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

A Divine Soup from Taiwan, and Other Chinese Finds

True Taiwanese chow—much hungered after by New York hounds, but rarely found—has surfaced in homey, authentic form at Excellent Pork Chop House. HLing says this Chinatown hole in the wall recently began making an herb-scented restorative called Four Gods Soup. It’s a long-brewed, light-flavored broth full of tender slices of pork stomach, enriched and flavored by lotus seed, dried mountain potato, barley and other grains, and a dash of rice wine.

“Fantastic!” HLing declares, “even better than what I had in Taiwan at one of the night market places. It is a very calming tonic, great in the winter but good any time you feel you need to calm your nerves.” But, she adds, it is not for everyone: Its slight medicinal bitterness may put off those unaccustomed to Chinese herbal soups. It’s $5 a serving, and for an extra buck you can get a side of cai fan, Taiwanese-style rice mixed with pickled vegetables and ground pork. Four Gods Soup is not on the menu; just point to the colorful Chinese sign at the counter or ask for “Si4 Shen2 Zhu1 Du3 Tang1.”

This restaurant has earned mixed marks over the years—even its namesake pork chops are not universally beloved—but right now it appears to be on a roll. Lau says the place is enjoying a renaissance that has gotten the attention of Chinese locals: “I’ve been going there for a long time. This was far and away the most crowded I’ve ever seen it. People kept coming in, almost all Chinese, mostly Mandarin speaking.” Highlights of his recent satisfying meal included dried tofu with marinated seaweed, refreshing cold cucumber in garlic sauce, and big, tasty steamed wonton, served in hot oil and topped with chopped garlic and cilantro (“very Taiwanese-tasting, similar to things I’ve had at street stands”).

In other Chinese news, hounds are racing the calendar in search of soft-shell crabs, whose season is almost over. At Phoenix Garden, the crabs are salt-and-pepper-fried and garnished with sliced garlic. Plump and juicy, these are the best soft-shells Peter Cherches has enjoyed since the memorable version at Chinatown’s late, much-missed Sun Golden Island.

Yeah Shanghai Deluxe also has them, but they’re listed only in Chinese among the blackboard specials. “This made my day,” exults batterypark, who describes a large platter of scrumptious, deep-fried crabs, served over a bed of lettuce, scallion, garlic, and peppers. “My plan,” he resolves, “is to slowly eat my way through the blackboard specials.”

Finally, let us set down our chopsticks and observe a moment of silence for two recent Cantonese casualties, one old and one new: Nice Restaurant on East Broadway, a banquet destination for decades, and Dragon Palace on Centre Street, whose dim sum won some hound love during its run of less than two years.

Excellent Pork Chop House [Chinatown]
3 Doyers Street (between Pell and Bowery), Manhattan

Phoenix Garden [Turtle Bay]
242 E. 40th Street (between Second and Third avenues), Manhattan

Yeah Shanghai Deluxe [Chinatown]
65 Bayard Street (between Mott and Elizabeth), Manhattan

Board Links: The best Taiwanese 疇�算�疑岑汀壅阬授珍兩� ̄汕嗽�, now at Excellent Pork Chop House!
Softshell crabs at Yeah Shanghai Deluxe–Not on the English language menu, but really great
Phoenix Garden has soft shell crabs
Dim Sum or not to Dim Sum–that is the question?
What Happened to Dragon Palace (Dim Sum)?

Crêpes à la Bretonne at Café Triskell

Breton-style crêpes are the specialty at Café Triskell, and they’re great, says nebby. Good bets among the savory options include tomato, caramelized onion, and the Bénodet (mushrooms, Swiss cheese, herb butter).

No reports yet on the dessert crêpes, which range from the simple (butter and sugar) to the lavish (poached pears, house-made chocolate sauce, toasted almonds, whipped cream). Quiches, salads, soups, and croque monsieurs and other sandwiches round out the menu. This tiny spot, which seats just 16, was opened a couple of months ago by a French pastry chef, Philippe Fallait, in the space once occupied by Lil’ Bistro 33.

