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

Overheard on the New York Boards

“Chicken scarpariello should be made with the bone but 90% of restaurants use pieces of boneless chicken breast because it’s easier and cheaper. Roberto’s gives you the real deal.”
-JohnAM

“I remember my father decrying the falling standards in about 1967 or so when the last restaurant in Manhattan stopped serving skate … there were still some clubs doing it, but he saw it as the collapse of His Manhattan.”
-hazelhurst

“I think Carnegie is worth going to just to see the look on people’s faces when they see how big the sandwich is.”
-saeyedoc

Italian Surf-Turf Bliss at Marea

Sea urchin comes in a unique and irresistible guise at Marea. It’s laid over toast, draped with a translucent layer of lardo and sprinkled with sea salt. “The fatty pork aftertaste melds perfectly with the oceanic breeze of the urchin,” sighs uni connoisseur guttergourmet.

Talk about a killer dish—this one has guttergourmet pondering the hereafter: “In lieu of a casket, I want to be buried on a six-foot-long piece of toast with a mattress of uni tucked snugly under a salted see-through comforter of lardo.”

Adding turf to surf also pays off in richly flavorful fusilli with wine-braised octopus beefed up by bone marrow, tastyeating says. Other pastas worth trying include garganelli with sausage ragu, veal ravioli with sweetbreads and funghi, and rigatoni with cuttlefish, shrimp, and chickpeas.

For dessert, consider the affogato, a floatlike concoction of zabaglione gelato with espresso and the Italian liqueur amaro that’s “insane,” raves guttergourmet.

Marea [Midtown West]
240 Central Park South (near Broadway), Manhattan
212-582-5100

Board Links: Unique Uni Experience at Marea
What to eat at Marea?

Return of the Killer Baked Figs

Royal Crown Bakery hadn’t made any baked figs for a couple of years, but the much-loved fruits are back for 2009. jen kalb says they’re “stellar,” stuffed with walnut, flavored with orange and a bit of spice, and lightly glazed.

It’s also getting to be the time of year when Royal Crown, a hardy survivor in Italian Bensonhurst, rolls out its terrific chestnut cake. “Can hardly wait,” says Jen.

Royal Crown Bakery [Bensonhurst]
6512 14th Avenue (near 66th Street), Brooklyn
718-234-1002

Board Link: Baked Figs - Chestnut Bread

Em Thai Gets Real

Em Thai is going to a place where few of Smith Street’s unremarkable Thai restaurants go: Thailand. A newly added section of the menu promises authentically seasoned food and warns away anyone who might not be ready for it.

This is for real, says a somewhat surprised Elaine Snutteplutten, who’s been working her way through the new dishes. Seafood Phuket, steamed fish with spicy lime, and Bangkok minced pork topped with fried egg were all “pleasingly spicy and lacked the insipid sweetness that characterizes too much NY Thai food … definitely a cut above anything I’ve had from neighborhood Thai to date.”

Em Thai [Carroll Gardens]
278 Smith Street (between Degraw and Sackett streets), Brooklyn
718-834-0511

Board Link: New spicy section on ‘Em’s menu?

Drinking Nostalgically: Everything New Is Old Again

The Atlantic writes about an effort to take back the mai tai, a beverage that must surely rank among the most debased drinks in modern bartending. Typically a syrupy-sweet fruit bomb, it can—and should—have a more mature flavor. Julie Reiner, a New York mixologist, makes a mai tai “with aged rum, fresh lime, and almond syrup, with a little Corduba rum floated on top (so the last few sips aren’t diluted by melted ice).”

Not long ago, I edited a story by Nick Kosevich, a bartender whose attention to detail and interest in reviving now-too-sweet drinks (such as daiquiris) run parallel to Ms. Reiner’s; his meditation on the Old Fashioned ran for a few pages and included the following comparison of old school versus new school:

“Much of the modern-day Old Fashioned-related controversy can be blamed upon Wisconsinites. A Wisconsin Old Fashioned consists of 1 tsp of granulated sugar (usually a little white packet), 2 dashes of Angostura bitters, 1 1/2 oz of brandy, and a splash of 7Up. The sugar and bitters are added first with a splash of 7Up to dissolve the sugar, then the brandy is added, and topped with ice and 7Up to finish the drink. This version is then garnished with a flag (a bar term for an orange slice wrapped around a cherry) ...

