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

Three Worthy Brunch Bites in Chelsea and the Village

The brunch menu at Bright Food Shop, the East-meets-Southwest fusion place in Chelsea, features a rewarding vegan variation on huevos rancheros–big chunks of smoked tofu (in place of egg) piled atop black beans and corn tortillas, topped with vegan cheese and sour cream. “Fabulous!” raves piccola. “Slightly spicy, very smoky, filling but not heavy.” Also recommended: green chile pozole, eggs with thick-cut bacon, nice chile-flecked cornbread, and the unlikely but surprisingly tasty smoked salmon “maki,” with egg and wasabi cream cheese rolled into a spinach tortilla. Pass on the stingy side of fruit.

A few blocks away, Elmo serves a nice cheddar-avocado omelette, generously filled and perfectly cooked. Service is swift and the room is loud and loungey. A solid neighborhood place, says Lucia.

At Danal in the East Village, don’t miss the French toast, which is made with croissants. “I was blown away,” marvels Desidero. “Best I have had in a long while.” Excellent cafe au lait, too.

Bright Food Shop [Chelsea]
218 8th Ave., at W. 21st St., Manhattan
212-243-4433
Locater

Elmo [Chelsea]
156 7th Ave., at W. 19th St., Manhattan
212-337-8000
Locater

Danal [East Village]
90 E. 10th St, between 3rd and 4th Aves., Manhattan
212-982-6930
Locater

Board Links
Brunch at Elmo (Chelsea)
Brunch at Bright Food Shop
Danal ?

Sheng Xiang: Fujianese Flowering in Sunset Park

One of the newest of the Fujianese restaurants that are changing the face of Sunset Park’s Chinatown is Sheng Xiang, whose chow is tasty, rustic, and uncompromisingly authentic, according to our first report. KRS describes a dinner highlighted by curry beef casserole, a pot of long-stewed miscellaneous meat plus taro, onion, bell pepper, ginger and greens–“food for peasants, but amazing.” Fuzhou dumpling soup is also quite good: modestly stuffed meat wonton in delicious pork broth. Other winners: sauteed snow pea shoots, house special noodles in terrific mushroom sauce, and taro pudding for dessert.

The menu is heavy on seafood, much of it pulled from tanks aswim with fish, crabs, turtles, and other critters. Also: numerous Fujianese soups and stewed dishes, duck or rabbit Fuzhou style, goose and pork innards in various preparations, and other regional specialties. “The dishes are not adapted to American tastes,” KRS writes. “The broth in the soup was unsalted and took a moment to get used to. The beef in the casserole was the cheapest possible cuts, cooked forever to make it chewable. Get there quick, while they’re serving the food as they themselves would eat it.”

Many of the same dishes turn up on the menu at Everett, another newish Fujianese restaurant just down 8th Avenue from Sheng Xiang. Isabel loves their pork dumplings and clams sauteed with chiles and cilantro. Two other places offer similar menus: Wang Cun Ju and, to a lesser extent, Min Jiang. “There seem to be a growing cluster of new Fujianese restaurants in this area ripe for exploration,” notes jen kalb. “Great to see a fullish menu with rabbit and mutton noodle soups, even a goat casserole, in addition to a lot of seafood, frog legs, interesting vegetable dishes, etc.”

For a lighter bite, Sunset Park is full of little shops that make northern Chinese-style dumplings. One neighborhood favorite is Family Dumpling, a bare-bones corner joint a block off the busy 8th Avenue strip. Dumplings with pork, chives, preserved vegetable and other fillings are made by hand as you watch, then steamed or pan-fried. It’s great stuff dirt cheap, says Amy Mintzer; she also loves their rich yet feathery-light scallion pancakes and noodles with a rotating choice of sauces.

Closer to 8th Avenue, Northern China is a fine option for dumplings and scallion pancakes, reports Chandavkl. Others recommend the nearby Kai Feng Fu Dumpling House, which offers a similar lineup of dumplings plus a huge, tasty sesame pancake that can be ordered stuffed with slices of spiced, long-cooked beef–a delicious budget sandwich, says jen kalb. All three shops are mostly takeout with limited seating.

Sheng Xiang Seafood Restaurant [Sunset Park]
5318 8th Ave., between 54th and 53rd Sts., Brooklyn
718-633-3383
Map

Everett [Sunset Park]
a.k.a. C & C Everett
5721 8th Ave., between 57th and 58th Sts., Brooklyn
718-686-0088
Locater

Wang Cun Ju [Sunset Park]
5609 8th Ave., between 56th and 57th Sts., Brooklyn
718-633-6111
Map

Wang Cun Ju [Sunset Park]
4922 8th Ave., between 49th and 50th Sts., Brooklyn
718-437-0078
Map

Min Jiang [Sunset Park]
5121 8th Ave., between 51st and 52nd Sts., Brooklyn
718-633-1588
Map

Family Dumpling [Sunset Park]
5602 7th Ave., at 56th St., Brooklyn
718-492-0686
Map

Northern China Dumpling [Sunset Park]
775 49th St., between 8th and 7th Aves., Brooklyn
718-431-9220
Locater

Kai Feng Fu Dumpling House [Sunset Park]
4801 8th Ave., at 48th St. (entrance on 48th), Brooklyn
718-437-3542
Locater

Board Links
Restaurant named Everett in Brooklyn Chinatown
Where are the best dumplings in Brooklyn’s Chinatown?
Amazing Fujian Menu

Tacos Behind the Orange Curtain

Although there aren’t many great taco places in Orange County, El Granjenal makes a damn good grilled fish taco, says Professor Salt. And hey, it’s Gustavo Arellano’s favorite. Don’t forget the salsa verde, and maybe a licuado.

