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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Paddling Padma

New York Magazine has a tasty little item this week about Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi. Lakshmi, who is straining to escape the massive penumbra of world-famous writer Salman Rushdie — who happens to be her husband — is best known to viewers of the program as the slightly dazed chick wearing the stomach-baring what-have-you.

The overall theme of New York’s interview with Top Chef contestants: the damning of Lakshmi with faint praise and implicit disrepect. After being told by a Bravo network flack that he couldn’t say anything disparaging about Lakshmi, Ilan Hall offered this: “She’s beautiful. Mostly, she just explained things, and she did a good job at that.”

Cliff Crooks and Sam Talbot tee off on the apparent “fire hazard” as well, making for a reasonably spicy gumbo of disrespect.

Kielbasa and Much More in Polish Greenpoint

Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is naturally a rich hunting ground for Polish meats–but its bustling butcher shops can scare off outsiders who don’t know the turf or speak the language. ballulah (with an assist from Mom, who grew up in Krakow) shares some current favorites–and a few insider tips:

Sikorski: Greenpoint’s premier one-stop butcher, in ballulah’s book, is especially strong in sausage. Don’t miss superior biala kielbasa, the fresh white sausage that’s great in zurek (white borscht) or roasted with onions. And if they bring out a batch of roast schab (pork loin), follow your nose. “I challenge you not to buy a whole hunk fresh from the oven,” ballulah adds. “I can’t imagine a better smell in the world.” Also recommended: smoked spare ribs, kabanosy (thin air-dried sausage), pasztecik (a coarse, rustic pate), fresh slab bacon, krajana or wiejska kielbasa, and white horseradish (terrific with kielbasy). The staff is friendlier and more helpful than at many rival shops. Look for Andy, the jovial, red-faced butcher quick to pass out samples.

Steve’s Meat Market is a perennial favorite for first-rate meat and accommodating service. Recommended for any sausage, especially kabanosy–fresh, dried, or spicy, with powerful black pepper kick. KRS places Steve’s on top of the heap, right up with Kurowycky in the East Village.

Beata: Its rustic, double-smoked krajana sausage is just like what ballulah’s mom grew up with in Krakow. It’s available only late on Fridays and early on Saturdays.

W-Nassau Meat Market: This solid all-around butcher draws long lines for its well-priced fresh meats, including pork or veal cutlets and gorgeous whole cuts, which they’ll cube within seconds if you’re shopping for a stew or goulash. Parowki (large hot dog-shaped sausages) are exceptional, says ballulah, but other kielbasy and cold cuts show troubling signs of “liquid smoke” and other shortcuts.

Polam has delicious cold cuts, exceptional pickles, and fresh house-made ham studded with whole garlic cloves.

Hunting for meat sharpens the appetite, so you may want to drop in at Cafe Relax for a shopping break. Entrees (check out the handwritten menu above the counter) are typically enormous, served with two sides, and under $6. Try dill-laden zurek (white borscht) with hard boiled egg and mashed potato (dip small spoonfuls of the potato into the soup as you go). Other smart orders: pierogi (boiled or fried), nalesniki (stuffed crepes), potato pancakes, and pork or chicken cutlets. Among the sides, raw sauerkraut salad, mashed potatoes, buraczki (beets), and cucumber-sour cream salad are especially good.

Sikorski Meat Market [Greenpoint]
603 Manhattan Ave., between Nassau and Driggs, Brooklyn

Steve’s Meat Market [Greenpoint]
104 Nassau Ave., between Leonard and Eckford Sts., Brooklyn

Kurowycky Meat Products [East Village]
124 1st Ave., between St. Marks Pl. and E. 7th St., Manhattan

Beata Delicatessen [Greenpoint]
984 Manhattan Ave., between India and Huron Sts., Brooklyn

W-Nassau Meat Market [Greenpoint]
915 Manhattan Ave., between Kent St. and Greenpoint Ave., Brooklyn

Polam International [Greenpoint]
952 Manhattan Ave., between Java and India Sts., Brooklyn

Cafe Relax [Greenpoint]
68 Newel St., near Nassau Ave., Brooklyn

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Best kielbasa in Greenpoint

Cumin Get It

What’s the best cumin lamb dish within 60 miles of San Francisco? Many hounds think it’s the cumin lamb at China Village. “Run, do not walk, to try their Village Lamb,” says a_and_w.

Spices II serves a cumin lamb hot pot dish that you can smell as you walk into the restaurant, because everyone’s eating it, says Pei. It’s highly addictive. coolbean98 likes the cumin lamb at Spices! 3.

The cumin lamb at Ark is still great, even after the departure of chef Jimmy Zhang. Also try the shrimp on a stick with cumin. Lori SF likes the cumin lamb, and the hot pot dishes in general, at the great-but-expensive Old Mandarin Islamic. And Robert Lauriston prefers the cumin lamb at Darda to both China Village’s and Old Mandarin Islamic’s versions.

