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

Horn of Africa Meets the Heart of O.C.

A mountain of outrageously tasty food awaits at Merhaba, an Eritrean restaurant nearly hidden in a dingy Orange County minimall, says Das Ubergeek. It’s the kind of place where non-East African customers may draw stares.

The menu lists the usual Ethiopian dishes, but in Tigrinya rather than Amharic. The traditional combo is billed as being for two people, but it would actually serve four. You get more than a cup each of doro wat (spicy chicken stew), yebeg alicha (mild lamb stew), a fiery Eritrean take on yebegsiga wat (spicy beef stew), and yellow lentils, collard greens and an orange paste that tastes of spicy carrots, all poured onto an injera-lined tray. The injera (a pancake-like bread) is properly sour here.

Unlike many other Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants, the meats shine here, although the vegetables are also good. Doro wat can be dry, but emily, a fan of the restaurant, says despite some off days, it’s usually delicious.

Traditional combo, $20. Canned soda and bottled water are $1. Lunch and dinner prices are the same.

Merhaba Restaurant [South OC]
2801 W. Ball Rd. #5, Anaheim
714-826-8859

http://www.merhabarestaurant.com

Locator:
http://yp.yahoo.com/py/ypMap.py?Pyt=Typ&tuid=14660309&ck=363215762

Board Links

Fried Chicken Salad?!?!

Bakesale Betty is justly renowned for fried chicken and coleslaw sandwiches. But they also make delicious fried chicken salad, says Morton the Mousse. Fulton chicken breast is butterflied and fried with a crispy batter, and served over house-made coleslaw. It’s a refreshing alternative to their sandwich.

Hot tip: you can always order it, even it it’s not on the menu.

Another tip: right now, they’re serving braised short rib sandwiches instead of their usual braised brisket sandwiches. These short ribs are seasonal, so get ‘em while they’re on. Also: don’t miss Betty’s lamingtons and lemon bars.

Townhouse Bar and Grill sometimes has spicy fried buffalo chicken salad, and it’s pretty good. It’s not on the current menu, but it’ll likely rotate back in soon.

Bakesale Betty [Temescal]

5098 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
510-289-550
http://www.bakesalebetty.com

Townhouse Bar & Grill [East Bay]

5862 Doyle St., Emeryville
510-652-6151
http://www.townhousebarandgrill.com

Links
Fried Chicken Salad anyone?
Fried Chicken and Cole Slaw Sandwiches in Oakland

Rhubarb Facts and Trivia

Rhubarb is a stalk of many colors, ranging from dark red to pink to bright green. Red rhubarb is most common, but you’ll also see green rhubarb (don’t suspect it’s unripe).

Here’s an interesting bit of rhubarb trivia, courtesy of Karl S: strawberry rhubarb pie wasn’t originally a combination of rhubarb and berries. Rather, it referred to strawberry rhubarb, a bright red variety! Other worthy pie pairings are rhubarb-apple and rhubarb-blackberry-apple.

See information on rhubarb varieties at: http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/rhubarb-varieties.html

Even more esoteric trivia: actors, to generate crowd noise backstage, murmur the word “rhubarb” over and over. Or at least that’s what we’ve heard…

Board Links
rhubarb questions

Summer – and Blueberries – Arrive in New Jersey

Blueberries have arrived in New Jersey, and Ellen pronounces the first pick outstanding. Val Ann C, who scored some nice ones at the Sunday farmers’ market in Red Bank, agrees. The growers expect last year’s very good crop to be followed by an even better one, maybe the best in years, Ellen reports.

Around Hammonton in Atlantic County, count on Glossy Fruit Farms for berries and the Red Barn for super fruit pies. In midstate, Emery’s grows organic blueberries and offers a pick-your-own option–but this season’s berries haven’t come around yet. Neither have those at nearby De Wolf Farm, but all in good time.

Red Bank Farmers’ Market [Monmouth County, NJ]
W. Front St. and Shrewsbury Ave., Red Bank
732-530-7300
Map

Glossy Fruit Farms [Atlantic County, NJ]
66 S Myrtle St., between Rte 206 and Middle Rd., Hammonton
609-561-8050
Locator

Red Barn Farm Market [Atlantic County, NJ]
51 S. Myrtle St., between Rte 206 and Middle Rd., Hammonton
609-567-3412

http://www.penzaspies.com

Locator

Emery’s Berry Farm [Ocean County, NJ]
346 Long Swamp Rd., near Pinehurst Rd. (Rte 539), New Egypt
609-758-8514

http://www.netpie.com

Locator

De Wolf Farm [Ocean County, NJ]
10 W. Colliers Mill Rd., near Archertown Rd., New Egypt
609-758-2424
Locator

Board Links
First Blueberries of the Season are Here

Pies-N-Thighs: Southern Chow in a Williamsburg Bar

Crispy fried catfish, pulled pork with Carolina-style vinegar bite, and macaroni and cheese with a gentle chile kick are early hound favorites at month-old Pies-n-Thighs, which dishes up Southern-accented chow from a makeshift kitchen at the back of Williamsburg’s Rock Star Bar.

Other winners: tangy lemonade, Brunswick stew, sausage and gravy, apple or Key lime pies, and apple-rhubarb cobbler that w/l says rivals good homemade versions. “Lots of fun–would certainly go back,” writes shrimpbird.

Dissenters fault fried chicken (crisp but bland, says brooklynsabra), dried-out barbecued pork, and hit-or-miss sides (good black-eyed peas, weak collard greens, overly vinegary cole slaw).

