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

Promising Banh Mi at A Chau (and Other Sandwich News)

Chinatown has a new banh mi spot: A Chau Deli, and it’s a contender. Our first report says it’s in the same league as Saigon Banh Mi, a solid favorite among Manhattan hounds. squid kun reports a nicely balanced pate-and-cold cut sandwich from the newcomer, with ample meat, brightly dressed carrot-cucumber slaw, and a vigorous chile kick. Their vegetable knifework is particularly commendable, making the whole thing easier to eat. Open since June, A Chau also has spring rolls, salads and other dishes. And for alfresco diners, it’s just half a block from Columbus Park.

Saigon Banh Mi remains on top of its game, most say, turning out a signature sandwich overstuffed with deeply flavored coarse-chopped barbecued pork. “Still far and away the best,” declares guttergourmet, though some complain of long waits and occasional soggy premade sandwiches.

Other banh mi hunters remind us not to walk past a Vietnamese electronics store without pausing for a sniff–there might just be a sandwich counter in there alongside the CDs, cell phones, and karaoke video discs. That’s the setup at Tu Quynh, where SLAP reports decent sandwiches, and Khai Tri, a music store with a banh mi operation called Ba Le.

A couple miles uptown, anne loves the sandwiches at Bao Noodles, which offers sandwiches with the classic cold cut and pate, grilled pork, grilled shrimp, OR rotisserie chicken. They’re $6–twice the going rate in Chinatown–but she thinks they’re worth it.

Perennial favorites for Vietnamese sandwiches include Banh Mi So 1 and Nicky’s, especially for its pork chop banh mi, says big o. By the way, Nicky’s long-awaited Brooklyn branch remains in regulatory limbo, but the owners promise it’ll open soon, possibly within a month.

A Chau [Chinatown]
82A Mulberry St., between Bayard and Canal, Manhattan

Saigon Banh Mi [Chinatown]
a.k.a. Saigon Bakery
138 Mott St., between Grand and Hester, Manhattan

Tu Quynh Center [Chinatown]
230 Grand St. #A3, between Bowery and Elizabeth, Manhattan

Ba Le Deli [Chinatown]
145-147 Canal St., between Bowery and Chrystie, in Khai Tri music and electronics store, Manhattan, NY

Bao Noodles [Flatiron]
391 2nd Ave., between 22nd and 23rd Sts., Manhattan

Banh Mi So 1 [Little Italy]
369 Broome St., between Mott and Elizabeth, Manhattan

Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches [East Village]
150 E. 2nd St., near Ave. A, Manhattan

Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches [Boerum Hill]
to open at…311 Atlantic Ave., between Hoyt and Smith Sts., Brooklyn

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Suggestions for Ultimate Annual Manhattan Chow Crawl
Banh Mi
Boerum Hill to be Banh Mi central? Nicky’s is coming…

Salted Capers

Some chowhounds think salt-packed capers are tastier than capers jarred in brine, but the salt-packed ones take a bit of prep work. You’ll need to rinse off the salt and then soak the capers in water for half an hour, or they’ll be too salty to eat.

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what to do with salted capers?

Frozen Basil Cubes

Summer is high season for fresh basil. Here’s a neat way of keeping basil for the winter months: freeze it into basil ice cubes. First, rinse and dry the leaves. Next, chop the basil in a food processor with just enough olive oil to form a thick paste. Press the paste into ice cube trays–about a tablespoon of paste per cube. Once frozen, pop the cubes out and store them in freezer bags or rigid plastic containers. You can often add the frozen basil cubes directly to a dish as it’s cooking, notes Nyleve.

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Basil cube season again

Packaged Crabmeat

You can’t beat fresh hand-picked crabmeat, when you can find it pristinely fresh. But when you can’t, there are other options.

If you plan to cook with the crabmeat, Pitu recommends a canned product called SEAsia. It’s kept on ice in seafood section of many grocery stores.

Many folks really like the Phillips brand lump variety crabmeat, carried by Costco and Sam’s Club in one-pound cans. It’s in the refrigerated section. Kim Shook has had nothing but good luck with this brand. He’s cooked with it, and used it for crab cocktails, and says it’s very dependable and good. It’s Southeast Asian crab, not blue crab.

Chicken of the Sea crabmeat, on the other hand, comes in “shelf-stable” foil packages, so it’s easy to keep around, says SavorySam.

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Any good canned or frozen crab out there? [Moved from Home Cooking]

Croissants By Mail

Croissants from Williams-Sonoma are made in the French tradition: light, buttery, and many-layered. They arrive frozen; you’ll need to let them thaw and rise overnight before you bake them. abe1329 has enjoyed croissants in Paris, and declares that Williams-Sonoma’s taste just as fresh. “An excellent splurge”!

Available plain or filled with Callebaut chocolate.

Order at Williams Sonoma.

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Delicious Croissants

All the snobbery, half the price!

Grocery store chain Food Lion has announced a plan to remodel its traditional stores to appeal to either high-end or bargain-basement customers. Some of the 1,200 stores in the N.C.-based chain will become Bottom Dollar outlets, where low prices are king and customers will have to get used to bagging their own Jell-O and economy-sized peanut butter vats. Other former Food Lions will become Bloom stores, aimed at upscale shoppers who’ll throw down an extra 20 cents a pound for lentils du Puy or Meyer lemons.