China Village [East Bay]
1335 Solano Ave., Albany

Spices II [Richmond]
291 6th Ave., San Francisco

Spices! 3 [Chinatown]
369 12th St., between Franklin and Webster, Oakland

Ark Restaurant [East Bay]
1405 Park St., Alameda

Old Mandarin Islamic [Sunset]
3132 Vicente St., San Francisco

Darda Seafood Restaurant [South Bay]
296 Barber Ct., Milpitas

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Best Cumin Lamb dish within a 60 mile radius of SF

Western Food, Chinese Style

It turns out that, at Hong Kong-style Prince Cafe–whose menu includes such dishes as Japanese ramen, escargot, peanut butter porky bun, Denmark pork chop and a spam and egg sandwich–the thing NOT to order is the shrimp wonton noodle soup, as Dave MP recently found out. Instead, accept the place for what it is: American and European food, made by Chinese folks especially for Chinese audiences. This might sound suspicious at first, but if you’ve ever experienced the comforts of a Japanese home-style omelet filled with fried rice and ketchup, you will understand the possibilities here. So order the sizzling black pepper spaghetti. Or the borscht.

The presence of borscht on the menu is actually a good indicator that you’re dealing with a Hong Kong-style cafe. Hong Kong-style places often serve a tomato-based borscht, made with beef, potatoes, and cabbage, rather than the familiar beet-based variety, says Gary Soup.

PeterL recommends the Portuguese-influenced Macau Cafe, located in the Ranch 99 mall in Richmond, which offers a slightly different take on the standard Hong Kong-style tea cafes. anna thinks St. Anna Cafe Shop is one of the better Hong Kong-style cafés around in terms of food and value, and also recommends Denny’s Café (NOT to be confused with Denny’s Restaurant, of Grand Slam Breakfast fame) and Broadway Bistro in Burlingame, the latter of which serves an unusually wide variety of food.

Prince Cafe [Richmond]
5423 Geary Blvd., San Francisco

St. Anna Cafe Shop [Chinatown]
326 8th St., Oakland

Macau Cafe [East Bay]
a.k.a. Orchid Bowl Cafe
3288 Pierce St., Richmond

Denny’s Cafe [Richmond]
5530 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco


Broadway Bistro [Peninsula]
349 Broadway St., Millbrae

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Prince Cafe–19th and Geary, SF–Report
Oakland–Saint Anna Cafe Shop (HK style coffee shop)?

Birds of a Feather – Yakitori Totto Hatches Torys

If you like Totto, you’ll like Torys. New York’s favorite yakitori-ya has spawned an East Side twin, taking over the upstairs space briefly occupied by Tori-gen. “Essentially Totto East,” sums up kenito799, who reports a similar menu that showcases every imaginable part of the chicken, faultlessly seasoned and grilled, from the familiar (thigh, wing, breast with green onion) to the exotic (breast bone). The latter is worth a try–smoky and crunchy, with surprising complexity of flavor and play of textures.

Other winners, well known to Totto fans, include tsukune (skewered ground chicken), deeply chickeny rice porridge, and meaty eringi (king oyster) mushroom. Torys sets itself apart by offering more Okinawan-inspired dishes than its sister restaurant. It also features chicken sashimi–seasoned with sesame oil or Korean-style spices–which Totto no longer serves. At both restaurants, the setting is spare and comfortable. The vibe is unmistakably Japanese.

Yakitori Torys, a.k.a. Torys Japanese Grille [Midtown East]
formerly Tori-gen
248 E. 52nd St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., 2nd floor, Manhattan

Yakitori Totto [Clinton]
251 W. 55th St., between 8th Ave. and Broadway, 2nd floor, Manhattan

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Torys Yakitori on 52nd st
Best Yakitori

The Faux-Hostess With the Mostest

Cupcakes from Dainties knocked FoodieMcFood for a loop. Dark chocolate with ganache frosting and a shot of whipped cream inside and on top make them like the Hostess cakes of childhood, but so, so much better.

There are five options for the whipped cream flavor–vanilla bean, raspberry, chocolate, caramel, and coffee–but the cupcakes are all chocolate with ganache frosting. Chocophobes need not apply.

Although it’s more of a catering operation, the owner welcomes drop-ins. Don’t expect a cafe atmosphere, though.

cvc says there’s another good new cupcake place in Pasadena, Dots.

Dainties Cupcakes [Beaches]
11058 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles

Dots Cupcakes [Pasadena-ish]
400 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena
626-568-DOTS (3687)

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Ultra-chocolatey cupcakes.

Jewish Penicillin – It’s for All of Us

It’s cold season, just the right time for a hot bowl of deli soup.

