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

Gruner Veltliner

Melanie Wong is really into the classic stylings of the 2004 Gruner Veltliners. They’re not quite as tropical as Veltliners from warmer years. 2004 shows more mineral and white pepper notes. They’ve been slower to show than usual, but have become much more expressive in the last six months. They’re much better than the low acidity 2003’s. 2005’s have just started to come in, and seem good. too.

Brands: she recommends Saloman Hochterrasen and Hirsch Veltliner #1 for entry-level Veltliners. More upscale: try Brundlmayer and Nigl. warrenr has tried a bunch of the 2005’s, and recommends Jamek, Nikolaihof, and the always-reliable Alzinger. These are, he says, amazing wines. They’ll take several years to open up. For more current drinking and more reasonable prices, he recommends Schloss Gobelsburg and Soellner. More good entry-level choices include Loimer Landwin, a super-fresh, crisp, and brightly fruity Veltliner that comes in liter bottles.

Board Links
Gruner Veltliner

At Szechuan Garden, a Chinese Menu for Everyone

West Hartford’s Szechuan Garden, like a lot of Chinese restaurants, hides its best and most authentic dishes on a Chinese-only menu. But unlike many others, it will patiently walk non-Chinese diners through that menu and direct them toward real regional chow, if they ask.

“Most anything on the Chinese menu is good,” says Stagger, who recommends Sichuan dumplings in red oil, dry wok-cooked chicken with chile, shredded pork with pressed tofu, cold jellyfish salad, spicy beef tendon, cold conch with spicy sauce, and ma la fish, among other things. Standard American Chinese stuff is decent, too, if you prefer.

Szechuan Tokyo sounds like a fusion train wreck waiting to happen, but its menu includes a long list of genuine Sichuan specialties, and sketchy reports suggest it’s the real deal. “Didn’t you always wonder why so many Chinese families are eating in a sushi/American Chinese place?” ponders Chris in Hartford.

China Pan also has its fans–vegetarian dishes are especially strong, says jim. Here, too, you’d best avoid the Americanized menu, warns chefboudreaux–but we’re not sure what the true regional focus is at this popular Farmington restaurant.

Also recommended: Chengdu and Butterfly, at least for their American Chinese fare.

Szechuan Garden [Hartford County]
904 Farmington Ave., between Trout Brook Dr. and Arnold Way, West Hartford, CT

Szechuan Tokyo Restaurant [Hartford County]
1245 New Britain Ave., between Main St. and Randal Ave., West Hartford, CT

China Pan [Hartford County]
1600 S. East Rd., Farmington, CT

Chengdu Cuisine of China [Hartford County]
179 Park Rd., between Oakwood Ave, and Whiting Ln., West Hartford, CT

Butterfly Restaurant [Hartford County]
831 Farmington Ave., between Lancaster and Westfield Rds., West Hartford, CT

Board Links: Chinese in W. Hartford CT

Black and White Update: Surprise at a Bagel Shop

There is no better black and white cookie than the one from the Pick a Bagel mini-chain, swears sarabeth721, who has tasted many and loves the ones from the location near Carnegie Hall. “The cookie part is cake-like, just as it should be. The icing is delicious and has just the right consistency.”

Uptown, Nussbaum and Wu does another decent black and white–plus all-black or black-and-tan (mocha) models, “both nice for those of us who find the white icing just too sweet,” says floretbroccoli.

Also recommended: Lafayette Bakery in the Village, perennial favorite Glaser’s on the Upper East Side and, in Brooklyn, Leske’s Danish Bakery in Bay Ridge.

Pick a Bagel [Carnegie Hall]
200 W. 57th St., at 7th Ave., Manhattan, NY

Nussbaum and Wu [Morningside Heights]
2897 Broadway, at 113th St., Manhattan, NY

Lafayette Bakery [Greenwich Village]
26 Greenwich Ave., between W. 10th and 11th Sts., Manhattan, NY

Glaser Bake Shop [Upper East Side]
1670 1st Ave., near 88th St., Manhattan, NY

Leske’s Danish Bakery [Bay Ridge]
7612 5th Ave., between 76th and 77th Sts., Brooklyn, NY

Board Links: Bopkas and black and white cookies

Cuban Food: Keeping It Real

Cubans in this town have it tough. There are plenty of places you can speak Spanish, but few with decent arroz y frijoles. The key, says Miami native Oro3030, is to piece it together.

-La Cubana has excellent, authentic ropa vieja–but their moros y cristianos (black beans mixed with white rice) is just passable.