For meats, El Toro Bravo is his go-to hole-in-the-wall tortilleria-taqueria. Their associated carneceria is across the street “The chile rojo kicks ass, as does the oniony carne asada, carnitas and pollo rostizado. The chicharron here are cubes of crunchy, crispy skin-on pork belly fried to a dark Crayola Brown. A combo plate of these is your ticket to a triple bypass, yet you’ll still be licking your chops in the ambulance on the way to the ER. Totally worth it when you’re in the mood for a really rich pork fat indulgence.” The house-made salsa roja and salsa fresca are awesome, but the straight-from-a-can salsa verde isn’t worth your time.

For fish tacos, SouthOCHound hears the ones at Los Cotijas are hard to beat.

Taqueria El Granjenal [South OC]
899 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa
949-645-4964
Locater

Taqueria El Granjenal [South OC]
140 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana
714-836-9300
Locater

El Toro Bravo [South OC]
745 W. 19th St. #G, Costa Mesa
949-631-4464
Locater

Los Cotijas Taco Shop [South OC]
642 E. 1st St., Tustin
714-832-7681
Locater

Los Cotijas Taco Shop [Little Saigon]
11951 Euclid St., Garden Grove
714-636-3944
Locater

Board Links
ISO of Tacos in the OC

Taco Run

The find of the week for The Oracle is El Super, the kind of place you might drive past for years without ever stopping in. The chicken is juicy and delicious, the asada solid, and the menu has plenty of tempting items from quesadillas to enchiladas to posole. One chicken and one asada taco comes to $2.60.

A South Pas favorite is La Estrella, especially for the fish. Shrimp for tacos are very lightly fried–they’re perfect. Ceviche is good too, but al pastor and carnitas are nothing to write home about. There’s also a no-name market (or more probably, a no-one-remembers-the-name-market) nearby that mr mouther says is better than anything else around. Pastor is especially good, and so are their prices–about $1 a taco.

El Parian is practically synonymous with “carne asada,” and it’s definitely good stuff, says The Oracle. But you’ll need a roll of paper towels–it’s that juicy. Birria taco, on the other hand, is much too oily and flavorless. On top of that, the tortillas and the chips had both seen better days. Tacos here are $2.25 each.

*WBGuy * recommends El Taco Llama for a more satisfying birria taco.

El Super Burrito [Pasadena-ish]
3631 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena
626-792-4482
Locater

La Estrella [Pasadena-ish]
502 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena
626-792-8559
Locater

La Bodeguita Mini Market [Pasadena-ish]
1135 N. Summit Ave., at Hammond, Pasadena
626-296-0238
Locater

El Parian Restaurant [Downtown]
1528 W. Pico Blvd., at Union, Los Angeles
213-386-7361
Locater
Amazon Locater

El Taco Llama [East San Fernando Valley]
10501 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood
818-752-1562
Locater

El Taco Llama [East San Fernando Valley]
12101 Saticoy St., North Hollywood
818-255-3902
Locater

El Taco Llama [East San Fernando Valley]
7344 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys
818-901-1898
Locater

El Taco Llama [East San Fernando Valley]
8111 Van Nuys Blvd. # 109, Van Nuys
818-997-9252
Locater

El Taco Llama [East San Fernando Valley]
15708 Vanowen St., Van Nuys
818-997-9450
Locater

El Taco Llama [West San Fernando Valley]
8709 Corbin Ave., Northridge
818-885-5918
Locater

El Taco Llama [West San Fernando Valley]
7559 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park
818-992-7409
Locater

El Taco Llama [Santa Clarita]
24374 San Fernando Rd., Santa Clarita
661-255-7035
Locater

Board Links
Last week’s taco report —el parian (los angeles), el super burrito (pasadena), and a random taco truck (pasadena–fair oaks/california)

Potato Salad as Main Dish

It’s easy to take potato salad to main dish territory–just add some protein and complementary flavors. bigmackdaddy seasons potato salad with dill, then adds chunks of ham and special magic beer shrimp. (To make these magic beer shrimp, soak shrimp in beer for an hour, then fry in olive oil and salt.)

Terrie H. likes to combine potato salad and sausage with a mustardy vinaigrette. Try adding grilled, sliced kielbasa; or, simmer slices of sausage in white wine and a pinch of sugar until glazed, and add.

You can combine potato salad with pretty much any leftover meat or poultry. Make a salad of potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and leftover meats, dressed with vinaigrette.