Café Triskell [Astoria]
Formerly Lil’ Bistro 33
33-04 36th Avenue (at 33rd Street), Astoria, Queens

Board Link: Putting together a date in Astoria

A Masterpiece in Maple

If Good N Plenty to Go is baking maple cookies, you must get one. allenbank loves everything about them—their optimal four- or five-inch size, their perfect sprinkling of walnuts, the way their intense sweet maple frosting is balanced by a not-too-sweet, soft, caky cookie. “It is in my opinion the best baked good (at least in my top three) in town,” allen declares. They’re $1.95 apiece, and they go fast.

Good N Plenty to Go [Clinton]
410 W. 43rd Street (between Ninth and Tenth avenues), Manhattan

Board Link: Maple ice cream and desserts

A Fish Taco Discovery in Albany

Albany’s Bros Tacos has a little San Diego thing going on in its fish tacos. Battered fried fish, shredded cabbage, onions, cilantro, crema, and red salsa are folded into a pair of house-made tortillas. “Killer,” raves JWW, who says flavors are fresh and clean. Besides the “Baja” version, there’s one with grilled fish, crema, and pico de gallo. Other fillings at this mostly takeout shop include carne asada, grilled or barbecued chicken, shrimp, marinated pork, ground beef, and black beans with avocado.

Some complain of underseasoned rice and beans, an excessive tortilla-to-filling ratio, and sloppily wrapped burritos that tend to fall apart.

Bros Tacos [Albany County]
319 Ontario Street (at Morris), Albany, NY

Board Link: Bros Tacos in Albany

Around Queens, Some South American Discoveries

The moribund lunchtime scene near Calvary Cemetery is showing signs of life. At Tropical II on Greenpoint Avenue, hungry locals crowd in for satisfying Ecuadoran chow, made with care, 2slices reports.

Beef soup is a standout: deliciously fatty meat on the bone in fresh, light broth with carrots, onions, cabbage, yuca, and a good handful of cilantro. Seco de chivo is a stew loaded with uncommonly tender hunks of goat, served with yellow rice. Maduros (fried sweet plantains) are just about perfect—soft and brown with crispy bits at the ends. House-made aji sauce is fresh, herbal, and bracing. A stewed beef specialty is a tough, smallish piece of meat, redeemed by excellent peppery sauce. To drink, try fresh papaya juice served with slices of lime. The large illustrated menu also includes a long list of seafood dishes, including several ceviches and a tempting-looking tripe stew.

In Jackson Heights, there’s a promising sighting of Bolivian chow, not something you find on every corner around here. Club Kabu, the latest occupant of a hard-luck space where at least two other Bolivian restaurants have come and gone, offers decent versions of dishes from the country’s Andean highlands, Dolcevicci reports. Chicken and beef salteñas, the empanadalike pastries, are juicy and delicious and boast nicely made masa shells, though some might prefer more meat inside. There’s also a creditable sopa de mani (meat and peanut soup) and sturdy entrées like picante surtido (beef tongue and chicken in chile sauce) and chorrillana platters (meat in tomato-onion sauce with rice, fried potatoes, and fried egg).

A couple of misfires: Humintas (tamalelike steamed corn cakes) are tasty but made with cornmeal, not the customary fresh ground corn, and the expected cheesy filling is meager. Khallo cochabambino, an appetizer of hominy, green chiles, cheese, onion, and tomato, is disappointingly bland. Some find the restaurant an uncomfortable fit with the cavernous, upscale room, which doubles as a dance club—a problem the owners intend to solve by converting it to a full-time nightclub and moving the restaurant to another space up Northern Boulevard.

Another hound-endorsed Bolivian spot, Mi Bolivia in Sunnyside, has given way to the cryptically named International Restaurant, but recent reports say it’s still Bolivian and still worth a visit. Salteñas, especially the ones with chicken, are stellar—so good that Passadumkeg regularly lugs dozens of them back home to Maine after visiting family in Jersey. He also recommends chicharron, sopa de mani, and a Paceña beer or two. Go on Sunday afternoons, when Bolivian expats traditionally dine out.

