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

Talking Pizza on the Lower East Side: Pala AND Ronald’s

Maybe it was the by-the-foot pricing, or maybe the exotic toppings that include pumpkin-and-pancetta but not classic New York sauce-and-cheese. For whatever reason, it took a while for hounds to grok the slightly upscale Roman-style pizza at Pala on the Lower East Side. Now, six months after it opened, the place seems to be gaining a following.

Fans love its light, crispy yet chewy crust, which it approaches with high seriousness. “Our waiter went into a spiel about the multiple flours used, the high water content of the dough, and the owner’s Ph.D. in chemistry,” says Sanjay. “I don’t know if that’s what does it, but it sure is a great crust!” Among the toppings, winners include the Arrabbiata (cherry tomatoes, garlic, hot pepper), Medillanum (asparagus, Gorgonzola, fior di latte mozzarella), Forza Roma (roasted peppers and mozzarella), and Ubraico (pancetta, mozzarella, wine-cured goat cheese), which delivers “a whirlwind of flavors and an absolute euphoric experience,” raves suzie bauer.

“If you are looking for the typical New York slice, this is not the place,” she adds. “The pies are oblong, and most slices are squares except for the corners of the pie. A slice is about the size of a Sicilian, except it is not as thick and doughy–a major plus, in my opinion.” Dissenters find prices high and the crust low on flavor.

A few blocks south, Ronald’s sounds like a nice neighborhood joint for thin-crust pies. “Darn good!” exclaims Wingman. “Very fresh ingredients and a fairly crispy crust. Thankfully there is an option for delivery on the Lower East Side!” The crust carries the smoky scent of the wood-burning oven, says adam, who likes his topped with sausage and fresh ricotta.

Beyond pizza, this successor to the now-defunct New Sicca’s at Allen and Rivington offers a traditional menu of salads, appetizers (fried calamari, soup, stuffed baked clams), chicken and veal entrees (francese, Marsala, piccata), and more. adam reports nicely done pastas and a standout caesar salad with just enough anchovy kick.

Pala Pizza Romano [Lower East Side]
198 Allen St., between Houston and Stanton, Manhattan
212-614-7252
Map

Ronald’s Pizza Cafe [Lower East Side]
74 Orchard St., between Broome and Grand, Manhattan
212-533-4052
Map

Board Links: Ronald’s Pizza Cafe?
Krunch Pizza
best pizza in manhattan?
Pala pizza- 198 Allen Street
Palà LES?
BEST Pizza on the Lower Eats Side

Madame, You’re Beautiful!

The croque madame at Bluebird Cafe is a thing of beauty, says Bob Brooks–good bread, good prosciutto, good creamy mornay sauce. And not too big (you know, French women don’t get fat); just the right size for a super-rich sandwich. The egg may be cooked on the firm side, though. Beautifully ripe tomatoes and fruit come on the side.

All the sandwiches are excellent, adds Dommy–a lot like those at Surfas’ cafe (see also ChowNews #211), but more variety. The grilled vegetable sandwich is truly tasty. Plus, delicious cupcakes–chica recommends red velvet and carrot cake.

Blue Bird Bakery [Culver City-ish]
8572 National Blvd., at Hayden, Culver City 90232
310-841-0939
Map

Surfas [Culver City-ish]
8777 W. Washington Blvd., at National, Culver City 90232
310-559-4770
Map

Board Links: Bluebird Cafe–Culver City

Punch Knocks Out a Good Onion Ring

The former Royal Star is now a sleek, clubby joint by the name of Punch Grill. Flat screen TVs, a nice bar area, and new booths define the look. The menu is inoffensive, perfect for the bar crowd (or an upscale office lunch)–salads, soups, pastas, entrees, and sandwiches. Says southbay hound, onion soup is good and hearty, Maui onion salad with avocado and manchego good but skimpy. Caesar salad, solid. Seared ahi sandwich and grilled chicken sandwich are both nicely executed, but the real standout is the onion rings–light and crispy, with a peppery hint. Some of the best in LA.

