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

On Benchmark Wine Prices

warrenr offers good advice on figuring out the wine pricing structure of various restaurants: don’t use benchmark wine prices.

To explain: some folks check the prices of three or four very well-known wines and champagnes, to figure out the house’s markup. The problem is that sommeliers anticipate this, and will frequently mark down the price of, say, Veuve Clicquot, just to fool consumers.

And some have variable pricing structures: a lot of places mark up non-vintage champagnes heavily, while offering bargains on prestige cuvees.

The moral: the only way to figure out the markup is the hard way–knowing the retail prices of lots of individual wines.

Board Links: ISO Price Benchmark Wines

Manzanilla Sherries

Manzanilla sherries are gossamer-light. Each has a unique character that comes partially from place of origin, and partially from the thick layer of flor yeast that blankets the wine during fermentation, protecting it from oxidization. Fino and amontillado-style sherries have spent time in contact with flor, developing their characteristic aromas, while oloroso styles are not matured under flor at all.

Melanie Wong loves La Gitana brand Manzanilla sherry for its refined nose and its crisp, clean finish. It’s a good example of the Manzanilla fino style–pale, bone dry, and very light.

Spoony Bard likes La Cigarrera even more than La Gitana. Where the latter is all attack, no finish, the former sticks around–blossoming in the mouth from nuttiness to rich lusciousness to a hint of the sea, and back again, with a long finish. La Cigarrera is a Manzanilla pasada–a rarer style between fino and amontillado in age–and it has a powerful aroma and rich texture, and is just slightly sweeter than bone-dry La Gitana.

Melanie’s favorite Manzanilla pasada is Hidalgo Pastrana’s. She also likes the elegant Hidalgo Napolean cream. She once had it in a blind taste test and thought it was either an oversweetened amontillado or a high-grade oloroso. She was stunned to find out that it was a $12 Manzanilla cream sherry, as most cream sherries aren’t well made. It’s definitely at its best when first opened; the bouquet fades in a few days.

She advises to check for the bottling date on the lot when buying sherries (information that you’ll need to get from the importer, or there might be a coded date on the label that you can decipher), as the aroma declines rapidly after bottling.

Check out an article on sherries

Board Links
La Cigarrera Manzanilla Sherry vs. La Gitana–brief notes

Trader Joe’s Chocolate for Baking

Chowhounds generally agree that Trader Joe’s “Pound Plus” (500g) 70% Belgian bittersweet chocolate bars work very well for baking (not to mention nibbling!). And they cost a mere pittance compared to high-end brands. Because this chocolate tends to have a slightly grainy texture when melted, it’s not well suited for preps like ice cream or mousse, which call for a lusciously smooth mouthfeel. But baked into brownies, cakes, or chocolate chunk cookies, you’ll discern no graininess whatsoever, assures adamclyde.

Board Links: Trader Joe’s Chocolate

Candied Salami

Diane in Bexley has invented a unique sweet-and-sour candied salami appetizer, which she reports has been a great hit with guests. Here, for the daring, are instructions:

1 lb. whole kosher salami, peeled
12 oz. bottle chili sauce (Diane likes Bennett’s)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 T butter

Preheat oven to 375F. Using a sharp knife, make vertical cuts along the entire salami three-quarters of the way through, leaving the bottom quarter intact. Heat all remaining ingredients in glass measuring cup in microwave until melted and hot. Place salami in narrow, shallow baking dish. If there’s a lot of room around the salami, ball up aluminum foil to fill in space (this will keep sauce from burning). Pour sauce over salami. Bake for 45-60 minutes until all sauce is absorbed and salami looks candied. To serve, place on cutting board or serving tray with knives, along with some rye or pumpernickel bread.

