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

Discoveries in a Chow-Free Zone: Burbank

Das Ubergeek has finally found something worth eating in southeast Burbank–and it’s in a liquor store.

Inside this liquor store is a counter, and behind the counter is a man named Olvis, who’s long worked at Fish King, the excellent fish market in Glendale (where, incidentally, they also make fish and chips).

Six big fingers of cod and a double handful of steak fries come out, all cooked perfectly to order–fish nice and flaky, fries with that crunchy-chewy bite that only steak fries have. It all comes with half a lemon and a tub each of ketchup and tartar sauce.

All this costs $6.99 plus tax; a Diet Coke is $1.50.

Apparently the workers of Burbank are already in on the secret of this place, because even at 2:05 on one afternoon there were 15 people–guys in work boots with paint on their faces, Armenians in velour track suits, and one pale stockbroker type in an expensive suit–getting everything from fish and chips to pastrami sandwiches on rye to oven-roasted turkey on French rolls.

Just down the street is the home of a weirdly good BBQ sandwich, Pecos Bill’s, says ozzygee. Instead of being slathered in BBQ sauce, the meat comes au jus.

Clare K’s favorite place in Burbank is Granville, with lots of good options along the lines of sandwiches (with sweet potato or regular fries or house-made chips) and salad. Roasted turkey sandwich with avocado and caprese sandwich with prosciutto are good stuff, and the fries perfectly crispy. Check out the Uptown mac and cheese, which gets its name from a mix of Petit Basque, Gruyere, and Parmesan cheeses, grilled asparagus, sweet peas, and grilled chicken.

Willie’s Fish and Chips [East San Fernando Valley]
inside the Alameda Market
321 W. Alameda Ave., at Victory, Burbank
Locater

Pecos Bill’s BarBQ [East San Fernando Valley]
1551 Victory Blvd., Glendale
818-241-2750
Locater

Granville [East San Fernando Valley]
121 N. San Fernando Blvd., Burbank
818-848-4726
Map

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Another good lunch at Granville in Burbank
FINALLY, something worth eating in SE Burbank

Pho Hanoi

ahong likes Pho Hanoi for its mild but delicious pho. Their pho is different from most restaurant pho in the area; the flavors of clove and anise are much less intense, and the broth has the rich mildness of boiled bones. The place is little-known outside San Jose Vietnamese circles, but it’s a real find. If you feel you can appreciate gentle pho, give it a try. Pho with rare tripe and meatballs is particularly recommended.

Pho Hanoi [South Bay]
1759 E. Capitol Expy., San Jose
408-239-0888
Map

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Pho Hanoi, San Jose

Continental Breakfast in Sonoma

For coffee and pastries in Sonoma, check out Artisan Bakers, the most chowish of the Sonoma bakeries, says Sam B. You’ll find real fruit in the Danish, good quality chocolate in the pain au chocolat, and strong, good coffee. The only place in town to order an espresso drink is Barking Dog Coffee–they roast their own, and it’s pretty good.

Across the street is Fiorini, which features some good Italian specialties, like torta di riso and torta della nonna. The regular pastries and the coffee are weak. Homegrown Bagels serves great, totally respectable bagels and coffee flavored with cinnamon, which is kind of a local acquired taste. Basque Boulangerie has the widest selection of lame pastry, featuring canned filling. They also serve miserable coffee.

Artisan Bakers [Sonoma County]
750 W. Napa St., Sonoma
707-939-1765
Locater

Barking Dog Roasters [Sonoma County]
18133 Sonoma Hwy., Sonoma
707-939-1905
Locater

Fiorini Cakes & Cookies [Sonoma County]
248 W. Napa St., Sonoma
707-996-6119
Locater

Homegrown Bagels [Sonoma County]
201 W. Napa St., Sonoma
707-996-0166
Locater

Basque Boulangerie Cafe [Sonoma County]
460 1st St., Santa Rosa
707-935-7687
Locater

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The Minotaur(e) Arrives, Bringing Tapas

Minotaure, a new place in Playa del Rey, is a nice spot offering hot and cold tapas every night till midnight.

Cinnamon loves the seafood paella; it’s rich, tasty, and moist. Another winner: chorizo and red pepper. Bread comes with a tasty garlic butter, and there’s perfectly cooked jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon, and fabulous homemade bread pudding drizzled with dark chocolate.

