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

Why Don’t We Eat Here More Often?

If you’re too early or too late for the outstanding rice-stuffed chicken at Ming’s Diner, you should check out one of the lunch specials–specials so tasty they come with the Melanie Wong Parents’ Seal of Approval, and cost like $3.25.

One of the best things is the beef with tender greens. The seared beef is redolent with garlic and wok breath, served over tender, juicy choi sum and bathed in a deliciously complex pan gravy. The house soup that comes free with lunch is a nice brew of pork bones and black mushroom, and it’s warming, if not terribly intense.

Lunch for three, which often entails a heavy bag of leftovers, will set you back about $12. “My mother asked me why we didn’t eat here more often, and I have to say it beats me too,” says Melanie Wong.

Ming’s Diner [Parkside]
2129 Taraval St., San Francisco 94116
415-242-0811
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Beefy Lunch Specials @ Ming’s Diner, SF

El Cocotero: Well-Stuffed Corn Cakes, Venezuelan Style

The pabellon is one of the best of the arepas at El Cocotero. It’s highly seasoned shredded steak, white cheese, black beans, and fried sweet plantain stuffed into a fresh corn cake. “A perfect little sandwich,” marvels Skillet Licker, who recommends a side of guasacaca (Venezuelan-style guacamole). Another great choice is a cold arepa sandwich called the Chiquinquira, filled with a refreshingly light combination of tomato, avocado, and guayanes cheese.

Also on the menu at this rustic, informal eatery: plantain “crostini” (tostones with meat, cheese, or vegetable toppings) and a popular lineup of entrees including roast pork, baked chicken, and stewed or grilled beef.

El Cocotero [Chelsea]
228 W. 18th St., between 7th and 8th Aves., Manhattan 10011
212-206-8930
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El Cocotero–Arepas

Colombian Pastries at a Staten Island Doughnut Shop

Alongside glazed, raised, and old-fashioned, look for Colombian pastries at Staten Island’s Country Donuts. A turnover-like treat filled with guava jam is especially fine, says HHH. Ask them to heat it up for you.

Country Donuts [Staten Island]
160 Richmond Ter., near Hamilton Ave., Staten Island 10301
718-876-7182
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delicious columbian guava pastry on Staten Island

Frozen Yogurt: The Creamy vs. the Crunchy

Red Mango is supposedly the Korean original version of tangy frozen yogurt that spawned Pinkberry, which has spawned, well, a bunch of other wannabes with colorful and fruity names.

Comparing the two, Pei says that Red Mango (available at the Westwood California Roll & Sushi) is better, and a better value. It’s much creamier, slightly more tangy and a small cup with one kind of fruit costs just $2. With a meal, a small cup is free.

Another good contendor for the tangy-yogurt title is Yogurt Queen, says love2chow. Good portions, good fro-yo.

And yet, nothing is quite the same as Pinkberry. Its worshipers prefer the Pinkberry texture–kind of crunchy with ice–to the creamier competition.

Bigg Chill also has attempted the tangy yogurt thing. Stay far away, hounds say–it tastes horribly artificial.

California Roll & Sushi [Westwood]
1834 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles
310-446-8070
Locater

Pinkberry [West Hollywood]
868 Huntley Drive, West Hollywood
310-659-8285
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Pinkberry [Hollywood]
7123 Melrose Ave., at La Brea, Los Angeles
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Pinkberry [Koreatown]
3300 W. 6th St., at Berendo, Los Angeles
323-730-9889
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Pinkberry [Westwood]
10911 Lindbrook Drive, Los Angeles
310-208-3620
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Pinkberry [East San Fernando Valley]
12044 1/2 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
323-730-9889
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Pinkberry [Larchmont Village]
236 N. Larchmont, Los Angeles
323-730-9889
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Pinkberry [Sawtelle Strip]
11301 West Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles
310-231-0172
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Yogurt Queen In Melrose [Hollywood]
7619 1-2 Melrose Ave., at Fairfax, Los Angeles
323-782-9488
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Red Mango vs. Pinkberry

What Goes Around, Comes Around at Sushi 5

Sushi 5 is a new place in Tustin where you can get first-rate fish for pennies, says russkar.

Don’t be turned off by the setup, which is a revolving conveyor of sushi. *GrindzHound * is a huge fan of the quality and value.

Nigiri sushi such as yellowtail, albacore tataki, salmon and, scallops are consistently fresh and tasty. The scallops include the entire scallop, not just the white medallion normally served, which means it has more of a scallop/clam flavor. One time, though, the tuna sushi was not so fresh.

