juicy meat (carnitas, beef adobada, chorizo, chicken, etc.) tucked into warm tortillas with a bit of onion and cilantro, reports wesfoodie. Also: burritos, tortas, enchiladas, soups, entrees like pollo guisado (chicken stew). “And you can pick up a can of iguana soup while you’re at it,” adds wes.

At El Tio in Port Chester, go for the roast pork taco, urges Amy Mintzer–“one of the tastiest pork things I’ve ever eaten.” Also delicious: chuleta de res (T-bone steak with onions) and even chicken fingers for the kids, a superior rendition, well seasoned and juicy.

Lupita’s Deli [Westchester County]
122 Mamaroneck Ave., between Boston Post Rd. and Prospect Ave., Mamaroneck, NY

Mexican American El Tio [Westchester County]
143 Westchester Ave., between Pearl and Broad Sts., Port Chester, NY

Board Links
I Found the Tacos…
El Tio in Port Chester—Great!

Mound of Tunis – Maschera’s N. African Burger

This Italian restaurant with Tunisian influences serves an unusual and delicious burger, raves garnishgirly. It’s a lamb burger with Tunisian spices on brioche with tomato, cucumber, and onion. At the bar, you can get slider versions–mini burgers.

La Maschera [Pasadena-ish]
82 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena

Board Links
La Maschera = Best Burger?

Zabb Thai Comes to Manhattan; and Other New York News

Things may be looking up for Thai food in Manhattan. Zabb Thai, a Queens favorite for the rustic, fiery chow of Thailand’s northeastern Isaan region, has branched out into the East Village.

Unlike in Jackson Heights, the Manhattan menu is all in English and offers relatively few Isaan specialties, at least for now. But hounds are hopeful. “Probably need to give it time and encouragement to see what develops,” suggests jen kalb.

So far, reports on the food are mixed. However, Abbylovi says the new place seems willing to deliver full-throttle seasoning for those who ask. Her strategy: tell the server you love the original Zabb, order dishes by their Thai names, and insist you like it hot–for her, the result was delicious, robustly spiced laab and grilled beef salad.

A few blocks south, the Jewel Bako mini-empire has remade itself yet again. Owners Jack and Grace Lamb have moved Jack’s Luxury Oyster around the corner into the space that used to house Jewel Bako Makimono. Jack’s now offers a recast menu of tasting plates. Some of Makimono’s signature sushi rolls and small plates have been added to the menu at Jewel Bako.

And in other neighborhood news, Mamoun’s Falafel, purveyor of cheap Middle Eastern chow on MacDougal Street since 1971, has a brand-new East Village shop on St. Marks Place.

Zabb Kitchen [East Village]
formerly Pat Pong
244 E. 13th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan

Zabb Queens Restaurant [Woodside]
71-28 Roosevelt Ave., between 70th and 72nd Sts., Jackson Heights, Queens

Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar [East Village]
formerly Jewel Bako Makimono
101 2nd Ave., near E. 6th St., Manhattan

Jewel Bako [East Village]
239 E. 5th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan

Mamoun’s Falafel [East Village]
22 St. Marks Pl., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan, NY 10003

Mamoun’s Falafel [Greenwich Village]
119 MacDougal St., between Minetta Ln. and W. 3rd St., Manhattan

Mamoun’s Falafel [New Haven County]
85 Howe St., near Edgewood Ave., New Haven, CT

Board Links
Zabb Thai Now In The East Village
JB Makimono is gone, and…
Mamoun’s on St Marks