Just a block or so away, wleatherette has sniffed out pure porky pleasure at the Colombian butcher shop Las Camelias: lechona, or whole roast pig, stuffed with chunks of pork and pork belly, peas, and bright yellow rice. It’s splendid, savory, and pleasingly salty. The butcher will carve you a hunk to order; be sure to get a nice piece of crackling on top. Another good bet here: fat, herb-flecked Colombian chorizo, superb when grilled.

Tropical II [Sunnyside]
36-10 Greenpoint Avenue (at Hunters Point), Sunnyside, Queens

Club Kabu [Jackson Heights]
85-09 Northern Boulevard (near 85th Street), Jackson Heights, Queens

International Restaurant [Sunnyside]
Formerly Mi Bolivia
44-10 48th Avenue (between 44th and 45th streets), Sunnyside, Queens

Las Camelias Carniceria [Sunnyside]
44-14 Greenpoint Avenue (between 44th and 45th streets), Sunnyside, Queens

Board Links: Tropical II: Ecuadorian in LIC on Greenpoint ave
Bolivian Andean Cuisine
Woodside/Sunnyside suggestions?
lechona at las camelias, sunnyside

Naked Shrimp

Off the menu—but on hound radar, thanks to HLing—is one killer shrimp dish at Fishers of Men II. Just ask for “Butt Naked Shrimp.” Tossed into the fryer without batter, they come out “pop in your mouth” juicy, HLing promises. “I hadn’t tasted such delicious shrimp anywhere for a long, long time.” (On the menu are two other takes on fried shrimp, with plain or seasoned batter.)

Also recommended: fish sandwiches, made not with prefab fish sticks but with actual whiting fillets, seasoned with “just the right salty zing,” lightly battered, and fried up crisp and light. Among other things, Fishers also serves coleslaw, collard greens, and grits (all day long, not just for breakfast).

The third location of a fish-frying minichain, Fishers of Men II replaced a Papaya King hot dog joint but kept the old sign and the old menu, which it continues to offer. Expect decent, if not world-changing, all-beef dogs plus smoked sausages, Cajun fries, and tropical drinks like papaya smoothies.

Fishers of Men II [Harlem]
Formerly Papaya King
121 W. 125th Street (between Lenox and Seventh Avenue), Manhattan

Fishers of Men [Harlem]
32 E. 130th Street (between Fifth Avenue and Madison), Manhattan

Famous Fish [Harlem]
684 St. Nicholas Avenue (at W. 145th Street), Manhattan

Board Link: mystery frankfurter place in Harlem

Rebound at Rani Mahal

Westchester hounds are taking a fresh look at Rani Mahal, whose Indian chow once won mixed marks. Recent reports suggest that the place has hit its stride. The mostly northern menu includes tender, delicately seasoned chicken or seekh (minced lamb) kebabs and chicken tikka sagwala in excellent spinach sauce. The same chicken tikka turns up minced and stuffed into a knockout naan. The lunch buffet, which some had found disappointingly sparse, is a satisfying and impressive spread, says rothchild. If you want the spicing cranked up, they’ll oblige, as in delicious lamb rogan josh, Shawn reports. “It’s nice to have a good Indian restaurant in the area,” she adds.

In other South Asian news, change is afoot at Westchester Groceries, a little market in Thornwood that also sells prepared foods. The food counter, if not the whole store, has changed hands and is now called Khan’s Indian Kitchen—but hounds say the chow is as good as ever. Look for fresh-baked naan, juicy and flavorful chicken tikka and tandoori fish, and tender goat garam masala, served as whole rib chops, not the common hacked-up version treacherously studded with shards of bone.

Beyond the food, you’ll find a slightly spiffed-up dining space and a setup better suited to English-speaking diners, including a new, easy-to-read menu.