Kreplach soup at Solley’s in Sherman Oaks has excellent dumplings of good thick dough filled with well-spiced beef, says bglicklich. The broth is also rich and tasty, with lots of noodles, chicken, and carrots. It costs $9…but such are the times we live in.

Matzo ball soup from Fromin’s is NAspy’s answer to the common cold. You can also get “chicken in a pot,” a soup that includes a matzo ball, a kreplach, half a chicken, and lots of noodles and carrots, plus half a loaf of rye on the side.

Canter’s also has chicken in the pot, and Hackenbush thinks it’s amazing–with a boiled potato and sometimes some kasha in the mix. The basic chicken soup here is a purist’s version: just broth and noodles or rice, no chicken or carrots.

Label’s Table, a real-deal deli, serves an excellent matzo ball soup with no chicken, says roastingjoe. Nate ‘n’ Al’s version, also very good, is similarly light on meat.

For those who like their matzo ball soup “loaded” with chicken, vegetables, and herbs, davinagr’s fave is Weilers. The one in Woodland Hills makes the other locations pale by comparison, she says.

Solley’s Restaurant & Deli [East San Fernando Valley]
4578 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks

Solley’s Restaurant & Deli [West San Fernando Valley]
16650 Ventura Blvd., Encino

Fromin’s Restaurant [Beaches]
1832 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica

Fromin’s Restaurant [West San Fernando Valley]
17615 Ventura Blvd., Encino

Canter’s Fairfax Restaurant [Fairfax Village]
419 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles

Label’s Table Delicatessen [West San Fernando Valley]
23311 Mulholland Dr., Woodland Hills

Weilers Deli [West San Fernando Valley]
21161 Victory Blvd., Canoga Park

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Matzo balls and kreplach

Keeping the Heat in Your Meat

Many recipes instruct you to remove meat from a pan and “keep it warm” while you deglaze the pan to make a sauce, or take other steps and add the meat back to the dish in progress. And when you roast or grill meat or poultry, you want to keep it warm while it rests before serving. The best way to keep meats warm without allowing them to overcook depends on the size of the cut and the way it’s cooked. If you’ll be adding meat back to a pan or plating within a few minutes, keeping it on a plate on top of the stove–which will be nice and warm from your cooking–will often do the job. Many tent meat with foil to help keep the heat in: drape foil loosely over the meat, don’t wrap it tightly. If you need to keep meat warm for longer than 10 minutes or so, put it an oven at the lowest possible setting (“keep warm” or at most 200F). The one case where you should not tent meat is when you’ve cooked something whose texture you want to keep crisp, such as skin-on roast chicken. Tenting will create a bit of steam and you’ll lose that delectable crispiness.

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How do you ‘keep meat warm’?

So Many Ways with Fresh Dill

Fresh dill works with any number of foods. It’s a great complement to fish, chicken, and potatoes, but also works well with many other vegetables.

Use it in shrimp, tuna, chicken, and potato salads, made either with oil- or mayonnaise-based dressings. It’s great in a lemony vinaigrette, or in a salad dressing made from cream and lemon juice. Add it to fresh green salads for a bright flavor. Steam carrots with dill or saute mushrooms in butter with dill. Add it to beet borscht, potato-leek soup, or lentil soup. Fill omelets with dill and feta cheese. Add it to bread dough, with or without chopped olives.

carswell likes a versatile sauce made from olive oil, lemon juice, blanched green olives, capers, and snipped dill fronds heated until warm.

spades’s favorite way to use dill is in a creamy cucumber salad: Peel and slice thin an English cucumber and toss it thoroughly with salt. Chill for an hour to allow the salt to draw the water out, then drain the water off and add sour cream, dill, pepper, and salt if you think it needs more. SuzMiCo makes a similar salad with hearts of palm. For a lighter version, use plain yogurt in place of the sour cream.

mermaidsd makes dilly rice: Saute garlic, turmeric, cumin, and salt in some olive oil until the spices are fragrant. Stir in finely chopped dill and saute for another minute, being careful not to overcook. Add rinsed basmati rice and mix until coated with spices and herbs. Add appropriate amount of water and cook until rice is done.

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Dill–wonder herb.
Ideas for using up dill?

Cornish Game Hen

The true Cornish game hen is a crossbreed that results in a small-sized chicken. But it’s hard to know if the little single-serving bird labelled “Cornish game hen” you bought at your supermarket is actually of the Cornish variety. The USDA requires that chickens sold as Cornish game hens must weigh no more than 2 pounds, ready to cook. And nothing more. It might not even be a “hen.”

In any case, they make a nice presentation. They can be stuffed, or seasoned as you would a normal-sized chicken, and they’re perfect for a single serving. carswell describes the flavor as bland and best cooked with fruit and other flavorful ingredients. They are succulent and juicy.

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Cornish Game Hens