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Restaurant recommendations, new openings, and highlights from the NY Chowhound community.

Hearty Roti and Island Vibes in Park Slope

Bistro-choked Park Slope finally has a creditable West Indian roti. The humble Nibble Nook rolls out an excellent one stuffed with spicy potato, Barry Strugatz reports. Other fillings are goat, shrimp, chicken, beef, and vegetable (Scotch bonnet peppers optional). It’s not the best in Brooklyn—for that, most hounds would look to Flatbush, Crown Heights, or Prospect Heights—but it’s easily the best in the Slope, and it comes with a superfriendly island vibe.

The Nook is also a candy store and bakery. Check out the cookies—sweet, simple, and “un-Europeanized,” says PAL.

Nibble Nook [Park Slope]
349 Fifth Avenue (between Fifth and Sixth streets), Brooklyn
718-788-2548

Board Link: Roti finally arrives in P. Slope

At Michael Jordan’s, Dunkadelic Garlic Cheese Stuff

At Michael Jordan’s steakhouse, the slam-dunk appetizer is warm breadsticks slathered in garlic butter and arranged over a pool of Gorgonzola fondue. You’ll want to lick the plate, promises Tom Steele. “Its worth going to MJs for that alone,” adds elecsheep9, “but the steaks are quite good as well.”

Michael Jordan’s the Steak House N.Y.C. [Midtown East]
In Grand Central Terminal
23 Vanderbilt Avenue, Manhattan
212-655-2300

Board Link: Dinner near Grand Central?

Ravishing Ravs in a Jersey Time Capsule

Not much has changed at Spirito’s since it opened in 1933. Ask for butter with your bread and you might hear what geg5150 heard. “Ain’t got it. Never had it. Not in 75 years,” a crusty waitress barked—though we think she smiled as she said it. Want to pay with plastic? How about a cup of coffee? “No butter, no credit and no coffee. Not in 75 years.”

Another thing that hasn’t changed at Spirito’s is what comes out of the kitchen: satisfying red-sauce Italian in staggering portions, highlighted by killer ravioli in simple, sweet tomato sauce. “My plate had fluffy pillows of ricotta cheese as big as my palm,” geg5150 marvels. “Huge, fluffy, delicate ravioli.” Chicken parmigiana also hits the mark: three big breast pieces, pounded thin and swaddled in sauce and cheese. (Ravenous? Get it “wit ravs”—that is, with ravioli.)

geg5150 sums up the experience: “Loved it. The atmosphere, the food, the attitude. It’s all there and it’s all Jersey.”

Spirito’s [Union County]
714 Third Avenue (near S. Seventh Street), Elizabeth, NJ
908-351-5414
Location

Board Links: Is Spirito’s (Elizabeth, NJ) open for lunch?
Spirito’s —Elizabeth

Carp for Connoisseurs in Sunset Park

Chinese-carp-lovers favor the sweet, delicate variety called wan yu. lwong says New Seawide, a Toisan Cantonese place in Sunset Park’s Chinatown, does it right. Wan yu, or grass carp—often steamed, sometimes fried—is fried beautifully at Seawide. “Chinese restaurants would typically pre-fry dishes like this and complete the cooking upon order,” lwong notes. “We were surprised to receive a fairly large ‘Wan Yu’ Carp dish that was lightly fresh battered and cooked to order.” Scrumptious and meltingly tender—but look out for the many bones.

Wan yu, not on the English menu, is offered only on the mirrored north wall, in handwritten Chinese on a strip of colored paper. On the English menu is beef chow fun, nicely done in the dry-cooked style, without sauce. Another smart order, when available, is stir-fried ong choy (hollow-stem water spinach) with garlic. “Unsure if the other dishes … are just as fresh and good,” lwong adds, “but our guess is that the restaurant is worth a try.”

Also worth a try is Chinese Ocean, another Cantonese place right next door. foodluvngal prefers it to New Seawide, especially for wonton but also for “Peking-style” pork chops and lobster with ginger and scallions.

Up the street, hounds have sniffed out a sleeper in Eighth Avenue Seafood Restaurant, where Chinese locals feast on fresh, varied, reasonably priced dim sum. Peter Cherches singles out plump har gow, which boast tasty pink shrimp inside firm skins. Also good: beef balls, shrimp cheung fun (rice noodle rolls), and tofu-skin rolls filled with shrimp paste and celery. To bolletje, the style is agreeably sweet and heavy rather than delicate and intricate—a notch below Brooklyn favorite World Tong at its best, but still better than anything in Manhattan.

