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

El Cocotero: Well-Stuffed Corn Cakes, Venezuelan Style

The pabellon is one of the best of the arepas at El Cocotero. It’s highly seasoned shredded steak, white cheese, black beans, and fried sweet plantain stuffed into a fresh corn cake. “A perfect little sandwich,” marvels Skillet Licker, who recommends a side of guasacaca (Venezuelan-style guacamole). Another great choice is a cold arepa sandwich called the Chiquinquira, filled with a refreshingly light combination of tomato, avocado, and guayanes cheese.

Also on the menu at this rustic, informal eatery: plantain “crostini” (tostones with meat, cheese, or vegetable toppings) and a popular lineup of entrees including roast pork, baked chicken, and stewed or grilled beef.

El Cocotero [Chelsea]
228 W. 18th St., between 7th and 8th Aves., Manhattan 10011
212-206-8930
Locater

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El Cocotero–Arepas

Colombian Pastries at a Staten Island Doughnut Shop

Alongside glazed, raised, and old-fashioned, look for Colombian pastries at Staten Island’s Country Donuts. A turnover-like treat filled with guava jam is especially fine, says HHH. Ask them to heat it up for you.

Country Donuts [Staten Island]
160 Richmond Ter., near Hamilton Ave., Staten Island 10301
718-876-7182
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delicious columbian guava pastry on Staten Island

Ferdinando’s Revisited: Sicilian Surprise in Brooklyn

Over a century of dishing up hearty Sicilian chow, Ferdinando’s has had its ups and downs–mostly downs in recent years, says Steve R. But his latest lunch there suggests things are looking up again. Panelle (chickpea fritters) and arancini (rice-cheese balls) are flavorful and clean-tasting, and vastedde are just right: fresh calf spleen and cheese in a nice, medium-soft sesame roll. “If the rest of their food is as well prepared,” adds Steve, “this place is back up there with Joe’s of Avenue U as one of the last remaining places to eat this type of Sicilian cooking in Brooklyn.”

Others recommend marinated eggplant, lightly dressed octopus or calamari salads, and the first-rate veal parmigiana sandwich, on fresh house-baked bread with smooth, flavorful tomato sauce.

Beyond the food, the ancient room looks brighter and spiffier than it has in years, and service is uncharacteristically friendly. Hours, as always, are variable. Recent reports say they’re open longer than before, as late as 10 p.m. But some regulars say the food is better and fresher earlier in the day.

Ferdinando’s Focacceria [Carroll Gardens]
151 Union St., between Hicks and Columbia, Brooklyn
718-855-1545
Locater

Joe’s of Avenue U Italian Cuisine [Gravesend]
287 Ave. U, between McDonald Ave. and Lake St., Brooklyn
718-449-9285
Locater

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Ferdinando’s

Sniffing Out White Truffles Around Manhattan

White truffles are here, and A Voce is making the most of the all-too-brief season. Phil E spotted three truffle specials on the menu early this month, including an egg dish and a delicious pasta, which arrived covered in truffle shavings. They run around $85 for appetizers and $105 for entrees.

Bottega del Vino offers a white truffle menu that includes a gorgeous risotto, perfectly cooked with rich, buttery cheese sauce–$110 and actually worth it, swears Hot Chocolate. Truffled asparagus-quail egg salad ($65) was not as good, marred by overcooked egg and soggy asparagus, though flavors were strong.

At Cru, truffle lovers have a couple of options: a full truffle tasting menu for $400 or truffles as an add-on to any dish for $50. Eleven Madison Park offers white truffles for a $65 supplement with Parmesan risotto, lobster lasagne, or frog legs with egg and chanterelles.

Hearth also has white truffles some nights. Mazzer, seated at the kitchen counter when neighboring diners coughed up the $50 supplement, watched a visibly excited chef Marco Canora cover a plate of risotto in a generous flurry of truffle slices.

WineTravel says Alain Ducasse gets the best truffles around for its amazing $320 tasting menu: “Killer!! Oh yeah, I had to pay.”

A Voce [Midtown]
41 Madison Ave., entrance on 26th St. between Madison and Park Ave. S., Manhattan
212-545-8555
Locater

Bottega del Vino [Midtown]
7 E. 59th St., between 5th and Madison Aves., Manhattan
212-223-3028
Locater

Cru [Greenwich Village]
24 5th Ave., at 9th St., Manhattan
212-529-1700
Locater

Eleven Madison Park [Gramercy]

11 Madison Ave., at E. 24th St., Manhattan
212-889-0905
Locater

Hearth [East Village]
403 E. 12th St., at 1st Ave., Manhattan
646-602-1300
Locater

Alain Ducasse [Midtown]
155 W. 58th St., in Essex House, Manhattan
212-265-7300
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It’s white truffle season (I think)

Hamburger Tips from Forest Hills to the Bronx

A stealth burger lurks on the menu at Corfu Grill, where it goes by bifteki and comes with pita triangles and tzatziki. Whatever they call it, it’s really a hamburger, says janie. She declares it the best in Forest Hills–and a deal at $5.50 for the lunch special. If you ask, they’ll put it on a bun. The rest of the menu leans toward Greek specialties like moussaka, pastitsio, gyro, and souvlaki.

Another Forest Hills spot, Cobblestones, makes a solid hamburger–known here as a hamburger–that Afikoman ranks ahead of hound favorite Donovan’s in Woodside. For $8.95 it comes with two toppings (cheese, bacon, chili, vegetables, etc.) plus lettuce, tomato, onion, and fries. Cheddar and chili is an especially nice combo. Beyond burgers, this place dishes up better-than-average pub chow, says kid_aa.

