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

Bring Wine, Pay Double

Bring Wine, Pay Double

Do restaurants ever waive corkage fees? READ MORE

Killer on Wheels

Psst—know where to buy a mobile slaughterhouse? The state of Vermont may soon be in the market for a pair of ‘em, according to the AP. At the moment, small farmers there face months-long waiting lists and multihour commutes to get their livestock “processed” at one of the state’s two overbooked USDA-certified facilities. The mobile processing units could save these farmers—who take only, say, five chickens at a time to the slaughterhouse—a lot of headaches (and probably also a bundle of cash).

Turns out Vermont isn’t the first state to roll out the death-cab-for-cows idea, but it has been the site of recent protests over slaughterhouse rules. If animals are killed without federal inspection, farmers are allowed to use the meat only for “personal consumption”—except in the case of chicken, which can be sold directly from the farm stand (though not to restaurants, a state court ruled last summer).

I knew raw milk was available at some small farms around the country, but the chicken loophole was news to me. Has anyone had occasion to try off-the-grid meat, either in Vermont or another state?

Astounding Macrobiotic (Not a Typo!)


La Pâtisserie Belge (3485 Avenue du Parc, Montréal, Quebec; 514-845-1245) makes some of the best croissants in town.

Ah, to be an ant endlessly devouring my way through this mother lode of crisp, fluffy croissants …

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Aux Vivres (4631 Boulevard St. Laurent, Montreal; 514-842-3479) is both macrobiotic and enormously delicious. That’s a radical statement, I know. For some perspective, consider that Googling “macrobiotic” and “enormously delicious” yields precisely zero results.

Why can’t other vegetarian places be one-tenth this good? This is not merely “great for a vegetarian restaurant.” It’d rate deliriously in any category (thanks to filmmaker Adrienne Amato for the tip!).

The kitchen’s staffed by magicians. Muffins come on like nothing special, with very little sugar. Then you notice fruit flavor building to a climax so intense that you can’t imagine how the baker pulled it off. You find yourself coaxing every last drop of salad dressing out of its little cup. Leftovers are likely to be ravaged moments after leaving the restaurant.

It’s quite the low-profile operation.

Two complete brunch choices—at an absurdly low price.

Their chapati with vegan butter is worth a plane trip. I have no idea what “vegan butter” is, except that it’s too good to be legal. The combination with melt-in-your-mouth chapatis could make a strong man weep.

I couldn’t help gnashing at leftovers, despite heavy traffic.

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Fun between-meal activity: a trip to the Biodôme (4777 Avenue Pierre-De Coubertin, H1V 1B3, Montreal; 514-868-3000), where one walks transportively through exotic ecosystems. There’s a phone link where you can ask questions of people in Antarctica. Cool!

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The residents of Spain’s northwestern corner get around. At one time, there were Galician (“Gallego” in Spanish) social clubs in many major world cities. Assimilation having taken its toll, such clubs are rarities nowadays. So I was especially happy to come upon the creaky Centre Gallego De Montreal (4602 Boulevard St. Laurent, Montreal; 514-843-3821).

The food tastes as if it had been made by a South American chef. And there’s a Portuguese waiter. And menus are in French as well as Spanish. But the room is stocked with the requisite 5-foot-5 older bald guys in sweater vests playing cards and smoking cigars, so the experience took me utterly back to Iberia.

Service is a shambles—for example, it took a half-hour to pay the bill. But who am I to complain? This is a private social club; I shouldn’t have even been allowed to wander in in the first place.

Tortilla—one of my favorite things in the world!

The tortilla (potato omelet) sported a palpable Latin American touch, but is clearly made from a Galician recipe, with lots of onion, potatoes diced in non-uniform chunks, and extremely runny egg (request “buen hecho” if you want it more fully cooked). Bread’s authentically Spanish. Flan looked top-notch. To those who’ve spent time in Spain, or those who’d like to soak up the last remaining ripples of the culture that Hemingway wrote about, this is a remarkable place.

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When a Chinese woman in a French Canadian bakery (Boulangerie Séraphin; 5008 Boulevard St. Laurent, Montreal; 514-277-9290) hands you a little tart filled with eggy custard that could be either Cantonese or Portuguese, how do you decode what you’re eating? What if she turns out to speak good Portuguese?

I rambled theories into my voice recorder while walking through cold, windy streets, munching away contentedly. Hear the short podcast: MP3.

This, for comparison, is a different pastel de nata, and it was a lot better than Seraphin’s. I remember its flavor vividly … but can’t remember where I bought it. That and the unidentified Chilean alfajor—both evidence of encroaching Chowzheimer’s—will haunt me forever.