-Havana Mania has good lechon and great mojitos, but also poor beans and rice.

-At Cafe Baracoa, you can get an authetic flan and good arroz y frijoles, but the rest of the food is unimpressive.

-El Cochinito is a big board favorite, with delicious roast pork, chicken, plantains, and beans.

El Colmao also gets a lot of love. Says ZoeZ, the food is marvelous–occasional special of Galician soup is so deeply flavored, they must use nine chickens to a bowl. There’s tongue on Mondays, and a dessert called tocino de cielo (bacon from heaven), something you don’t see every day. Downside: crap neighborhood, including the parking lot in front where the guard promises to take care of your car–for a tip. Leaving the lot, you may have someone tap on your window, trying to make a sale. Despite the (otherwise) positive reviews, though, Oro3030 reports being disappointed there.

Some hounds consider Xiomara to have the best Cuban sandwich in LA, but the prices are off-putting–if you’re used to paying $3, it’s hard to fork over $12. Still, it’s cheaper than air fare to Miami.

Few places are more authentic, or more humble, than La Caridad, says Kris P Pata. The husband-and-wife team are as genuine as the food they cook.

La Cubana Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
720 E. Colorado St., at Everett, Glendale

Havana Mania [South Bay]
3615 Inglewood Ave., at Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach

Baracoa Cuban Cafe [Atwater Village]
3175 Glendale Blvd., at Edenhurst, Los Angeles

El Cochinito Restaurant [Silverlake]
3508 W. Sunset Blvd., at Golden Gate, Los Angeles

El Colmao [Koreatown]
2328 W. Pico Blvd., at Vermont, Los Angeles

Xiomara [Pasadena-ish]
69 N. Raymond Ave., at Union, Pasadena

Xiomara On Melrose [Hollywood]
6101 Melrose Ave., at Seward, Los Angeles

La Caridad Restaurant [Echo Park]
2137 W. Temple St., at Alvarado, Los Angeles


Ahoy There! Fish and Chips

The Olde Ship’s fare is “better than most pub food I have had in England,” says ElissaInPlaya. Top-notch fish and chips (especially haddock), beef Wellington, and the usual suspects: bangers and mash, sausage rolls, steak and kidney pie. Oh yeah, the beer’s good too. Brace yourself for a wait at dinnertime, as they don’t take reservations–it’s a pub, after all.

You can get a mean fish-and-chips at Brits, a pub in Pasadena, says Will Owen. Service may be somewhat curt but is vulnerable to buttering-up.

Fish and chips at Whale & Ale have been touted on the board. The batter is fried dark brown and crispy, but the chips are nothing to write home about, says Mattapoisett in LA. The real star here is shepherd’s pie–ground lamb and prime rib with peas and gravy, topped with whipped potatoes and broiled till crisp. Well spiced, it’s nearly perfect (OK, the gravy could’ve been thicker). Finish a meal with Cumberland sticky toffee pudding–nutty, caramely and not too sweet, nicely set off by vanilla ice cream.

Olde Ship [North OC]
709 N. Harbor Blvd., at Brookdale, Fullerton

Olde Ship [South OC]
1120 W. 17th St., at Westwood, Santa Ana

Brits Restaurant [Pasadena-ish]
1770 E. Colorado Blvd., at Allen, Pasadena

Whale & Ale [South Bay]
327 W. 7th St., at Centre, San Pedro

Board Links: The Olde Ship in Santa Ana —anyone been?
Feeding Mr. Smith (long weekend, long story, pt. 1)
Whale and Ale–San Pedro

Burrata, Emperor of Fresh Cheese

Burrata is the greatest of fresh Italian cheeses, a sort of uber-mozzarella that stands above other fresh cheese. It offers a burst of ultra-rich fresh dairy intensity. The outer rind of a burrata is like the freshest mozzarella you’ve ever had; as you approach the center, it becomes creamier, softer, and more unbelievably luscious. Burrata is to regular fresh mozzarella what a chocolate-falling-down cake is to a brownie.

If you want to eat it at a restaurant, try A16. They’re well known for their burrata preparations, and they get the stuff flown in every day.

But if you want it to take home, freshness is the thing. Try Cowgirl Creamery. Like A16, they get regular shipments of very fresh burrata from LA’s famed Gioia. Another option is A.G. Ferrari. Be sure to ask how fresh their burrata is–their staff says it keeps up to a week, but there’s a definite decline even after the first day. SteveG says burrata goes from extraordinary to sort of gross in five days. Rainbow Grocery frequently has burrata, but it’s often over half a week old.

