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

Boba- Keeping it Fresh

Boba drinks may all look alike, but a lot are flavored with artificial powder or syrup. But Little Bean uses real fruit and fresh taro in their drinks, says makalive45. The little tapioca balls are always fresh, never gummy, and on weekends they have mini-bobas. Also check out the shaved ice: $2.50 for a huge portion, with fresh toppings.

Former boba professional AquaW (who used to work at Tapioca Express) says the best milk tea is at Aloha Boba, where they brew your tea to order, by the cup. You can taste the difference between their stuff and the pre-made tea elsewhere.

Little Bean [Inland of LA]
18415 Colima Rd., at Batson, Rowland Heights
626-965-1616
Map

Little Bean [Artesia-ish]
18902 Norwalk Blvd., at Cerritos, Artesia
562-860-8843
Map

Aloha Boba [Pasadena-ish]
666 Huntington Blvd., at Shamrock, Monrovia
626-303-2283
Map

Board Links: BEST Boba EVER!!!

A First Look at Simon

The Sofitel has a new restaurant, headed by Kerry Simon (of Simon Kitchen & Bar in Las Vegas’s Hard Rock Hotel). First impressions are just trickling in, but Chowpatty says everything is well executed and service was good. Standouts: tuna dynamite appetizer, lobster roll, gazpacho with avocado, and a very light but tasty seared ahi salad. Some yummy pretzel bread and cornbread can be found in the bread basket.

Margherita pizza, with good crust and just the right ratio of cheese to tomatoes, is another winner, says ipse dixit, who wasn’t as keen on the pricey shellfish platter ($38 for just-OK lobster, crab legs, shrimp, clams, and mussels) and tasteless crab cake.

And of course it’s hard to mess up fried potatoes–fries are nicely well-done, tater tots are crunchy and just a bit sweet. Onion rings are good too, but for $8? As Chowpatty says, “Since it’s a hotel restaurant with trendy pretensions, of course prices are commensurate.”

Simon LA [West Hollywood]
at Sofitel Los Angeles
8555 Beverly Blvd., at La Cienega, Los Angeles
310-358-3979
Map

Board Links: SIMON (at the Hotel Sofitel) ... brief report
SIMON

Going To The Source: Santi’s Perfect Chorizo

Is there a salumi revolution afoot in the Bay Area? Well, for starters, we’ve got the Fatted Calf, and we have Tavern Santi.

Some of the fancier local high-end places proudly serve Santi’s sausage, but you can skip the middle man and go to the source. Santi has tents at the Windsor farmer’s market on Sundays, and at the Saturday farmer’s market in Healdsburg. You eat some grilled sausages on the spot, or buy takeout for $8 a pound. Melanie Wong’s favorite: fresh linguica, filled with smoky Spanish paprika, wine, tangy sherry vinegar, a bit of sweetness, and the gentle smoke of alderwood. Layered into the heritage pig meat, the flavor is indescribably complex and delicious.

The sausage is made with Duroc pigs–Santi’s Franco Dunn buys whole pigs and splits them with Bruce Aidell, who takes the bellies for bacon.

Tavern Santi [Sonoma County]
21047 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville
707-857-1790
Map

Sunday Windsor Farmer’s Market [Sonoma County]
Windsor Town Green, Windsor
707-433-4595
Map

Healdsburg Saturday Farmers’ Market [Sonoma County]
North and Vine Sts., Healdsburg
707-431-1956
Map

Board Links: Saturday Farmers Market in Healdsburg
Portuguese Linguica by Santi

Persian Fight!

katya put two top Persian places–Shalizaar and Chelokababi–to a direct comparison. And the winner? Shalizaar, by a mile.

Chelokababi may have better atmosphere, what with the nice rugs on the walls and the nice Islamic architecture and all. But Shalizaar has it all over Chelokababi when it comes to the food.

Take, for example, the free stuff. At Chelokababi, you get a basket of pita on the house–thin, room temperature, and store-bought. At Shalizaar, you get a free basket of thin, bland lavash, accompanied by a free basket of exotic herbs, feta, and walnuts, which you can roll up to make perfect little mini-burritos. (You can order the same at Chelokababi, but it’ll cost you $5.50.)

Shalizaar’s non-free stuff is even better. Their chicken breast kabob is one of the best kabobs ever. Their polos (zeresht polo and shirin polo) are full-flavored. Their tahdig ($6.95) is texturally perfect–a big rice pot with stew on the top and a crunchy rice layer on the bottom. And they’ve got great gheymeh, a stew of tender lean beef, yellow peas, tomato sauce, and potato sticks. It’s hearty and tasty, and, unlike other gheymehs in the area, not at all watery. Now, if you’ve never tasted Shalizaar, Chelokababi might seem pretty great. And they have some very nice dishes–like their koobideh (lean ground meat kabobs, $9.50), juicy and bursting with flavor. But only Shalizaar inspires post facto dreams and yearnings.

