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

Sobakoh, Japanese Noodle Contender in the East Village

The newest name to come up in the “best soba in town” conversation is SobaKoh, whose organic buckwheat noodles have gradually won a chowhound following since its arrival last spring. Stroll by during the day and you can watch the noodles rolled and cut by hand through a street-side window at this serene East Village shop. They come out flavorful, nutty-tasting, and uncommonly delicate–wonderful hot, cold, or in other guises, like fried or in salads. “It deserves more business than it’s getting,” suggests Simon, who ranks its cold soba equal to or better than nearby Sobaya’s, and just a step below that at the much pricier Honmura An.

Daily specials are numerous and excellent. Recent choices include airy soft shell crab tempura, refreshing daikon salad with ginger and yuzu, and special soba offerings with eel-hijiki tofu cake or salmon roe and grated daikon. Hounds also appreciate SobaKoh’s artful presentation, caring service, and open, calming space. “This place is an oasis of calm in the East Village frenzy,” writes rose.

In Midtown, Soba Nippon comes recommended for first-rate authentic handmade soba. kvn also swears by its soba salad (with shredded chicken, beef, or tofu), not cheap, but immensely rewarding.

SobaKoh [East Village]
309 E. 5th St., between 2nd and 1st Aves., Manhattan

Sobaya [East Village]
229 E. 9th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan

Honmura An [Soho]
170 Mercer St., between Houston and Prince, Manhattan

Soba Nippon [Midtown]
19 W. 52nd St., between 5th and 6th Aves., Manhattan

Board Links: Japanese noodle bars
handcut soba noodles in EV?
Soba Koh —excellent meal

Think Outside the Bubble: Pearl Tea Discovery at Taco Bell

Not far from the heart of Flushing’s Chinatown, there’s a Taco Bell/Pizza Hut outlet where you can wash down that Crunchwrap Supreme with better-than-you’d-expect tapioca tea drinks. They’re sold toward the back of the shop, from a window wedged in next to the Crown Fried Chicken counter that shares this space.

Run by a veteran of the Taiwanese chain Ten Ren, this stealth boba operation uses high-quality tea, says chrismkwok–who adds that a bubble-head buddy swears by the place. Also on the menu: shakes, smoothies, fruit and vegetable juices, and Taiwan-style shaved ice (with taro, tapioca, gelatin, red beans, and other toppings).

A couple blocks south, Quickly shows just the right touch in sweetening its milk teas, shakes, slushes, and other drinks, says chashaobao. Not surprisingly, this outpost of the Taipei-based chain Kuai Ke Li delivers something close to the authentic Taiwan boba cafe experience.

Just up Main Street, longtime favorite Sago still has its fans, but the bubble may have burst–or at least shriveled. The place apparently changed hands in the past year or so, and eatingpal complains that the tapioca pearls are now smaller and less satisfyingly chewy.

Taco Bell/Pizza Hut [Flushing]
136-15 Roosevelt Ave., between Main and Union Sts., Flushing, Queens

Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng [Flushing]
135-18 Roosevelt Ave., between Prince and Main Sts., Flushing, Queens

Quickly [Flushing]
41-40 Kissena Blvd., between Barclay Ave. and Main St., Flushing, Queens

Sago Tea Cafe [Flushing]
39-02 Main St., at 39th Ave., Flushing, Queens

Board Links: ISO best bubble tea in Flushing

Daphne’s New Digs and Other New York News

Daphne’s Caribbean Express–a neighborly spot for jerk chicken, rice and peas, and other homey Jamaican food–has traded its lived-in, cafeteria-like room for fancy new digs a few doors east. Reportedly hit with a backbreaking rent increase, it moved in with upscale sister restaurant Blue Mahoe and rechristened itself Daphne at the Blue Mahoe. Gone, for now, are Blue Mahoe’s “Caribbean Fusion” dishes (e.g., “Bouillabaisse Caraibe” for $28), replaced by the more down-home chow from Daphne’s. The menu is still being reworked, and some of the pricier entrees may return.