“The classic recipe for the drink is 1 sugar cube, 3 dashes of bitters, and 3 oz of bourbon or rye whiskey, not brandy, served in an old fashioned glass on the rocks with a lemon twist.”

The explosion of boutique liquors and bitters available for sale, and the press received by mixologists, may suggest that Americans are getting more sophisticated about their cocktails. But the menu at any given faux-neighborhood midrange chain restaurant is a good reminder that we still have a long way to go. Once the real mai tai has made it to T.G.I. Friday’s, we might be getting somewhere.

Another Excuse to Eat Chocolate

Another Excuse to Eat Chocolate

This week's mission: single-origin candy bars. READ MORE

Overheard on the San Francisco Boards

“Best of all were the rendered pieces of chicken skin (shatteringly crunchy and paper thin) that they added to the sandwich. It added a component similar to a potato chip, but chicken flavored!”
-sfpizzalover

“Perfect crust, fresh apples, good sweetness (some will find it too sweet)... did I mention the crust?”
-telebear

“The burrata at A16 is still on my to-try list. The best I’ve had was from Ubuntu. This is better than that…. Since mine was just made it was nothing but sweet, fresh creaminess and so very delicate.”
-rworange

Gamine Seduces a French-Food Skeptic

“I have always been deeply skeptical about all aspects of French cuisine,” begins SushiMonster. “So many other great places to eat without the unordered side dish of attitude, no? Well, brothers and sisters, I got over it tonight at Gamine. Oh boy did I ever get over.”

Things start out well with excellent thin fries with garlic aioli; delicious Prince Edward Island mussels in wine, garlic, and butter; and calamari with spicy aioli. Better than well. “Three home runs and we’re just getting warmed up.”

The basic burger with blue cheese, served on a baguette, is positively orgasmic. Beyond basic, options include fish or vegetarian burgers, four cheeses, bacon, and even a poached egg. Marinated lamb, heavy on the garlic and thyme, is just about perfect.

“There is no great secret to what these folks are doing right. It’s called a cow. There is cream. There is butter. There is a LOT of cream and butter in everything. Not rocket science. This stuff makes you feel good. Duh. Have another glass of wine. It’s excellent, too.”

If there’s any room left for dessert, the crème brûlée is top-notch.

The restaurant itself is small, about “the size of your average suburban living room,” and “loud as bombs.”

“Once you’re inside, you’re in very good hands and there’s nothing to do but roll up your sleeves, loosen your tie, tip back in your chair, drink a glass of beautiful wine and thank God you live in a city that could support a little restaurant that’s this good. Everything is going to work out just fine.”

Gamine [Cow Hollow]
2223 Union Street, San Francisco

415-771-7771

Board Link: Gamine: Or, how I finally learned to trust the French

Chettinad and Indian-Chinese

In a sea of South Indian restaurants, Sri Muniyandi Vilas focuses on dishes from Chettinad, where, unlike much of South India, the cuisine is heavily nonvegetarian. The restaurant also specializes in Indian-Chinese cooking.

Chicken kothu paratha is a big winner, says zartemis. It’s a very large portion of well-spiced dark meat, served with curry sauce. “We’ll be getting this again frequently.” Pepper chicken is whole dark-meat pieces—most of the chicken here is dark meat—cooked in lots of onions and spices. There’s also complexly flavored chicken chettinad.

“Regular” biryani is actually Chettinad style, with egg, well-browned rice, and long-cooked spices. Meat (mutton or chicken) is served on the side, as is raita and curry sauce.

“I haven’t enjoyed the Indian Chinese dishes I’ve had elsewhere, but I like the all the ones we’ve tried at Muniyandi so far,” says zartemis. Maybe the best is the simple chili gobi, featuring cauliflower with a nicely fried crust and good heat. Sichuan chicken noodles, too, are surprisingly good. And if all else fails, there’s a wide range of the South Indian staples idli, dosa, and uttapam.

Sri Muniyandi Vilas [South Bay]
3064 El Camino Real, Santa Clara
408-829-5339

Board Link: Good Chettinadu and Indian Chinese dishes at Muniyandi Vilas (Santa Clara)

Everything Thanksgiving 2009

For the cheapest halal or Diestel turkeys hounds have seen, where to get a turkey with gluten-free stuffing, and a list of Bay Area restaurants open for Thanksgiving, check out this thread: Everything Thanksgiving 2009. Wine country has its own version.

Board Links: Everything Thanksgiving 2009
Thanksgiving 2009–Wine Country