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

The Taste of Taiwan in Freshly Made Bao

Diho focuses on one thing: fresh, tasty Taiwanese pastries (steamed buns, dumplings, and cakes), says Chubbypanda. No boba or meal sets at this mom-and-pop Taiwanese bakery in Orange County.

The bao are the real standout. They’re made fresh each morning, and they’re at their very best right out of the steamer. That’s why large crowds gather at the bakery on weekend mornings. The selection of bao is massive.

Their top seller is the pork and vegetable steamed bun (cai rou bao), with ground pork, leeks, ginger, and rice noodles. The pork is juicy without being greasy, the seasonings are well balanced and bold, and the noodles…well, they’re nice to chew on.

Cha shu bao is an unusually good version of this old standby, the BBQ pork bun–not too sweet, juicy instead of dry. Good bun-to-pork ratio, too.

Mushroom bao (xiang gu bao) hold a flavorful mixture of sauteed shiitake mushrooms, ground beef, and onions.

Su cai bao, or vegetable steamed bun, is like a bao version of the best egg roll you’ve ever had. Stuffed with stir-fried shiitakes, cabbage, carrot, garlic, and seasonings, it even tastes healthy without sacrificing any flavor.

As for the breads, the pickled mustard green bun pretty much captures some quintessential flavors: pickled mustard greens and sauteed ground beef. This savory mixture comes enveloped in a light, soft, brioche-like dough.

Raisin bread is mildly sweet and studded with plump, juicy raisins. With a soft crust and thick, fluffy, chewy crumb, it’s like a cross between brioche and pain de mie.

If you really want to try a variety, get a four-in-one bun–four mini buns that are risen next to one another so they meld into one (easily separated) bun when baked. Diho’s has green onion and shredded pork, cha shao (char siu, or BBQ pork), custard, and sweet red bean fillings.


Diho Bakery [South OC]
14130 Culver Dr. # J, at Scottsdale, Irvine
949-857-6415
Map

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Awesome Taiwanese bakery

The Single Best Italian Rum Cake in the Bay Area

Where can you get the best Italian rum cake in the Bay Area? For once, there’s no debate–just go to Dianda’s. It’s the only Italian bakery that comes close to the great ones in Brooklyn and the Bronx, says sfoperalover. Robert Lauriston and RWCFoodie agree. Note that Dianda’s has two locations, one in San Francisco, one in San Mateo.


Dianda’s Italian American Pastry Co. [Mission]
2883 Mission St., San Francisco
415-647-5469
Locater

Dianda’s Italian American Pastry Co. [Peninsula]
117 De Anza Blvd., San Mateo
650-570-6260
Locater

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BEST Italian rum cake in the Bay Area

Gingerbread

Check out the gingerbread at Semifreddi’s Bakery, says Alexandra Eisler. It’s a small, old-fashioned tea loaf, very highly spiced with ginger and molasses, and very moist. It’s baked in a cute little decorative paper container.

Morton the Mousse and wally direct you to the gingerbread at Sketch. It’s one of their best cakes, and their cakes are transcendent. The gingerbread has great flavor and texture, and comes in a single-serving portion about the size of a large muffin. Enjoy.


Semifreddi’s Bakery [East Bay]
372 Colusa Ave., Kensington
510-596-9935

Locater

Sketch Ice Cream [East Bay]
1809A Fourth St., Berkeley
510-665-5650
Locater

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Gingerbread at Semifreddi’s

Great Goat at Coimbra and Other Jersey Iberian Tips

On Newark’s Spanish and Portuguese scene, Coimbra is the bright spot these days. If roast goat is among the specials, get it. Fabulous stuff, raves candace–pleasingly gamy meat, served with rice, potatoes, and broccoli rabe. Also noteworthy: shrimp in green sauce, pork with clams and potatoes, and free roasted chestnuts after your meal.

“Coimbra is the bomb,” writes Jim Leff. “Everything’s good and hugely authentic (and I’ve eaten a lot in Portugal).” Pass on the usual suspects and stick to the specials, he advises, and you’ll be rewarded with homey, lusty chow. Jim adds a service tip: “Not much English. Be nice to your waiter, who expects to deal with paisanos. Don’t be too high-maintenance or you’ll ruin the place for other gringos.”

