Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.
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Score one for the geeks: Maybe the real secret to a long, healthy life isn’t running marathons and eating organic broccoli. Maybe what will get you hale and hearty into your 90s is eating lots of instant noodles at your desk.
Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen and the founder of Japanese food-industry giant Nissin Foods, makers of Top Ramen and Cup Noodles—and thus a man who had surely ingested more than his share of MSG-laden seasoning packets—was 96 years old at the time of his death last week. He held his position as Nissin’s chairman from the company’s founding in 1948 until 2005.
Across the blogosphere, Ando was saluted as the sustainer of students and computer programmers everywhere. Comparing ramen to other cheap, noodle-based eats like boxed mac ‘n’ cheese and canned spaghetti, Lawrence Downes gets downright poetic in The New York Times, noting,
Ramen noodles, by contrast, are a dish of effortless purity. Like the egg, or tea, they attain a state of grace through a marriage with nothing but hot water. After three minutes in a yellow bath, the noodles soften. The pebbly peas and carrot chips turn practically lifelike. A near-weightless assemblage of plastic and foam is transformed into something any college student will recognize as food, for as little as 20 cents a serving.
According to his obituary in The Japan Times, Ando was especially proud of Nissin’s introduction of Space Ram, vacuum-packed noodles made for Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi to eat aboard the space shuttle Discovery. Said Ando, “I’m happy to have realized my dream that noodles can go into space.”
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Vung Tau II, destined to be forever overshadowed by its brighter, more talented sibling Vung Tau Restaurant in San Jose, is worth checking out in its own right for its excellent banh khot, says echo. The crust on the outside of these little fried tasties is crisp, and the shrimp-laden interior is tender and custard-like. They are served so hot that even wrapped in cool herbs and lettuce and dunked in fish sauce, they are dangerous. At around $7, they’re a bit pricier than some other versions, but well worth it.
Also try the banh khot at Ngoc Mai, which, though not quite as good as the Vung Tau version, are totally worthwhile–so says zippo, who keeps going back and ordering them.
Vung Tau II Restaurant [South Bay]
1750 N. Milpitas Blvd., Milpitas
Ngoc Mai [Union Square]
547 Hyde Street, San Francisco
shrimp cups at vung tau 2 (milpitas)–delicious
“This is the best tasting shan jean bao I’ve had outside of Shanghai,” says stanfordfoodie of the fried pork buns at Shanghai Flavor Shop. The bao are pan-fried crisp on the outside with a wonderfully soft layer just beneath. Inside, a good portion of meat is surrounded by juicy broth–be careful not to scald yourself as you bite down. The weirdest part–it’s good food near Stanford.
They also have great baked radish cake (baked buns with radish shreds inside).
Shanghai Flavor Shop [Peninsula]
888 Old San Francisco Rd., Sunnyvale
Shanghai Flavor Shop in Sunnyvale
Pho Mac brings something unusual to Staten Island: genuine Vietnamese food. Open since November in the Graniteville neighborhood, it makes great spring rolls, lemongrass chicken, grilled pork chops, and pho, with tender meat in delicious broth, according to our first report. Prices are gentle: $10 to $13 for most entrees, $7 for big, filling bowls of soup, and just $6 to $7 for rice plates, which are served not only at lunchtime but all day.
“Usually we have to travel to Brooklyn for any authentic Asian food in this culinary wasteland,” writes Sandinyc. “The question is how long can it last on Staten Island?”
Pho Mac Vietnamese Restaurant [Staten Island]
1407 Richmond Ave., near Christopher Ln., Staten Island
New Vietnamese on Staten Island
New York City’s latest hamburger contender is the East Village watering hole Royale. Hounds rank the well-reviewed newcomer up there with Corner Bistro and a step above neighborhood hangout Paul’s. “The burger lives up to the hype,” promises mas. It’s a loosely packed Black Angus patty, flame-broiled to order with a pleasing char, served with nicely melted American cheese on a toasted brioche bun from Tom Cat Bakery.
“They reminded me of burgers you would have in a backyard straight off a grill,” says wingman, “very juicy with a great bun.” duaoj1 approves of their manageable heft and height, which allow beef, bun and add-ons to fit comfortably in each bite.
Wedge fries are simple and good, though some find them under-seasoned. There’s a bacon option, but it’s skippable. And some detractors complain of overcooked and underwhelming meat. “Drinking helps the burgers at Royale,” sniffs sarapeater.
Royale [East Village]
157 Ave. C, near E. 10th St., Manhattan
ROYALE–‘out of burgers’ at 8pm
Flatbush Farm deals in simple comforts, hearty seasonal fare that’s well suited to cold weather. At this congenial hangout that replaced Bistro St. Marks, hounds recommend pork goulash, spaetzle with mushroom ragout, spiced tuna belly with beans, and braised lamb shoulder with bubble and squeak, among other things.
Beers and wines are well chosen, and cocktails are worth a look. Two winners: the pear martini (vodka, limoncello, pear cider) and Grandpa Frank’s Slammer (brandy, vermouth, bitters). Beyond food and drink, expect an inviting vibe, welcoming service, and quirky, seductive decor that forktomouth sums up as “Euro-farm-estate-Gothacary.”
Detractors complain that prices are too high and the chow crosses the line from hearty to heavy. A weekend brunch choice, Toad in a Hole (egg and cheddar over bread), is made with overly thick brioche, says foodpyramid: “I felt like I’d ingested a brick by the time the meal was over.”
Flatbush Farm [Park Slope]
formerly Bistro St. Marks
76 St. Marks Ave., at Flatbush, Brooklyn
Flatbush Farm–good tuna belly and lamb
Flatbush Farm–Not so good
Taste of France stays true to the spirit of the humble neighborhood French eatery, with a menu that’s mostly simple sandwiches plus quiche, crepes, and a few soups. The daily special rotates between rotisserie chicken, tomato-wine chicken, and mustard chicken–classic bistro dishes.
The rotisserie chicken special includes half a small chicken, a mound of parsley mashed potatoes wrapped in a crepe, and a mixed greens and apple salad with nice soft bread. The chicken is perfectly seasoned, crusted with herbs, and incredibly tender and juicy. Split pea soup with ham is warm and unctuous, and in French onion soup, the caramelized onions really shine through. The quiches, with a tender and flaky crust and flavorful, firm custard, are very good–there’s a quiche with thin slices of potato and large pieces of buttery leek, and another with big chunks of ham, thinly sliced potato, and melted cheese.
The family that owns Taste of France also owns a nearby bakery where they source their sandwich bread, baked goods, and desserts.
Taste of France [OC Beaches]
7304 Center Dr., at Gothard, Huntington Beach 92647
You can get oden, Japan’s contribution to the hot pot canon, every day at Kushiyaki Dan – it’s hard to find in L.A.–says charliep. As you can tell from the name, their main specialty is grilled things on skewers; there are a few Japanese-Korean dishes too, like natto (fermented soybean) with kimchi.
Kushiyaki Dan [Midtown]
4001 W. Olympic Blvd., Norton, Los Angeles
Oden every day