Rani Mahal [Westchester County]
327 Mamaroneck Avenue (near Palmer), Mamaroneck, NY

Khan’s Indian Kitchen [Westchester County]
In Westchester Groceries
546 Commerce Street (between Hancock and Garfield), Thornwood, NY

Board Links: Best Indian Food in Lower Westchester
Dinner at Rani Mahal- Mamaroneck
Unbelievable Indian find in Westchester

Italian Favorites, Done Just Right

Not that there’s anything wrong with foams or fusion food, but sometimes all you really want is a well-prepared plate of pasta and a decent bottle of wine. Simple pleasures like these are why you go to Po Brooklyn, the month-old Cobble Hill outpost of the popular Village restaurant. “The food was fresh and tasty—not mind-blowing, but filling and homey,” reports Sarah McC. “None of us had anything we didn’t already know and love, but that’s a nice thing.”

Early favorites include roasted beet salad (with endive, artichokes, and watercress); grilled portobello salad (with arugula and shaved Parmesan); white bean ravioli; orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe; linguine with clams, pancetta, white wine, and a touch of chile; grilled balsamic-glazed salmon; and sliced veal sweetbreads sautéed with pancetta and potatoes. Among the desserts, panna cotta with cherries and the Po Sundae (mint gelato, cinnamon-spiced pine nuts, and chocolate sauce) win praise. Portions are generous; delicious polpetta di carne (meatballs with tomato sauce and Asiago), an antipasto, is almost big enough to be a main course, Sarah says. Service has been gracious and assured right out of the gate.

The $50 six-course tasting dinner (salad, two pasta courses, main course, cheese course, dessert) is a fine way to sample the menu—but it’s a ton of food, Nehna advises. Much of her meal was drawn from the regular menu, though there were a couple of surprises, and the kitchen is flexible, including an entrée of sweetbreads upon request, for example.

“All in all,” she adds, “we enjoyed it and could easily see going there often. I was hoping that Po would gamble more with unusual Italian fare—more offal and that sort of thing, the kind of stuff you find at Babbo. I would really love it if the owner decided to take some risks, offering something you couldn’t have gotten on Smith Street before.”

Po Brooklyn [Cobble Hill]
276 Smith Street (between Degraw and Sackett streets), Brooklyn

Po [Greenwich Village]
31 Cornelia Street (between Bleecker and W. Fourth streets), Manhattan

Board Link: Po is open for business

High-End Sushi, New School and Old

Picture this: Thin slices of squid sashimi cover a mound of sweet West Coast uni, shaped to look like a sea urchin shell and crowned with shredded nori and a raw quail egg. This signature dish is the kind of thing you can expect at Soto, Chef Sotohiro Kosugi’s two-month-old restaurant in the Village.

OK, it looks fabulous, but what does it taste like? “I must say I was skeptical, but I was blown away,” testifies FattyDumplin. “You had to get a bite with everything in it to really appreciate how all the flavors and textures worked together.”

Other new-style sashimi creations from Kosugi, an ambitious and exacting chef who got his start in Atlanta, include chutoro tartare (with exceptionally good ponzu sauce) and shima aji carpaccio, razor-thin slices of striped jack seasoned with truffle oil, sea salt, and shredded ginger. Sushi is very good to exquisite, though catches strongly advises staking out one of the dozen counter seats, preferably right in front of the boss: “If you’re seated in front of the master, the sushi is discernibly better. Same fish, but the devil, and all else, is in the slicing technique and handling of rice.”

Cooked dishes, from a kitchen headed by Kosugi’s wife, Maho, are exceptional. Look for New Zealand langoustine, a giant specimen split open, broiled to a turn, and covered with thin-sliced shiitakes. Cold steamed lobster is arrayed in a ring with lotus root, layered with uni mousse, garnished with house-smoked uni and caviar, and laid out over thin cucumber rounds. Also recommended: beautifully fried karei (flounder) kara-age and uncommonly light chawan mushi (savory egg custard). “Expensive (even without drinks) but worth it,” says guttergourmet.

