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

Stollen: The Taste of Christmas

Christmastime means stollen to a lot of people, and Emil’s Swiss Pastry makes far and away the best, says Paliman. “It is the difference between any commercial bakery, and one run by a baker who actually has serious training. Emil has been doing this in his bakery for almost 50 years, and before that at the old Blum’s, of happy memory.”

He has stollen with and without marzipan. Basic stolen is $8 for small, $15 for large. Marzipan is a dollar extra. Pfeffernussen and cookies are amazing also.

Rockenwagner Bakery is making stollen daily through Christmas. The rest of their baked goods are delish, says mikester, so it seems like a promising prospect. A loaf is $16.

SwissMiss recommends Shoop’s, a German deli, for Dresdener stollen.

European Deluxe Sausage Kitchen (see also ChowNews #204) has stollen, but it’s a little heavy on the marzipan and light on the orange peel for RicRios.

Emil’s Swiss Pastry [West LA-ish]

1567 Barry Ave., at Barrington, Los Angeles

310-820-2666

Locater

Rockenwagner Bakery [Culver City-ish]

12835 W. Washington Blvd., at Beethoven, Los Angeles

888-626-0382

Locater

Shoop’s Delicatessen [Beaches]

2400 Main St. Ste. A1, at Hollister, Santa Monica

310-452-1019

Locater

European Deluxe Sausage Kitchen [Midtown]

9109 W. Olympic Blvd., at Doheney, Beverly Hills

310-276-1331

Locater

Board Links

Stollen

Butai: Underappreciated Japanese Grill in Gramercy

Butai is not what it appears. Belying its modern, bilevel space, it specializes in traditional robata-style grilled dishes. “We loved it. They are cranking out really good Japanese bar food with very few missteps,” marvels kenito799.

In addition to grilled stuff, the menu offers hot and cold appetizers, sushi and sashimi, and a couple of noodle dishes. Except for a few fusiony sushi rolls, they play it fairly straight. kenito wonders if that’s one reason business appears to be light at this sister restaurant to Hapon and Maxie in Midtown: “It doesn’t seem to be getting the appreciation it deserves. Maybe it’s not westernized enough for that neighborhood.”

Upstairs is the serene main dining room; downstairs is the bar and a small counter that looks into the kitchen, affording a view of cooks working the grill. Service is friendly and attentive, and ambience is cozy, comfortable, and chic without being pretentious, says cinnamon lover.

Some recommended dishes (many from the specials menu):

- Kushiyaki (grilled skewers): In the same league as city front-runner Totto, says kenito. All excellent: chicken thigh, wing, skin, gizzard and hip, skirt steak, squid tentacles, kabocha, duck with scallion, pork belly with ponzu, bacon-wrapped shishito peppers. Skewers are $2 to $5–and half price on Monday nights.

- Grilled whole saury from Japan ($15): A good-sized (11-inch) fish, cooked so the skin is crispy and the flesh succulent. You can eat all the bones except for the spine, and the delicious liver is left in place.

- Grilled short rib: Meaty bones are served alongside juicy rare slices. Grilled meats can be ordered in entree or “tapas” portions; even the $13 tapas portion is pretty big.

- Tempura of shiso-wrapped chicken with green tea salt ($7): Four large, tasty pieces with lots of crispy shiso leaf.

- Chawan mushi ($6): The traditional steamed savory custard, packed with good stuff, including two big gingko nuts and a shrimp with real flavor.

- Agedashi tofu ($6): Commendable texture, well-balanced flavors, and sufficient seasoning.

- Sashimi: kenito reports perfect yellowtail “toro” ($4) and mackerel ($2.50), and deeply flavorful uni ($4), but says toro was a bit off. Wasabi is fresh.

- Desserts: Lily bulb soup is flavorful but heavy on the red bean paste. Black sesame pudding is drizzled with caramel; the pudding is not too sweet, so the caramel complements it nicely.

Butai Restaurant [Gramercy]
115 E. 18th St., between Park Ave. S. and Irving Pl., Manhattan
212-387-8885
Locater

Yakitori Totto [Clinton]
251 W. 55th St., 2nd floor, between 8th Ave. and Broadway, Manhattan
212-245-4555
Locater

Board Links

Butai-A Great Find!

Favela Grill: Fresh, Satisfying Brazilian Chow in Astoria

At Favela Grill, a promising new Brazilian place in Astoria, don’t overlook the weekday specials. A good one is bacalhau (salt cod) stewed with potatoes, olives and onions, which might turn up on Fridays, Brian S reports. The specials, served with rice and exceptionally tasty beans, are $10 or, before 3 p.m., $7 for a smaller portion.