Punch Grill [Beaches]
3001 Wilshire Blvd., at Stanford, Santa Monica 90403
Map

Board Links: Punch Grill–Wilshire and Santa Monica (review)

J’s Pots of Soul, with Pumpkin Pancakes

J’s Pots of Soul is, unsurprisingly, a soul food restaurant…and a fine one at that. It’s small, tidy, and covered with posters of Muhammed Ali and Josephine Baker. They serve breakfast and lunch, Tuesday through Sunday. The breakfast menu includes about nine items, and lunch is three: fried chicken wings, meatloaf, and salmon croquettes. There are also specials, like pumpkin pancakes.

An order of chicken wings is four very large wings in good batter–tasty and satisfying, says jaweino. Sweet, cinnamony yams are a delicious side order. There’s also great cornbread, with bits of red bell peppers baked in.

Pumpkin pancakes are awesome…when they have them. An order involves two very large pancakes with two eggs and two slices of perfectly crispy bacon. The pancakes are distinctly pumpkiny, and served with a pitcher of warm syrup and a pitcher of warm clarified butter. Why don’t more places serve it this way? Because they don’t love you. That’s why.

J’s Pots Of Soul [Western Addition]
203 Octavia St., San Francisco
415-861-3230
Map

Board Links: J’s Pots of Soul

Delicate Shark-Fin Dumplings and the Secret $1.79 Menu

S&T Hong Kong Seafood is the new restaurant in the old Tai Wu space. It’s truly new (new owners and everything), not just another name shift. For lunch, there’s dim sum, ordered off a check-off list.

The star of the meal here is boon tong gao ($5), shark-fin dumpling soup. The wrapper of this large dumpling is perfectly thin and fragile, almost gossamer, says Melanie Wong. Inside, there’s chunks of fresh scallop blended with shrimp, grass mushrooms, shreds of dried scallop, black mushroom, and more. And it’s in broth–double-boiled broth, crystal clear, greaseless and light yet intensely flavorful, with briny, savory, and meaty components singing perfect harmony. There’s plenty of this soup, too–enough for a little bowl each for four people. This boon tong gao compares very well to the gold standard version served at the dearly departed Seafood Harbor in Millbrae. This version is a bit deeper and not as ethereal; the dumpling skin is better, and there’s real shark’s fin–a two-inch piece hidden beneath the dumpling.

Beef chow fun comes dry, with no bean sprouts. It’s an excellent dish, with a nice sear on the thin and tender slices of pounded beef. Rice noodles soak up the beefy flavors. Instead of bean sprouts, there are yellow leeks, green onions, and thick slices of charred yellow onion.

The menu includes a $1.79 section, printed impossibly small and in Chinese. It lists very nice salt and pepper calamari–a considerably larger portion than you might expect for the price. The texture of the squid is spot on: tender, with the slightest bit of resistance. It’s tasty, too, with fresh chilies, deep-fried garlic bits, scallions, and a good dose of salt and pepper, which brings out the sweetness of the squid. The batter’s thick, but airy and ungreasy. Sticky rices are good, though the dish of sticky rice inside Chinese bread is a bit bland.

theSauce provides us with a translation of the $1.79 menu:

- Steamed white buns or flower rolls
- Home style green onion pancake
- Red bean cake
- Tofu hua or super sweet silken tofu
- Beef balls with bamboo shoots
- Mala gao or mala steam cake
- Sticky rice roll
- Salt and pepper salmon cheeks
- Salt and pepper calamari
- Chinese chives with chunks of pig blood
- Blanched pigs knuckle or pork (not 100% sure of this one)
- Salt and pepper tofu
- Chow jew style stewed tofu
- Albalone flavored chicken feet

Also, translations of the other untranslated items from the dim sum menu. In the second column, below taro dumplings, in the $2.80 section:

- Pan fried taro cake
- Pan fried seafood eggplant
- Pan fried seafood mushroom
- Pan fried seafood bell pepper
- Shrimp rice rolls
- Shrimp with spinach dumpling
- Shrimp with cilantro dumpling
- Pine nuts with veggies dumpling
- BBQ pork and lapcheung turnip cake
- Shanghai soup dumplings
- Pork and veggies steam dumplings
- Pork tofu skin roll (not sure)
- Spareribs with rice noodle or rice powder steam spareribs
- Shrimp with corn sauce
- Egg yolk thousand layer cake
- Egg yolk mala roll
- Sesame or peanut rice balls

The $4.20 section is hard to translate because “it’s one of those poem translations.” Here’s the best effort:

- Side street flavor rice rolls or chitterlings
- Tofu skin roll with seafood.
- Soy sauce yellow chives chow mein

S & T Hong Kong Seafood [Sunset]
Formerly Tai Wu
2578 Noriega St., at 33rd Ave., San Francisco
415-665-8338
Map

Board Links: $1.79 Calamari and Excellent Boon Tong Gao

Jar Openers

Stubborn jar lids can be frustrating. Rapping them sharply on the edge the counter will sometimes loosen the seal enough to get them open, but they might crack. Here are some hints and gadgets recommended by chowhounds.