Board Links: Your Most Requested Dish Recipe

Think Outside the Bubble: Pearl Tea Discovery at Taco Bell

Not far from the heart of Flushing’s Chinatown, there’s a Taco Bell/Pizza Hut outlet where you can wash down that Crunchwrap Supreme with better-than-you’d-expect tapioca tea drinks. They’re sold toward the back of the shop, from a window wedged in next to the Crown Fried Chicken counter that shares this space.

Run by a veteran of the Taiwanese chain Ten Ren, this stealth boba operation uses high-quality tea, says chrismkwok–who adds that a bubble-head buddy swears by the place. Also on the menu: shakes, smoothies, fruit and vegetable juices, and Taiwan-style shaved ice (with taro, tapioca, gelatin, red beans, and other toppings).

A couple blocks south, Quickly shows just the right touch in sweetening its milk teas, shakes, slushes, and other drinks, says chashaobao. Not surprisingly, this outpost of the Taipei-based chain Kuai Ke Li delivers something close to the authentic Taiwan boba cafe experience.

Just up Main Street, longtime favorite Sago still has its fans, but the bubble may have burst–or at least shriveled. The place apparently changed hands in the past year or so, and eatingpal complains that the tapioca pearls are now smaller and less satisfyingly chewy.

Taco Bell/Pizza Hut [Flushing]
136-15 Roosevelt Ave., between Main and Union Sts., Flushing, Queens

Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng [Flushing]
135-18 Roosevelt Ave., between Prince and Main Sts., Flushing, Queens

Quickly [Flushing]
41-40 Kissena Blvd., between Barclay Ave. and Main St., Flushing, Queens

Sago Tea Cafe [Flushing]
39-02 Main St., at 39th Ave., Flushing, Queens

Board Links: ISO best bubble tea in Flushing

Daphne’s New Digs and Other New York News

Daphne’s Caribbean Express–a neighborly spot for jerk chicken, rice and peas, and other homey Jamaican food–has traded its lived-in, cafeteria-like room for fancy new digs a few doors east. Reportedly hit with a backbreaking rent increase, it moved in with upscale sister restaurant Blue Mahoe and rechristened itself Daphne at the Blue Mahoe. Gone, for now, are Blue Mahoe’s “Caribbean Fusion” dishes (e.g., “Bouillabaisse Caraibe” for $28), replaced by the more down-home chow from Daphne’s. The menu is still being reworked, and some of the pricier entrees may return.

In other news, two hound hangouts have downsized: Korean dumpling specialist Mandoo Bar has closed its Village outlet; a sister location in Koreatown survives. And fish-and-chippery A Salt and Battery has closed its East Village shop; its mate in the West Village remains open.

From the Lower East Side, some positive news: hound-endorsed seafood house Tides has just begun serving Sunday brunch. jonnyk reports perfectly cooked seafood omelettes and lobster Benedict with light, tasty hollandaise. It’s a prix fixe deal–$15 to $18 (prices are still in flux), including two bellinis or mimosas. Besides the egg dishes, the menu includes the popular lobster roll (current seasonal dressing: lemon zest, oregano, mayonnaise) and should expand as the brunch crew gets its sea legs.

Daphne’s Caribbean Express [East Village]
233 E. 14th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves.,
Manhattan, NY 10003

Daphne at the Blue Mahoe [East Village]
243 E. 14th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan, NY 10003

Mandoo Bar [Greenwich Village]
71 University Pl., between 10th and 11th Sts., Manhattan

Mandoo Bar [Herald Square]
2 W. 32nd St., between 5th Ave. and Broadway, Manhattan

A Salt and Battery [East Village]
80 2nd Ave., between E 4th and 5th Sts., Manhattan

A Salt and Battery [Greenwich Village]
112 Greenwich Ave., between W 12th and 13th Sts., Manhattan

Tides Seafood Restaurant [Lower East Side]
102 Norfolk St., between Delancey and Rivington, Manhattan

Board Links: dinner for $25 for 2ppl
Tides Seafood Brunch
East Village!
jamaica in EV?