Service is uncommonly friendly, and the scene is refreshingly calm, owing to the restaurant’s location well outside the neighborhood’s dining and shopping hub. “Not only is the dim sum excellent,” Peter observes, “you can get in at prime time on a weekend without a wait.”

New Seawide Seafood Restaurant [Sunset Park]
5810 Eighth Avenue (between 58th and 59th streets), Brooklyn
718-439-3200

Chinese Ocean Restaurant [Sunset Park]
5806 Eighth Avenue (between 58th and 59th streets), Brooklyn
718-567-8686

Eighth Avenue Seafood Restaurant [Sunset Park]
4418 Eighth Avenue (between 44th and 45th streets), Brooklyn
718-633-6366
Location

Board Links: My first trip to Bklyn Chinatown -- so easy to get to, so worth the trip -- with Pacificana Restaurant review
Sunset Park Chinatown
Excellent Sleeper Dim Sum at 8th Ave. Seafood Restaurant

At Veronica’s, West Indian for Wall Streeters

Veronica’s Kitchen is a portable affair, a lunch cart that parks just off Wall Street on weekdays. It’s also a family affair, run by Veronica Julien and her son, who dish up lusty, low-cost West Indian food for the high-finance crowd.

Here’s the deal, explains youngjung: Pick a meat from the left side of the whiteboard menu—chicken (jerk, stew, curry, barbecued, fried), fried fish, oxtail, or curry goat. Pick a couple of sides from the right—rice and peas, macaroni and cheese, white rice, fried plantains, mixed vegetables, tossed salad, green beans, candied yams, potato salad, or collard greens. A large meal is $7, a small is $5. youngjung endorses a combo that seems to be the people’s choice: fiery, moist jerk chicken, sweet fried plantains, and great mac and cheese; “check this place out it is well worth your dough,” she urges.

Veronica’s just won overdue recognition as a finalist in last month’s 2007 Vendy Awards, the Oscars of New York street food. (Translation for the hardest-core hounds: The Oscars are the Vendys of movies.)

Veronica’s Kitchen [Financial District]
Front Street (between Wall and Pine), Manhattan
917-848-2465

Board Link: MY Favorite Vendy Awards Hopeful

This Schoolhouse Rocks

The Schoolhouse at Cannondale, a back-to-basics kind of place, aces the Chowhound test. Chef Tim LaBant works a short, seasonal menu of simple American dishes that hit the mark. “The attention to detail was amazing,” marvels byramgirl, “as was every bite of every plate.”

Late-summer visitors loved a chowder of local corn and littleneck clams with bacon. Beef fillet, which comes with potato purée and grilled corn salad, is rich and delicious. Pork Three Ways—grilled Berkshire pork loin, braised bacon, barbecued spiced rib—is a sumptuous pig-out, served with accompaniments that might include sweet-and-sour cipollini, sautéed mustard greens, and Parmesan polenta.

The setting is a restored 19th-century school, where there’s outdoor seating in pleasant weather—“very nice and very country,” says amanda3571. It’s also pleasant inside, where the laid-back LaBant works the room and sets a friendly, casual tone that many find irresistible. “People were chatting between tables,” observes nocaliban, “which can sometimes be distracting but here felt perfectly natural, and no different than the school kids comparing notes a hundred years ago.”

The Schoolhouse at Cannondale [Fairfield County]
34 Cannon Road, Wilton, CT
203-834-9816

Board Links: Schoolhouse at Cannondale–Wilton, CT
Saltwater Grille & Schoolhouse at Cannondale

Muffin Mastery in Morningside Heights

Here’s the skinny on Café Fresh, courtesy of eggplantempress: “The food is ok. The service is pitiful. THE MUFFINS ARE OUTSTANDING.” Lemon, strawberry, blueberry, chocolate-banana—each is exemplary, and best of type.

The strawberry is a standout: moist, luscious cake studded with fresh berry halves and shot through with tunnels of sweet berry nectar. Lemon muffins are proudly presented—do not adjust your set—upside down; “forget muffin-top pageantry,” the empress writes, “here they’ve turned the unchallenged convention of right-side-up muffin display on its head.” And with good reason: On the bottom of each one is a thin wheel of baked lemon that has caramelized in the oven and infused the entire muffin with deep, true lemony flavor, “a nugget of gastronomic gold.”

Café Fresh [Morningside Heights]
1241 Amsterdam Avenue (near W. 121st Street), Manhattan
212-222-6340

Board Link: AMBROSIAL MUFFINS

Rich, Rewarding Fusion at Garifuna Star

Had any good Garifuna food lately? Didn’t think so.