Hints:

Run hot water around the edge of the lid. This causes the metal to expand a little…and hopefully loosens things up.

Wear a rubber glove, for traction. Mouse pads work, too. Another option is a wide rubber band around the lid.

Use a “church key” type opener to gently pry the edge of lid just enough to break the seal. Just don’t bend the lid!

Tap all around the lid with the handle of a dinner knife.

Gadgets:

The The Un-Skru attaches to the underside of a cabinet. It’s worked for bottles and jars for JoanN for thirty years. You don’t have to riffle through your gadget drawer to find it, either.

The Zim Wall Mount opener is similar, but mounts on the wall. Alice Patis has hers in the pantry, where all the jars are stored!

An oldie, but goodie, this vintage gadget sometimes pops up at garage sales.

Swing-Away’s Comfort Grip is another good one, and adjusts to all sizes of containers.

Board Links: Best jar opener?

Rotgut…or the Good Stuff?

When making mixed drinks, should you use high-class booze, or save the good stuff for more serious quaffing?

The first consideration is the ratio of mixer to spirit. The more mixer you use, the less you’ll need a quality spirit. As olfashiond advises, don’t drown an ounce of Grey Goose in six ounces of orange juice.

Adding fruit juice masks the taste of an inferior spirit, and is acceptable for a drink or two. However, some say that more expensive liquor might leave you feeling far better the next morning, if multiple drinks are consumed.

When in doubt, use quality ingredients.

Board Links: Quality of Liquor to use in mixed drinks

Low-Effort Desserts

Chowhounds share their favorite no-muss, no-fuss desserts.

Peel and slice very good ripe peaches. Top with sour cream…and grate some dark chocolate over the top…and sprinkle with cinnamon (kittyfood).

Slice orange rounds and lay out prettily on plates. Heat about a cup of raspberries (fresh or frozen) with about 2 T lemon juice, about 1/4 cup sugar, and a couple dashes of cinnamon until sugar is dissolved, raspberries are warm, and the liquid is slightly reduced. Pour sauce over oranges (Snackish).

Peel and cut up one orange per person, removing all pith, membranes, and seeds. Put orange segments in a bowl and drizzle with sweet Marsala. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts (AnneInMpls).

Toss fresh blueberries and green seedless grapes gently together; top with a dollop of sour cream, sprinkle with brown sugar. Serve cold (checkman).

Cut figs in half. Sprinkle with a little sugar, broil or torch to caramelize, and serve with rich yogurt and a drizzle of honey (curiousbaker).

Dip strawberries in sour cream and brown sugar (MollyGee).

Microwave some frozen raspberries until very warm. Mix in a few chocolate chips and top with a bit of whipped cream (marcia2).

A couple for those who don’t mind serving uncooked eggs:

Put 2 or 3 egg whites in a bowl and whip until foamy with an electric mixer. Add sugar until pretty sweet. Beat until glossy and holds firm peaks. Fold in applesauce–homemade if possible. (danna).

Butter a springform pan and sprinkle bottom with gingersnap crumbs. Make a standard key lime pie filling, fold in whipped cream. Spoon into the springform pan and freeze. Thaw somewhat, then slice and serve (curiousbaker).

Board Links: Best Low-Effort Desserts? +Lemon Slice recipe

Two Winning Ways with Mussels

This mussel prep with South East Asian flavors is popular among chowhounds. Saute ginger, lemongrass, and garlic; add white wine, coconut milk, and mussels; cover, and steam until mussels have opened. Add cilantro after mussels are done. You can also use the broiler or a large saute pan on an outdoor grill to cook your mussels, says Kitchen Queen.

