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A Tale of Two Restaurants (or, Yin ‘n’ Yang in Nova Scotia)

Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and Port Williams, Nova Scotia

I’ve traversed Nova Scotia, trading the bucolic salty south shore for the bucolic salty north, where I scored a surprisingly inexpensive room ($125 Canadian) at hoity-toity Blomidon Inn (195 Main Street, Wolfville, Nova Scotia; 877-542-2291). Ah, sweet shoulder season. Look at this joint and tell me: Could life possibly get any quainter?

The dining room splays out among various alcoves on the first floor, making for a luxuriously personal setting. Here’s the view from my table:

Aside from the unbeatable ambiance and impressively professional service, it was a perfectly fine, thoroughly unmemorable meal. In fact, I can’t recall a single bite. But I’m glad to have done it … once (at this price—$53 Canadian—I wouldn’t return for seconds).

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Tin Pan Bakery & Bistro (978 Main Street, Wolfville, Nova Scotia; 902-542-5649) is one of the most enigmatic places ever. It’s as humble as can be—just a modest cabin by the side of the road offering a daily soup, a sandwich or two, and a couple of pastries. The woman in charge is quiet and polite, but her eyes brim with intensity.

I ordered potato leek soup (with biscuits), plus a muffin, and took it all out to the car, where one sip told me this was the most ingenuous of soups. Very little salt—in fact, it had very little flavor, though the oddly shaped chunks of waxy potatoes told me that the chef really loves potatoes. But it was the strangest thing: Nothing happpened in my mouth, yet this was one of the few items I’ve completely finished on this trip. I just couldn’t put my spoon down.

I’ve included two shots, hoping that if we all stare at them long enough, we’ll figure out what the magic is:

The biscuits also were phenomenally bland. I arrived late in the day, so they were slightly tough, too. And I couldn’t stop eating them. What weird, enchanting food!

This pensive muffin is also from the Tin Pan. Yup, utterly flavorless and utterly irresistible:

Only now, as I review these photos, have I noticed Tin Pan’s motto at the bottom of this sign:

Something about the font, the spacing, the capitalization, even the wallpaper behind the sign makes me suspect there’s an intelligence at work. The supernatural effect is, I believe, no accident.

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Tempest World Cuisine (117 Front Street, Wolfville, Nova Scotia; 902-542-0588) is a much-acclaimed restaurant, whose chef/owner, Mike Howell, seems to be one of Nova Scotia’s buzziest chefs.

He’s up on the latest trends—for example, his upcoming “Surreal Dinner.”

I was seated within view of the kitchen, so I couldn’t get away with taking lots of photos, but you can just visualize splashy, pizazzy presentations. I did squeeze off this one hasty shot of my slow-braised pork bellies in sour cherry gastrique:

The little square potato thingies on the left tasted rewarmed. The beety/cheesy thingies, on the right, were obnoxiously rich with cheese. And the squares in the center with the sauce are the pork bellies, which tasted nice. My pumpkin risotto was deftly made, but soulless. Pineapple and lemongrass ice cream sandwich (“our own lemongrass ice cream between layers of coconut milk–poached pineapple”) suffered from a remarkably low deliciousness-to-cleverness ratio.

“It’s SHOWTIME!” exuberates your food. And I suppose it truly is. This kitchen musters fine technique, interesting (if not always successful) juxtapositions, and sophisticated broad strokes. But everything left me stone cold. I had to force myself to take plodding second bites of things.

It dawned on me that Tempest World Cuisine, where skillful cooking entices nary a second bite, is the precise yang to the yin of Tin Pan Bakery & Bistro, where poor cooking is downright magnetic. A high-powered laser experiment must have gone awry, splitting a genius chef into two dysfunctional half-chefs. One works in a silent bleak cabin, the other a few miles away amid splashy accolades. One day I hope they find each other and merge.

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Café Central (corner of Cornwallis and Webster streets in Kentville, Nova Scotia) is just some generic small-town coffee joint with counter service, but their chowder and salad were leagues better than I’d expected. Have I just been chowhounding well, or are ordinary restaurants starting to try harder than they need to?