In other news, two hound hangouts have downsized: Korean dumpling specialist Mandoo Bar has closed its Village outlet; a sister location in Koreatown survives. And fish-and-chippery A Salt and Battery has closed its East Village shop; its mate in the West Village remains open.

From the Lower East Side, some positive news: hound-endorsed seafood house Tides has just begun serving Sunday brunch. jonnyk reports perfectly cooked seafood omelettes and lobster Benedict with light, tasty hollandaise. It’s a prix fixe deal–$15 to $18 (prices are still in flux), including two bellinis or mimosas. Besides the egg dishes, the menu includes the popular lobster roll (current seasonal dressing: lemon zest, oregano, mayonnaise) and should expand as the brunch crew gets its sea legs.

Daphne’s Caribbean Express [East Village]
233 E. 14th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves.,
Manhattan, NY 10003

Daphne at the Blue Mahoe [East Village]
243 E. 14th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan, NY 10003

Mandoo Bar [Greenwich Village]
71 University Pl., between 10th and 11th Sts., Manhattan

Mandoo Bar [Herald Square]
2 W. 32nd St., between 5th Ave. and Broadway, Manhattan

A Salt and Battery [East Village]
80 2nd Ave., between E 4th and 5th Sts., Manhattan

A Salt and Battery [Greenwich Village]
112 Greenwich Ave., between W 12th and 13th Sts., Manhattan

Tides Seafood Restaurant [Lower East Side]
102 Norfolk St., between Delancey and Rivington, Manhattan

Board Links: dinner for $25 for 2ppl
Tides Seafood Brunch
East Village!
jamaica in EV?

At Szechuan Garden, a Chinese Menu for Everyone

West Hartford’s Szechuan Garden, like a lot of Chinese restaurants, hides its best and most authentic dishes on a Chinese-only menu. But unlike many others, it will patiently walk non-Chinese diners through that menu and direct them toward real regional chow, if they ask.

“Most anything on the Chinese menu is good,” says Stagger, who recommends Sichuan dumplings in red oil, dry wok-cooked chicken with chile, shredded pork with pressed tofu, cold jellyfish salad, spicy beef tendon, cold conch with spicy sauce, and ma la fish, among other things. Standard American Chinese stuff is decent, too, if you prefer.

Szechuan Tokyo sounds like a fusion train wreck waiting to happen, but its menu includes a long list of genuine Sichuan specialties, and sketchy reports suggest it’s the real deal. “Didn’t you always wonder why so many Chinese families are eating in a sushi/American Chinese place?” ponders Chris in Hartford.

China Pan also has its fans–vegetarian dishes are especially strong, says jim. Here, too, you’d best avoid the Americanized menu, warns chefboudreaux–but we’re not sure what the true regional focus is at this popular Farmington restaurant.

Also recommended: Chengdu and Butterfly, at least for their American Chinese fare.

Szechuan Garden [Hartford County]
904 Farmington Ave., between Trout Brook Dr. and Arnold Way, West Hartford, CT

Szechuan Tokyo Restaurant [Hartford County]
1245 New Britain Ave., between Main St. and Randal Ave., West Hartford, CT

China Pan [Hartford County]
1600 S. East Rd., Farmington, CT

Chengdu Cuisine of China [Hartford County]
179 Park Rd., between Oakwood Ave, and Whiting Ln., West Hartford, CT

Butterfly Restaurant [Hartford County]
831 Farmington Ave., between Lancaster and Westfield Rds., West Hartford, CT

Board Links: Chinese in W. Hartford CT

Black and White Update: Surprise at a Bagel Shop

There is no better black and white cookie than the one from the Pick a Bagel mini-chain, swears sarabeth721, who has tasted many and loves the ones from the location near Carnegie Hall. “The cookie part is cake-like, just as it should be. The icing is delicious and has just the right consistency.”

Uptown, Nussbaum and Wu does another decent black and white–plus all-black or black-and-tan (mocha) models, “both nice for those of us who find the white icing just too sweet,” says floretbroccoli.

Also recommended: Lafayette Bakery in the Village, perennial favorite Glaser’s on the Upper East Side and, in Brooklyn, Leske’s Danish Bakery in Bay Ridge.