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St-Viateur Bagels are typical in a town where bagels spill off the line, hot to the touch, at all hours of the day, and clerks throw them snappily into a paper sack, from which they tantalize you as you strive to get them home intact.

Montreal bagels require some explaining. I wrote the following some years ago, and it still holds true (except that both Fairmount and St-Viateur now have satellite locations).

Just as San Francisco, compared to Montreal, is not really a bread town, neither is New York a bagel town. We have nothing to match the buzz, the palpable bagelicious life force streaming out of the city’s two most renowned bagelries, Fairmount Bagel (74 Rue Fairmount Ouest, west of St. Laurent, Montreal; 514-272-0667) and St-Viateur Bagel (158 St-Viateur, Montreal; 514-276-8044).

Montreal bagels are very different from ours. They’re a bit tougher in the skin, and a bit breadier (though certainly not fluffy) in the interior. They seem to have virtually no salt or malt or sugar, so it’s all about the wheat, which gives them a pretzely flavor. And they’re very roasty, with much more oven flavor. They’re much better plain and unadorned than ours are, but I suspect they wouldn’t toast nearly as well.

While Montreal bagels come in various flavors, it’s always the sesames that are hot and fresh (and they’re ALWAYS hot and fresh at these places; only a moribund bagel culture like ours in New York would have their goods sitting around for minutes on end).

I thought both bagel shops made excellent—and very similar—products. But in a side-by-side comparison, St-Viateur won. A St-Viateur bagel is a deeper toasty brown, with zestier, more robust texture. It’s bigger, browner, tastier, chewier … simply “more” in every facet that makes a Montreal bagel distinctive.

Good Label, Bad Wine

Good Label, Bad Wine

CHOW tastes wines with great labels and discovers the duds. READ MORE

Kitchen Stuffed

OK, granted, I’m a bit of a kitchen-gadget whore. But I can’t stop slurping up the reviews at Kitchen Contraptions, a blog loaded with posts reviewing interesting and/or innovative kitchen gear.

Lest you stop by with your discriminating taste in the “off” position, you should know to take each review with a grain of salt. The blog’s owner, the cacophonously named Blogpire Productions, is a Massachusetts-based company whose stock in trade is creating “niche publications,” a.k.a. blogs focused on such consumer ephemera as fast food, shirts, and shaving (who knew there were so many depilation fans out there?). Ultimately, the copy at Kitchen Contraptions is meant to sell Cuisinarts and KitchenAid mixers, so the editors are sometimes too enthusiastic about ridiculous tools like the commercial bagel slicer (a contraption I made fun of on the Grinder last week!).

Still, the rolling pin with a ruler marked on it so you can tell how big your rolled-out circle is? The Multicolor Dishrack? Kitchen gloves with a pink-polka-dotted ruffle? Mmm.

Mekong – True Vietnamese in New Brunswick, NJ

For cabrales, the coast-to-coast quest for America’s best bun bo hue is over. This spicy, beefy noodle soup, a more rustic cousin to pho, packs authentic punch at Mekong, a Vietnamese restaurant that opened in October. “Most versions I’ve had here needed to be dialed up a notch, but not Mekong’s,” says cabrales, who faults only a paucity of tendon, tripe, and other meaty oddments.

Banh xeo (Vietnamese crepe) is another standout; brownie praises its perfect texture and loves the woodsy shiitake note in the vegetable version. Also recommended: banh hoi bo lui (grilled rolled beef), bo nurong lui (grilled marinated slices of beef wrapped around onion), and bun dac biet (grilled pork, shrimp and chicken with spring rolls and noodles). Honey-drizzled fried bananas are a nice way to finish.

Another local bright spot for lovers of Southeast Asian chow is the newish Somerset outpost of Chao Phaya, a Thai place in Somerville. They serve well-prepared, robustly spiced dishes made from fresh, high-quality ingredients.

Recommended: green papaya salad, Penang curry with beef, crispy shrimp in tamarind sauce, and a special of wild boar with coconut milk and peppercorns. seal singles out Chao Phaya fried rice (with shrimp, chicken, calamari, egg, pineapple, cashews, and more), especially for its use of fresh pineapple instead of canned–“a corner that almost every other place cuts,” he observes.