Hot To Trot – Pigs’ Feet in All Their Glory

The Korean sign pretty much says it all as far as the house specialties are concerned at Wah!. No word on the blood sausage, but if it’s pigs’ feet you want, doughnut highly recommends this place. Go for broke and get the pigs’ feet sampler–there’s something for everyone. Everyone who wants pigs’ feet, that is. For $20, the sampler (modeum jokbal) includes five dishes:

  • pigs feet (jokbal)–$10 (per single order)
  • pigs feet terrine (jokbal pyeonyuk)–$10
  • pigs toes (balgarak)–$10
  • five spice pigs feet terrine (o hyang jokbal)–$13
  • spicy grilled pigs feet (jokbal yang nyeom gui)–$13

The sampler also comes with condiments and extras: soybean paste (toenjang), brined shrimp (sae-u jeot), sliced garlic and jalapenos, and pickled radishes and jalapenos. There’s cool barley tea to drink.

The other house specialty, soondae (blood sausage) went unsampled, but it comes plain (small $6, large $10) and in soup (soondae gook) for $6.50. They also have basic comfort dishes like kimchi stew (kimchi jjigae) and potato soup (kamja tang). No alcohol, though.

The place has a homey feel, kind of rundown but clean. The people are friendly and efficient, but there may not be an English menu or even English speakers, so note the Korean names of things.

Finding the place can be tough since the sign is also only in Korean. Look for the strip mall with the sign for El Pollo Bailador.

Wah Joekbal [Koreatown]
3557 W. 3rd St., at New Hampshire, Los Angeles

Board Links: korean restaurant: wow! pigs feet * blood sausage

A Tasty Deal for Chinese Food

Tucked inside an office building, Tasty Express is hard to find even if you know the address. (Hint: The entrance is on a back corner of the building.) Aside from the rice, noodles, orange chicken, and broccoli beef, the selections here are unlike any other Chinese steam tray place, says Chandavkl–tomato with egg, brisket, roast chicken, and turnip dishes. There’s also a Shanghai-influenced menu. At $3.20 for three items (a fourth is 50 cents), it’s a steal. Good slushies are $1.75 with quantity discount. This may be one of the best bargains in town.

Tasty Express [East LA-ish]
9550 Flair Dr., at Fletcher, El Monte

Board Links: Inexpensive Chinese Buried In Office Park Complex

Lavender Ice Cream

The Spring Hills Farm booth at the Saturday Petaluma farmer’s market currently sells organic lavender ice cream, $1.50 for a prepacked 3-ounce cup of the stuff. While many culinary uses of lavender tend toward the overly aggressive or the coarse, the degree of lavender in Spring Hills’ ice cream is just perfect–the subtle flavoring never overwhelms the sweet cream base. The ice cream has a clean finish, so if there are any emulsifiers at all, they are used sparingly.

The ice cream is also available at Spring Hills Farm proper.

Petaluma Farmer’s Market in Walnut Park [Sonoma County]
Petaluma Blvd. at D St., Petaluma 94952

Spring Hill Jersey Cheese Farm [Sonoma County]
4235 Spring Hill Rd., Petaluma 94952

Board Links: Spring Hill Organic Lavender Ice Cream

Super Bean Thread Noodle Action!

Tai-pi-en is a Japanese-Chinese regional specialty from the Kumamoto region, where it’s so common that it shows up at cafeteria lunches. It’s a chicken broth soup noodle with clear bean thread noodles (called haru-same). Though it usually comes with a fried boiled egg, the version at Gyoza No Hana in San Jose comes with a fried scrambled egg. Plus an intense abundance of vegetables on top, which makes the soup feel a little healthier than your average ramen. Broth is deeply savory, with a shot of vegetable sweetness. Noodles remain firm throughout the meal. yamada3 says it’s excellent, though perhaps not worth a special trip to San Jose.

Gyoza No Hana [South Bay]
4320 Moorpark Ave., San Jose

Board Links: Tai-pi-en at Hana in San Jose