Pies-N-Thighs [Williamsburg]
351 Kent Ave., entrance on S. 5th St., Brooklyn
347-282-6005

http://piesandthighs.com

Locator

Board Links
Pies n Thighs
Pies n Thighs again
Pie’s n’ thighs in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Pepper Vinegar

Pepper vinegar is a snappy condiment for barbecue and barbecue-related foods. What couldn’t you dress up with a bottle of vinegar flavored with hot chiles?

It’s easy to make your own. Use a sterilized narrow-necked bottle; fill with any combination of small chiles (birds eye, tabasco, and cayenne are common). Heat white or cider vinegar and pour over the peppers. Close tightly and let sit in a cool place for a couple of weeks before using. Just replenish the vinegar in the bottle as you use it up. If you want to increase the heat, make slits in the chiles before you put them in the bottle, or follow Hungry Celeste“s recipe, and puree 2 T kosher salt and a small handful of chiles, and put the puree in the bottle with the whole peppers and vinegar.

Vinegar is a preservative, so you needn’t worry about the peppers going bad.

Board Links
Pepper vinegar?

The Magic of Celery Leaves

Don’t discard those celery leaves, or only save them for making stock! They’ve got a lovely light, clean taste that’s perfect as a garnish for pureed soup (cauliflower is a nice match), tossed into green salads, blended into chimichurri or salsa verde, or folded into tuna salad.

And celery leaves are the cilantro-hater’s best friend. If a dish tastes like soap with cilantro but as if it’s missing something without it, celery leaves give a similar bright flavor without the offense.

Board Links
Hate cilantro? Try celery leaves!

More on Tribu Grill

Chowhounds have descended on that Filipino home-cooking heaven, Tribu Grill, to more fully explore its menu. The newly discovered favorite: crispy pata, a stunning hunk of pork shank, deep fried to crispy perfection. All the Chowhounds who’ve tried it swoon over it.

Sisig (chopped pork parts with lots of garlic) is incredible. RWCFoodie could have scarfed the whole plate in about five seconds. Great shrimp gambas, too. Daing na bangus (marinated fried milkfish) is nicely done, with a mild vinegar tang balanced by fried garlic (a balance which is more or less the epitome of Filipino cuisine).

Tribu Grill [Peninsula]
235 El Camino Real, San Bruno
650-872-8858
Map

Board Links
Tribu Grill - don’t wake me, I’m in DreamLand

East Bay Philly Cheesesteak Roundup

Hollow Leg has visited every Philly cheesesteak place he can find in the East Bay. And the winner is ... Joe’s Catering, a lunch truck, where $5 gets you the biggest, sloppiest cheesesteak you’ve had in a while, jammed full of meat, onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, and Swiss cheese. Perhaps the meat is sliced a little thicker than on a truly authentic Philly cheesesteak, and perhaps the peppers could be a little softer, but “it seems churlish to complain when you’re getting about half a pound of steak for $5 and it lays the smack on everything else in the area.”

The truck is in front of Creative Technology on the old Alameda Navy Base from 1 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. on weekdays, then elsewhere on the base for lunch all afternoon.

El Senor Burrito already makes tortas, so cheesesteaks apparently seemed a minor stretch. Five bucks gets you a cheesesteak with fries or rings. The latter are repulsive, made from onion paste, not actual onions. But fries are good, and so are the cheesesteaks. It’s a bit bready, but all the elements are there, preparation is right, and the whole thing tastes mighty fine.

Dynamite Cheesesteak gets a big fat “meh…”. Which is to say it’s not bad, nor is it particularly good. It’s dry, undercheesed, and over-breaded. And it’s more expensive. berkeleybob thinks the best cheesesteaks come from Berkeley’s Cheese Steak Shop. It’s about as close to an authentic South Philly cheesesteak as you can find around here. They even fly in bread from Philly. Plus they have Tastykakes.

swillbill agrees that the greasy slop they serve here is freakin’ delicious. But do order the 7 inch, as the 10 incher will hurt you. This place may be a chain, we’re not sure, but it’s the sort of chain a lot of chowhounds believe in. They know what they’re doing, they know what real cheesesteaks taste like, and the volume business lets them fly in the right fixings from Philly. J T advises ordering “double meat”, as the regular cheesesteak is a bit scanty.

Joe’s Catering Lunch Truck [East Bay]
On the old Alameda Navy base
2501 Monarch St. #22, Alameda
Map

El Senor Burrito (at High Street Gas and Food) [Fruitvale]
720 High St., just off 880, Oakland
Map

Dynamite Cheesesteak [East Bay]
1221 Park St., Alameda
510-749-7100
Map

Cheese Steak Shop [East Bay]
1054 University Ave at San Pablo, Berkeley
510-845-8689
Locator

Board Links
East Bay Philly Cheesesteak Roundup

Fine Soup Noodles, Roast Duck

Scarf excellent soup noodles at BBQ and Noodle Garden. For $4.50, you can get soup noodles topped with two barbecued items; for $3.50, you can get sliced fish congee and various other small plates.

Their soup noodles are strong all around, reports Melanie Wong. The carefully skimmed broth is very light, nearly clear, and well-flavored. Noodles are as wiry as a Hong Kong diner would demand, and the iceberg lettuce is just wilted enough to bring out the slight sweetness, but leave some of the crunch. Whoever’s in the kitchen has a good touch; they’re hitting the textures spot on.

Meats are good too, and display the same steady expertise. Roast duck is tender and not too fatty, with nicely browned skin. The meat is well complemented by gentle spicing. Poached free-range chicken is properly red at the bone, and has very good flavor and texture, especially the toothsome plain skin.

BBQ & Noodle Garden [Richmond]
Formerly Wah Win Restaurant
5740 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
415-386-2388
Map

Board Links
Soup Noodles @ BBQ & Noodle Garden, SF