Classy-looking chow for a pedestrian coffeeshop, no?

I’ve been drinking more and more rooibos tea (see report #53), and liking it better and better:

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Fox Hill Cheese makes ordinary hard cheeses (though their fenugreek havarti wins points for creativity), but also sensational quark. You can find their products at the Saturday Halifax Farmer’s Market, at 1496 Lower Water Street, or at Fox Hill Cheese House (1660 Lower Church Street, Port Williams, Nova Scotia; 902-542-3599), where friendly staffers offer samples.

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This area was a bastion of Tories opposed to the American Revolution, and the British flavor is still palpable—particularly in the dark, woody, creaky Library Pub (472 Main Street, Wolfville, Nova Scotia; 902-542-4315), which could easily be a bar in Oxford. Downstairs, the same owners run the Coffee Merchant, a warm little hangout for teetotalers.

I’m Hatin’ It

I have to admit, my eyes aren’t what they used to be, so I don’t know if I would have caught the “subliminal” McDonald’s flash on an episode of Iron Chef America in real time. However, when you watch Pajamas Media’s slowed-down clip, there is no mistaking the big red sign and yellow writing telling us someone out there is “lovin’ it.”

Now, according to the blog at Broadcasting & Cable, the Food Network has stated that the McBlip was nothing more than a “slight technical problem,” which is totally old school for “wardrobe malfunction.” Anne Becker at B&C adds, “Still, it’s not totally implausible, in an age of rampant DVRing, that networks will soon resort to short subliminal ads to meet advertiser demands,” which would scare me if it wasn’t for the fact—as I already pointed out—that the old rods and cones are aging and I’m just not seeing it. Becker also points out, “Clear Channel has already begun running one-second radio ads called ‘Blinks.’ The client whose jingle they used to demo the product? McDonald’s.” OK, now I’m getting a little scared. And paranoid.

Let’s juxtapose the McBlip with the completely shameless and totally in-your-face advertising on Bravo’s Top Chef and see how they stack up. Note that I said “advertising,” because what that show has been doing goes way beyond simple product placement. I’m going to ignore Top Chef’s standard sponsors (Toyota, GladWare, and Kenmore), since the very fact that they are announced as sponsors in the show’s bumpers puts them in a different, honest, almost acceptable category. Moving on from there, just last week we had an episode that was dripping with Nestlé and Calphalon products, and the week before, the Quickfire ordered the cheftestants to create dishes using one of four named Kraft ingredients. Then there was the Bailey’s-saturated cocktail challenge. And the TGI Friday’s Elimination challenge. Sure, all of them are food or food-related, but I really don’t think that is any excuse to shove them so severely down our throats.

For the most part, the Food Network is refreshingly free of product placement. Alton Brown eschews it on Good Eats, I can’t remember Paula Deen ever brand-name-droppng but maybe I just can’t decipher her accent, and Rachael Ray famously goes to elaborate lengths to cover up cans, boxes, and bars with her own homemade labels.

Back in the day, we used to giggle over television show sightings of the label-free pop cans because they were so obviously Diet Coke or Pepsi. It became something to point out and laugh at in the “How stupid do they think we are? That’s obviously 7-Up—look at the bubbles on the side!” kind of way. But now, so many television shows cram in brand name after brand name to such a degree that advertisers might need to rethink their strategy. Soon enough the public will become desensitized to such placement, and where would that leave them?

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Ham Cooked in Coke

Basting ham in Coca Cola is an old-time southern practice. It’s still popular because it tastes great. Coke’s not the only soda you can use–7-Up and Dr Pepper are also popular, and Isabella prefers Barq’s root beer. acme took a risk with orange soda, and says it was wonderful.

wyf4lyf recently made a Coke-basted ham that she raves is “out of this world!”: Score the fat, rub allspice all over the ham, cook in 2 liters of Coke, basting every 15 minutes for the first 90 minutes. Then glaze with apricot preserves mixed with orange juice. Glaze and baste every 15 minutes until done.

chezlamere is crazy about Nigella Lawson’s version, and says it’s even better when made with pomegranate molasses.

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Nigella’s ham cooked in coke.

