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

Rare Tropical Fruits in Little Saigon

Rambutan is incredibly hard to find in the States, but elmomonster found some, at a rare fruit specialist in Little Saigon. Next to toothless old women selling CDs out of a shopping cart, right past the Buddhist monks, by the pho shops, is Ba Tu Trai Cay Ngon. "There are two women outside, each from competing stores, yelling at the top of their lungs like auctioneers or snake-oil hucksters, trying to do anything they can to charm passersby into stopping in and buying their wares."

Ba Tu Trai Cay Ngon is a specialist in "fruit and produce indigenous of Southeast Asia—all that is weird and wonderful but are otherwise hard to come by the further north you go from the equator," explains elmomonster. The place is full of bizarre fruits.

Here, finally, you can get rambutan, "a fruit that is as weird as the rest of the lot, perhaps even weirder. As 'rambut' means hair in Indonesian, the golf ball-sized are indeed hairy—furry, even—resembling the dangling testicles of a red, alien creature."

The shop charges $7 a pound, which may seem a little steep, but this is the only store that brings you perfectly fresh rambutan. "The texture of rambutan, for those who haven't had it, is exactly like a lychee. But the flavor is tangier, livelier, just like the Little Saigon street scene I bought it from," says elmomonster.

Ba Tu Trai Cay Ngon [Little Saigon]
8920 Bolsa Avenue, Westminster
714-894-5852

Discuss: Found: Rambutan in Westminster's Little Saigon (with PHOTOS!)

All Japanese and Fried, All the Time

Los Angeles finally has a specialist in kushiage, a subgenre of Japanese cooking devoted to the deep-fryer. It is, specifically, about deep-frying skewers of stuff, and it's pretty much the most popular thing in Osaka ever, explains exilekiss. This is not tempura frying; most of the stuff is breaded in a traditional mixture of panko, flour, and egg.

Now LA has Horon, and it's pretty darn good. The quality is a little varied, says exilekiss, but when it's on, it's spectacular. Take Horon's signature item, buta bara negima, pork belly and Welsh onion. On the first visit, it was completely stunning, says exilekiss: "a perfect bite of buttery, delicious pork fat, skin, and lean meat, very fresh and satisfying." On another visit, it was a little unbalanced, with one chunk all lean, another chunk all fat.

Tsukune (chicken meatballs) is another signature dish. It's perfectly fried, with crispy batter and tender, juicy marinated ground chicken. Shiitake tsukune is spectacular, "with a delicious balance of the unmistakable shiitake mushroom fragrance and a juicy blend of ground chicken," says exilekiss. Hotate bata (scallops with butter) comes without the usual panko breading, and is the better for it. "A fresh scallop with a very light butter marinade, it's a pleasurable, deep fried bite of sweetness," says exilekiss. And ika uno no se (squid with sea urchin) is a perfect thing, with fresh, tender, perfectly toothsome squid and beautifully buttery uni to match.

One of the best skewers from the vegetable menu is guri-n aspura no be-kon maki, green asparagus bacon wrap. It's a classic pairing, and the powerful asparagus flavor shines through the earthy, funky bacon.

The place is not perfect. Some of the servings are shockingly small, like the $1 gingko nut skewer that comes with two tiny nuts. And some of the dishes are a bit unbalanced. And you may wear out from the fact that everything comes in the same batter. But there's tons of awesomeness throughout the menu, and you can explore happily for many a visit.

Horon [South Bay]
2143 W. 182nd Street, Torrance
310-515-6147

Discuss: Deep Fried Skewer Madness – L.A.'s New Kushiage Specialist – Horon [Review] w/ Pics!

The Workingman’s Bistro Verdu

Michael Ruiz, famed of the beloved, but departed, Bistro Verdu and Ingredients, has come back to Montrose. He's opened Fork Bistro as a "working class bistro," says patz. "His style of cooking is always what I want to eat when I don't want to cook for myself," says chez cherie, and Fork is "unadulterated Ruiz—charcuterie, great cheese and small plates, as well as a bunch of satisfying braised dishes that are perfect for this cold snap."

Ruiz's beloved duck confit salad with arugula and Marcona almonds is back. Yam ravioli is excellent, laced with the delicate flavor of truffles. Short ribs with root vegetables and noodles is another homey, comforting dish, perfect for a chilly night, says Jack Flash. But the big favorite is pork shoulder with polenta and bacon. "The crunch of the bacon, combined with the tender pork shoulder and the texture of the buttery polenta, complemented each other perfectly," says patz. Add a side of roasted Brussels sprouts (with more bacon), and you've got loads of "earthy nuggets of goodness," says chez cherie.

Fork Bistro [San Fernando Valley - East]
2263 Honolulu Avenue, La Crescenta-Montrose
818-248-2100

Discuss: Fork Bistro – Montrose
bistro verdu + ingredients=fork Montrose

Much Cheddar for a Bit of Cheese

How would you feel about paying $50 for a pound of cheddar cheese? OK, hang on a second—how would you feel about paying $50 for a pound of 15-year-old artisan-made cheddar cheese?

