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

Brown Cafe: Simple Pleasures on the Lower East Side

Brown has quietly won a neighborhood following on the Lower East Side with simple, satisfying chow made from first-rate ingredients. The five-year-old cafe is part of a color-coded family of businesses, all clustered on the same block of Hester Street, that also comprises a catering outfit called Green, an upscale deli called Orange and (opening soon) a wine store called Pink. “I love this place,” declares tamasha. “The food is delicious and fresh, and the service is attentive.”

Smart orders on the often-changing menu include quiches, charcuterie and cheese, brunch dishes like baked eggs, and sandwiches (typical choice: prosciutto di Parma, roasted tomato, fontina and arugula on baguette). Dinner entrees might include leg of lamb; pan-roasted chicken breast stuffed with onion and robiola; roast striped bass with basil mashed potatoes and vegetable compote; and other simple, hearty combinations. The wine list is promising, desserts are worth a look, and gelato comes from nearby hound hangout Il Laboratorio del Gelato.

Brown Cafe [Lower East Side]
61 Hester St., between Ludlow and Essex, Manhattan
212-477-2427
Locater

Orange Epicerie [Lower East Side]
61 Hester St., between Ludlow and Essex, Manhattan
212-254-9825
Locater

Green Catering [Lower East Side]
61 Hester St., between Ludlow and Essex, Manhattan
212-254-9825
Locater

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Brown Cafe, Hester Street
Green, Brown, Orange?

Dorsey’s Locker

Dorsey’s Locker may not look so good from outside, but once you’re inside, it’s clean and tidy as can be, with sun streaming in the windows. And the Southern-style food served here is awesome, says berkeleypie. Boneless short ribs are cooked fork-tender and served with a meaty brown gravy. Collard greens are tender (though somewhat acrid), and their pot liquor is satisfying, especially with dense, savory corn muffins to dunk into it. Black eyed peas laced with shreds of ham, cinnamony sweet potatoes, and fantastic sweet tea round out the meal. They serve made-to-order fried chicken daily, and they always have a few specials, including oxtails on Tuesdays (call to check, though). $10-11 gets you a generous main course, three sides, and cornbread.

Dorsey’s Locker [East Bay]
5817 Shattuck Ave., near 58th St., Oakland
510-428-1935
Locater

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Dorsey’s Locker- don’t be scared

From Central America with Love

It’s pretty easy to drive past El Gallo Pinto; it’s a treasure, hidden away in yet another Azusa strip mall. It’s not a fancy place, but it’s cheerily decorated and welcoming. Nicaraguan food in general isn’t very greasy, and the home-cooked flavors here are great, says pleasurepalate.

Fried green plantains and fried cheese make a nice starter–it’s hard to stop eating them with the sweet and tangy Nicaraguan “salsa” of sour orange juice, onions and green peppers. This salsa tastes great over anything.

A dish of pork and yuca comes topped with cabbage and tomatoes–the meat is tender and flavorful, and there’s a good contrast going on with the crunchy cabbage and slight acidity of the tomatoes. Even better is vigaron–the same preparation as above, but with chicharron instead of pork.

Gallo pinto, a staple dish, is a mixture of fried rice with onion, bell pepper and beans boiled with garlic. The boiled garlic really puts it over the top, while the beans keep the rice nice and moist.

Another Nicaraguan classic is nactamal, a kind of tamal filled with pork or chicken, rice, potatoes, tomatoes, onion, and bell pepper, wrapped in plantain leaves and boiled for five hours. This is definitely oilier than the other dishes and than regular Mexican tamales, but the buttery taste makes it all forgivable.

They have a cacao drink that’s basically like a chocolate horchata, with cinnamon and vanilla–very refreshing.

For dessert, definitely get bu

Nights of Wine and Chocolate

The new restaurant Coco Noche specializes in chocolate, wine, and tapas. So far, everyone who’s posted has gone straight for the chocolates, from Vosges and Michel Cluizel. They offer various tasting menus of wine and chocolate, and wine and caramel.