Another high-end sushi place, 15 East, takes a more traditional approach. This serene spot opened late last year in the space once occupied by sister restaurant Tocqueville, which moved down the block. In charge of the sushi bar is Masato Shimizu, who first gained a following at Jewel Bako—in part for his enthusiasm and knowledge, which he shares freely. “He’s very informative,” observes foodiechan. “That’s why we had such a good time.”

Sushi and sashimi are top quality; recent reports describe pristine tuna, anago (sea eel), Copper River salmon, sweet white ebi, and Japanese wild bass (which the chef “shocks” in ice water before serving). “No rush, no fuss, just pure sushi heaven,” declares vvvindaloo. Beyond sushi, don’t overlook the short list of appetizers, which includes a knockout octopus dish, tako yawarakani. It’s marinated in sake, thoroughly massaged to soften the flesh, gently poached, and served with a pinch of sea salt. “I have never tasted octopus so milky and tender,” vvvindaloo sighs.

Service is impeccable, décor minimalist and clean, and they take care of the little things (soy sauce is made in-house, fresh wasabi is grated at your table). For quality and price, Wilfrid ranks 15 East up there with high-end hound favorite Sushi Yasuda, though he notes that the newcomer lacks Yasuda’s range of unusual and exotic items. “This does not mean it isn’t very good,” he adds. “It is.”

Soto [Greenwich Village]
357 Sixth Avenue (near Washington Place), Manhattan

15 East [Union Square]
15 E. 15th Street (between Fifth Avenue and Union Square W.), Manhattan

Board Links: Soto review
Soto- watch out Yasuda, Masa, Gari, Morimoto and Nobu!
Soto BYOB?
15 East Sushi
15 East: Superb Sushi

Pupusas from the Bronx to Brooklyn to Queens

The pupusas at La Cabaña Salvadoreña sound great. Literally, nerdgoggles insists: After ordering three of the Salvadoran corn cakes, he “heard the magical sound of a Central American lady clapping masa between her hands.”

Food made to order takes time, so expect a wait, but these pupusas are worth it. Cheese is the don’t-miss filling: meltingly rich and oozing out of its seared masa shell. Shredded pork is a close second. All come with a heap of flavorful, coarse-chopped curtido (cabbage slaw) and a cup of tomato sauce. This longtime hound favorite has locations in the Bronx and Manhattan.

In Brooklyn, Peter Cherches reports, the best pupusas can be found at El Continental in the South Slope. They’re fantastic, agrees fat_hot, who adds that soups, flan, and carne con chirimol (marinated beefsteak with salsa) are also worth checking out. To drink, try marañon (cashew fruit), chan (dragon fruit), grenadilla (passion fruit), or other fresh juices.

Borough Park’s El Morro is JohnnyCT’s pupusa pick, in part for uncommon fillings such as spinach, squash, and shrimp. And el chilateo endorses the pupusas at Bahía in Williamsburg, where you can enjoy a relaxing nosh in the inviting garden.

Queens pupusa lovers have homed in on a cluster of Salvadoran restaurants in Jamaica, including Mi Casita, El Comal, and Rincon Salvadoreño. At the latter, ammel_99 urges, get a cup of atol de elote, the sweet corn beverage.

La Cabaña 2 Salvadoreña [Bronx]
3150 Villa Avenue (at E. 205th Street), Bronx

La Cabaña Salvadoreña [Washington Heights]
4384 Broadway (at 187th Street), Manhattan

El Continental [South Slope]
672 Fifth Avenue (at 20th Street), Brooklyn

El Morro [Borough Park]
4018 14th Avenue (between 40th and 41st streets), Brooklyn

Bahía [Williamsburg]
690 Grand Street (between Manhattan and Graham avenues), Brooklyn

Mi Casita [Jamaica]
149-12 Jamaica Avenue (between 149th and 150th streets), Jamaica, Queens

El Comal [Jamaica]
148-62 Hillside Avenue (near 150th Street), Jamaica, Queens

Rincon Salvadoreño [Jamaica]
92-15 149th Street (near Jamaica Avenue), Jamaica, Queens

Board Links: Pupusas
Best Pupusas in Brooklyn?
Jamaica Queens?