Chelokababi’s chicken breast kabob is disappointing–nicely flavored, but dry. Zeresht polo is weak, too, lacking the proper dense flavor-melange.

Shalizaar has excellent service–knowledgeable servers, and omnipresent bus boys.

In her ranking of Persian restaurants, Chelokababi ranks in the middle of the worthwhile restaurants–above Rose Market and Yas, and below Shalizaar and Pomegranate.

Shalizar is open Tues-Sun, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.. They’re closed Mondays.

Shalizaar [Peninsula]
120 W. 25th Ave., San Mateo
650-341-2600
Map

Chelokababi [South Bay]
1236 S. Wolfe Rd. (at El Camino Real), Sunnyvale
408-737-1222

Rose Market [Peninsula]
1060 Castro St., Mountain View
650-960-1900
Map

Yas Restaurant [South Bay]
1138 Saratoga Ave., San Jose
408-241-5115
Map

Pomegranate Restaurant [East Bay]
1585 University Ave., Berkeley
510-665-5567
Map

Board Links: San Mateo’s Shalizaar Puts the Persian Smackdown on Sunnyvale’s Chelokababi

Food Shopping 101: Buying Garlic

You needn’t be a garlic purist to prefer whole bulb garlic to the pre-peeled, pre-packaged cloves found in the supermarket vegetable department. Garlic you peel fresh for yourself is better and more potent in flavor. Yet there’s a time and place for the convenience of the pre-peeled product!

Buy peeled garlic at a market you trust to have good turnover. If you find the flavor a little weak, just add a few more cloves. They last a long time in the fridge, sealed in Tupperware-type container.

Board Links: Buying garlic: peeled cloves vs. whole bulbs?

Tabasco

Who knew there were so many Tabasco flavors? Here’s a round-up:

The familiar bottle of Pepper sauce

Garlic (nice to add to sauces for heat plus garlicky flavor)

Chipotle (with a smoky note, perfect for BBQ)

Green (jalapeno, mildest of the lot)

Habanero (really, really hot)

The newest: Sweet and Spicy (Asian influence; makes a good dipping sauce)

All but Sweet and Spicy are currently available in gallon jugs (for the fearless!).

Stores may not carry all the options (or, for that matter, the spicy mayo, catsup, or mustard), but you can purchase online, at Pepper Fest.

Board Links: What happened to Smoked Tabasco?

Baba Ghanouj

Baba ghanouj is a spread made from eggplant and tahini (sesame paste), spiked with lemon and garlic. An important component of its flavor is the smokiness of the eggplant, which is cooked until it collapses, preferably on a charcoal or wood grill.

Nyleve offers a traditional recipe (adjust tahini, lemon, and garlic to your taste).

1 medium eggplant
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt to taste
Olive oil (optional)

Prick eggplant all over with a fork, and either roast at 450F (230C) for about 1 hour or broil, until blackened and soft. Or, place eggplant on a grill and cook, turning once or twice, until charred and soft. (The grilling method will produce a smokier taste.)

Cut a slit down the length of the eggplant, scoop the insides into a bowl and mash with a fork. Add tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt, mixing well with a fork. Drizzle olive oil over the top, if you’d like, and serve with pita bread.

sbp has a tip: scoop the cooked eggplant out of its skin and into a colander to let any bitter juices drain off before proceeding with the recipe.

Anne H adds a little cumin and a pinch of cayenne to her baba ghanouj.

Board Links: Sauces #3: baba ganoush/baba ghanouj

Peeling Hard-Boiled Eggs

There are a few tricks to cooking easy-peeling hard-boiled eggs, but chowhounds note that there’s no guarantee you won’t get a toughie once in a while. As fauchon puts it, “some eggs are just recalcitrant!”

Most important: DON’T use fresh eggs. Age them in the fridge for a couple of weeks before boiling (don’t worry, they’ll be just fine for eating; eggs last a long time uncooked). The whites will evaporate a little, leaving a bit of air between them and the shell when they’re boiled, so you can get the shell off easier.

Once you’ve cooked your eggs, drain off the hot water, fill the pot with ice cubes and cold water, put the lid on, and shake the pot around to crack the eggshells all over. Let the eggs sit in the ice water for 10 minutes or so, then peel under running water.

Board Links: Hard-Boiled Eggs… Getting On My Nerves!

Soup Dumplings and More in Flushing’s Chinatown

Nan Shan Xiao Long Bao, leading from strength, touts its soup dumplings right in its name. Those who have tried them aren’t disappointed. Soup is plentiful, filling tasty, and skins thin and delicate, says HLing.

