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Recipe inspiration, tips, and kitchen hacks from the Chowhound editors.

Oscar Bait

CHOW isn’t the only publication for which Oscar night’s approach means doing a shout out to those films in which food plays a starring role.

CHOW’s piece has its quirks—no Big Night or Tampopo, yes Delicatessen. In Asheville, North Carolina, however, they’re more traditional, and the Asheville Citizen Times’ list name-checks all the usual suspects, from Babette’s Feast to Like Water for Chocolate. They get style points, though, for including a pre-foodie-era film, 1945’s Christmas in Connecticut.

The Akron Beacon Journal’s Oscar food piece is less a list than an exploration of how food fits into film. Apparently, according to Steve Zimmerman, coauthor of a tome called Food in the Movies, “People love to see beautiful photographs of food. People love to sit and look at the stuff.’’ Amen, brother. The piece even includes recipes, including one for Hannibal Lecter–inspired chicken liver and fava bean crostini.

But film food doesn’t have to be fictional. If you’re in L.A., Seattle, or a handful of other cities, in the coming weeks you can go to a real food film: the 2005 German documentary Our Daily Bread. A meditation on the nature of our over-industrialized food chain, Our Daily Bread has mesmerized critics with its images of the “surreal … nature of preparing food products on a colossal scale.”

Magical Lebanese Time Portal Bakery

Montreal, St-Hubert, and St-Lambert, Quebec

Boulangerie Zaatar (151 rue de Castelnau Est, Montreal; 514-274-4775) may be the find of the week. To all appearances, it’s a generic little Middle Eastern bakery. The owner, a sad-eyed older Lebanese gentleman, keeps an extremely low profile. There’s nothing about the shop’s exterior or interior, in the speech or manner of the proprietor, or in the display or range of his wares to indicate that anything special is going on here.

Even the baked goods themselves taste so artless at first bite that their grandeur is easy to miss. They’re neither fancy nor painstaking; this is a commercial bakery. But those weary of syrupy, vulgar Middle Eastern pastries ought to thrill to the quiet subtlety and soulfulness of Boulangerie Zaatar. You can taste the lineage—this is how Middle Eastern baking tasted a very long time ago. When this wizard—long may he live—is gone, a rare tunnel to Pastries Past will close. You can see him in the window in this photo (though unfortunately not his kind, intelligent, sad eyes):

Baklava is stupendously light. I wish I could adequately recount the profound experience of teeth penetrating the pastry’s inner reaches.

One trick is the use of slightly “ripe” ghee. Middle Eastern pastries lack the requisite nutty complexity if fresh butter’s used; tradition is to let the butter turn a bit … but not too much. You won’t find this mentioned in cookbooks (which is one of the reasons not to take cookbooks too seriously!).

These sesame cookies are masterpieces.

... as are these butter cookies.

Half zaatar/half cheese bread is the epitome of class.

He makes a few savory items, which show a deft touch even though they’re not his forte. Crispy sambusas are oily as all get-out, yet don’t at all taste it. I admire the bracing hit of vinegar in the grape leaves. Here’s the last one … clearly not long for this world:

Kibbe, perfectly fried, with lots more flavor layering than usual.

The remnants of some spinachy item that I, for some forgotten reason, felt obliged to show you before its final decimation.

The wizard watched me out of the corner of his eye while I munched, thinking I’d not notice. He’s used to people not noticing. I get the feeling nobody’s paid any attention to him in a long, long time. And I hope that changes.

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Montreal is such a wonderland of worldwide dining that it’s easy to forget that the city has its own culinary traditions. The acknowledged mecca of French Canadian soul food in Montreal is La Binerie Mont-Royal (367 Mont-Royal just west of St-Denis, Montreal; 514-285-9078). I love their breakfasts and their lunches, so we got both.

The innocent-looking sausage below is actually stellar—plenty of snap plus an erotically creamy interior. And the toast (what Anglo Canadians call “campfire toast”) is great, and definitely not the sort of thing you’d ever expect to find in a restaurant. This is the place to hit for the sort of stuff you’d never expect to find in a restaurant.