Pick a Bagel [Carnegie Hall]
200 W. 57th St., at 7th Ave., Manhattan, NY

Nussbaum and Wu [Morningside Heights]
2897 Broadway, at 113th St., Manhattan, NY

Lafayette Bakery [Greenwich Village]
26 Greenwich Ave., between W. 10th and 11th Sts., Manhattan, NY

Glaser Bake Shop [Upper East Side]
1670 1st Ave., near 88th St., Manhattan, NY

Leske’s Danish Bakery [Bay Ridge]
7612 5th Ave., between 76th and 77th Sts., Brooklyn, NY

Board Links: Bopkas and black and white cookies

Randazzo’s Revisited: Pass the Secret Sauce

It’s no knock on the seafood at Randazzo’s Clam Bar, but hounds can’t stop talking about the secret sauce. Rich, thick and sturdy, fiery in its spicy incarnation, it’s an outstanding match for fresh fish, shellfish, and pastas at this Sheepshead Bay landmark.

It’s the magic ingredient in linguine, shrimp fra diavolo, fried scallops or calamari, and more. Lobster fra diavolo is a showstopper–a sweet, firm 1 1/2-pounder, cut into chunks and served on a giant platter amid a heap of clams, mussels, and shrimp, a helping of pasta, and that luscious tomatoey, garlicky sauce. For red sauce haters, grilled seafood, rich and meaty lobster bisque, and oysters and littlenecks from the raw bar are good options.

Even after decades in business, Randazzo’s remains at its heart a humble clam shack, and hounds have learned to overlook minor faults. If your salad comes with packaged dressing, ask for some oil and vinegar and improvise. And if you’d prefer the otherwise stellar soft shell crab sandwich without bottled-tasting tartar sauce, opt for that amazing secret sauce instead.

“Everything is so fresh and freshly prepared. The homey atmosphere and friendly service make this a gem to treasure, a treat from a bygone age,” raves Fleur. “And the beautiful view across the bay invites an after-dinner stroll.”

Randazzo’s Clam Bar [Sheepshead Bay]
2023 Emmons Ave., between Ocean Ave. and E. 21st St., Brooklyn

Lobster Lover Feast at Randazzo’s
Randazzo Sheepshead Bay Amazing Sauce
went to jordan’s and randazzo’s

Sweet Breads for Morning, Noon, and Night

Eli Zabar’s E.A.T. has a sweet, rich, yeasted multigrain bread, studded with cranberries and walnuts, that Non Cognomina could nosh on from morning to midnight. It’s lovely toasted for breakfast, served with cheese, or, NC confesses, as a special late-night snack with a nice thick spread of butter.

Other baked treats from hound perennials: chocolate-cherry loaf from Amy’s Bread, raisin-walnut bread from Sullivan Street Bakery, and chocolate bread from Balthazar.

E.A.T. [Upper East Side]
1064 Madison Ave., between E. 80th and 81st Sts., Manhattan

Eli’s [Upper East Side]
1411 3rd Ave., between 80th and 81st Sts., Manhattan

Amy’s Bread [Clinton]
672 9th Ave., between 46th and 47th Sts., Manhattan

Amy’s Bread [Chelsea]
75 9th Ave., between 15th and 16th Sts., in Chelsea Market, Manhattan

Amy’s Bread [Greenwich Village]
250 Bleecker St., at Leroy, Manhattan

Sullivan Street Bakery [Clinton]
533 W 47th St., between 10th and 11th Aves., Manhattan

Balthazar [Soho]
80 Spring St., at Crosby St., Manhattan

Board Links: ISO Dessert bread

Five Hamburger Contenders In Brooklyn

The je ne sais quoi in the alluring hamburger at Cocotte is a dash of cognac, which is drizzled over a fistful of top-notch beef at this Park Slope bistro and bar. Swiss cheese, portobello mushroom, and great French fries complete the plate. Best burger in Brooklyn, declares EJC.