Miso soup is made from scratch; salmon salad is a generous portion of greens, salmon skin, avocado, and scallions, dressed with ponzu.

Nigiri sushi costs $2.50 for two pieces (if you can find a coupon in Pennysaver, it’s $1.99 Monday-Thursday); sushi rolls are $2.50 and premium sushi (toro, giant clam) is market price, but there might be deals on the specials board, like two pieces of toro/giant clam for $2.50. Salmon salad is $6.

Lunch specials, served seven days a week, include $5-6 donburi bowls and a 10-piece sushi lunch for $10, including salad and miso soup.

The owner is Japanese, and also owns Laguna Sushi.

Sushi 5 [South OC]
13962 Newport Ave. Suite D, Tustin
949-929-5182
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OC Review: SUSHI 5, “Sushi so Fresh it’s Still Moving“

Perfect Pumpkin Pound Cake

Mel says this pumpkin cake comes together easily and is insanely good; it would work equally well for brunch on its own, or for dessert with a rich frosting or some cinnamon ice cream. Its main spicing is cloves, which gives it a fresh dimension compared with traditional pumpkin desserts, notes Xanthippe. Here’s the recipe:

Whisk together and set aside:

2 3/4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 3/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/8 tsp. ground allspice

In another bowl, mix together and set aside:

1 15 oz. can pumpkin
5 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. dark rum (optional)

3 cups extra fine granulated sugar
3/4 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
2 eggs
4 egg yolks

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a standard bundt pan with nonstick spray. Cream sugar and butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, then beat in eggs 1 at a time. Add the dry and wet ingredients alternately, combining on low speed. Batter will be very thick. Scrape into pan and bake 55-65 minutes, until a tester comes out almost dry. Allow to cool in pan 5 minutes before turning out and allowing to cool completely.

Mel iced this with a glaze made from powdered sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and water whisked together and drizzled over the top once the cake had cooled.

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best pumpkin pound cake

Coconutty Cocktails

Like coconut? Like cocktails? Try these babies:

BBCs: banana, Baileys, coconut milk, and rum, whipped up in the blender with a little ice, offers peppermint pate.

Bushwackers: coconut, creme de cacao, rum, kahlua, a little milk or cream, and ice in a blender. Very sweet and dessert-like, but slips down dangerously easy, warns Hungry Celeste.

Texas Toast says this concoction, adapted from a drink recipe from Peninsula Grill in Charleston, S.C., based on their famous coconut cake, indeed tastes like cake in a glass>

1 cup dry Marsala
1 oz. white chocolate liqueur
1 oz. coconut rum
1/2 oz. hazelnut liqueur
1/2 oz. vanilla vodka

Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients. Shake for approximately 15 seconds and strain into chilled cocktail glasses.

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Any ideas for coconut cocktails?

Romanesco Cauliflower

The Romanesco cauliflower is a freakishly beautiful variety of cauliflower. It’s a lime green color, and each floret is a little spiraling pyramid. It’s said to have been first described by the Italians in the 16th century. They’re all over the place in the markets of Tuscany.

Here’s a good picture and more info.

Cook it as you would any cauliflower. A whole steamed Romanesco makes a beautiful presentation, or you can hack it into bits and roast it. Individual florets make for interesting crudites.

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Romanesco cauliflower

Muffins: Prepare at Night, Bake in the Morning

Say you crave muffins hot from the oven at 9 a.m., but can only make it out of bed at 8 a.m.? Don’t mix the batter up the night before; the baking powder or soda will lose its leavening power and you will have flat, dense muffins. Instead, ready the components at night; it’ll only take a minute in the morning to mix the batter together. Here’s how: The night before, stir together the dry ingredients in a large bowl and leave covered on the contertop. Whisk wet ingredients in an another bowl, cover, and refrigerate. In the morning, rewhisk the wet ingredients, mix into the dry ingredients just until combined, and bake. Caveat: if you plan to add berries, fold them in in the morning rather than mix with wet ingredients, or your muffins will end up pink, purple, or even a weird blueberry blue-gray.

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cranberry muffins

Cup-O-Gold Candy

Cup-O-Gold chocolate candy cups are available mostly in California (also spotted in Las Vegas in a 99 cent Only store, at 3/.99!), but they definitely sound worth a try, if you see them. The creamy filling, with coconut and almonds, is surrounded by a chocolate shell that’s nice and thick. ipsedixit is smitten, and ordered a box of 144 bars from JoeAdams-Brooks.

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CUP-O-GOLD chocolate candy …