This Flushing newcomer specializes in Shanghai and northern Chinese breakfast and snack fare. Wheat flour pastries like shaobing (sesame cakes) and red bean pancakes are standouts–light and flaky outside, flavorful and tender inside. ZenFoodist reports outstanding turnip buns, pan-fried rice cakes, Shanghai-style thick wheat noodles, and steamed vegetable dumplings with pungent mustard greens. Sweet douhua (soft tofu) boasts nice soy fragrance and superior texture–meltingly soft, yet it holds its shape, observes HLing. She faults only a sweet and overly “polite” quality in some of the dumpling fillings.

Also on the menu: soy milk and youtiao (crullers); drunken chicken, smoked fish, spicy beef and tripe, and other cold plates; chicken, pork rib, and hot-and-sour soups; and chef’s specialties including fish head casserole and braised fish tail. Look for a red awning with “Nan Shan (or Nanxiang) Xiao Long Bao” in Chinese and “Noodle House” in English.

A couple blocks south, PeteDelfino recommends White Bear, an eight-seat hole-in-the-wall whose Chinese sign promises Shanghai and Shandong bites. Fresh-made wonton are great, in soup or with hot sauce. Assorted dumplings and rice plates, rice cake or bean curd dishes, and noodles (with pork, brown sauce beef, preserved vegetable, etc.) round out the menu.

Nan Shan Crab Soup Bun, a.k.a. Noodle House [Flushing]
38-12 Prince St., between 38th and 39th Aves., Flushing, Queens
718-321-3838
Map

White Bear [Flushing]
135-02 Roosevelt Ave. #5, entrance on Prince St. between Roosevelt and 40th Rd., Flushing, Queens
718-961-2322
Map (approximate)

Board Links: Noodle House–Nanxiang Xiaolong Bao in Flushing
New York City restaurants serving top notch dim sum.
NanXiang XiaoLongBao, Canton Gourmet, Pho, Green Papaya, Mekong and Octopus Man
New Flushing Place….Nan Shan Crab Soup Bun

Coffee Break: Aroma Wafts into Soho, and Other News

The Israeli coffee chain Aroma has planted its flag in Soho, and early reports from its first U.S. location are encouraging. “Real coffee beautifully presented,” sums up Blumie, who enjoyed a nearly flawless cappuccino. “So beautiful I didn’t want to drink it. But most people do not go to a coffee bar to look, so I had to. It was wonderful.”

Salads are delicious and huge, says alwm. No reports yet on the dozen or so sandwiches, a lineup heavy on vegetarian choices like mozzarella-tomato, avocado-onion, feta-olive, and the Oriental (eggplant, zucchini, red pepper, egg, tahini). This bright, sleek shop, open 24/7, also serves a heaping $8.50 “Power Breakfast”–two eggs, feta, cucumbers, tomatoes, toast and cream cheese.

Other java hounds have Think Coffee on their minds. This Village newcomer, open since spring, is serious about its ingredients–organic, fair-trade, shade-grown beans, milk from an organic Hudson Valley dairy, etc. Iced coffee, cold-brewed over four or five hours, is exceptional, says bml. And the expansive, comfortable space is “one of the biggest and coolest shops I’ve seen in New York,” says billyeats.

Jack’s in the Village also goes the organic, fair-trade, shade-grown route, and uses a unique stir-brewing contraption to produce uncommonly smooth coffee, says billyeats. They pull a great espresso, too.

In Chelsea, coffee lovers left homeless by the closure of neighborhood fixture Big Cup have discovered a new hangout in Java Boy, which may be the city’s only coffeehouse with a disco ball. Open since September in the front room of View Bar, it serves espresso drinks, smoothies, panini, and scones, muffins, and other baked treats. Brewed coffee is strong, deep-flavored and terrific on ice, says dimples.

Finally, an unexpected bright spot in Midtown: ING Direct Cafe, which brews first-rate coffee from Peet’s beans. “I would have never guessed that a place run by a bank could make a quality cup,” writes DirtyMartini, “but this one is a cut above the typical Starbucks and overpriced deli options in the area.”

Aroma Espresso Bar [Soho]
145 Greene St. (entrance at Greene and Houston, SW. corner), Manhattan
212-533-1094
Map

Think Coffee [Greenwich Village]
248 Mercer St., between W. 3rd and 4th Sts., Manhattan
212-228-6226
Map

Jack’s Stir Brew Coffee [Greenwich Village]
138 W. 10th St., between Waverly Pl. and Greenwich Ave., Manhattan
Map

Java Boy [Chelsea]
232 8th Ave., near W. 22nd St., in View Bar, Manhattan
Map

ING Direct Cafe [Midtown East]
45 E. 49th St., between Madison and Park Aves., Manhattan
Map

Board Links: Lunch in Soho?
Fantastic coffee
Aroma Coffee Bar