The CHOW Blog rss

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

“Chili Dog Nirvana”

SecretAsianMan thinks he's found a candidate for "chili dog nirvana" at Union Bagel, which uses Nathan's Famous dogs, for you sticklers.

The experience took SecretAsianMan off guard: "the dog itself extends past the bun, the raw red onions are finely chopped and the chili smells like, REAL chili! My heart starts to race. I don't have the courage to pick the thing up, so I use the fork."

It sure looks good. How's it taste? Damn good, says SecretAsianMan. "The meaty, even slightly gamy, taste of the Nathan's Famous is a memory blast from my childhood when real butchers, who made their own frankfurters, would give me a free sample." The chili is also flavorful and substantial, "chunks of ground meat in a savory cumin-tomato bath."

Union Bagel [Downtown]
512 West Sixth Street, Los Angeles
213-623-4580

Discuss: Awesome Chili Dog at Union Bagel

Overheard on the Los Angeles Boards

"It's unlike any egg salad sandwich I've had before; it's lush, silky, delicate, with accents of chives and black pepper with their homemade mayonnaise. This is a celebration of wonderfully cooked, soft, succulent eggs." - exilekiss on one great thing at Euro Pane Bakery

"I must give post-seder props to Whisk LA for their positively insane coconut macaroons. These pyramids of chewy coconut perfection were gleefully devoured by a group of people that were already stuffed to the gills." - pinpei

"[A] dark golden glaze of a sweet mocha nature is covering the bun. It's crunchy too!" - GenevieveCa, on the sweet buns at PappaRich

Diary of a New Food Truck Owner, Part 2: That Crazy Guar Gum

Diary of a New Food Truck Owner is an ongoing series where we talk with Meg Hilgartner and Siri Skelton, owners of a fledgling mobile soft-serve ice cream business called Twirl and Dip. In last week's installment, Siri and Meg committed to the idea of opening up a soft serve ice cream shop and bought a soft serve machine. With the 500-pound machine installed at a relative's house, the partners started trying to work out the recipes.

Making soft serve is hard. We wanted to make high-end, all-natural, really good tasting soft serve, but there are some real challenges. The main one: You can't put chunks through the machine. So strawberry with chunks of berry? Forget it.

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This Ain’t No Moonshine

It might sound like a cop out to sell un-aged whiskey for an aged whiskey price, but micro distilleries like Death's Door Spirits in Wisconsin and Tuthilltown Spirits in New York aren't just bottling their whiskey before they age it to make a quick buck. They're making it taste good and stand on its own. And it's paying off, with white whiskey cocktails showing up at places like Nopa in San Francisco, where it's used in a variation on the Manhattan and Rye House in New York City, where it's infused with apples.

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Rare Discoveries from Gujarat at Bhojan

Bhojan is doing a few things most of New York's Indian restaurants do not, and its dhokla, the steamed lentil cake from Gujarat, is as good an example as any. bigjeff finds it the freshest he's had, perfectly cooked and served with two sauces and a crunchy raw mung-bean salad.

Opened around a month ago, Bhojan is part of a mini-empire that includes Dhaba and Chola, among other northern-leaning Indian places. Here the focus is slightly different. Besides highlighting the underrepresented cuisine of Gujarat, this all-vegetarian restaurant makes its own sweets and also offers a lineup of chaat and other small plates (including chili cheese toast reminiscent of the hound-approved snack at Mumbai Xpress in deepest Queens).

A good one-stop introduction to the menu is a $16 thali combination meal: Gujarati, Punjabi, or "ashram"-style, a Buddhist-friendly variation that omits onion and garlic. jeff describes a generous and diverse feast that "kicks the ass of any thali I have ever had." The ashram version included, among other things, an amazingly smooth and tasty achar (pickle), an eggplant-potato dish "cooked so perfectly I can't even understand," and four or five starches (rice, breads, dhokla). Lau pronounces the Gujarati thali "awesome," with too many dishes to list; "everything was fresh, light and good," he adds—"felt good after eating here." There's also an $8 lunch thali, which ChiefHDB considers a good deal but sugartoof found a tad meager.

The vibe is energetic and the décor modern and bright, including photo-friendly spot lighting over the tables, so "get your gorillapods out," bigjeff advises.

