The CHOW Blog rss

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

J’S Beef in Linden, NJ

J’s Beef assembles and serves an authentic Chicago hot dog: a garlicky beef frank, steamed and tucked into a seeded bun, then finished off with chopped onion, very green relish, sport peppers, dill pickle, yellow mustard, and celery salt. It’s the real deal and seems to hit all the right vegetal notes for fans of the style, reports hotdoglover (who, like many Easterners, is “not crazy about a dog with all that stuff on it”). The “J” in J’s is Jack, the owner, a Chicago expat who has Vienna Beef franks and most of the condiments shipped in from his old burg.

He makes a creditable Italian beef sandwich, too–tender, flavorful, filling, and a great deal at under $5, says georgeb. If you order it “wet” (with the bread dipped in the meat juices), ask for a fork–the roll will almost fall apart in your hands. J’s also serves brisket and pulled pork smoked over mesquite–not bad, says georgeb, “but for my money, the Italian beef will keep me coming back again and again, even though I am more than 100 miles away.”

J’s Beef [Union County]
902 W. St. Georges Ave. (Rte. 27), between University Terr. and Stiles St., Linden, NJ

Board Links: Chicago style dogs..Linden NJ

Superior Scones, from Soho to the Upper West Side

Alice’s Tea Cup has some of the best scones in town, a daily-changing selection that might include blueberry, buttermilk, peach, vanilla-cinnamon, and banana-butterscotch (among some recent choices). If you get them to go, be sure to ask for the little containers of clotted cream and fruit preserves. “Really, really good and fresh,” sighs dippedberry–who unlike many other hounds is no fan of the soups, salads, and sandwiches that round out the light menu.

Nuray recommends Once Upon a Tart, especially for its fresh berry and cheddar-dill scones.

Two other favorites: Dean and Deluca–try the chocolate chip, urges erin–and Balthazar.

Alice’s Tea Cup [Upper West Side]
102 W. 73rd St., near Columbus Ave., Manhattan, NY

Alice’s Tea Cup II [Upper East Side]
156 E. 64th St., near Lexington Ave., Manhattan, NY

Once Upon a Tart [Soho]
135 Sullivan St., between Prince and Houston, Manhattan, NY

Dean and Deluca [Citywide]
multiple locations

Balthazar [Soho]
80 Spring St., at Crosby St., Manhattan, NY

Board Links: Scones

Bargain Bread

At the Oroweat outlets around town, you’ll find more than day-old bread. Says monku, the outlets also have fresh products that the retail stores didn’t take that day. Fresh bread is only delivered to supermarkets Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday-Friday (commercial bakeries are closed on Sunday and Wednesday). They stock Bob’s Red Mill whole grain products as well as buns and loaves of bread. Oroweat also owns Entenmann’s, so some of the outlets offer both products. But Surfas these places are not…some compare them to Hostess outlets.

Oroweat Baking Co [Culver City-ish]
9501 Culver Blvd., Culver City

Oroweat Baking Co [South Bay]
1766 Sepulveda Blvd., at Cabrillo, Torrance

Oroweat Baking Co [East San Fernando Valley]
4320 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank

Oroweat Bakery Thrift Store [Pasadena-ish]
1101 Mission St., South Pasadena

Oroweat Baking Co [East LA-ish]
480 S. Vail Ave., Montebello

Oroweat Baking Co [San Gabriel Valley]
4030 Temple City Blvd., Rosemead

Oroweat Baking Co [West San Fernando Valley]
21423 Strathern St., Canoga Park

Entenmann’s-Oroweat Baking Co [West San Fernando Valley]
5029 Kanan Rd., Agoura Hills

Oroweat Baking Co [South OC]
1220 E. Howell Ave., Anaheim

Oroweat Baking Co [Inland of LA]
8991 Rose Ave., Montclair

Oroweat Baking Co [Inland of LA]
10555 Magnolia Ave. # A, Riverside

Entenmanns Bakery Inc [North OC]
10751 Bloomfield St., Los Alamitos

Oroweat [OC Beaches]
9106 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach

Oroweat [South OC]
24451 Alicia Pkwy. # C9b, Mission Viejo

Oroweat Bakery Outlet [Inland of OC]
170 S. Tustin St., Orange

Oroweat Bakery Outlet [South OC]
33208 Paseo Cerveza # A, San Juan Capistrano

Board Links: Orowheat Outlet?