That’s “toupie ham,” and those crepes are ever so buckwheaty.

No sugar in these beans at all; just tons of fat.

Some lardy condiment.

Nonalcoholic “spruce beer” offers all the pleasure of sucking on patio furniture, but Montrealers are very proud of it, so I pretend to like it:

The affable waiter demonstrates the ritualized pouring routine, inverting the bottle to be sure all the resinous sediment (mmm … resinous sediment!) makes it into the fragrant pour:

I don’t recall which dessert this is, but it was charming simple goodness.

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After many weeks of ceaseless rambling, I was feeling pent-up in the city, so we crossed some bridges and drove around the ‘burbs, letting serendipity do its thing. I lightly freaked out upon spotting Bistro des Bières Belges (2088 Montcalm, St-Hubert, Quebec; 450-465-0669)

We ordered a number of esoteric Flemish and Walloon ales from the meticulously handpicked beer list:

And we asked for an order of carbonnade, the hearty Belgian stew dosed with strong, fruity beer:

Though these guys are Canadian, their carbonnade precisely evoked versions I’ve had in Belgium. The beef was properly tender and pot-roasty, and spicing was right on (lacking salt, though). Frites were crisp on the outside but luxuriously soft and potatoey inside. They came with homemade mayonnaise for dipping, and it was tangy, creamy perfection—even better than the mayo at Frite Aloors.

The owner’s a true believer, and it saddens me that suburban locals may fail to flock to his tidy place, quaff his weirdo beers, and acclimate themselves to Belgian home cooking. We were discussing food, and he recommended a charcuterie near the border called Charcuterie Stefan Frick (69 rue de l’Église Nord, Lacolle, Quebec). He also raved about duck from Knowlton, which by the time you read this he’ll likely be serving at the bistro. I subsequently found an interesting article on Knowlton duck.

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I found this awesome little cheese shop: L’Échoppe des Fromages (12 rue Aberdeen, St-Lambert, Quebec; 450-672-9701).

The store was crowded, so I didn’t make much headway into the cheese offerings, but I did pick up a brownie and a pastel de nata from their small but intense selection of baked goods. The former was exceptionally fluffy, with a brittle parchment-like top, and the latter was brilliant, though quite sweet. It’s impressive that Portuguese culture penetrates even out here in the boonies!

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I’d always wanted to try Restaurant Daou (519 Faillon Est, Montreal; 514 276-8310), especially because there’s such a dearth of good Lebanese in New York City these days. My friends Yuri and Stella have made a religion out of the place, which specializes in grilled meats of unusually high quality. Service is awful and ambiance feels like 1958 suburban bourgeois, but it’s all about the food.

I’d never had kibbe made with raw meat (kibbe nayyeh) and figured a restaurant known for quality meats would be the perfect venue. But they were out of kibbe nayyeh and served us, instead, kofta nayyeh—a.k.a. steak tartare. It wasn’t terribly interesting, but was nicely moist and unctuous, and a terrific combination with the mint and onion, eaten with bits of pita bread.

Excellent fattoush (salad with pita croutons and a dusting of sumac).

Daou’s mezzes (appetizers) are just OK.

Again, it’s about the meat, and I thrilled to a platter of shish-kebab and grilled chicken. The latter was highly marinated and impossibly moist. The shish-kebab was made from filet mignon, which was pure luxury—not just because of the unusually high-class meat, but because of the kitchen’s careful timing in broiling this finicky cut. Meats come with good saltless french fries and good-not-great toom (homemade fluffy garlic mayonnaise).

Desserts are as exemplary as the meats. In the photo below, the red cruet contains rosewater syrup for pouring on the pudding in the foreground.

The pudding’s real good, but the tayef is astounding:

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The next day, I find myself ensconced in the bar at the Montreal airport, where there’s been a major flight delay, and I have no idea when I’ll get home. The very cultured bartender just told me the chicken quesadillas were the most survivable option, and I snickered as I realized I was about to ingest my first meal-as-sustenance in over two months. My camera’s stowed away, and it’s time to mindlessly just eat.

