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

General Tso, Chicken Maven?

Any stories you've heard about the famous Chinese war hero General Tso cooking up a wok of his signature chicken dish are hooey, writes Francis Lam (who left the flaming wreckage of Gourmet behind for Salon's greener pastures).

The dish, or at least the real version of it, was created by Peng Chang-kuei, a chef who simply named the dish after Tso. But its journey to America took a weird path, brought to the Chinese-food-crazy New York City of the '70s by two competing restaurateurs who each studied with Chef Peng. Each wanted to put his own spin on the dish; one, Chef Wang, added a crispy batter to the chicken chunks and sweetened up the sauce. The dish, and the restaurant, was a phenomenal success, garnering a rare four-star review in the New York Times. Peng, noting all this in China, decided to try his own luck in New York, only to find himself viewed as copying his apprentices:

"His restaurant was still successful, and in the post-Nixon-goes-to-China Sinophilia, he counted among his fans Henry Kissinger. His star power fired the idea of General Tso's chicken into our national consciousness, but it was chef Wang's crispier, sweeter version that Americans fell in love with ... and made our own, mutating with every new Chinese takeout restaurant from New York to Kansas to California," writes Lam.

Image source: Flickr member pointnshoot under Creative Commons

Massive Meat Pastries, Deli Style

Some New Yorkers write off Carnegie Deli as a tourist trap that slings middling meats. But mix scraps of those meats with mashed potato and wrap it all in a rich, pie-crust-like shell, and you've got something hound-worthy, BigGuy says. That's the giant meat knish, filled with pastrami and corned beef. It weighs in at around three-quarters of a pound, he reports, and is a bargain at $5.

Sarge's Delicatessen does something similar, stuffing corned beef and pastrami into puff pastry. It's called the Deli Wellington, and it's "good stuff," ChiefHDB promises. And for liquid sustenance, RGR recommends Sarge's chicken soup with matzo ball and kreplach, $5 a pint or $7 for a 24-ounce serving dubbed the Souper Soup.

Carnegie Deli [Theater District]
854 Seventh Avenue (at W. 55th Street), Manhattan
212-757-3012

Sarge's Delicatessen [Murray Hill]
548 Third Avenue (between E. 36th and 37th streets), Manhattan
212-679-0442

Discuss: Yonah Schimmel is a disgrace
sick and stuck on the UES

Overheard on the New York Boards

"Turns out that the translation to English on the menu was a little bit mistaken: the dish is not fish but squid heads. ... They offered to take it back and make us some fish with cumin. No, no, no, no, no. Not before we snapped up a test squid head and decided immediately they were for us." - Reynold on M&T Restaurant

"Almost all the eggs they carry are a good medium sized embryo. This is what you want because it will have a tender medium young ducky/chick and a good amount of fluid. If the embryo is too large, there will be no fluid and the little birdy inside may have chewy feathers. Too little, lots of fluid and not much tasty birdy." - blatantdream on Tan Tin Hung

"I emerged from last year's visit into the blistery, cold air, feeling great, warmed inside and out, renewed. Margie had been telling me how business was down during the week, and, as I walked down Frederick Douglass and noted several shuttered and boarded storefronts, the impermanence of it all was driven home loud and clear." - Polecat on Margie's Red Rose Diner

Knife Skills: Troubleshooting

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Knife Skills: How to Make Julienne and Batonnet Cuts

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Knife Skills: How to Dice

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Knife Skills: How to Make a Bias Cut

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Knife Skills: How to Make a Roll Cut

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Falafel With a Touch of Mango

You haven't had hummus if you haven't had it warm, "finished with a sprinkle of paprika, fresh parsley, and a drizzle of golden olive oil," says rworange. And maybe topped with mushrooms and onions, the way it is at Amba, a falafel restaurant new to Oakland that aims to use local and organic ingredients.

And yes, with your crisp-fried falafel you can get amba, the popular Israeli condiment that seems more like something out of India with ingredients such as mangoes, fenugreek, turmeric, vinegar, mustard, chile, and salt. There's also fresh green and red schug, a Yemeni hot sauce. Hot pitas and fresh salads make for a really satisfying meal.

Over at the kosher restaurant Holy Land, the mint lemonade is worthy of its own religion. Made to order, it's a frothy, lemony slushie with bits of pulp and mint. But that's not all.

"I find it hard not to order their humus, felafel, and schwarma combo when I go there," says BernalKC. "I adore the dolmas at Holy Land. They are super-lemony and so very good," says milklady, who also likes the vegetarian soups. escargot3 loves the yummy vegetable items like beet salad, spicy carrot salad, and hummus. "Their Yemenite hot sauce—‘zhug’—is the best I've had outside of the Middle East. And the babaganoush is perfect."

Although Holy Land makes its own malawach, a flaky pancake much like paratha, rworange prefers the version at Oakland Kosher Foods, which is nice and flaky even though she suspects it's the frozen Saba brand. The grocery/eatery is tiny and packed with kosher wines, hot dogs, cheese, baked goods, and all kinds of other stuff.

"Their matzo ball soup was amazing, as good as my late, beloved Jewish grandmother's," says rednails.

Amba [East Bay]
6464 Moraga Avenue, Oakland
510-339-8000

Holy Land Restaurant [East Bay]
677 Rand Avenue, Oakland
510-665-1672

Oakland Kosher Foods [East Bay]
3419 Lakeshore Avenue, Oakland
510-839-0177

Discuss: Oakland (Montclair): Amba Kosher organic vegetarian restaurant - Babka, warm hummus with mushrooms, Lebanese pitza, shuee't, masbacha, ful, schug and more
Oakland: Holy Land - The mint lemonade is magic
Oakland Kosher Food - Malawach, Green's chocolate babka and 700 bottles of Kosher wine on the wall

Download CHOW Wallpaper

Here's the first in a new series of downloadable wallpapers, all shot by our in-house photographer, Chris Rochelle.

This giant portobello was part of our mushroom chart, and Chris recalls about shooting it, "Working with the space that I had, the whole mushroom wouldn't fit in the promo, so I decided to halve it, and include the reflection off the table, which still provided an allusion to the whole mushroom."

Below are multiple size downloads based on your monitor resolution:
1280 x 800 | 1440 x 900 | 1680 x 1050 | 1920 x 1200