Favela, which replaces a churrascaria called Girasol, offers some grilled meats, but its menu leans more toward roasts, stews, and sautes. One smart order is moist, flavorful carne de sol (sun-cured beef) with onions and manioc fries. For starters, try light, fresh-tasting empanadas–fillings include bacalhau, meat, and tuna with peppers. Overall, it’s simple, sturdy, comforting chow, some of it a tad short on flavor, says quentinC. “The food is not mind-blowing,” he adds, “but it’s fresh, down-to-earth and well prepared.”

A few blocks south, a veteran Brazilian buffet and churrascaria has settled into a satisfying groove. “You must try Brasilianville”, insists smudgy, a fan of its unique, tasty buffet dishes, solid grilled meats, and bargain prices. junglekitte says a recent buffet spread featured impeccably fresh pasta, potato salad, beets, green beans, chicken in cream sauce, and stupendous corn pudding, among other things–all for $8. “Everything I tried was top-notch. I felt like I was back in Brazil.” As with any buffet, timing is critical. Look for fresh batches of chow sometime after 8 p.m., when hungry regulars start to fill the room.

Meats are dependably good. Brian S reports a scrumptious, 13-ounce portion of wine-marinated entrana (skirt steak), done extra-rare to order, for just $5.80. “On a good day at La Portena or Esquina Criolla you could do better–for three times the price,” he notes.

Favela Grill [Astoria]
33-18 28th Ave., near 35th St., Astoria, Queens
718-545-8250
Map

Brasilianville Cafe and Grill [Long Island City]
43-12 34th Ave., between 43rd and 44th Sts., Long Island City, Queens
718-472-0090
Map

Board Links

Favela review
Favela in Astoria?
Astoria
Great food at Brasilianville Cafe and Grill

Are We Bloated Yet?

With only a few hours left until Christmas, the round of holiday parties and gatherings is beginning to feel like an assault as you are faced with ever more groaning buffets. Like you, columnists, bloggers, and other opinion makers have eaten way too much. But they aren’t feeling particularly apologetic.

What’s on the menu? In South Carolina it’s sweet potato soufflé, red velvet cake, and fried chicken. But first, some latkes.

In Utah, it’s the dreaded all-day office potluck featuring plenty of cookies and candy.

M of M’s blog discovers that making Christmas cookies, even for gifts, inevitably leads to binging on Christmas cookies.

How full are we? At New York magazine’s Grub Street, the Gobbler has helpfully posted a scale of hunger and satiety from Ravenous to Blacked Out. Right now I’m at:

15. Bloated. The normal state of world-class gourmands like Orson Welles, Jackie Gleason, and Jabba the Hut.

Apparently, these articles, ubiquitous at this time of year, are not doing much good.

Chinatown Update: Amazing 66 and Other Cantonese Tips

Amazing 66, a Cantonese newcomer in Chinatown, is already drawing crowds with clean, clear flavors and inventive preparations. Braised and steamed dishes are smart picks, advises Brian S. “Braised duck with eight precious” is a generous portion of boneless duck breast topped with squid, shrimp, scallops, pork, chicken, pea pods, carrots, and mushrooms, and served with rich, ducky broth. Frog, deftly stir-fried with lily bulbs then steamed with rice, is a deservedly popular order, reports designerboy01. He senses a sure hand in the kitchen and an interest in introducing New Yorkers to less familiar dishes.

Other hits from Amazing 66’s first month in business: lobster over pan-fried noodles, baby bok choy with garlic, crisp chicken with pickled cabbage, five-spice-scented braised duck with brown mushrooms, spoon-tender beefsteak in a rich garlicky casserole, and steamed chicken with ham, broccoli, and mushroom in velvety, intensely chicken-y sauce. Portions are large, at least for now–steamed sliced salmon in black bean sauce is actually two huge salmon steaks, served in a deep bowl with dark savory broth. And you just might receive an order of soup on the house.

Rare miscues include overly chewy pork belly with squid and occasional overcooking and under-seasoning. Stick to Cantonese dishes; Miss Needle warns of leaden soup dumplings, disappointingly short on soup.

Three blocks north, a past Cantonese favorite appears to be on its game. 213 Grand Street Gourmet, which at first glance is a barbecued-meat house with a steam table, also has full English and Chinese menus. Two casseroles from the Chinese menu stand out, says Brian S: meaty chicken and mushrooms in rich brown broth, and fried fish with roast pork, mushrooms, and bean curd–both fresh and generously portioned. Past reports praise 213 Grand’s lo mein, chow fun, roast pork, and dim sum.