Chili Lemon Garlic

You might not expect it from the silly name, but Chili Lemon Garlic does great Thai food. Dave MP likes the boat noodle soup, #37 on the menu ($6.95). The broth is dark and has a nice beef flavor, though this is somewhat overpowered by the flakes of fried garlic that are generously sprinkles over the soup. If you like fried garlic, though, that won’t be a problem. Meatballs are good and very beefy; the rare steak isn’t really rare, but it’s good nonetheless.

They claim to be able to make any dish vegetarian using fake meat, but this claim is as yet untested by ‘hounds.

Chili Lemon Garlic Thai Cafe [Mission]
3166 24th Street, San Francisco

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Noodle soup at CLG (Chili Lemon Garlic) in the Mission

Mama Lucy’s Soulful Comfort Cuisine

Mama Lucy’s has amazing fried catfish, says Benny Choi. It has a thin, crunchy crust covering the hot, moist, tender fish–and it’s not at all greasy. Fried chicken wings are also admirably fried, with a nice crust and tasty flesh. Also try the tender collard greens, with a subtle balance of sweet and tangy. Lunch is around $16, including an entrée, two sides, and a drink. Sweet corn and red beans are just OK.

Mama Lucy’s Soulful Comfort Cuisine [SoMa]
1 Gilbert Street, San Francisco

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Mama Lucy’s Soulful Comfort Cuisine

Pardo’s – Superior Peruvian Chicken in the Village

At Pardo’s, a Peruvian chicken chain, the secret is in the marinade. Brewed from a recipe developed at the source in Lima, it works its way deep into the bird, resulting in exceptionally flavorful meat. The chicken comes off the rotisserie moist and tender, with crisp, delicious skin. “Sometimes there’s nothing better than a good roast chicken,” notes jdmetz, “and this place came through big time.” Alongside the chicken come a couple of house-made sauces, of which the green peppercorn is the winner, says Benjamin68.

There’s more than roast chicken here. Hounds recommend yuquitas (yucca fries), chicharron (fried chicken with an unusually light cornmeal crust), garlicky, bacony stewed canario beans, and dense but refreshing flan for dessert. Parrillero (grilled chicken fillet), anticuchos (grilled beef heart), fried rice, and a handful of other sides round out the short menu.

Pardo’s [West Village]
92 7th Ave. S., near Grove St., Manhattan

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Pardo’s chicken–Just as good as now-defunct El Pollo
The Best (Peruvian) Rotisserie Chicken–Pardo’s
New Peruvian Chicken Place in West Village

Exit Bar Minnow, Enter Brooklyn Burger Bar

Bar Minnow, a once-promising Park Slope seafood house, has finally gone under after months of decline. In its place is Brooklyn Burger Bar, which appears to be struggling in its opening weeks. Assessments of the food range from tasty to just awful, and service sounds like amateur hour. One bright spot: the black and white shake, tasty and enormous, with just the right ratio of chocolate syrup to vanilla ice cream, reports redgirl.

In Astoria, Le Sans Souci has closed, ending a two-year run of solid bistro fare, friendly service, and live jazz. Kitchen turnover did the place in, according to the owner. “It is sad to see this happen,” laments bebe.

Down on the Jersey Shore, Pearl of the Sea is no longer by the sea. Displaced by redevelopment from its oceanfront space, this hound-endorsed Portuguese restaurant has moved inland and rechristened itself Pearl of Lisbon. Still good, says jsfein: sangria, garlic shrimp, filet mignon, and bony but delicious whole snapper are as satisfying as ever.