Mekong Vietnamese Restaurant [Middlesex County]
351 George St., between Bayard and Paterson, New Brunswick, NJ

Chao Phaya Thai Cuisine [Somerset County]
900 Easton Ave., at Foxwood Dr., in Somerset Village shopping center, Somerset, NJ

Chao Phaya Thai Cuisine [Somerset County]
9 Davenport St., near Main St., Somerville, NJ

Board Links

Mekong Vietnamese, New Brunswick NJ
Mekong Vietnamese Restaurant in New Brunswick
Finally made it to Chao Phaya
Excellent Thai in New Brunswick
Where exactly is Chao Pthaya ??

Could This Be the Best Authentic Ramen in L.A.?

Gardena Ramen serves the best–and most authentic–ramen in Southern California, declares rameniac, who’s been hunting the stuff forever.

“Sole chef and proprietor Isao Nakamura’s little ramen shop with the unlit sign is exactly like something you would find on a nondescript side street in Tokyo. His shoyu ramen is a deeply complex concoction derived from torigara (chicken bones), genkotsu (pork knuckle), and niboshi (dried sardines). It is slightly opaque and just a tad too salty, but flavorful in impossibly distinctive ways. It is sweet yet savory. Rich yet light. The product of trial and error, until Nakamura-san found the exacting flavor he was looking for.”

There’s no menu–the only choices that will face you are: Miso or shoyu? Gyoza or no? Ramen broth takes time, but Nakamura-san boils his not just for hours, but for two days. Shoyu ramen is what you want to get; the shiro miso in his miso ramen kind of overwhelms the delicate flavors of the broth.

The soup is definitely on the salty side, though. Joe Blowe disagrees with the rave, saying the noodles are also a bit underdone and the bamboo in the soup is woody. Pass on the gyoza–they may be the worst in the South Bay.

Gardena Ramen [South Bay]
1840 West 182nd St., Torrance

Board Links

Finally found real ramen in L.A.

Recycle That Roadkill

Keepin’ it real in the Upper Midwest, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune brings us the tragicomic story of how roadkill becomes good eats.

The lede does most of the heavy lifting:

Ask Sophia Johnson for her baked orzo recipe and she’ll give a coy smile. ‘First,’ she’ll say, ‘some car has to hit a deer.’

One morning in January, some car did. At 7:20 a.m., Mark Johnson got the call: A young doe had been killed on Hwy. 62 in southwest Minnetonka. Did he want it?

Of course he did. He’s on a special list of folks contacted by the police department’s “dead deer list,” which turns the tragic climax of Car Versus Bambi into a culinary celebration.

It’s all part of the circle of life, and—surprisingly—there are local gourmets who swear by the venison à la automobile. Quoth the Strib:

Deer killed in the north woods and harnessed to a truck for hours can’t beat deer fed on “rosebuds and corn” in Minnetonka, Mark Johnson said.

Will this correspondent try to sign up for his local dead-deer list? He promises to give it a shot. Will he try super-hard? There’s a lot riding on the fiancée’s attitude toward having a 150-pound dead animal lying in the bathtub.

Best Taste Restaurant

Best Taste is prime chowhounding grounds. They serve excellent, sophisticated food for very low prices, says grocerytrekker, including a very refined soup of black chicken, ginseng, and jujubes ($1.99). This soup is full of medicinal ingredients–in English, the soup is sometimes called “Chinese penicillin.” Frog and mushroom porridge features half a dozen big chunks of frog legs, shiitake mushrooms, and tasty congee ($4.50). Lots of frog leg options are available. Pork kidney stir-fried with ginger and scallions ($6.50) is quite mild and tender, without the ureal tinge present in most kidney dishes. And the wor wonton ($5.50) is excellent, if that’s your thing. “I watched the young ladies making those wontons, so I suspected they would be good. And they were,” says grocerytrekker.

Best Taste Restaurant [Chinatown]
814 Franklin St., Oakland

Board Links

Black chicken & frog legs at ‘Best Taste’ Chinese, Franklin Street between 8th and 9th, downtown Oakland

Australian Meat Pies

Aussie meat pies recreated for American palates often consist of tough crusts stuffed with ingredients that are too good for you, says Tabetai yo. But the pies at Kearny Street Handheld Pies are authentic and delicious. Spicy eggplant pie with olives and tomatoes is excellent. Basque beef pie is nicely spicy, filled with pleasantly soft meat. It’s not an Aussie-style pie, but it’s quite good nonetheless. The whole wheat crust is tender and delicate. Two pies cost $5.75 and are enough for a meal for a normal person.

Kearny Street Pie Company [Financial District]
307 Kearny Street, San Francisco

Board Links

Kearny St Handheld Pies