Marge serves mussels Portuguese style: steamed, then chilled, served on the half shell, topped with a salsa of chopped fresh tomato, sweet onion, garlic, and cilantro. Perfect with some Champagne or vinho verde.

Board Links: New Zealand Green Mussels

A Chowhound’s Guide to Finger Lakes Wine Country

Summer visitors to Finger Lakes wine country will find plenty to eat between vineyard visits, from fancy French to pub grub. Here’s a selection of hound-endorsed choices, high and low.

CANANDAIGUA LAKE

Max on the Lake, Canandaigua: Solid, simple, upscale American at the Inn on the Lake resort–steaks, roast chicken, sauteed salmon, etc.

MacGregor’s Grill and Tap Room, Canandaigua: Not far from Max, a nice downscale option. The Finger Lakes outpost of an upstate mini-chain has decent burgers, wraps, fried seafood, and other pub fare.

El Rincon Mexicano, Canandaigua: This place inspires confidence by nailing the basics–beans, rice, salsas, etc.–and is a fine spot to while away an afternoon with chow and cerveza, says jbird.

KEUKA LAKE

Esperanza Mansion, Bluff Point: phishphyx prefers the more casual Grill Room (sandwiches, burgers, pastas, grilled and roasted meats) to the formal dining room, the Mansion. “Amazing views…the staff can be a little flaky.”

Bully Hill Vineyards, Hammondsport: Solid American chow (steaks, salmon, chicken Marsala, pork tenderloin, crab cakes, etc.) in a beautiful setting with attention-grabbing views, says sg.

SENECA LAKE

Stonecat Cafe, Hector: Eclectic, heavily organic American food, including house-smoked meats and fish, on a deck overlooking the lake. Quite good, says Joseph Moryl.

Suzanne, Lodi: French-inflected “country elegant” cuisine. The short, often-changing menu focuses on local ingredients (like the Riesling that flavors the sauce that accompanies roast free-range chicken). Mark A. Bauman reports a fabulous dinner there last summer.

Dano’s Heuriger, Lodi: Viennese-inspired roast meats and other hearty food. A must-eat, says Laura Rebecca.

Ports Cafe, Geneva: Eclectic American with Southwestern accents like fajitas and steak-black bean quesadillas.

Fox Run Vineyards cafe, Penn Yan: A fine lunch spot for sandwiches, salads, soups, etc.

Veraisons at Glenora Wine Cellars, Dundee: French-influenced food with fusiony touches like chipotle Caesar salad and cumin-chile-crusted calamari steak. Good food, “a little ambitious with sauces and chutneys,” says tagine.

CAYUGA LAKE

Pumpkin Hill Bistro, Aurora: Solid American chow–steaks, burgers, roast duck, chicken pot pie, etc.–in a beautifully restored 1820 house. “A great, tucked-away little place. Food is mostly great, the staff is super-nice,” says phishphyx.

Knapp Vineyards Restaurant, Romulus: Steaks, seafood and more, with Louisiana accents like blackened chicken and Cajun sausage-vegetable saute. Enjoy sprightly flavored champagne cocktails and gorgeous vineyard views.

Ithaca Farmers Market, Ithaca: An appealing road-trip option for breads, fruit, sweets, and good prepared foods, including vegetarian, Vietnamese, and Thai choices. Open Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at this time of year.

SKANEATELES LAKE

Giverny at Mirbeau: Upscale French-influenced American food, emphasizing seasonal local produce, with a couple of tasting-menu options. A smaller, cheaper bistro menu is served in the bar area. “Absolutely wonderful ambience, local fresh ingredients, excellent wine list,” writes daveinchelsea.

Rosalie’s Cucina, Skaneateles: Grilled prime meats and other upscale Tuscan. One of the best options around the lake, says JimmyG, though inconsistent. “Portions are large (at prices to match). I have had good meals and some not so hot.”

Sherwood Inn, Skaneateles: Seafood-heavy American menu, charming setting. JimmyG finds the less formal Tavern a better bet than the inn’s Dining Room.

Blue Water Grill, Skaneateles: Stick to simple orders–like fish sandwiches, which Sara pronounces excellent–at this spot right on the lake.