Since there’s nothing sexy about the low-price outlets (just ask my mama, loyal Pak ‘n’ Save shopper), Food Lion is mainly talking up the Bloom brand. They’ll have hulking counters of ready-made food for the grabbing-dinner-on-the-way-from-work set, space set aside for organic produce, sushi, etc. Sounds kind of like Whole Foods, but since Food Lion reps are promising a “gourmet lifestyle” at lower prices, maybe you won’t need to sell off a body part to shop for the week’s nosh.

Maybe this is what Food Lion needs to burnish its reputation. The chain never really recovered from ABC’s 1992 Prime Time Live news report that FL food handlers sold spoiled meat washed in bleach to hide the stink. Food blogosphere reaction has been muted, just a couple of “can’t wait to see it!” posts on those with local Blooms-to-be. But some shoppers are concerned about the socio-economic signals Food Lion’s move sends.

Blogger Riley of neo-con blog Virginia Virtucon is incensed that the store nearest his tony neighborhood is being converted into a Bottom Dollar. Urging his neighbors to join him in a letter-writing campaign to demand a local Bloom instead, Riley snipes “Why doesn’t Food Lion just cut to the chase and rename these stores ‘Soup Kitchen?’” The anonymous blogger behind news aggregator blog Discount Airline Prices sniffs that a Bloom store would be more welcome in a certain fancy-schmancy Maryland neighborhood than a Food Lion, known for “limited selection and low costs.” But it’s uber-dude blogger Blarggrymfrost with the man-on-the-street view –- he says that he’s getting a raise as his employer switches from a Food Lion to a Bloom, “which is gay but Ill [SIC] be gay for 52K a year.”

Food 101: Does Kimchee Go Bad?

Kimchee, a pungent Korean mixture of fermented cabbage (often Napa cabbage) and/or other vegetables, is mostly used as a condiment. Some Korean dishes are built around it. It lasts so long that some deem it immortal. But at some point it starts to deteriorate, and you’ve got to watch for the signs.

Mostly, watch for loss of crispness in larger pieces. When the kimchee gets soggy and loses its whiteness, it’s time to cook it (use in soup, or fried rice).

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does kimchee go bad?

Potato Chip Survey

The chowhounds have run down lots of tried and true brands, and also suggested a few that may be news to even confirmed chip lovers.

Chips cooked in lard are definitely a favorite. One favorite lard chip is Grandma Utz’s Handcooked Chips. Note that not all Utz chips use lard. Read some info here.

Gibbles are cooked in lard, too. “Nibble with Gibbles” is another Pennsylvania favorite.

Kettle Chips offers a number of good flavors, including Spicy Thai, Sea Salt and Vinegar, and Lightly Salted with Black Pepper. Dommy notes that the “Cheddar and Beer” flavor has little actual cheddar or beer flavor.

Zapp’s Chips come in a large variety, including Cajun and Creole flavors reflecting the company’s Louisiana heritage. They make unsalted chips, too.

Cape Cod chips has its followers, and they’ve added a couple of new chip flavors: Jalapeno and Aged Cheddar (which packs some heat) and Fresh Garden Herb (a reduced fat chip).

Charles Chips (remember those big tins?) are still around. They’re a nicely balanced chip, not too salty and just crisp enough. You can’t find them everywhere, but you can order them, tin and all, online.

Solea Olive Oil chips come flavored with rosemary or garlic. They’ve got great flavor and are super crisp, reports Robert Lauriston. Amazon sells them.

Better Made Chips out of Detroit are a nostalgic favorite, and they’re still available!

Terra Red Bliss (Garlic & Parmesan flavor) are substantial chips. They’re thicker, with a hefty crunch, and they’re really cheesy and garlicky, reports yumyuminmytumtum.

Plain sea salt Madhouse Munchies are great, hounds agree!

Ellen says that Route 11 chips are hard to find outside Virginia, but well worth ordering online>. Try the salt and vinegar, garlic and herb, and sweet potato flavors.

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We Did Pretzels! Whats your Favorite Potato Chip?

Decadent Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

j2brady shares her simple, but rich and delectable recipe for blueberry cheesecake ice cream:

1 8-oz pkg. cream cheese
1 1/2 cups light cream
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
frozen blueberries (amount to your taste)

Blend cream cheese, both creams, and sugar in blender until very smooth. Place blueberries in pot over medium heat and allow them to release their juices and reduce somewhat, then place them in the freezer briefly. If you don’t want pieces of fruit in your finished ice cream, puree the reduced berries or force them through a sieve. Freeze cream cheese mixture in ice cream freezer; during the last few seconds, add the reduced blueberries and allow them to form a swirl before you stop the dasher and scrape the ice cream into a storage container.

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Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream…so gooood!

Versatile Bean Salad Recipe

This quick bean salad dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, and fresh herbs is one of Will Owen’s most successful recipes, and it’s incredibly flexible. Vary the herbs to suit your mood, substitute some nice vinegar for the lemon juice, and with each combo you’ve got a whole different salad.

4 15-oz cans beans (cannelini, navy, pinto, or a mixture)
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 minced or pressed clove of garlic
juice of one lemon, or to taste
chopped herbs of your choice
good olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and drain beans; shake in a colander to dry. Add onion, garlic, lemon juice, and chopped herbs. Pour and stir in oil until beans are glistening (but don’t drown them in oil). Adjust lemon juice and seasoning to taste. Keeps well for a few days refrigerated.

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Bean salad