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

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?

Simply Perfect Gelato at Long Island’s Baci

Fresh flavors and first-rate ingredients sing out in the gelati and sorbetti at Baci. “Absolutely killer,” declares janie. “It’s simply perfect. Flavors are amazing, and prices are good, too.” Among
the winners are pineapple, pink grapefruit, cappuccino, and mint (the last amped up with chunks of high-end chocolate). Also on the menu: crêpes, shakes, hot beverages.

Baci Gelato [Nassau County]
1136 Willis Avenue (near Plainfield Road), Albertson, NY

Board Link: Baci Gelato in Roslyn LI is FABULOUS!!

Japan’s Ramen Rangers Take the East Village

We are entering a new era; it is the Ramenaissance, says bokkyo. New York City’s underachieving ramen scene just got a huge boost with the arrival of Setagaya, a Tokyo chain that planted its flag in the East Village two weeks ago. If that weren’t enough good news, another Japanese contender, Ippudo, is preparing to open a few blocks away.

Setagaya’s specialty is shio (salt) ramen: thin wheat noodles in a broth brewed slowly from pork, chicken, seaweed, and dried seafood, including scallop (not so common in ramen), and seasoned not with shoyu but with salt. The result is a deep, alluring soup, relatively light and delicate, in which ocean flavors take the lead over meat—”complex in its simplicity,” writes Silverjay. It’s finished with a powdered blend of dried scallop, fried onion, and grapeseed oil, which contributes more to aroma than to taste. Besides shio ramen, there’s tsukemen: thick, curly, pleasingly chewy noodles served with salty, porky, garlicky sauce for dipping—”a huge contrast to the delicate broth of the shio ramen,” observes berto, “and I mean this in a good way.”

Toppings and sides show close attention to detail. Roast pork is prepared with care: deliciously fatty, only lightly marinated, and cut thick (“I’ll take one slice of this guy’s chashu over three slices of Momofuku’s any day,” Silverjay declares). Menma (dry pickled bamboo) is marinated in the ramen broth overnight to promote harmony with the noodles. Other stuff you might find in your bowl: seaweed, shaved naganegi (Japanese long onion), and a nicely salty, creamy shio tama (salt-cooked egg). bokkyo digs the “gastronomic gestalt,” in which side dishes like the egg and oshinko (pickled vegetables) “not only complement the main dish but, like a good supporting cast in a movie, make the main actor better. ... That was a hot dish to eat on a warm day, but stepping out of Setagaya, strangely enough, I felt blissfully cool.”

If your benchmark ramen is Santoka, the Hokkaido import whose long-cooked, powerfully rich tonkotsu broth has enchanted New Yorkers from across the Hudson at New Jersey’s Mitsuwa Marketplace, Setagaya may disappoint. “This ramen won’t be for everyone,” Silverjay advises. “You won’t be blown away, taste-wise, and the flavor profile is quite subtle on the seafood side. The Japanese impression of American tastes is that we like things strongly flavored.”

Enter Ippudo, a ramen chain from Japan’s southernmost main island, Kyushu, which has staked out a space on Fourth Avenue and is awaiting its permits. It specializes in a robust Hakata-style tonkotsu broth and offers kaedama service, or all-you-can-eat noodles. “Very good stuff,” Silverjay reports. “Better bring your breath mints. They provide little hand presses for you to crush fresh garlic into your soup.”

Ramen Setagaya [East Village]
141 First Avenue (between E. Ninth Street and St. Marks Place), Manhattan

Hakata Ippudo [East Village]
To open at 65 Fourth Avenue (between E. Ninth and 10th streets), Manhattan

Ramen Santoka [Bergen County]
In Mitsuwa Marketplace
595 River Road (near Archer Street), Edgewater, NJ

Board Links: Ramen Setagaya (らーめん せたが屋) 1st Ave
Momofuku Noodle vs. Setagaya
Setagaya is open.
Hakata tonkotsu ramen coming to the Big Apple

Two Finds for Forest Hills Sushi Lovers

Ran is an underappreciated bright spot for Forest Hills sushi lovers. “This is a true jewel of a place,” declares Linda. She describes a sashimi combination of impeccably fresh tuna, fluke, octopus, yellowtail, salmon, and mackerel, cut with skill and embellished with seaweed, lemon slices, and other well-chosen accompaniments. Others praise futomaki and ume-shiso rolls, among other things, and rank Ran well ahead of neighborhood competitors like Sato and Mickey’s Place.

Beyond sushi and sashimi, look for a fresh, simple tuna-avocado salad and better-than-average cooked dishes including agedashi tofu, smoky red miso soup, lightly seared tuna in ponzu, tofu steak with mushroom sauce and fresh vegetables, and tender beef short ribs in sweet sauce (“like Korean galbi-jjim, but better!” Linda promises). A handful of Japanese expats appear to have discovered the place, but, still, business remains alarmingly sparse. “I really love it. I don’t want to lose it. Please, hounds, give them a shot,” pleads SuzyP.

At Sushi Yasu, it’s all about the fish. Except for a couple of varieties of miso soup, sushi is all they serve at this friendly hole in the wall. Yasuji Hirashiki, the owner and sushi chef, travels to Hunts Point every day to select his seafood. In fact, his shop was a fish market before it was a sushi bar, and he still sells sushi-grade tuna and other fish.

Dave_G has had pristine toro and day boat scallops, among other things. “Yasu claims the scallops are so fresh you can see them moving,” he adds. “I didn’t see it, but they were very good.” Other standouts include rolls—spicy tuna, salmon skin, toro with scallion, and the show-stopping Marilyn Monroe, which stars those singular scallops plus other ingredients, topped with a smashing secret sauce of uni and mayonnaise. “Trust me, it’s really good,” swears Dave.

Ran Japanese Restaurant [Forest Hills]
103-01 Metropolitan Avenue (near 71st Road), Forest Hills, Queens

Sushi Yasu [Forest Hills]
71-45 Yellowstone Boulevard (between Clyde and Dartmouth), Forest Hills, Queens

Board Links: Ran Japanese Restaurant in Forest Hills
great Japanese in Forest Hills
Sushi Yasu in Forest Hills

A Surprisingly Stellar Italian Dog at Attilio’s Kitchen

New Jersey’s latest great Italian hot dog comes from an unlikely place: Attilio’s Kitchen, a homey full-service Italian restaurant in Denville. Ingredients are top notch, hotdoglover reports: beautifully fried eight-to-a-pound franks from Newark’s estimable Best Provision Company and delicious, sturdy pizza bread from JC’s Italian Bakery in Parsippany. Peppers and potatoes are plentiful and nicely fried (hotdoglover passes on the customary onions).

The Italian hot dog, rarely sighted outside Essex or Union counties, is on the menu here only because the owner grew up on them at Dickie Dee’s in Newark. Attilio’s version easily surpasses the one that inspired it, says hotdoglover. More than just a creditable effort for a sit-down restaurant, it’s one of the best Italian dogs around, right alongside Jimmy Buff’s in East Hanover and Tommy’s in Elizabeth.

Attilio’s does much more than hot dogs, as even hotdoglover is quick to point out. He recommends house-made mozzarella and brick-oven pizzas—including especially fine margherita and Gorgonzola pies.

Attilio’s Kitchen [Morris County]
278 Diamond Spring Road (near River Road), Denville, NJ

Board Links: Attilio’s Kitchen