The Krebs, Skaneateles: Traditional chow in a procession of courses–fruit cup, roasted meats, creamed mushrooms with toast points, and the like–that has barely changed since 1899. Some say it’s gone way downhill. Central New Yorker, a fan of its desserts and lobster Newburg, finds it “a nice expedition into the culinary past.”

Doug’s Fish Fry, Skaneateles: Big, fresh fish sandwiches and other seafood in a casual setting–“and I mean sit-at-a-counter-or-picnic-table casual,” says tracie. Afterward, head for the ice cream parlor near the marina, grab a cone, and take a stroll on the pier.

WINERIES

Hound reports have tended to focus on food rather than wine, but daveinchelsea suggests that some of the best stuff comes from the wineries around Keuka and Cayuga Lakes. He singles out a couple: Konstantin Frank (“capable of some of the finest Rieslings outside of Germany and France”) and Treleaven. For a guide to the region’s wineries with an interactive map, see: http://www.fingerlakeswine.com

Max on the Lake Restaurant [Ontario County]
770 S. Main St., at Canandaigua Inn on the Lake, Canandaigua, NY
Map

MacGregor’s Grill and Tap Room [Ontario County]
759 S. Main St., at Lakeshore Dr., Canandaigua, NY
Map

El Rincon Mexicano Dos [Ontario County]
5 Beeman St., at Main St., Canandaigua, NY
Map

Esperanza Mansion [Yates County]
3456 Rte. 54A, Bluff Point, NY
Map

Bully Hill Restaurant [Steuben County]
Greyton H. Taylor Memorial Dr., at Bully Hill Vineyards, Hammondsport, NY
Map

Stonecat Cafe [Schuyler County]
5315 State Rte. 414, near Norbud Rd., Hector, NY
Map

Suzanne Fine Regional Cuisine [Seneca County]
9013 State Rte. 414, between Upper Lake Rd. and N. Miller Rd., Lodi, NY
Map

Dano’s Heuriger on Seneca [Seneca County]
9564 State Rte. 414, between County Rds. 149 and 137, Lodi, NY
Map

Ports Cafe [Ontario County]
4432 W, Lake Rd., at Clarks Pt., Geneva, NY
Map

Fox Run Vineyards [Yates County]
670 State Rte. 14, between Angus and Carlson Rds., Penn Yan, NY
Map

Veraisons Restaurant [Yates County]
5435 State Rte 14., at the Inn at Glenora Wine Cellars, Dundee, NY
Map

Pumpkin Hill Bistro [Cayuga County]
2051 State Rte. 90, between Moonshine and Lake Rds., Aurora, NY
Map

Knapp Vineyards Restaurant [Seneca County]
2770 Ernsberger Rd. (County Rd. 128), between Main St. and Rte. 89, Romulus, NY
Map

Ithaca Farmers Market [Tompkins County]
545 3rd St., at Steamboat Landing, Ithaca, NY
Map

Giverny [Onondaga County]
851 W. Genesee St. (Rte 20.), at Mirbeau Inn and Spa, Skaneateles, NY
Map

Rosalie’s Cucina [Onondaga County]
841 W. Genesee St. (Rte 20.), between Fuller St. and County Line Rd., Skaneateles, NY
Map

Sherwood Inn [Onondaga County]
26 W. Genesee St. (Rte. 20), between Jordan and Hannum, Skaneateles, NY
Map

Blue Water Grill [Onondaga County]
11 W. Genesee St. (Rte 20.), between Jordan and Hannum, Skaneateles, NY
315-685-6600
Map

The Krebs [Onondaga County]
53 W. Genesee St. (Rte. 20), between Hannum and Griffin, Skaneateles, NY
Map

Doug’s Fish Fry [Onondaga County]
8 Jordan St., near E. Genesee St., Skaneateles, NY
Map

Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars [Steuben County]
9749 Middle Rd., at Wright Rd., Hammondsport, NY
Map

King Ferry Winery [Cayuga County]
658 Lake Rd., between Rte. 90N and Atwater Rd., King Ferry, NY
Map

Board Links: Buffalo-Rochester-Finger Lakes–where to stop for a bite…
Does The Finger Lakes area have ANY good restaurants?
Good Food in the Finger Lakes (specifically Keuka) area?
Finger lakes region
Name of restaurant near Skaneateles please?