Elsewhere in the Slope, hounds love Helios’ half-pound Black Angus burger, which comes juicy and nicely charred on a house-made brioche roll. Sharp cheddar and freshly sauteed mushrooms put it over the top, says redgirl. For a few bucks more, add standout herb fries or a better-than-you’d-expect side salad of greens, very good crumbled feta, onion, and a tasty vinaigrette. Few reports so far from the Greek side of the menu, except that lamb souvlaki and eggy, lemony avgolemono soup are worth a try.

In Williamsburg, dive bar-turned-bistro Sweetwater makes an excellent, slightly fancy burger with Gruyere and caramelized onions on an English muffin–“which may sound twee to you but I assure you isn’t,” promises benghoil.

Carroll Gardens’ Crave rolls out a 10-ouncer–nicely seasoned meat “with a bit of a kick to it,” says David B–with pickled onions on onion brioche.

And in Brooklyn Heights, the Heights Cafe serves excellent char-broiled burgers with freshly made fries or onion rings, says Fleur.

Cocotte [Park Slope]
337 5th Ave., at 4th St., Brooklyn

Helios [Park Slope]
formerly Elios
82 6th Ave., between St. Marks and Prospect Pl., Brooklyn

Sweetwater [Williamsburg]
105 N 6th St., between Berry St and Wythe Ave., Brooklyn

Crave [Carroll Gardens]
570 Henry St., between Carroll and Summit, Brooklyn

Heights Cafe [Brooklyn Heights]
84 Montague St., at Henry St., Brooklyn

Board Links: great hamburger in brooklyn
helios: great burger
Great burger alert

Telepan Revisited

From the amuse bouche on, zGustibus was sold on the farm-to-table experience at Telepan. The three-part curtain-raiser for his recent dinner comprised chilled carrot soup with olive oil, crostini with mushrooms and beans, and puff pastry filled with cheese. “So delicious, sweet and fresh tasting. It was a definite signal of the kind of greenmarket experience we were about to have.”

At this seven-month-old restaurant on the Upper West Side, chef Bill Telepan (Judson Grill) shows a soft spot for eggs. Two winning dishes: coddled eggs atop collard greens and scrapple, and pea carbonara with pancetta and poached egg (which you mix into a delicious mess in the egg pasta). “If you like to break eggs on top of things, then this is definitely your restaurant.”

In some courses, the accompaniments outshine the star ingredients. Halibut comes out crisply seared outside, moist and flavorful inside–yet it’s upstaged by the chanterelles, wild spinach, and killer crisped gnocchi it’s served over. Overall, though, the end result is a delicious and well-conceived meal. “A lot of times a restaurant will have a great menu but the food doesn’t live up,” observes zGustibus. “At Telepan, the food definitely lived up to the menu.”

Brunch is no letdown, early reports suggest. Even at $25, it’s “an enormous value,” says anon646–a prix fixe deal of two courses plus a generous bread basket of first-rate scones, cinnamon rolls, small doughnuts, and assorted cakes. Winning starters include smoked brook trout (a Telepan signature) on potato-chive blini. Recommended main courses: lobster-scallion omelette and a blowout babka-style chocolate French toast, as amazing as it sounds.

Telepan [Upper West Side]
72 W. 69th St., between Columbus Ave. and Central Park West, Manhattan

Board Links: Telepan: Summer Menu (Long Review)
Telepan Review?

Punto Fijo: Peruvian Sleeper In Jackson Heights

Jackson Heights’ Punto Fijo deserves more attention than it gets for its homey, traditional Peruvian food, says kenito799. “It will fulfill all your Peruvian cravings,” he promises, especially if you’re hankering for carapulcra, a meaty stew made with dried potato. Also recommended: ceviche tiradito; anticuchos (grilled thin-sliced cow heart, excellent with green aji sauce); jalea (fried mixed seafood) or fried chunks of corvina; papas a la huancaina.

“I’ve been a few times and have not been disappointed,” reports sandrina, who singles out the fried calamari, served with cassava fries, a creamy green hot sauce and a pinkish sweet one.

Punto Fijo Restaurant [Jackson Heights]
89-12 Northern Blvd., between 89th and 90th Sts, Jackson Heights, Queens

Board Links: Punto Fijo Peruvian (moved from Manhattan Board)