Chocolate tasting menus go something like this: pieces of dark chocolate with chile peppers and cinnamon, milk chocolate with almonds and fleur de sel, and a super-dark chocolate with bits of espresso beans, paired with Riesling, cream sherry, and zinfandel.

Chocolates are also available a la carte–Michel Cluizel truffles are rich, buttery, and nutty–everything a truffle should be, says Nicole. There are also regular desserts–marquis au chocolat (or something like that) is basically a flourless chocolate cake. It’s nothing new, but it’s still very good.

As for the tapas, the menu is mostly California-style sandwiches and appetizers, but the owners are Korean, and most people seemed to be getting plates of kalbi with rice, and seared tuna with salad.

The restaurant is small and kind of swanky, with a small bar and a few tables outside on the sidewalk. D

Celery Takes a Starring Role

Celery plays a crucial background role in stocks, soups, and stews, but here are some ways for this underappreciated veggie to take the spotlight.

It’s lovely partner with seafood in a stir-fry. One of Melanie Wong’s favorite combos is scallops, lots of celery, and toasted pine nuts.

Celery’s a great braising vegetable, especially nice paired with a roasted or braised meat dish, says ashwood. Sweat it lightly in oil or butter, alone or with carrots and pearl onions, then braise in the liquid from whatever meat you’re serving.

Celery is a great centerpiece for salads. piccola makes a light, refreshing shaved celery salad by slicing 6 to 8 stalks of celery very thin on a mandoline and tossing with 1/3 cup chopped parsley and lemon juice, oil, and salt to taste. JudiAU riffs on a classic Caesar by combining lots of very thinly sliced celery and endive with a lemon-anchovy dressing and shaved Parmesan.

Das Ubergeek recommends homemade celery soda: steep celery ribs, leaves, and seeds in simple syrup, strain, chill, and mix with soda water.

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How to showcase celery?

Jones Soda Company “Fizzy” Candy

The Jones Soda Company (of “turkey and gravy” soda fame) has recently released a new product: Carbonated Candy, in three flavors. A container costs about three bucks. JKGrence says they do produce a nice, tingly effect when you suck on them, but the flavor doesn’t last. Let them fizz on your tongue, or use as a “flavor enhancer” in a bottle of soda. rworange says they taste like SweeTarts, and experienced no fizz whatsoever!

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Jones Soda Co. Carbonated Candy – $2.95 worth of stupid

Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti squash is a winter squash that takes its name from the long, noodle-shaped strands its flesh resembles once cooked.

You can either roast spaghetti squash in the oven or zap it in a microwave to cook it. To roast it, split it lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Brush the cut sides with olive oil and put cut-side down on a baking sheet. Put in a 350F oven for 45 minutes, or until the flesh yields easily to a fork. To microwave, pamalamb splits the squash crosswise and stands the two halves in a shallow microwavable dish in a bit of water, covers the whole with plastic wrap, and microwaves for 20 minutes or so.

After the squash has cooled enough to handle, use a fork to rake the flesh into long strands. Serve right away, or store in airtight containers in the fridge and reheat. You can serve these strands as you’d serve spaghetti–either very simply, with butter, salt and pepper, and Parmesan, or with any number of pasta sauces. Here are some other favored treatments:

pamalamb mixes the strands with shredded cheese, a little cream, an egg or two, and other veggies or leftover meat and bakes the whole mess; it’s a great alternative to lasagna.

ggconcannon soaks rice noodles in water and adds to the squash along with roasted garlic, cheese, and perhaps some tomato sauce, and warms in the oven.

JessWil goes savory, mixing the squash with gorgonzola, olive oil, and toasted nuts. She also goes sweet, adding butter, brown sugar, and nutmeg.

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Spaguetti squash recipes

Mail Order ‘Cue

Just the thing for a special present, or to satisfy your own cravings for ‘cue: mail-order barbecue!