But no. The quesadillas here at Le Bar Sportif inside Trudeau airport are surprisingly good. Authentically Mexican? Of course not. But I gobbled them happily. Plus, the bar pours Trevini Primo, a delightful merlot from Mondo del Vino MGM.

An airport score is the sweetest score of all.

I’m typing away at the bar, unsure which city I’ll be sleeping in tonight. But I’m unconcerned. Between the fajitas, the wine, and my uprootedness—and, above all, my conviction, much reinforced over the past nine weeks, that greatness is everywhere—I just don’t see why it matters all that much where I wind up. Even the airport’s pretty good!

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EPILOGUE: Montreal Leftovers

A few places I tried but couldn’t fit into my reports:

Patisserie Chow’s Pastry Shop (16 de La Gauchetière Est, Montreal; 514-904-0650) Good pork buns and coconut buns at a little bakery that’s somewhat hidden in Chinatown.

Restaurant Uyghur (1017 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal; 514-393-8808) was disappointing, but it’s a rare and interesting cuisine (that can be better sampled in Toronto and in Queens), which falls squarely at the intersection of Central Asian and Chinese.

La Casa del Habano (1434 Sherbrooke West, Montreal; 514 849-0037) is a cool cigar lounge that’s part of a Havana-based chain! Cool, elegant décor—you feel like you’re in an upscale cigar box. There’s a full bar, but they maintain the atmosphere of a relaxed living room. And the cigar selection’s great, including the luxest of lux, the holiest of holies: Trinidad Robustos (which we puffed expansively).

And I failed to follow up on a tip from my redoubtable chowhound friend Yuri:

“I encourage you to try my Chinese place … Bon Ble Riz on St-Lawrence between De Maisonneuve and Ste-Catherine … on weekend evenings the chef does a demo of noodle-making … the Bon Bon chicken and Orange Beef are world-class, as are the peanut-flavored dumplings …

As I surfed the Web to grab address/phone info for these reports, I found some impressive Web pages:

The Montreal Poutine site.

Good article on Montreal bagels.

Jeremy & Vinita’s Montreal Restaurant Guide.

Mallory’s Vegetarian/Vegan Guide to Montreal.

Grab the Recipes and Run

It’s a food-lover relationship dilemma: Who gets the cookbooks and recipes when a foodie couple breaks up—and how will you ever survive without his mother’s famous cheese bread?

This was the situation for Kirsten, as she relates on her blog Dine and Dish. The relationship was over, the divvying up of belongings had just begun, and there was one thing she simply had to get her hands on—a copy of his family cookbook.

My ‘ex’ came from a long line of Italian heritage. His mother had 10 sisters and 2 brothers, all whom were incredible, authentic Italian cooks. Several years prior the 12 of them, plus Nanni and Great Nanni, had teamed together to create a cookbook full of some of their favorite recipes. It was a true treasure…. There were recipes in that cookbook I knew I had to have. He could have everything else, just please let me have the cookbook.

Did she succeed? You betcha—and she even shares the recipe for his mom’s Italian cheese bread.

Me? I’m still kicking myself that I never bothered to secure the recipe for my ex-boyfriend Erik’s amazing abalone and peppers before that relationship came to an end. That dish haunts me.

Note to self: All is fair in love and war—but write the recipes down first!

Real Goulash

ashleys is impressed with the Hungarian food at DJ’s Bistro. This small restaurant, hidden in a small strip mall in Concord, serves up delicious, authentic goulash with spetzle and great apple strudel. Just ask all the Eastern European folks there, drinking Spaten/Pilsner beer on tap and raucously watching sports. Melanie Wong loves the tripe soup–the serving size is huge, but you’ll want to finish every luscious spoonful.