In the Bronx, the Hilltop serves a huge, satisfying hamburger with house-made mashed potatoes and a soda, all for $4.95, marvels beke. Other winners: lasagna, fresh-squeezed lemonade, steak sandwiches on garlic toast, and moussaka (when they have it)–“no creepy white stuff on top, just scrumptious layers of eggplant, potatoes, and ground beef.” Breakfast fare is skippable.

Corfu Grill [Forest Hills]
70-17B Austin St., between 67th Dr. and 68th Ave.Forest Hills, Queens
718-263-6263
Map

Cobblestones Pub [Forest Hills]
117-18 Queens Blvd., between 77th and 78th Aves., Forest Hills, Queens
718-263-9754
Locater

Hilltop Restaurant [Bronx]
1306 Castle Hill Ave., near Westchester Ave., Bronx
718-409-0412
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Great Burger in the Bronx on Castle Hill
Good burger in/around Forest Hills?

Soulful Salt Cod at Kurio

When salt cod turns up as a special at Kurio, it’s worth a try. A recent dinner of Portuguese-style bacalhau was superb, reports Dave Feldman: funky, flavorful cod with huge hunks of sweet potato and just enough tomato to cut the sweetness and richness.

For the uninitiated, this low-key neighborhood gem is not a Portuguese restaurant, but serves an eclectic, often-changing menu with flavors from all over the map–the Mediterranean, Asia, Latin America. “Kurio is one of my favorite places to eat or drink on the East Side,” Dave writes, “not the least because of the quiet, relaxed vibe, the interesting folks in the neighborhood, the excellent drinks, and the wonderful family that runs it.”

Kurio [Upper East Side]
338 E. 92nd St., between 1st and 2nd Aves.
Manhattan, NY
212-828-1267
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Bacalau at Kurio on 92nd St. on Between 1/2nd Ave.

Shepherd’s Pie Meets Lobster

On Mondays, Union Square Cafe offers an upmarket take on shepherd’s pie: chunks of lobster, mushrooms, spinach, carrots, and rich lobster sauce under a blanket of mashed potatoes. Unbeatable, says dkstar1.

Union Square Cafe [Union Square]
21 E. 16th St., between 5th Ave. and Union Square W., Manhattan
212-243-4020
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interesting lobster dish?

Surprising Fish Taco in Bellport, L.I

Unorthodox but scrumptious fish tacos are a don’t-miss order at Bellport’s newish Sugar Loaf Cafe, says Dave Feldman. Beautifully grilled mahi mahi with cabbage-carrot slaw, dressed with lively carrot-orange vinaigrette and cilantro-lime mayonnaise, is enfolded in soft flour tortillas. Tacos also come with beef, chicken, or shrimp.

It’s not your typical Mexican treatment, but this isn’t a Mexican restaurant. The rest of the menu offers sandwiches, burgers, wraps, soups, salads, and breakfast dishes with Brazilian and Mediterranean accents. Also: baked goods (including pao de queijo, the Brazilian cheese puffs) and a full lineup of espresso and other coffee drinks, brewed from Brazilian beans. “Everything in the cafe is such a joy,” effuses MN716.

For fall and winter, Sugar Loaf is open for breakfast and lunch daily plus early dinner (until 8) on Friday and Saturday.

Sugar Loaf Cafe [Suffolk County]
141 S. Country Rd., between Station Rd. and Woodruff St., Bellport, NY
631-286-5652
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Fish Tacos in Bellport, Long Island

All-Star Contender at Michael Jordan’s

Hounds aren’t quite sold on Michael Jordan’s steaks, but their hamburger is a winner. It’s 12 ounces of well-seasoned ground sirloin, broiled to a nice crust, served on a lightly grilled bun with decent steak fries–pricey at $14.50 but excellent, reports ESNY.

Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse [Grand Central Terminal]
23 Vanderbilt Ave., in Grand Central Terminal, Manhattan
212-655-2300
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Review of the burger at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse

Hamburger Toppings with a Twist

The Twisted Burger plays it straight with the meat, turning out a solid, classic hamburger, says Quetzal. The twists are in the thirty-plus toppings. Two popular choices are the Vermonter (Vermont cheddar and grilled apple) and the Blue Pig (bacon and blue cheese). Some others: the Honolulu (fried pineapple and white American cheese), Secretariat (horseradish, cheese, sauteed onion), and the Break Up (raw onion and Limburger). Chicken sandwiches come with the same toppings. Hot dogs are also unique and good, done in a hollowed-out roll that almost completely encases the frank and fixings (a shorter and more conventional lineup of cheeses, chili, bacon, etc.).

In Hell’s Kitchen, restaurant and caterer Mitchel London has pared its cafe menu down to just two items, hence the new name: Burgers and Cupcakes. Cheeseburgers are spectacular, says Felixnot (they come with American, cheddar, Swiss, blue, pepper jack, or goat), but fries are even better–fresh cut, nicely salted, very crispy.

On the Upper West Side, Nice Matin remains a dependable spot for the satisfyingly messy bistro-style creation dubbed the Five Napkin Burger: 10 ounces of beef with sauteed onion, aioli, and compte cheese, says JoanN. Great fries, too.

The Twisted Burger [East Village]
430 E. 14th St., between 1st Ave. and Ave. A, Manhattan
877-989-4783
Locater

Burgers and Cupcakes [Clinton]
formerly Mitchel London Foods
458 9th Ave., between W. 35th and 36th Sts., Manhattan
212-643-1200
Locater

Nice Matin [Upper West Side]
201 W. 79th St., at Amsterdam Ave., Manhattan
212-873-6423
Locater

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Best UWS Burger?
Burgers and Cupcakes —Mitchel London’s new place
Best fries around?
Twisted Burger–Anyone tried it?