Casa Vasca, a past hound favorite, continues to deliver the goods. But it does just a handful of dishes really well, cautions Jim, including razor clams, goat, and tortilla (potato omelette). To that list, Ike would add shrimp in garlic sauce or green sauce. Jim suggests sitting at the bar, not in the dining room, and going for a pitcher of sangria, red or white. “If you think you don’t like sangria,” he adds, “prepare to change your mind.”

In Belleville, Solar Do Minho makes hound-endorsed Portuguese seafood and grilled meats. Recommended: crab-stuffed swordfish, shrimp in garlic sauce, meltingly tender fried calamari. Rodizio meats are first-rate and not over-salted, as at many other places. “We have been there many times and have never been disappointed,” says nizza.


Coimbra Bar and Restaurant [Essex County]
637 Market St., at Somme St., Newark, NJ
973-491-9811
Locater

Casa Vasca [Essex County]
141 Elm St., between Prospect and Pacific, Newark, NJ
973-465-1350
Locater

Solar Do Minho [Essex County]
15 Cleveland St., near Quinton, Belleville, NJ
973-844-0500
Locater

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top portuguese/spanish/brazilian eats in newark area

Soup Destinations, Downtown and Uptown

Cafe Medina is a go-to spot for soup lovers, who especially love the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern choices that turn up alongside the chicken noodle and split pea. The rotating lineup, around 10 soups a day, might include Moroccan lamb or Yemenite chicken, cteats reports. bolletje can’t forget a fabulous bowl, more stew than soup, overflowing with lamb and vegetables. Some other recurring offerings: pumpkin corn bisque, Tuscan tomato-bread, Hungarian chicken, New England clam chowder, African chicken-peanut, and miso with tofu and seaweed.

In the East Village, the Italian restaurant Lamarca runs a cafe and cheese shop next door that serves terrific soups for weekday lunch, reports nyc123. Selections include tomato, white bean, onion, minestrone, potato-leek, red bean-escarole, broccoli rabe, and tortellini in broth, among others.

foodette frequents Soup Spot for such hearty choices as jambalaya, various bisques, and Thai coconut curry chicken soup. Not quite as good as the fondly remembered Soup Kitchen International, says a_and_w, but also half the price.

Cafe Sabarsky offers a handful of very good soups, including goulash soup with potatoes, says Sean Dell. Other choices this time of year might include chestnut and squash. In summer, look for refreshing pea soup with mint.

Others recommend Yura and Co., Karen’s (especially for lentil soup and chili), Printon 56, and Fashion Soup.


Cafe Medina [Union Square]
9 E. 17th St., between 5th Ave. and Broadway, Manhattan
212-242-2777
Locater

Lamarca Cafe [Gramercy]
161 E. 22nd St., at 3rd Ave., Manhattan
212-674-7920
Locater

Soup Spot [Herald Square]
220 W. 31st St., between 7th and 8th Aves., Manhattan
212-643-8623
Locater

Cafe Sabarsky [Upper East Side]
1048 5th Ave., at E. 86th St., in the Neue Galerie, Manhattan
212-288-0665
Locater

Yura and Co. [Upper East Side]
1645 3rd Ave., at E. 92nd St., Manhattan
212-860-8060
Locater

Yura and Co. [Upper East Side]
1292 Madison Ave., at E. 92nd St., Manhattan
212-860-8060
Map

Karen’s on Astor [East Village]
1 Astor Pl., between Broadway and Lafayette St., Manhattan
212-979-8000
Locater

Printon 56 [Midtown]
50 W. 56th St., between 5th and 6th Aves., Manhattan
212-245-0056
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Fashion Soup [Midtown]
124 W. 41st St., near 6th Ave., Manhattan
212-704-0909
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Best Soup in New York

As You Like it: Shabu Shabu Sliced to Order

At the new Shabu Ya in Hacienda Heights, they slice the meat to order, right in front of the shabu corner. It’s the standard shabu shabu house fare, in generous portions. House beef is super yummy, says MeowMixx, and they have Kobe as well. Vegetables are clean and fresh, and sesame sauce isn’t too sweet or overpowering. Ponzu sauce is also good. They also have appetizers such as grilled Japanese sausage and sea bass.

