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

Plantain Patty Sandwiches

Flatten and fry two slices of green plantain, put some meat and cheese between them, and you've got the Venezuelan patacón. Patacon Pisao in Queens makes a fine one, says Miss Needle. She recommends the "full" option (beef, pork, and chicken), with a meat-to-plantain ratio she finds superior to that of the straight pernil (roast pork) sandwich. Besides patacónes, Miss Needle likes the big, flaky, meat-filled pastelitos.

Manhattan night crawlers may recognize the menu from the owners' original venture, El Dugout Patacon Pisao, a truck that parks up in Inwood and feeds hungry club-goers till dawn. Longtime fan foodyum2008 goes for its cachapas, sweet corn cakes served with meat, cheese, or both. "Other places put a lot of flour in their cachapas," foodyum observes, "but at Patacón Pisao they are perfect, more corn than flour!"

Just a couple blocks from the truck is the brick-and-mortar rival Cachapas y Mas, whose version of its namesake specialty is big, heavy, and "absolutely delicious," bottomlespit reports. The one with chicken, cheese, and salad delivers "the perfect combination of sweet and salty." (The "Mas" in Cachapas y Mas includes patacónes, empanadas, burgers, and the burritolike tacuchos.)

DaveCook notes that the cachapa is a not-so-distant cousin of the Colombian-style arepa de choclo, little cornmeal cakes griddled up by the beloved Queens street vendor known as The Arepa Lady. When this snowbird returns from her annual winter trip home, Dave suggests, a taste-off might be in order.

Patacon Pisao [Elmhurst]
85-22 Grand Avenue (between Haspel and Vanhorn streets), Elmhurst, Queens

El Dugout Patacon Pisao [Inwood]
431 W. 202nd Street (between 9th and 10th avenues), Manhattan

Cachapas y Mas [Inwood]
107 Dyckman Street (between 9th and 10th avenues), Manhattan

The Arepa Lady [Jackson Heights]
Roosevelt Avenue and 79th Street, Jackson Heights, Queens
No phone available

Discuss: Comida Venezolana found in Elmhurst
Venezuelan Food (Cachapas -- Where Have You Been All My Life?)

It’s Flatbread, Not Pizza

Astoria doesn't do great pizza, most Chowhounds agree. But it does something delicious and not so different from pizza, the focaccia at LoRusso. As zemilideias puts it, "the best pizza in Astoria isn't exactly pizza."

These surprisingly light flatbreads come with toppings that might include tomato, olive oil, and herbs; mushroom and ricotta; Bolognese meat sauce; or eggplant (recommended by MarcInSunnysideGardens). "It is probably the only place I'll go out of my way for pizza (or not exactly pizza) in Astoria," says E Eto.

LoRusso [Astoria]
18-01 26th Road (at 18th Street), Astoria, Queens

Discuss: Pizza in Astoria

Overheard on the New York Boards

"I have not liked it as much anywhere else...those crispy bits, full of sichuan peppercorns and cumin, WOW, major buzz!!!" - prunefeet on hot and spicy cumin lamb at Little Pepper

"[T]he single best sea urchin pasta in NYC is at Le Bernardin, which has a linguine dish in a obscenely rich sea urchin and butter sauce, topped with a generous heap of Osetra caviar. Unfortunately, it is an off-menu item and carries a very hefty supplement (like in the neighborhood of $100)." - hcbk0702

"[T]he pies are good but when you lift a slice to your mouth, you're likely to elbow somebody in the head." - elquijote on Motorino

The McItaly McControversy

Does the introduction of the McItaly burger mean that McDonald's is finally tuning in to the higher themes of gastronomy on the Italian Peninsula, or that civilization itself is under attack?

McDonald's would argue that the McItaly burger is a big step forward, as it's made from "all-local ingredients, including the artichoke spread and the Asiago cheese." Critics such as Matthew Fort at the Guardian in the U.K. say the Italian government's endorsement of the new product is nothing short of a "monstrous act of national betrayal."

Dan Mitchell at Slate moderates, sort of, but it seems pretty clear everybody's talking about different things. McDonald's sees itself as embracing Italian food and culture by making a burger tailored to local tastes using local ingredients. Points for the company: The move doesn't make McDonald's a local trattoria, but it does show that the company's paying attention to its critics and putting a bit more money into the local economy.


What Have You Learned from Home Fermentation?

If you've ever pickled, made your own sauerkraut, or experimented with growing your own sourdough starter, you've probably read Sandor Katz's book, Wild Fermentation, or been helped by someone who did. Now the granddaddy of today's DIY fermentation craze (and one of our inaugural CHOW 13 food trend influencers) is penning a follow-up. Katz, who lives in an intentional community in the hills of Tennessee, is collecting anecdotes and info for his new book, and would love to hear from fermentation hobbyists and pros. He sent out this questionnaire this morning. You can email him with your responses at sandorkraut at wildfermentation dot com.


1. Can you think of any practical tips you wish you had had when you
embarked upon a fermentation project?

2. Are there any common misunderstandings or fears that you have
encountered talking to people about your fermentation projects?