Cheese Board sometimes gets burrata in a Thursday shipment, so only buy Thursday through Saturday. BiRite and Cheese Plus also carry it.

And, advises Robert Lauriston, don’t cook with burrata. You might as well use regular mozzarella if you’re applying heat.

A16 [Marina]
2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco

Cowgirl Creamery [Embarcadero]
Ferry Building Marketplace
One Ferry Building, shop #17, San Francisco

A.G. Ferrari [Citywide]

Rainbow Grocery Cooperative [SOMA]
1745 Folsom St., San Francisco

Cheese Board [East Bay]
1504 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley

Bi-Rite Market [Mission]
3639 18th St., San Francisco

Cheese Plus [Polk Gulch]
2001 Polk St., at Pacific, San Francisco

Board Links: Burrata cheese

Mango-Passion Fruit Turnovers

Maria’s Gourmet Pastries is an excellent family-run neighborhood bakery, reports rworange. It’s far, far better than other bakery options on San Pablo Dam Road. Seventy five cents gets you an excellent little “exotic turnover.” It’s a boring-looking little pastry which eats better than it looks–a deeply buttery turnover crust bursting with tart passion fruit and sweet mango. Two dollars gets you a nice piece of cheesecake (made with rich, fresh cream cheese) with at least a dozen fresh blueberries on top.

Also: free coffee.

Tip: some servers don’t speak English, but some do. Keep asking around; you’ll eventually get some English-friendly service.

Maria’s Gourmet Pastries [East Bay]
3800 San Pablo Dam Rd., El Sobrante

Board Links: El Sobrante–Maria’s Gourmet Pastries Redux – Mango passion fruit turnovers

Saving Tomatoes

Most people save tomatoes by putting them in some plastic-wrap in the fridge or something like that, but chowhounds in the know say that fridges kill raw tomatoes. Try this instead: put some oil in a covered container. Sprinkle the cut end of the tomato with a little fine salt, then place the cut end down into the oil and put the lid on. This will keep the tomato fresh for a couple of days at room temperature (Karl S).

Board Links: Saving tomatoes.

Pork-Like Duritos

You may sometimes spot, at a Mexican street vendor or snack shop, a small bag of something that looks a lot like fried pork skins in the shape of little wheels. These are not fried pork skin. These are duritos, a snack of fried flour made to look and feel like fried pork skins. They are called “duritos” because they are “duro”–hard. You pop some hot sauce and lemon juice in the bag with the duritos, shake it all up, and eat. They’re delicious, all light and crispy–sort of like a more subtle proto version of Cheetos. Duritos are, confusingly, also sometimes referred to as chicharrones, the name for actual fried pork skin. They’re actually sold as a substitute for real chicharrones, which can frequently be expensive and hard to find, even in Mexico.

You’ll also find ready-to-fry duritos in the bulk section of many Mexican supermarkets. Get your frying oil heated up, and throw ‘em in. They’ll puff up and turn golden in a few seconds. You want to get them out as soon as they’re golden, before they start to burn.

Board Links: Tell me about Duritos Wheels

Ceviche Basics

Ceviche, originating in Peru but now popular in many Latin American countries, is a dish made from raw fish that’s “cooked” via marination in citrus juice. Properly speaking, the acidity in the citrus pickles the fish so it’s no longer technically raw. Ceviche is fairly simple to make at home using firm white fish (like snapper), or scallops.

carswell guides us through the process:

1. Slice fish or scallops across the grain into thin slices (1/4 inch or less) or bite-size cubes.

2. Place slices in a glass or porcelain bowl and add citrus juice (lime is classic but lemon, grapefruit, and sour orange are also delicious). Carswell typically uses three limes per half pound of seafood.

3. Marinate in the refrigerator for 1/2 to 1 hour, stirring from time to time. When the seafood turns opaque white, it’s “cooked.”

4. Season with salt and pepper and add flavorings like sliced or chopped onions, scallions, or shallots; chopped fresh cilantro, parsley, or oregano; chopped serrano, jalapeno, or other chiles; chopped tomato; and olive oil.

Ecuadoran sandrina loves her mom’s ceviche, made with shrimp and firm white fish, lemon or lime, sliced red onions, cilantro, a pinch of sugar, and enough tomato juice to give the sauce a pinkish tinge.

Board Links: Ceviche Recipe Please!