Brooklyn Burger Bar [Park Slope]
formerly Bar Minnow
444 9th St., at 7th Ave., Brooklyn

Le Sans Souci [Astoria]
44-09 Broadway, Astoria, Queens

Pearl of Lisbon [Monmouth County]
formerly Pearl of the Sea
609 Broadway, near Grand Ave., Long Branch, NJ

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Bar Minnow is now Brooklyn Burger Bar
Brooklyn Burger Bar: Uh Oh…
Did You Know Le Sans Souci in Astoria closed down?
Pearl of Lisbon (formerly Pearl of the Sea), Long Branch

Shopsin’s Packs It In; and Other New York News

Shopsin’s, the quirky grab-bag eatery in the Village, has closed its doors. After months of rumors and feints, it has sold its lease on Carmine Street. Chef-owner Kenny Shopsin plans to reopen in much smaller quarters in the Lower East Side’s Essex Street Market, probably a sandwich stand with a drastically reduced version of the menu that once offered mac-and-cheese pancakes, Nigerian beef soup, and Georgia barbecued pork oatmeal, among several hundred other things. “Whatever Kenny does,” promises G4Gluttony, “I will follow him there for his prolific and mad scientist-like culinary chops.”

March, the elegant town house restaurant off Sutton Place, has also shut down, temporarily. Wayne Nish, co-owner and founding chef, is downscaling the menu, recasting the kitchen staff, and aiming to reopen sometime in January.

Inside, the cozy hideout on Jones Street, closed on New Year’s Eve. “We, along with many others in the neighborhood, loved their consistent food and generosity, and always felt at home there,” eulogizes erin07nyc.

Shopsin’s General Store [Lower East Side]
to open at…Essex Street Market, stall 16
120 Essex St., between Rivington and Delancey, Manhattan

March Restaurant [Sutton Place]
405 E. 58th St., between 1st Ave. and Sutton Pl., Manhattan

Inside [Greenwich Village]
9 Jones St., between Bleecker and W 4th, Manhattan

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Shopsins closing
Shopsin’s Closed for Good?
March closing–worth trying to go beforehand?
goodbye, Inside

Four-Stop Ramen Slurping Spree

Pleasurepalate went ramen tasting recently, checking out Koraku, Shinsengumi Hakata Ramen, Santouka ,and Daikokuya.

Shinsengumi is a favorite, with its incredibly rich, porky broth (tonkotsu). Being able to customize the soup is also a plus: “Firm noodles? Check. Normal soup oil? Yes. Strong soup base? Definitely.” This soup is really a meal. Side dishes (spam musubi, gyoza, ground chicken bowl), though, are nothing special.

Daikokuya’s tonkotsu is less refined, more intensely meaty, and still mind-bogglingly delicious. “To my palate, the Hakata ramen was more refined. It’s the part of James Bond that is sophisticated, cool under pressure, elegant,” he says. “You can taste the porkiness of the broth but it wasn’t completely in your face. Daikokuya, on the other hand, was that part of James Bond that was rough and tumble, aggressive and took no prisoners.” In other words, Goldfinger vs. Casino Royale.

Santouka’s shio ramen is a hybrid of tonkotsu and clear shio soup. So it’s cleaner and smoother than Shinsengumi, but still packs a hit of porkiness–the best of both worlds. The noodles aren’t that firm, although rameniac says this is a style called asahikawa ramen. Leek rice and egg are nice on the side.

Koraku, while not strictly a ramen place (a Koraku Ramen opened recently in Sherman Oaks), offers a huge variety of ramen soups, including daily specials. Sutamina ramen, with a light, possibly shoyu broth, garlic sprouts, ground pork, green onions, and mushrooms, is decent but not spectacular. The garlic sprouts and scallions add good flavor, but broth is a little too thin and the noodles too mushy. Note that ground meat isn’t a good choice for ramen–it all escapes to the bottom. Still, there are plenty of other options.

Shin Sen Gumi Hakata Ramen [South Bay]
2015 W. Redondo Beach Blvd. #C, Gardena

Shin Sen Gumi Hakata Ramen [South OC]
18315 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley

Shin Sen Gumi Hakata Ramen [San Gabriel Valley]
8450 E. Valley Blvd. #103, Rosemead

Santoka Ramen [South Bay]
in Mitsuwa Marketplace
21515 Western Avenue, Torrance


Santoka Ramen [South OC]
Mitsuwa food court
665 Paularino Ave., Costa Mesa

Daikokuya [Little Tokyo]
327 E. 1st St., Los Angeles

Koraku Restaurant [Little Tokyo]
314 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles

Koraku Japanese Ramen [East San Fernando Valley]
14425 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks

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Koraku opens in Sherman Oaks