Bhojan [Murray Hill]
135 Lexington Avenue (between E. 27th and 28th streets), Manhattan
212-213-9615

Discuss: Please Update Me on Curry Hill South Indian Options
Seeking superb 'food oasis' for my wife's 40th birthday – – > details enclosed

In Queens, Peruvian Beyond Chicken

Most New Yorkers seem to expect Peruvian restaurants to offer roast chicken, and Cuzco Peru in Queens doesn't leave them hungry. But for some its pollo a la brasa comes up short next to rivals like the popular Pio Pio chainlet.

corgi, who finds its chicken tender and tasty, if not as highly seasoned as the competition, suggests that we think beyond the bird. He says the ceviche, aguadito de pollo (chicken soup), parihuela (seafood soup), and leche de tigre, a soupy ceviche variant with shrimp, fish, and squid, are all tasty and reasonably priced. "Someone here CAN COOK," he declares.

Cuzco Peru [Rego Park]
98-102 Queens Boulevard (near 67th Drive), Rego Park, Queens
718-275-1575

Discuss: Cuzco Peru in Rego Park, Anticuchos? Leche de Tigre? This is not just another Brasa joint.
Read: Why did the guy cross the road?

Shanghai Refinement at Tang Pavilion

Tang Pavilion trots out some of the usual Chinese-American suspects, but buttertart says the smarter orders are specialties from Shanghai and thereabouts. She finds the bean curd skin with fresh soybeans the best and most refined version in town. "I love the slight texturing on the bean curd sheet," she says, "made by its being drained on a cloth."

Other good bets include tender lion's head meatballs, chicken with yellow leeks, asparagus with lily bud, West Lake vinegar fish, scallops with pickled vegetable and bamboo shoot, and rice cake with Chinese sausage ("splendidly chewy and savory"). This Midtown restaurant is a step above the norm in appearance, "nicely appointed with oxblood ceramics any one of which I would be delighted to own," buttertart adds.

Tang Pavilion [Midtown]
65 W. 55th Street (between Fifth and Sixth avenues), Manhattan
212-956-6888

Discuss: Tang Pavilion
Taste of Shanghai (Shang Hai Xiao Chi) – delicious shanghainese in flushing

How Not to Make Cooking Fun

Last week, CBS KPIX-TV Channel 5 came by our test kitchen to film three kids, Gamespot editor Ricardo Torres, and me playing with Nintendo’s latest video game, “Let’s Get Cooking.” The game was released after Michelle Obama challenged video-game makers to create games that would get kids exercising and cooking more, part of her Apps for Healthy Kids initiative.

After a weekend of playing it at home and another day of playing it with Leo, Matt, and Alley, three eighth-graders from the Bay Area, we concluded that it’s not really a game, nor is it very fun. It’s merely an instructional digital cookbook compiled by America’s Test Kitchen, which prints the nerdy and informative but somewhat dry Cook's Illustrated magazine.

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New Fermentation Craze Developments

Kombucha, once solely the drink of people who wear Crystal Body Deodorant, landed on the front page of the New York Times Styles section a couple weeks back, marking its graduation into the mainstream. Fermented products in general are having a heyday: kimchee, sauerkraut, cured meats, coffee, craft beer, stinky cheese, no-knead bread, yogurt. Here are some interesting new developments in the fermentation movement.

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Overheard on the New York Boards

"Got my wedding cake and wedding cupcakes here. Very pricey (spent more on the cakes than the dress). BUT all of it was delicious." - nicholel on Betty Bakery

"This was the essence of lobster flavor with sweet flesh and perfect texture. ... The lemon verbena put the entire dish over the edge with a silky understated but still present lemony taste—like summer on a plate." - OC Mutt on poached Nova Scotia lobster at Eleven Madison Park

"Recently, I've found that even when I order my food 'pet pet' or 'pet ma' I've been getting food that is spicy but not the full throttle capsicum blast that I expect. It seems that they've had too many people asking for heat that they couldn't handle. When I mentioned this to Mrs. Sripraphai she told me about their new codeword. If you like your food HOT and I mean REALLY, REALLY HOT, ask for it 'bomb.'" - corgi on Sripraphai