Decor is cute and clean; servers are attentive and on top of their game.


Shabu Ya [Inland of LA]
18184 Colima Rd., at Fullerton, Rowland Heights
626-964-7602
Map

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New shabu joint

If You’re Not Ready to Commit: Opus’s Bar Menu

From the many raves about Opus, you’d think that the tasting menu was the only way to go. But the new bar menu has a bunch of outrageously tasty small plates that don’t require as much of a commitment of time and money, says woojink.

Stuffed poblano pepper on a spicy ragout in a crust is a cool take on a chile relleno–spicy and really great. Fried pork belly sandwich with fried egg is like a fabulous alternate-universe version of an Egg McMuffin. Lamb meatballs–spicy, delish. Seafood salad with shrimp, octopus and squid satisfies; pan-fried soba with shrimp is like very good Japanese comfort food.

Some of the dishes are also on the a la carte menu. They’re all between $7 and $13.

Opus Bar & Grill [Koreatown]
3760 Wilshire Blvd., at Western, Los Angeles 90010
213-738-1600
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Fried Pork Belly Sandwich with Fried Egg, Pan Fried Soba with Shrimp… GREAT Bar food

Freeing Beautiful Bundt Cakes from Their Pans

Unmolding bundt cakes intact can be difficult, especially with these newfangled pans with lots of intricate details. Here are some pointers:

Regardless of what your recipe tells you, it’s best to allow your cake to cool for at least half an hour before you attempt to unmold it. No bundt pan is truly non-stick, no matter what its coating. It’s important to grease and flour your pan extremely well, reaching into every nook and cranny of the design. Chowhounds recommend using a pastry brush to coat the inside of the pan liberally with shortening or melted butter, then dumping in a good amount of flour (or cocoa, if you’re baking a chocolate cake) and shaking it around until you’re sure it has coated every surface of the pan–then tap the extra out into the trash. Alternately, use a very generous coating–no simple spritz–of Baker’s Joy or Pam for Baking (oil sprays with flour incorporated), which also release cakes from fancy bundt pans beautifully.

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Can you help me avoid a bundt cake disaster?

Green Coffee, Man – Roast it Yourself

Dig coffee? Got your top-grade burr grinder, your insanely cool espresso machine, your classic-yet-retro-yet-perfect French press? Still itching to be even more hardcore and insane and into coffee than the dude next door who just bought his two-thousand-dollar shiny Italian espresso machine? Well, time to roast your own beans.

Got that? Roast it yourself.

First you need green coffee beans. The top source for most users is Sweet Maria’s. They’ve got sixty green coffees in stock, all of them of very high quality, says srgoodman. Their website has loads of roasting tips for the beginner, too.

Sweet Maria’s is the place for a decent value on good-quality beans, and a huge selection, agrees scot. There’s also another option: the Green Coffee Cooperative, which is a little hit or miss on selection. But when they’ve got the goods, it is cheap, cheap, cheap. He’s roasting for espresso, so fineness of bean matters less to him.

An easy way to try out roasting yourself is with a cheap hot air popcorn popper–the kind you can get in a thrift store for a few bucks. It roasts beans decently well, says srgoodman. The next step up? A stovetop popcorn maker, with a crank and internal rotor that stirs the beans while they cook. moto says it’s perfect for gas stoves with good ventilation. This device is available through Sweet Maria’s, as is K. David’s excellent book on home roasting.

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Best Green Coffee

Crunchy Jalapeno Slices (and Okra Pickles, Too!)

Trappey’s brand jalapeno slices are brilliantly crunchy, says oltheimmer. They use a cold brining method that leaves their jalapeno slices as crisp as a good kosher pickle. They’ve got the best pickled okra, too, which also emerges crisp from the same cold brining method.

Trappey’s is available at many local groceries, and at Cajun Grocer.

He’s also heard that Cajun Chef uses cold brining for their jalapenos, but he’s never been able to find the stuff.

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Which brands of Pickled Japalenos are crunchy?