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

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

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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

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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

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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

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Kearny St Handheld Pies

A Little Piece of K-town in Torrance

Torrance now has its second Korean grocery store, and it’s much more upscale than MarketWorld, says Joe Blowe. Like the Koreatown markets, it’s got sleek displays, sexy lighting, the whole bit.

Freshia [South Bay]
2515 Torrance Blvd., Torrance

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There’s a new Korean market in town

Really Thick, Really Fudgy Brownies

This recipe makes some serious brownies. There are 3 sticks of butter and 6 eggs in a 9×13-inch panful. They’re the thickest brownies chowser has ever made. They’re a wonderful cross between fudgy and chewy, says wyf4lyf. Many chowhounds call them flat-out amazing, despite initial skepticism about about brownies made with cocoa rather than solid chocolate. orangewasabi sums it up: “They are truly over the top chocolaty denseness. Incredible…Must.get.more.milk.” They’re better the day after baking–if you can wait.

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‘Man-catcher’ brownies

Which Are the Good Dried Herbs?

Which dried green herbs are worth using? Very few. Only oregano, thyme, bay leaves, and rosemary have decent flavor in dried form. You’ll find dried versions of just about every herb out there, both in supermarkets and from high-quality spice merchants, but except for these few, they’re pretty much tasteless–“like faded grass,” says xnyorkr.

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How to get anything out of dried herbs?