Salmon With a Dairy Chaser

At the new Cambrian Plaza Farmer’s Market (Wednesdays, 4-8 p.m.), one of the best booths is the one run by Red River Smoke House, which smokes a range of fish at their Half Moon Bay smokery. The little tub o’ magic here is their smoked salmon and cream cheese spread. It’s full of bits of smoky salmon that are actually visible to the naked eye. “The predominant flavor is that of fish with a cool dairy chaser,” says Ken Hoffman.

These guys are regulars at farmers’ markets throughout the Bay Area.

Cambrian Park Farmers’ Market [South Bay]
Camden and Union Aves., San Jose

Red River Smoke House [Peninsula]
205 Yale Ave., Half Moon Bay

Board Links: Red River Smokehouse—top flight Salmon spread

Go West for Dinner with a View

The latest designer steakhouse, or one of the latest (it’s hard to keep track), West has an impressive location atop Hotel Angeleno, by the 405. Yes, the view is basically of the freeway, but all those colored lights actually look pretty when you’re not stuck in traffic below. So try to get a window seat.

For a steak place, the most unanimous raves are for the pastas–porcini gnocchi and fresh ravioli stuffed with juicy, flavorful short rib meat.

A lot of the appetizers sound good-not-great, but white anchovies on crisp celery with blanched almonds stand out. Burrata with char-grilled peppers is lovely.

As for steaks, the verdict is mixed. tokyoastrogirl (who was invited for a free meal) says her 20-ounce, bone-in ribeye with chile rub was one fine piece of meat (roast chicken pales by comparison), but no hint of chile anywhere. MikeLewis75 had the porterhouse, and says the quality and seasonings are nice but medium-rare came a bit too charred. diningdivala found both the sage-rubbed veal chop and the steak pretty bland. In the end, non-steak dishes seem more appealing.

For dessert, the molten chocolate cake (surrounded by what seem to be pink peppercorns coated in chocolate) is a winner. Fondue, which takes 15 minutes, is okay, but peach tartlet with mint confounds almost all who encounter it.

The biggest props of all are for service–courteous, accomodating, quick to right any wrongs.

West Restaurant [Wealthy Westlands]
in Hotel Angeleno
170 N. Church La., Los Angeles

Board Links: WEST restaurant- review w/ photos

All Raw, All Vegan … and All Good

The big surprise of Cafe Gratitude is that an all-raw, all-vegan restaurant can impress the hell out of everybody, even the decidedly non-vegan Melanie Wong. All hounds are unanimous in their praise of Gratitude’s crackers. They’re delicious and crispy, especially the red crackers with flax seeds. The thick-cut, brown cracker out pumpernickels most pumpernickel breads. These crackers show up in a lot of dishes. The “I am happy” platter consists of hummus with crackers; the “I am present” platter is the cheese of the day (like, for instance, soft cashew cheese) with apples, olive tapenade, crackers, and toast. Agrees david kaplan, the crackers are absolutely terrific. His favorite dish for pure cracker enjoyment: bruschetta, where crackers are topped with tomatoes and other nibblies.

Their guacamole is luscious and beautiful; salsa is zingy and fresh. Another favorite: crimini mushrooms, stuffed with soy sauce-flavored nut paste. The dish with kimchee and vegetables over rice or quinoa is great, and displays their willingness to make things properly spicy.

Desserts are the biggest surprise of all; they’re unqualifiedly tasty. Lemon pie is satisfyingly tart; soft-serve ice “cream” is full of the natural sweetness of dates and a touch of vanilla. Best of all: a creamy key lime pie, vibrant with lime, over a fine date and nut crust.

Not so great: dull tapenade; bitter, stringy kale and seaweed salad; and underspiced, mushy falafel. And Caesar salad is a failure. You try making a Caesar salad without anchovies. Or cheese

And a final word of warning, from Melanie: be careful about some of their drinks, if you’re not used to a high-fiber diet. We don’t want anybody to get hurt out there.

