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

Champa Laos: Winning Thai Fusion in Cherry Hill, NJ

Champa Laos does elegant, nuanced East-West fusion–which it describes as “Thai-Lao-French”–without sacrificing any robust seasoning, according to our first reports. michelle71 characterizes the flavors as delicate yet complex, and not Americanized in any way.

Red curry duck is a generous bowl of moist meat, prettily arranged in a knockout spicy/sweet sauce, says Markarotti. Other winners: steamed shrimp-chicken dumplings, Le Mae Khong (Chilean sea bass filet stuffed with crab, spinach, and feta, served in tamarind sauce), and deep-flavored house-made mango ice cream, presented over drizzlings of caramel and raspberry sauces. Open since winter, Champa Laos offers a lengthy menu developed by chef Michael Raethong (of Cafe de Laos and Lemongrass in Philadelphia). It comprises curries and other Thai dishes, Lao-influenced stuff like larb and namtok (grilled meat tossed with spices and roasted rice), and such hybrids as char-grilled tenderloin in Pinot Noir reduction and salmon with “Cajun-seasoned” pistachio crust in apricot brandy sauce.

It’s BYOB, so Markarotti adds some wine tips: avoid heavily oaked whites; better matches would be Viognier, Riesling, or Sauvignon Blanc. Among reds, try peppery or spicy varietals such as Shiraz or Zinfandel.

Champa Laos [Camden County]
219 Haddonfield-Berlin Rd., near Brace Rd., at Centrum Shoppes, Cherry Hill, NJ
856-795-0188
Locater

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Champa-Laos Great New Thai-Laotian-French BYOB in CherryHill NJ

The Chinatown Beat: Two Roast Meat Contenders

OK 218 roasts superior chicken and duck, boasting beautiful skin and flavorful meat, reports wleatherette. No reports yet on the noodles, congees, seafood, or casseroles at this Cantonese place.

Chinatown’s New Big Wang is Wallace Stevens’s go-to spot for roast duck and barbecued pork. Also recommended: “hundred flavor” duck or chicken, a killer special that’s poached and marinated in a complex mix of sweet spices.

For a different take on chicken, try the fried stuffed wings at Rainbow Cafe, a family-run Hong Kong-style joint on Mott, suggests designerboy01. They’re deboned and filled to bursting with sticky rice with bits of pork.

OK 218 Restaurant [Chinatown]
218 Grand St., between Elizabeth and Mott, Manhattan
212-226-8039
Map

New Big Wang Restaurant [Chinatown]
1 Elizabeth St., at Bayard, Manhattan
212-219-3686
Locater

Rainbow Cafe [Chinatown]
154 Mott St., between Grand and Broome, Manhattan
212-343-7083
Map

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best fried chicken wings (not buffalo wings)
Chinatown roast duck ?

Chinatown Diner Is a Real Deal

Zen Mei’s first anniversary deal is so popular, they’ve been offering it for about four years. Order $20 worth of food, and you get a free plate of fried salty shrimp. It’s one of their best dishes, with very large shrimp, crispy and delicious.

Their wontons are some of the best in Chinatown, nice and meaty, with a good ratio of shrimp to pork. House special wonton soup ($5) is a huge bowl of the stuff, with plenty of wontons, squid, shrimp, pork, and vegetables in a tasty broth. Beef with Chinese broccoli is quite good, and the portion is generous.

Also good: fried chicken, a hearty kung pao chicken with lots of peppers, dry fried string beans.

This is a nice, family-style joint off the beaten path that’s usually full of people who know of its afforable prices and reliable food. Decor is retro diner.

Zen Mei Bistro [Chinatown]
800 Yale St., at Alpine, Los Angeles
213-626-7113
Locater

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Zen Mei Bistro—Mini Review

Lots of Love for Fried Rice

Does fried rice have to be nondescript? Are all restaurants’ versions alike? No, yell a chorus of chowhounds.

Quite a few are devoted to Din Tai Fung’s fried rice, which rbw describes as wonderfully subtle, “with a bit of scrambled egg, shrimp, and peas; the rice itself is sublime, just glutinous enough without being sticky.” It’s so light, you’ll almost want a second order.

Their pork chop fried rice, simple and perfectly executed, is just as popular. Of course, there are some who say DTF’s fried rice is just too dainty. Where’s the soul? they ask. It just goes to show you that one hound’s “soulless” is another’s “ethereally subtle.”

Will Owen says, “The rest of the eatin’ posse and I were fanatics for the salty-fish fried rice at Har Lam Kee, and then we discovered the much less harsh but more complex version at New Concept.” He loves them both.

At Pearl’s Oriental Restaurant, the fried rice is unapologetically greasy and flat-out delicious, says ladius.

