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


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


Sketch Ice Cream [East Bay]
1809A Fourth St., Berkeley

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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

Casa Vasca [Essex County]
141 Elm St., between Prospect and Pacific, Newark, NJ

Solar Do Minho [Essex County]
15 Cleveland St., near Quinton, Belleville, NJ

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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

Lamarca Cafe [Gramercy]
161 E. 22nd St., at 3rd Ave., Manhattan

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

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

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

Yura and Co. [Upper East Side]
1292 Madison Ave., at E. 92nd St., Manhattan

Karen’s on Astor [East Village]
1 Astor Pl., between Broadway and Lafayette St., Manhattan

Printon 56 [Midtown]
50 W. 56th St., between 5th and 6th Aves., Manhattan

Fashion Soup [Midtown]
124 W. 41st St., near 6th Ave., Manhattan

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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

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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

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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?

One Last Bite of Christmas

If you’ve always secretly wanted to nosh on delicious-smelling Christmas-tree branches, why not cook with them? Chef Josh DeChellis of NYC’s Sumile asked himself that very question this holiday season. The “skateboard-riding boy-wonder” gave Grub Street his recipe for pine-smoked anago fillets with juniper-berry and tree-branch sauce.

Mmmmm. Now to get my hands on a tree…. I figure if I don’t burn my house down trying to smoke fish with dried-out needles (all the trees I’ve seen on the curb are looking mighty crispy already), I’ll be able to keep the holiday cheer going well into February. Anyone else have favorite pine-needle recipes to share?

Free Brewski with Your Thai Chicken Pizza?

A new California law legalizing free beer tastings at bars and restaurants went into effect on January 1, according to a recent AP story (via Slashfood). Until now, the wine and spirits industries were allowed to give out free samples at watering holes around the state, but beer manufacturers could offer tastings only at their own breweries and private tasting rooms.

It’s hard to know what to make of the new law, though. The main backer of the legislation is Anheuser-Busch (the maker of everybody’s frat-party favorite, Bud Light, plus several new lines of flavored malt beverages). California microbreweries, worried that the law would give big companies like Busch an unfair advantage—presumably because they could afford to give away more beer than the small fries, thereby worming their way into the public’s hearts—opposed to the bill at first. The state’s Small Brewers Association withdrew its opposition once limits were put on the tastings (8 ounces per person per day at each location); still, that hasn’t quelled the fears of some microbrewers.

But then, this other opposition group—the California Council on Alcohol Problems, a religious coalition—is pretty annoyed. Or at least its lawyer is. As he puts it,

What is the reason behind giving someone 8 ounces of beer free? One could argue that with wineries, each winery is different and every bottle is different depending on age or season. But we’re talking about beer here.

Looks like somebody’s been drinking too much light beer and/or flavored malt beverage.

What about other states—anyone seen beer manufacturers giving away free samples in bars? Not even the beer geeks have mentioned anything one way or another.