A well-recommended outfit for Texas BBQ is Willy Ray’s. A rack of baby baby back pork ribs will cost you $18.95, and the St. Louis ribs are $17.50. BillH says they do a wonderful job with the shipping.

Ronzen has had great success with Charles Vergo’s dry rub BBQ ribs from the Rendezvous in Memphis. Be sure to get some sauce too.

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Mail-order meat—looking for recommendations

Disappointment in Lexington, Triumph in Roanoke

Lexington, Virginia

Among the many features of Eartha, my GPS navigating assistant, is the ability to list nearby restaurants wherever I am. So as I drove the bleak stretch of Route 81 into Roanoke and learned (via cell phone) that the restaurant I’d hoped to try, the Homeplace Restaurant (4968 Catawba Valley Drive, Catawba, Virginia; 540-384-7252), is closed Mondays through Wednesdays, I let Eartha smoke out some local places I was speeding past.

As I approached the exit for Lexington, Virginia, Eartha informed me that the Southern Inn Restaurant (37 South Main Street, Lexington, Virginia; 540-463-3612) was just a few miles away. The name intrigued. Out here in the sticks, Southern Inn was sure to be a lively down-home treat.

To my surprise, I pulled up to a striking bistro serving pricey New American Cuisine.

I did not have a good feeling about the place, but it was late, and, loath to be a reverse snob, I went in and ordered a $7.45 Asian pear salad (baby field greens, local Asian pears, toasted pecans, shaved red onions, chevre cheese [sic] tossed with roasted shallot vinaigrette) and a $12.25 grilled salmon sandwich (grilled salmon fillet served on a homemade garlic-dill bagel with bacon, lettuce, tomato, and herb aioli, accompanied by homemade potato chips and country cole slaw).

You know how in big cities many young chefs cook like clones, having been indoctrinated into the standard cooking school procedures? While their work is never very personal, and usually a bit pretentious and soulless, it’s at least competent, because, after all, they went to cooking school.

The cooking at this place had all those negatives, plus it lacked competency. Every bite was utterly lifeless and rife with errors. And if I never see another homemade garlic-dill bagel in my life, that would suit me quite well.

Roanoke

The Lexington Catastrophe wasn’t a streak-ender, because the place had triggered no positive vibe whatever. I only dined there out of morbid curiosity. Rattled nonetheless, the next day I was pleased to find my chow-dar unaffected.

The food court in Roanoke Market, with its fake Chinese booth, fake pizza booth, et al., seems pretty lame. Yet my antennae were twitching, and I eventually found myself at a greasy, untitled burger stand tucked at the end of an otherwise flashy row of concessions. Burger in the Square (32 Market Square SE, Roanoke, Virginia; 540-982-1639) makes fantastic, memorable crunchy old-fashioned hamburgers, and fine waffle fries.

I stayed at the Doubletree Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center, formerly a grand independent hotel that’s only been improved by the addition of warm chocolate chip cookies at the front desk (the chowhoundish signature of all Doubletree hotels). Build in 1882, it’s got loads of personality.

One secret of the South is that the $150 price of a blah hotel room in Boston or San Francisco can buy you a room at the best hotel down here in towns like Roanoke. To digress further, the reign of the big hotel reservation sites like Expedia and Orbitz is over. You can no longer book rooms more cheaply than at the hotel’s own sites, so they’re no longer worth the surcharges and stricter cancellation terms.

One exception is Priceline, which, in addition to their scary bidding system, offers straight-ahead discounted reservations for named hotels in many cities. If you work really hard, though, you can still ferret out bargains. For example, I booked a highly discounted room at the execrable Trump Marina in hellish Atlantic City via a shadowy bulk discount operation called Access Atlantic City.

Roanoke is halfway between New York and Atlanta. So at this point I can say I’ve really traveled. Tomorrow, I look forward to a nice long ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Absinthe Will Get You in Trouble

Absinthe Will Get You in Trouble

Absinthe has a pretty elaborate set-up, which is part of the fun. The fact that real absinthe is illegal is beside the point. READ MORE