Try the seafood fried rice with XO sauce at Maxim Caf

Extremely Japanese Summer Cold Noodles

Ramen Halu, favorite ramen-ya of Melanie Wong, *wchane, and chowhounds everywhere, is serving an excellent summer cold noodle dish, tsuke-men. The thick, firm, cold noodles are served on the side, with cold spinach, roast pork, black tree ears, and an intensely salty, piping-hot dipping stock. The stock is so salty that sometimes it limps over on its wooden leg and calls you Matey. It’s dusky and appealingly briny, tasty and complex, with garlic sweetness, bonito fishiness, and porky richness. And did we mention it’s salty? Just have plenty of cold jasmine tea to go with it.

Ramen Halu [South Bay]
375-M South Saratoga Ave., San Jose
408-246-3933
Locater

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Tsuke-men at Ramen Halu, San Jose

Marrow Bones

Bar Tartine has excellent roasted marrow bones, says Malik. They serve two good-sized bones, perfectly cooked, with parsley salt, toasts, and some greens. They’re served beautifully plain, with no distracting sweet sauces to dilute the marrow experience.

AmySherman recommends the marrow bones at Coco500. And the ones at Bix are great, too, says foodfan.

Bar Tartine [Mission]
561 Valencia St., San Francisco
415-487-1600
Locater

Coco500 [SOMA]
formerly Bizou
500 Brannan St., San Francisco
415-543-2222
Locater

Bix [Jackson Square]
56 Gold St., San Francisco
415-433-6300
Locater

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Great roasted marrow bones at Bar Tartine

Different Ideas for Bell Peppers

Chowhounds offer up some delicious and different recipes using sweet bell peppers.

Here’s a unique roasted red pepper vinaigrette that includes spinach, courtesy of Kitchenaid:

2 sweet red peppers, roasted, seeded, and peeled
1/4 medium red onion, diced
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 10-oz. pkg. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
2 tsps. honey
salt
fresh ground black pepper

In a food processor, combine the peppers, onion, and lemon and lime juices and pulse until smooth. While the processor is running, add the oil slowly until well mixed in. Add the spinach and blend until smooth. Add the honey and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Store in a resealable container in refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving, and shake well before using.

Das Ubergeek offers a pasta sauce recipe called pebronata: saute 1 chopped onion, 4 minced cloves garlic and 2 Italian eggplant cut in chunks in olive oil, remove from pan and reserve. Take two of each red, yellow, and orange bell peppers and cut each pepper in half. Dice half of each, and cut the other halves into thin strips. Cook all the peppers in the same pan in a little more olive oil. Return the eggplant mixture to the pan, add a can of diced tomatoes, a big splash of sherry vinegar, some basil and oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss with long pasta, such as fettuccine, and press a little dollop of goat cheese in the center of each serving, so it melts a bit.

cheryl h loves Paula Wolfert’s recipe for the Middle Eastern red bell pepper spread muhamarra, flavored with walnuts and pomegranate molasses.

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Tons of colored peppers, Help!!!!

Tangy Chocolate Yogurt Treat

Try mixing yogurt with cocoa and sweetener; it’s as tangy and chocolaty and as low or high in fat as the yogurt you choose to use. It’s great as a dip for fruit, or just to spoon up for a snack. Just whisk cocoa and sugar (or Splenda or another sweetener) into yogurt to taste and chill for a bit before eating, says piccola. A bit of vanilla perks up the flavor. Or use a few drops of any extract or liqueur that complements chocolate to flavor it, like almond extract or Kahlua, recommends Caitlin McGrath.

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By request: Chocolate yogurt dip

Schweppes Bitter Lemon

Schweppes Bitter Lemon drink is an import from the U.K. It’s really refreshing, with just the right balance of bitter and sweet. Finding a supplier in the U.S. can be challenging, but try the “mixer” section of larger liquor stores and supermarkets. JMF reports regularly finding Canada Dry’s version of Bitter Lemon at A&P/Food Emporium stores in Westchester County, NY.

Soda Pop Stop will ship it.

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Schweppes Bitter Lemon

Animal Crackers

Animal crackers are really more cookie than cracker–a slightly sweet, vanilla animal-shaped cookie. They’re popular with children and grown-ups alike. (Ipsedixit eats them in a bowl with milk, like cereal!)

You can also find some that are frosted and decorated with sprinkles, like Mother’s Circus Animal Cookies

Nabisco still packages theirs in cute little circus cage boxes with a string handle; they come in other sizes, as well.

Keebler calls theirs Animal Cookies.

Stauffer’s Original animal crackers have been around a very long time. The company’s been in business since 1871. Some of the Sam’s Club stores have this brand, and you can order them straight from the source..

Costco and Trader Joe’s carry animal crackers, and McDonald’s has a version depicting their characters.

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ANIMAL CRACKERS Question(s).