3. Can you describe any unusual flavor, ingredient, or process
variations that you have tried and especially liked?

4. Can you articulate any important life lessons you have learned
from your fermentation practice?


Beer Movies! (And Some Wine.)

We've seen a handful of interesting wine and beer documentaries popping up recently. First, there is Blood Into Wine, a film about the winemaking endeavor in Arizona of Maynard James Keenan (frontman of Tool, A Perfect Circle) premiering February 19 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Check out the website for info on screenings in other cities.) Keenan is infamously reclusive, and just the fact that he was open to having a documentary made about him is pretty interesting. He's apparently trying to bring recognition to Arizona's wine industry, and from the trailer, the movie looks pretty humorous.

Last week, a somewhat mysterious trailer for what looks to be a documentary on the late, great beer writer Michael Jackson, put together by the Wine Travelers, was posted on YouTube. There isn't much info on the film, other than a 2010 release date.

And finally, the folks at Stone Brewing have been releasing a series of videos about their travels in Europe and collaborations with Nøgne Ø in Norway and BrewDog in Scotland. So far the clips have been really fun to watch, with surprisingly high production values. There are four parts; here is number one. Check the Stone Brewing website for the other clips as they release them (part two is also out).

Thai Temple’s Bounteous Offerings

The food court at the San Bruno Thai Temple (officially known as Wat Buddhapradeep) has grown quite a bit in recent years, and there are plenty of delectable new options, observe hounds who checked it out recently.

Stewed pork leg is delicious, especially with the hoof, as recommended by the cook, susancinsf discovered. Gelatin and fatty skin really puts it over the top. Stir-fried radish cake with bean sprouts, soy dipping sauce, and chile sauce is also good; it's kind of bland without the sauce, but it grows on you.

Also new are steamed seafood in whole coconut shells, "boat noodle" soup served out of a real wooden boat, and curries: fish curry, pork and pig blood curry, and chicken and bamboo curry. The old standards of double-fried chicken (served with sticky rice and chile sauce), larb, green papaya salad pounded to order, and kanom krok (coconut pancakes) are great as always, says felice.

That kanom krok, a sort of sweet mini-taco, is made the proper way with two kinds of batter, notes Melanie Wong. And pork larb is transformed by slices of moist, perfectly cooked liver and "chitlins of the Lord."

Wat Buddhapradeep [Peninsula]
310 Poplar Avenue, San Bruno

Discuss: San Bruno Thai Temple - better than ever

How Do Lefties Peel Vegetables?

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Easygoing Barbecue on Gator’s Back Porch

Gator's Back Porch BBQ rights the wrongs of the chef's other restaurant, Dollie Marie's, says lifelong Southerner and recent Bay Area transplant mikeh. Whereas Dollie Marie's is middle-of-the-road Southern food fancified with a nice atmosphere for a high price point, Back Porch offers "high-quality, from-scratch casual Southern barbecue and sides," at good prices.

The "back porch" is actually a tented area at the back of Dollie Marie's where the meats are smoked. These include chicken, honey-glazed brisket, leg of lamb, ribs, and hot links. That brisket is melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the honey glaze is excellent, but it also reveals the kitchen's bias toward sweetness over smoke, mikeh says. Sides include red beans and rice, collard greens, mac ’n' cheese, pineapple coleslaw, and red potato salad. The collards are wonderfully silky, but the mac ’n' cheese is kinda flat.

Still, the brisket and collards are winners. Who knows, the Back Porch may eventually take over the whole restaurant. All meals come with cornbread: one meat for $10, two meats for $12, and three meats for $14.

Gator's Back Porch BBQ at Dollie Marie's [Peninsula]
1602 South El Camino Real, San Mateo

Discuss: Gator's Back Porch BBQ, San Mateo, CA - quite good for southern BBQ and sides in the Bay Area

Korean Fried Chicken, Crispy Hot or Cold

Crisp, juicy Korean fried chicken with a variety of sauces is the specialty at Coco Chicken, a new place in Fremont. It's very good stuff, says adrienne156.

Dine in and an order of chicken gets you an all-you-can-eat pass to the salad bar, a simple selection of iceberg lettuce and red cabbage, shredded carrots with raisins, canned corn, and crudites, plus a few Korean vegetable side dishes. Kimchee is available on request.

The chicken is impressively cooked, says adrienne, and its thin, crisp coating gets better as it cools slightly. It's undersalted, perhaps because it's typically served with your choice of five sauces, including a Korean red-pepper sauce with lots of honey, soy-garlic sauce, and honey mustard. The red-pepper and soy-garlic options are good, but the honey mustard lacks zing.

Chicken comes in small, medium, large or jumbo sizes; a large consists of eight drumsticks and four wings for $14.95. There's also bulgogi (beef, chicken, or pork) and kalbi (ribs), and sides of rice and French fries, and soda, beer, and soju to drink.

Coco Chicken [East Bay]
5010 Mowry Avenue, Fremont

Discuss: Coco Chicken (Korean Fried Chicken), Fremont