Cafe Gratitude [Mission]
2400 Harrison St., near 20th St., San Francisco

Board Links: “I AM ABUNDANT” . . . Cafe Gratitude, San Francisco

The Great Books Program, Alcoholics’ Edition

Great books on cocktail making?

Gromit says he’s read every cocktail book of note, and his favorite by far is “Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century,” by Paul Harrington and Laura Moorhead. It doesn’t attempt to be a complete compendium of every possible concoction; there are, in fact, relatively few recipes. But it offers a deep understanding of what makes a good cocktail. In spite of its non-comprehensiveness, this is the best choice for a new mixologist to grok the true classics of cocktail.

“The Joy of Mixology,” by Gary Regan, is hardcore, and definitive, says JeremyEG.

“Esquire Drinks” is a thorough introduction to cocktails and how to make them. It’s got plenty of new cocktails, but manages to avoid the “juvenile abominations being passed off as adult beverages today,” sniffs warrenr.

“The Craft of the Cocktail,” by Dale DeGroff is a beautiful book, with nice pictures, cocktail history, and recipes for cocktails both classic and trendy.

“Cowboy Cocktails,” by Grady Spears, has interesting versions of standards, and cool garnishes and munchie recipes, too.

“The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks,” by David Embury, is one of the seminal texts on mixology, says Tom Swift.

Best Cocktail Book?

Some Great Sippin’ Vermouths

jacquelinec’s heart has been captured by Vya Vermouth, a half-sweet, half-dry vermouth. Serve it on the rocks, and sip it. Chris VR agrees, never having realized vermouth could be so good on its own.

warrenr insists that the best sweet vermouth on Earth is Carpano Antica Formula. It’s almost too good to mix. And darren72 recommends Carpano’s Punt e Mes, which is also excellent on the rocks.

Board Links: Great vermouth

Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes are the green shoots that grow from developing bulbs of certain strains of garlic. They usually curl at the top, and may have little white blossoms which sometimes contain what looks like a tiny garlic clove. Garlic growers have to lop them off to keep the bulb developing underground, so scapes are a fleeting seasonal crop most likely found at farmers’ markets.

Scapes are delectable, with a gentle flavor that’s much less pungent than mature garlic. They can be used to lend a garlic perfume (e.g., put a half a scape in a pot of cooking rice for a subtle garlic note), as an herb, or cooked and eaten like a vegetable.

Scapes are perfect pureed with butter to prepare herb butter for vegetables, fish, etc., or made into pesto with basil or another herb. Used as a vegetable, they work well paired with other green veggies (e.g., asparagus, peas) in frittatas or stir-fries.

Nyleve just lets scapes fly solo. Here’s how: cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces, toss in a large skillet with olive oil for a couple of minutes over high heat, add some chicken broth and salt, cover and let cook until tender over medium heat.

Board Links: Garlic Scapes

Spicy Mexican Pickled Veggies

Cynsa shares her recipe for Mexican restaurant-style spicy pickled carrots and jalapenos.

Hot Pickled Carrots and Jalapeno Peppers
8 large carrots
12 fresh green jalapeno peppers
1 medium onion

3 cups water
2 cups white vinegar
1 T salt
1 tsp dried oregano
2 dried bay leaves
24 whole black peppercorns

Scrub and peel carrots, slice on diagonal 1/4” thick. Wash jalapenos and slice 1/4” thick (remove stem, but leave seeds and white membrane). Cut onion in quarters, then cut slices 1/2” thick.

Bring brine ingredients to a gentle boil. Add carrots, resume boil; lower heat, simmer 10 minutes. Add onion slices and continue cooking for another 10 minutes on low heat, or until carrots are just fork tender (tender-crisp). Add jalapenos to pot; return to gentle boil, reduce heat and simmer for 3-5 minutes, just until chiles are no longer bright green (do not overcook, or chiles will be mushy).

Remove from heat; let sit covered for 5 minutes. When cooled, place in covered glass container. Refrigerate overnight before using. Will last a couple of weeks in refrigerator.

Board Links: Mexican pickled veggies?