Hard-boiled eggs and toasted cashews are great in a vegetarian potato salad.

Board Links
Potato Salad as entree? Ideas?

Secret Ingredient: Pickle Juice

The juice from the pickle jar is a secret ingredient in many chowhounds’ pantries. Here are some favorite uses:

A little kosher dill pickle juice is great in potato salad. Pickle juice also enhances tuna salad and deviled eggs.

Adding pickle juice to braised short ribs or pot roast gives a nice deep taste to the gravy.

Pickle juice is great for marinating carrot sticks and sliced cucumbers. You can also use it to pickle sliced onions. Leave them in for a few days, then toss them on some burgers.

pdxGK even recommends a recipe for dill pickle soup!

Board Links
Do You Re-Use Pickle Juice or the Liquid from Canned Veg.?

Flour Matters

Will Owens finds that Gold Medal and other generic supermarket flour brands seem gritty; that’s because they’re made from hard wheat. The generic stuff is fine as a thickening agent, or for dusting, but mediocre for serious baking.

For baked goods that require strong gluten content–like bread and some pastas–the hands-down favorite is King Arthur unbleached all purpose flour. It has the highest level of gluten protein of any name brand, says Nancy Berry. You can get it online, at Costco, and in some supermarkets. Here’s a list of stores that carry it.

When you want light and tender biscuits, cakes, and pie crusts, a lower gluten content is desirable, advises Nancy Berry. She recommends White Lily all purpose flour. The difference in your biscuits will be amazing. Be careful not to pick up their self-rising flour by mistake! The sacks look almost identical. It’s not available everywhere, but you can order by phone or online.

Most of the time, bleached flour is not recommended, but Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of “The Cake Bible,” takes different tack. She says, “The reason that it is essential to use bleached flour is that unbleached has particles that are smooth and round and the butter slips right through them and lands in a gummy layer at the bottom, causing the cake to fall in the center while cooling. The bleaching process, however, roughens these flour particles enabling them to hold the butter in even suspension.”

Here’s an article on choosing the best flour for the job.

Board Links
Any notable differences in All-Purpose Flour brands?

Coffee: Highly Beneficial?

This week, at least, they’re saying that coffee is good for us. Coffee, apparently, contains chlorogenic acid, which affects blood glucose levels in a happy way. Chlorogenic acid is equally present in regular and decaf. The NY Times writes that “a typical serving of coffee contains more antioxidants than typical servings of grape juice, blueberries, raspberries and oranges.” This is supposed to lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and liver cirrhosis.

There are still plenty of studies about how coffee is bad for you; one such study says that more than two cups decreases blood flow to the heart, especially during exercise at high altitude.

Read more at the NY Times.

Board Links
Coffee–the next health drink

Down-Home Prosciutto

Down-Home Prosciutto

The country ham is our native prosciutto or serrano, though most Southerners wouldn’t dream of throwing an uncooked leg on a deli slicer and shaving some to go with the asparagus. Most Northerners, meanwhile, have never heard of it. READ MORE

The Night Before

Note from CHOW managing editor Davina Baum: Many of you know that Jim Leff is on the road, traveling the country in search of “edible treasure.” Here’s his first post—not quite from the road, but pre-road.

We’ll be building a bigger CHOWTour area shortly, so check back for more action. Take a look at the CHOWTour board and get the discussion going. Now, on to Jim …

I’m sitting in my living room in Queens, New York, gnawing celery sticks and sipping diet soda in anticipation of the gastronomic punishment to come.

Here’s the plan: Armed with a camera, a recorder, a notebook, and endless joie de manger, I will spend two months on the road, following my intuition and putting years of chowhounding experience to the test. My goal is to find edible treasure cooked with heart and soul, prepared by the holdouts, kooks, and geniuses who aim for much more than maximal profit from minimal effort.

As a dedicated chowhound, I have an insatiable desire to soak up experiences outside the slick bubble. I refuse to be distracted by the shiny bauble of hype. Even in this plastic era of pandemic soul-stifling chains, there are still compellingly unique destinations. It’s just a matter of drilling down to find the local gems. I will Photoshop out the Applebee’s and Denny’s from my chowscape.

There’s no cheating allowed. I won’t call local food critics for tips, I’ll carry no guidebooks, and I won’t even scour through the Chowhound message boards (reliable though they are for excavating under-radar deliciousness).

There are risks, of course, in dropping in to strange places and expecting to eat superbly. That’s why the crashes might be the most interesting parts. There may be stretches where I fail to score, perhaps even resorting—in moments of extreme deprivation—to victuals that are merely adequate. But don’t bet against me. You see, I’m on quite a streak. (I’ll podcast about that shortly … keep following along!)

The trip won’t all be pure chowhounding. There are people to meet—I can’t wait to introduce you to my friend Rob, a Navy SEAL commander/wine expert who gushes in floridly poetical terms on food and drink—and there are some specific events and venues I plan to check out. But mostly, I’ll aim to get lost.

Right now, though, I’ve got gear to pack and about two thousand sit-ups to do.