The wine list is decent; service is gracious.

Review by Merrill Shindler in the Daily Breeze

Minotaure [Beaches]
333 Culver Blvd., Playa Del Rey
310-306-6050
Map

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Nice experience at The Minotaure, the tapas place in Playa del Rey

Joyce Bakeshop: Fresh Treats in Prospect Heights

Prospect Heights has an inviting new sweet spot in Joyce Bakeshop. Scones, muffins, macarons, pain au chocolate, and Russian tea cookies all win praise. Fans also appreciate the well-brewed coffee and well-mannered staff. “Cozy, busy, yummy, and baby friendly,” reports colette_ingrid, who’s fallen for the plum and blueberry cobbler with cornbread crumb topping.

Joyce has its skeptics. “Decent, not extraordinary,” concludes chocokitty, who faults dry scones and thickish macarons.

Joyce Bakeshop [Prospect Heights]
646 Vanderbilt Ave., between Park and Prospect Pl., Brooklyn
718-623-7470
Locater

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Joyce Bakeshop in Prospect Heights
Great bakeries/patisseries in Brooklyn

Beyond Bao at Chatham; and Other Chinatown Bites

Chinatown’s diner-like Chatham Restaurant has long been a go-to spot for fresh, cheap bao, buns, dim sum, and other daytime bites. But hounds have been largely silent about the rest of the sprawling Cantonese menu, which offers rice plates, noodles, casseroles, meat and seafood entrees, and homey steamed dishes like minced pork with salted fish. Do not fear that menu! There’s good stuff in there, says Brian S, like fish head casserole that’s better than average (and bigger than average) for just $7.

As for the scene, well, that’s not what draws crowds of happy Chinese families. “It is a dump,” Brian concedes, “but a really nice dump, the kind a Hollywood set designer would come up with if the director said, ‘I want a place that looks like the REAL Chinatown.’”

A few blocks north, popular Shanghai specialist New Green Bo does a delicious version of Dongpo pork, says mrnyc. This version of the Hangzhou classic is simmered for hours in rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, and spice, and served with sauteed bok choy and an unconventional accompaniment: sweet steamed buns. You are encouraged to make little sandwiches, Peking duck style. The meat is sweet, luxurious, and meltingly tender, says mrnyc, but the sandwich thing doesn’t quite work: “After two messy attempts I just ate the rest separately. Afterwards you take a nap. Highly recommended.” Dissenters find New Green Bo’s version overly sweet and inconsistent in texture.

In other Chinatown news, a hound-endorsed sidewalk cart has gone brick-and-mortar on Chrystie Street. The best-known snack from this vendor, whose old turf was on Hester near Bowery, was fried vegetables–taro, tofu, eggplant, green pepper–in a light, tasty batter that incorporated ground fish. It’s still available toward the back of the new shop, Wah Fung, advises misora. Closer to the front, look for roast pork and poultry, fried noodles, and Fujian-leaning steam table dishes.

Chatham Restaurant [Chinatown]
9 Chatham Sq., between E. Broadway and Doyers St., Manhattan
212-267-0220
Map

New Green Bo [Chinatown]
66 Bayard St., between Mott and Elizabeth, Manhattan
212-625-2359
Locater

Wah Fung No. 1 Fast Food [Chinatown]
79 Chrystie St., between Hester and Grand, Manhattan
212-925-5175
Map

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Street Cart, formerly at Hester and Elizabeth
tong po pork meat attack at NEW GREEN BO
Cantonese in Chinatown, had to let you know

Oatmeal Raisin Ice Cream

Oatmeal raisin ice cream is probably the best kind maillard’s ever made, he raves. It’s got a nice flavor for fall…and you can almost justify eating it for breakfast! Here’s the recipe:

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup regular rolled oats
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup raisins
3 large egg yolks
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Bring the milk to a boil and add the oats, salt, cinnamon, and raisins. Cook for around 10 minutes, or until thick and creamy, stirring often. While the oatmeal mixture is cooking, whisk the sugar into the egg yolks until light and fluffy. When the oatmeal is finished cooking, pour slowly into the yolks and sugar, whisking in thoroughly. Cool slightly, then whisk in cream. Chill thoroughly, then freeze in an ice cream maker.