On Lafayette, next to the hit-or-miss Excellent Dumpling House, humble lunch spot New Wing Wong has re-emerged as humble lunch spot Wing Huang. Locals crowd in from morning till early evening for solid, cheap soup noodles, congees, barbecued meats, and rice plates. Duck gizzards over rice are an off-menu highlight, advises Pan.

Amazing 66 Restaurant [Chinatown]

formerly Eastern Villa

66 Mott St., between Bayard and Canal, Manhattan

212-334-0099
Locater

213 Grand Street Gourmet [Chinatown]

213 Grand St., between Mott and Elizabeth, Manhattan

212-226-4231

Locater

Wing Huang [Chinatown]

formerly New Wing Wong

111 Lafayette St., between Canal and Walker, Manhattan

212-274-0690

Locater

Board Links

Amazing 66 —new in Chinatown
213 Grand Street Gourmet Restaurant —Chinatown

Another Izakaya Favorite: Kan Yuzen

It’s not cheap, but Kan Yuzen is the best izakaya around, says gachimai, who places it miles ahead of places like Honda-ya. The restaurant is nice and clean, service is great, and food awesome. Waitresses in kimonos and wooden platform sandals, though, could be either nice and traditional or weirdly kitschy.


Kan Izakaya Yuzen [South Bay]
2755A Pacific Coast Hwy., Torrance

310-530-7888
Locater

Izakaya Kan Yuzen

Homemade Irish Cream

It’s easy to replicate the popular flavor of Bailey’s Irish Cream at home for a fraction of the cost. Susan627 uses Jameson whiskey in this recipe, which she gives as gifts:

1 cup light cream
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 2/3 cups Irish whiskey
2 Tbsp. Hershey’s chocolate syrup
1 tsp. instant coffee
1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. almond extract

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed for 30 seconds. Bottle in a tightly sealed container and refrigerate. Will keep for up to 2 months. Shake before using.

blue room notes that it’s important to serve this very cold, as pouring it over ice makes it watery.

Board Links

Homemade Baileys

Russian Tea with Vodka and Hot Rum Cows for Cold Winter Nights

kittyfood learned this recipe from a Russian instructor several decades ago:

3 1/2 quarts water
1 Tbsp. whole cloves
12 tea bags
1 quart unsweetened orange juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
vodka

Place cloves in water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add tea bags; let stand until tea is strong, then remove tea bags. Add orange and lemon juices and sugar, and stir to dissolve sugar. Add vodka to taste, and serve hot. Better if made in advance and aged 24 hours, then reheated (add vodka just before serving).

JK Grence the Cosmic Jester says the Hot Rum Cow is “perfect for when you’re cold and wet, and all you want to do is curl up in a big thick blanket and fall asleep”: It’s an ounce of rum, a cup of milk, a couple teaspoons of sugar, and a dash or two of Angostura bitters, heated.

Board Links

Hot alcoholic beverage

Lou Malnatti’s Chicago Pizza

Lou Malnatti’s in Chicago makes the quintessential version of the deep-dish pizza. It’s a favorite of denizens of the Windy City.

OneJaneDoe has ordered the pizzas for home and while traveling. They’ve always arrived in good shape. Bake on a pizza stone, or directly on the oven rack. They’re expensive, at $38 for a 9-inch pie. If you order in quantity, it’ll bring the shipping cost down on each pie. Buy a gift card for a special pizza-loving someone, or ask for one for yourself!

Board Links

I’m thinking about ordering a Lou Malnati’s Pizza [Moved from Chains board]

Potatoes

One thing we can all agree on is that potatoes are always fairly “potato-ish”. Like rice, they’re a relatively bland starchy staple that shines as a vehicle for the flavors provided by the addition of meat drippings, butter, or seasonings.

Different varieties will have subtle differences in texture and flavor. Yukon Golds provide a sweet backdrop to a dish of mashed potatoes. Very new potatoes will have a faint metallic taste, offers GDSwamp.

Peruvian and Bolivian potatoes are available in many varieties, even in the U.S. Das Ubergeek explains that the potato is to Peruvians what rice is to the Japanese. Peru is, after all, the ancestral home of this tuber.

There are blue, red, and purple potatoes, potatoes shaped like a thumb (fingerlings), waxy types for boiling (round white or red), and mealy types for baking (Russets). Look for organic potatoes and heirloom varieties; they are so many out there.

Here’s an excellent resource, listing 547 varieties.

Board Links

The unbearable sameness of potatoes