If you're enthusiastic about that, you're probably from Wisconsin and/or a cheese aficionado. Hook's, a well-regarded artisan maker of cheese based in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, is putting about 1,200 pounds of the stuff (i.e., $60,000 worth) on the market.

If you've never had a good 10-year (or older) cheddar, seek one out—these aged cheddars are both mellower and more complicated than their younger counterparts, which tend to have a more one-dimensional sharpness to them. The old stuff pairs well with a number of different foods and beverages. Bourbon is a surprisingly good match, as is a slice of apple pie.

Overheard on the Los Angeles Boards

"Went to El Gran Burrito to grab a quick bite around 8 and what do I see, the vertical al pastor spit with flames!"
-Burger Boy

"As an aside, Arcadia seems to be in the midst of an invasion of branch Chinese restaurants from the west San Gabriel Valley."
-Chandavkl

"Honestly, i'm korean and i love the Costco kimchi."

-esquimeaux

Beware of Bagels

The Wall Street Journal has published an oddly in-depth look at "BRIs," a.k.a. "bagel-related injuries." Yes, it turns out that there are more bagel-related injuries rolling into the ER (1,979 in 2008, says the WSJ story) than many other food-related injuries such as pumpkin (1,195) or cheese (1,236). This has prompted quite a few bagel-slicing gadgets to hit the market, such as the Bagel Guillotine, which sells 80,000 units a year and is considered "history's most successful bagel-control device."

Now, according to the WSJ, there are other bagel-control-device entrepreneurs looking for a slice of the pie bagel. Dennis and Michael Moss, a father-son duo out of Rochester, New York, are the inventors of the Brooklyn Bagel Slicer, "a slender knife fitted inside a molded-plastic guard." The WSJ article makes it sound like people are maiming themselves fairly regularly in the name of bagel slicing. But are these gadgets really necessary?

A Gem in Red Hook: Kevin’s After Dark

Brooklyn Chowhounds were quick to embrace Kevin's for brunch, but slower to catch up with it for dinner. Day and night, it turns out, this place is "a gem," Steve R says: an assured, chef-driven restaurant with a flair for seafood.

Its cioppino (a seafood stew from southern Italy by way of San Francisco) is outstanding, scented with saffron and full of fresh fish and shellfish. Crab cakes are "dynamite," happily paired with greens. Crêpes are made to order with a fresh, delicious lobster filling. Pappardelle comes with big whole shrimp in an agreeably creamy sauce.

Steve, who admits he "went with high hopes and low expectations, given how many 'next best thing' places we've already been to (and been disappointed at) in Bklyn," says Kevin's is the real deal and a pleasant surprise. He faults only the overly bright lighting and wishes the dinner crowd were less sparse. "Just turn down the lights & fill it up," he writes. "We'll be back."

Kevin's [Red Hook]
277A Van Brunt Street (between Visitation Place and Pioneer Street), Brooklyn
718-596-8335

Discuss: Dinner at Kevin's: Red Hook

Groceries in Front, Terrific Tortas in Back

Behind Jalapeño Deli's unassuming storefront is a crack Mexican kitchen that turns out some of the best tortas in East Harlem, says JungMann. Chorizo is a highlight, its spicing beautifully balanced. Quesadillas, made with Cotija cheese and, if you ask, an off-menu option of very flavorful chicken, "threaten to be an addiction." Avoid carnitas, JungMann warns: "mostly flaccid pieces of fat."

One reason he was delighted to find this place was that El Paso Taqueria, an uptown minichain once heartily recommended by Chowhounds, wasn't doing it for him anymore: "Sadly it seems to have left the dynamic spicing and quality behind."

Jalapeño Deli [East Harlem]
1629 Lexington Avenue (between E. 102nd and 103rd streets), Manhattan
212-828-2803

Discuss: Help Me Love 97th & Lex

Simplehuman Sink Caddy

Simplehuman, the company that makes ridiculously high-end garbage cans, sent samples of its new sink caddy to the CHOW offices. It hooks on the side of your sink, and you can put your sponge inside. It's tasteful-looking brushed steel and black rubber instead of moldy clear plastic.

Simplehuman Sink Caddy, $16.99

In a Changing Staten Island, Refined Turkish

The Turkish food at Seaside is quite good and a notch more refined than average, BMartin suggests. Adana kebabs of hand-chopped lamb are a standout, as is a hot appetizer platter of falafel, grilled liver, fried calamari, and lamb-stuffed phyllo "cigars." "So good food. A little expensive," BMartin concludes. Flaco likes the lamb shawarma and Turkish bread, fresh out of an oven that also turns out pizza and calzones. "No complaints at all," he writes, "with some very nice touches."

Seaside replaced an old-timers' bar near the boardwalk in Staten Island's South Beach, and its uncertain pedigree speaks to a changing borough. BMartin hears Turkish music and Russian conversation in the air. Flaco describes the owners as "'Russian,' which could mean anything in South Beach, with kitchen staff ranging from Albania to Puebla." The Turkish beer Efes is on tap, he observes, "so someone is really trying to keep the Ottomans happy."

Seaside [Staten Island]
124 Ocean Avenue (near Robin Road), Staten Island
718-727-9000

Discuss: Finally went to new Staten Island Turkish Restaurant
Seaside Turkish South Beach SI