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Oatmeal Raisin Ice Cream: tasty and easy!

MSG in Home Cooking

Monosodium glutamate–MSG–is the source of umami, that fifth taste we sense (along with with sour, salty, bitter, and sweet). It’s often describe as “meaty’ or “savory.” It occurs naturally in many foods, and in concentrated doses in things like red meat, seaweed, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, and soy sauce, but it’s also been used for ages as a seasoning to wake up dishes that taste flat.

It’s a flavor enhancer, explains DanaB, used in addition to, or in place of, salt; if you taste a dish and it’s not really salt it needs, but something else you can’t put your finger on, MSG can brighten up its flavors. In powder form, it’s powerful stuff, and should be used very sparingly–no more than a sprinkle in most cases. Scott123 recommends measuring; he finds pinch dash smidgen measuring spoons, which are 1/8, 1/16, and 1/32 teaspoon measures, invaluable for working with MSG. Be conservative: you can add more if needed, but there’s no way to undo an MSG overdose. As Jackie de warns, “Watch out, too much and your dish can be ruined.”

Dana often uses a little sprinkle of MSG in guacamole when the avocados aren’t perfectly ripe or lack flavor. Jackie likes to add a little to eggs to boost their flavor. Scott123 avoids using MSG when cooking with foods that are naturally high in glutamates (e.g., tomato paste, Parmesan, heavily reduced meat stocks), but thinks it really enhances Tex-Mex dishes, chicken, and beans. He’d never dream of making chili without it, but only uses 1/4 teaspoon for an 8-quart potful.

MSG is a traditional enhancer in Chinese cooking. Some chowhounds avoid adding MSG to dishes that use lots of soy or fish sauce, feeling the combo can be overpowering. But plenty do use it, saying there’s a reason it’s been done for centuries. Fatty Lumpkin describes the way a pinch of MSG changed a bok choy stir-fry that had plenty of soy sauce but lacked that certain something: the MSG smoothed out and enhanced the flavor.

Some advocate reducing the overall salt in a dish when adding MSG, because MSG ups the sense of saltiness in food, and can lead to sodium overkill.

Look for MSG in Asian or Latino markets, where it will cost a fraction of the price of supermarket brands like Accent. bitsubeats likes Ajinomoto brand, and C. Hamster uses Sazon Goya.

As an alternative to MSG, Alice Letseat, says that a tiny bit of pure citric acid has much the same effect. Trader Joe’s sells citric acid, and it is also sold as “sour salt,” most often found in kosher shops or groceries with good kosher food selections. King Arthur Flour also sells it.

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Using MSG in home cooking

Airline Food

Some Chowhounds fondly remember the glory of the gooey, hot airline omelet, served steaming in a little plastic omelet dish with single-serving packets of salt, pepper, and Neufchatel cheese. And some Chowhounds don’t remember it that fondly. Still other hounds want to know: who has the best (coach class) airline food of all?

Japan Air Lines gets high marks all around, especially for offering cold soba with whatever entree they’re serving. Korean Air Lines serves bibimbap which Das Ubergeek likes as much as the stuff he’s had on the ground in San Francisco and Los Angeles. El Al Airlines out of Israel serves amazing food, says thunderbug84, including warm pita and hummus as soon as you sit down. El Al’s food is never as good during and right after the Sabbath, though, says rbc. Copa Airlines, with flights to Central America, serves good food, as does TAM Airlines to South America.

As for domestic flights, Chowhounds like the hot food from Alaska Airlines. If they have to eat airline food, that is. “Bring your own,” says Scrapironchef.

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Best COACH airline food?

Guanciale

Guanciale is Italian cured pork jowl, a salty, intensely flavored item that adds richness, savor, and a dose of “Ungh!” to Italian home cooking. The flavor is deeper and porkier than bacon or pancetta, says ESNY. It’s traditionally used in carbonara and bucatini all’Amatriciana, where a little goes a long way–four ounces of guanciale to four cups of vegetables in the latter dish, says Robert Lauriston. Modern Chowhounds are free to try it thinly sliced on a pizza with tomato sauce, goat cheese, and figs, as recommended by sweetpotater.

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All about Guanciale … is it salty?