DJ’s Bistro [East Bay]
1825 Sutter St., Concord

Board Links

Great Hungarian/Eastern-European Food at DJ’s Bistro in Concord
DJ’s Bistro

BBQ Man Café

BBQ Man Café, while not wonderful, has improved since it opened. Now it’s a totally reasonable option for getting a barbecue fix, says David Sloo. Pulled pork, however, is moist and exceptionally tender–clearly slow-cooked with gobs of attention. Brisket is also tender and makes an excellent sandwich–it’s probably the best thing there. Pork ribs are dull–not dry, but not anything special. Skip the boring coleslaw and go for the tasty, satisfying beans–whole, rich-maroon kidney beans cooked with fresh red pepper. And watch out for the sauce. If you don’t ask for it on the side, they’ll pour a whole lake of the sweet, mildly spicy, utterly undistinguished barbecue sauce over your meat.

BBQ Man Café [Peninsula]
555 Willow Road, Menlo Park

Board Links

BBQ Man Cafe in Menlo Park.

If You Want That Promotion, Order the Salmon

Eating on the job is just as fraught as workday drinking these days, judging from recent stories in blogland and the papers. This week, Serious Eats pondered the power of food to brighten a day at the office—and to turn people who aren’t invited to share it into green-eyed monsters. Some of the commenters share horror stories of their own about people who don’t pull their weight at office potlucks and folks who criticize others’ dining habits. As LizNYC writes,

I get snide comments when I bring in lunch I’ve made at home. Comments that betray some sort of jealousy that they’re on their way to buy something from the deli downstairs when I’m eating something that took me an extra 10 minutes to make that morning.

The New York Times also recently discussed the pitfalls of eating in-office (registration required), where coworkers—and, worse, bosses—often make assumptions about a person’s character based on what s/he eats (and, by extension, how thin s/he is). One headhunter put it in particularly disturbing terms:

When I’m interviewing someone and I see their bones protruding, I know it’s a good hire. They’re extremely disciplined.

Yikes. I’ve definitely worked in offices where food is a source of community and fun, but it seems that it only takes one or two negatrons to spoil the experience—people who comment loudly on others’ lunchtime choices (“So that’s how you stay so skinny!”), the boss who barely acknowledges an employee’s homemade cupcakes, dieters’ constant commentary about the glut of free food in the office. And then again, a perpetual glut of free food in the office is probably not the best thing for anyone’s health or productivity. Perhaps it’s simply inevitable that when people from very different backgrounds converge to try to make decisions about food, there’s going to be tension.

Fish Eggs, Fish Eggs, Spaghetti With Fish Eggs

Spaghetti alla bottarga is one of the simplest dishes in the Italian repertory, but it needs top-notch ingredients. The two best in town, says bottarga fiend Ashibi, have got to be at Madeo and Giorgio Baldi.

Give the crown to Madeo, says Ciao Bob, who loves Baldi but says Madeo uses higher quality bottarga.

Cucinamore found Madeo’s pasta con bottarga strangely creamy on one visit, rather than the usual dry and oily texture. They insist there’s no dairy in there, though.

Briganti does a really nice version of this dish, says Jack Flash. It’s not on the menu, but it’s a frequent special–if you’re set on having it, call ahead.

Tarako spaghetti is spaghetti alla bottarga’s soul sister…or probably more like its soul grandchild. The version at Ducks is very tasty, just the right balance of noodles to sauce, says Hling. The curry, at least with beef, is tender and flavorful, with a dark Japanese-style curry sauce. ipsedixit finds the curry a bit to sweet and watery, but lapchern says it’s typically neither, and that it blows the likes of Hurry Curry/Curry House out of the water.