But Brian S has, after sniffing it out at Garifuna Star, a hopping community hangout in an under-Chowhounded corner of the South Bronx. What he found there was the soulful, seldom-discussed cuisine of the Garifuna, descendants of Africans and Amerindians who live mostly in Central America. The dish he tried, a happy marriage of Africa and the Americas, suggests that this is a cuisine—and a restaurant—well worth exploring.

For $15, Brian S enjoyed a three-part feast called machuca. On one plate was the machuca itself: a mash of boiled green plantain, much like fufu, the African cassava paste. Another plate brought a whole pan-fried red snapper. Part three was a stellar soup, rich and golden, made of coconut and spices, with four big shrimp at the bottom of the bowl—something like a Thai curry, or Brazil’s moqueca de camarao. Eat the soup by itself or dunk spoonfuls of machuca in it—either way, Brian S says, “A wonderful meal. True fusion cuisine.”

The best home cooking takes time, so expect a wait. You can also expect a happy, hungry crowd—part families spending time out, part guys enjoying a drink and the TV. But don’t expect to see a sign outside that says Garifuna Star. The awning still bears the name of the previous restaurant in this space.

Garifuna Star (formerly Lanichugu Garifuna) [Bronx]
640 Prospect Avenue (at E. 152nd Street), Bronx
718-401-2815

Board Link: Garifuna Star—World’s rarest cuisine comes to South Bronx

A Lobster Shack Finds Its Sea Legs

After a rough shakedown cruise, Ed’s Lobster Bar has gotten under way nicely. Word on this New England–style seafood shack, deeply divided when it opened in March, has turned strongly positive. The signature lobster rolls are “exactly what we hoped they’d be,” says pellegrino31, “overflowing with chunks of lobster only barely dressed with mayo.” Hounds praise the pleasing citrus note in the filling, the buttery roll that enfolds the roll, and the crisp fries that come alongside.

For a lighter alternative, lchang recommends a salad of lobster meat over greens, green beans, tomatoes, and avocado. Other winners are roast Montauk bluefish, mussels in Dijon cream sauce, linguine with white clam sauce, deftly fried oysters or Ipswich clams, and a devastatingly rich crab dip. Service is personable and efficient, the mood friendly and unrushed despite heavy weekend crowds.

Ed’s is shaping up as a leading contender among the city’s casual fish houses. For sam1, it bests Village veterans Pearl Oyster Bar (where Ed’s chef-owner was once sous-chef) and Mary’s Fish Camp. mr_seabass still prefers Pearl but ranks Ed’s a close second, ahead of Mermaid Inn and Black Pearl.

Ed’s Lobster Bar [SoHo]
222 Lafayette Street (between Spring and Broome), Manhattan
212-343-3236

Board Links: Very pleasant surprise at Ed’s Lobster Bar
Ed’s Lobster Bar crab dip
Review–Ed’s Lobster Bar
Ed’s Lobster Bar
Ed’s lobster roll?

Samsa with a Smile in Rego Park

Hearty, meaty Bukharian is what’s cooking at Zhemchuzhina, Rego Park’s newest spot for this sturdy chow from Central Asia. “Everything was outstanding,” declares hreisig, who strongly recommends samsa, the tandoor-baked meat pastries that are a cousin to India’s samosa. Grilled sweetbreads and lamb rib kebabs are delicious and satisfying, as are cold noodles with bits of roast beef and lots of coriander seed.

Countering the richness of the meat dishes are a sprightly cabbage salad and a tomato-onion dish, both seasoned with a light, spicy dressing. extrajos, who endorses the borscht and beef noodle stew, much prefers Zhemchuzhina to Salut, just a block away on this stretch of 108th Street dubbed “Bukharian Broadway.”

In contrast to the sullen Soviet-era vibe typical of many Central Asian restaurants, the staff at Zhemchuzhina (“Pearl”) is friendly and attentive. Its predecessor in this space, Shalom, also delivered service “head and shoulders above places like Salute and Arzu,” recalls Polecat. He suggests that Shalom’s staff may have been kept on when the restaurant changed hands.

For Joe MacBu, friendliness goes only so far. He appreciates the accommodating service and satisfying chebureks (fried savory pies) but complains of dryish lulya (ground lamb) kebabs, manti (dumplings) stuffed with gristly meat, and undersalted lamb-barley soup. Over all, Joe concludes, Salut, Cheburechnaya, and Tandoori Bukharian Bakery are better bets.

Zhemchuzhina (formerly Shalom) [Rego Park]
64-47 108th Street (near 64th Road), Rego Park, Queens
718-275-2220

Board Link: Salute vs. Cheburechnaya?