Madeo [West Hollywood]
8897 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles

Il Ristorante de Giorgio Baldi [Beaches]
114 W. Channel Rd, Santa Monica

Briganti [Pasadena-ish]
1423 Mission St., South Pasadena

Ducks Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
1381 E. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel

*Board Links *

The best spaghetti alla bottarga?
Dinner at Ducks

Nurnberger Bierhaus – Soulful German on Staten Island

Solid, hearty German chow is drawing happy crowds at Nurnberger Bierhaus. Expect ample, homey platters, none more ample than the Bayerischer bauernschmaus (Bavarian farmer’s feast), a massive meal of roast pork, smoked pork chop, bratwurst, and double-smoked bacon with mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, and red cabbage. Also recommended: spaetzle, sauerbraten, goulash, zigeunerschnitzel (pork cutlets with red pepper sauce), and jagerschnitzel (pork cutlets in mushroom sauce).

Open a little over a year, this friendly joint in Staten Island’s West Brighton neighborhood stacks up well against the island’s better-known German place, Killmeyer’s. “Light years better,” declares Miss Poste. “Where Killmeyer’s dishes seemed rather cafeteria-like, Nurnberger was incredibly homey and warm.” Nurnberger is “definitely the more serious German food destination,” agrees Epicure, who enjoys the authentic atmosphere and warm vibe as well as the chow.

Oh, and there’s beer, around eight kinds on tap–including DAB, Dinkelacker, Paulaner, Weihenstephan hefeweiss, and Spaten Optimator–and more than 40 in bottles.

Nurnberger Bierhaus [Staten Island]
817 Castleton Ave., between Davis and Pelton Aves., Staten Island

Killmeyer’s Old Bavarian Inn [Staten Island]
4254 Arthur Kill Rd., Staten Island

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Nurnberger Bierhaus vs. Killmeyers
Staten Island—is there hope???

Middle Eastern Update – Falafel and More Downtown

East Village newcomer Taj-Almoulouk has charged to the top spot in eca’s personal falafel ranking. Its fresh, light, fried-to-order falafel eclipses those from Taim and Chickpea (which now drop to second and third place). As good as the falafel is, the house-baked bread used for falafel sandwiches may be even better–soft, chewy, and more substantial than the usual pita.

Opened late last year by alumni of the popular Moustache restaurants, Taj-Almoulouk also serves salads, meze (hummus, tabouleh, babaganoush, etc.), beef shwarma and chicken or lamb kababs, and stuff from the oven such as zaatar bread, fatayer (spinach-cheese pies), and lahambajin (spiced ground lamb on flat bread).

There’s another houndworthy falafel at Ashkara, a newish vegetarian place on the Lower East Side, says rollergrrl. The falafel is fresh, handmade, and served with first-rate pickles, sauces and other fixings. Good hummus, too, plus soups, salads, house-made pita or malawach (Yemenite flat bread) and something unexpected: Belgian-style fries with a variety of dipping sauces.

For a cheap, filling Middle Eastern feast, bigjeff recommends Cinderella Falafel’s $9 vegetarian combo platter–falafel, hummus, feta, tabouleh, chickpeas, garlicky babaganoush, a rice-stuffed grape leaf, lettuce-tomato-cucumber salad, and nice fried cauliflower (which they sometimes neglect to include, so make sure you get some). It’ll feed two, especially if you order extra pita bread.

Taj-Almoulouk [East Village]
125 E. 4th St., between 1st and 2nd Aves., Manhattan

Ashkara [Lower East Side]
189 E. Houston St., between Orchard and Ludlow, Manhattan

Cinderella Falafel [East Village]
129 2nd Ave., between E. 7th St. and St. Marks Pl., Manhattan

Board Links

Terrific New East Village Falafel
Queen of Sheba-Not Good

Boudin Blanc

gordon wing recommends the delicious boudin blanc sausage from Taylor’s Sausage. The traditional New Orleans-style boudin blanc is stuffed with pork and lots of rice; this version is very savory and juicy, not at all greasy. It comes in hot and mild versions, so take your pick. It’s a snack available all over New Orleans–you peel back the casings, squeeze out the filling, and enjoy. (The casing is rather chewy, so most folks don’t eat it.)

Taylor’s Sausage [Downtown]
907 Washington St., Oakland

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Boudin Blanc–Taylor’s Sausage
boudin blanc!