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

Making the Best of “No Eats Valley”

Noe Valley gets a big “eh” from hounds in comparison to more chowish nabes like the Mission, the Inner Sunset, or Clement Street. Inexpensive options are especially sparse. But one can’t always travel across town for every meal, so the following is a local survival guide.

The only places garnering near-uniform raves are La Ciccia and Incanto, both Italian. Other solid, though lesser, Italian options are Lupa for pasta, and Bacco.

Hamano is the favorite for neighborhood sushi. It can be great, and often has fish hard to find elsewhere, reports Windy.

Firefly makes upscale Californian cuisine that gets mostly thumbs-up, despite occasionally disastrous service.

Mi Lindo Yucatan makes some unusual Mexican dishes, and the appetizer platter is worth getting, but some items bomb, says veebee.

Fresco (Peruvian) and Eric’s (Chinese) are at-your-own-risk. At Fresca, ceviche is delicious to some palates but harsh and acidic to others. Reviews for Eric’s range from amazing to inedible, in the great San Francisco tradition of strongly bifurcated opinions of Asian restaurants catering primarily to non-Asian clientele.

In the brunch wars–as close as Noe Valley ever gets to conflict–Pomelo is a sweet little place with a wide enough menu to satisfy diverse tastes. Savor stands out for its “New Orleans benedict,” make with a crab cake. Chloe’s is good for breakfast, but, oy, the crowds.

La Ciccia [Noe Valley]
291 30th St., San Francisco
415-550-8114
Map

Incanto Restaurant & Wine Bar [Noe Valley]
1550 Church St., San Francisco
415-641-4500
Map

Lupa [Castro]
4109 24th St., San Francisco
415-282-5872
Map

Ristorante Bacco [Noe Valley]
737 Diamond St., San Francisco
415-282-4969
Map

Hamano Sushi [Noe Valley]
1332 Castro St., San Francisco
415-826-0825
Map

Firefly [Mission]
4288 24th St., San Francisco
415-821-7652
Map

Mi Lindo Yucatan [Noe Valley]
4042 24th St., San Francisco
415-826-3942
Map

Fresco [Noe Valley]
3945 24th St., San Francisco
415-695-0549
Map

Eric’s [Noe Valley]
1500 Church St., San Francisco
415-282-0919
Map

Pomelo [Noe Valley]
1793 Church St., San Francisco
415-285-2257
Map

Savor Restaurant [Noe Valley]
3913 24th St., San Francisco
415-282-0344
Map

Chloe’s [Noe Valley]
1399 Church St., San Francisco
415-648-4116
Map

Board Links: Noe Valley

Is It Napa? Is It France? It’s Angele

Overlooking the Napa River, Angele is among the top unstuffy French restaurants in the area, and it’s lighter and more Californian than others like Bistro Jeanty and Bouchon, says Wendy san.

Everything is outstanding, from generous starters of quail salad, peach salad with arugula and Serrano ham, and tart Lyonnaise, to entrees of pork medallions, spring chicken, and salmon with ravioli. The pommes frites arrive piping hot and are among the best Wendy san has ever had. Desserts shine, too, including profiteroles and warm chocolate cake.

With a nice bar, a lovely view, and all-day service, Angele is a winner in the North Bay.

Angele [Napa County]
Napa River Inn
540 Main St., Napa
707-252-8115
Map

Board Links: Dinner at Angele–Napa (Long)

Best Hole-in-the-Wall Gelato

This little hole-in-the-wall gelateria has lower prices and much better gelato than the often-touted Al Gelato, says Nicole. The owner is super-nice and generous with tastes. Fruit flavors are excellent and natural tasting–strawberry is great. Hazelnut, almond, and coconut are also really good. The owner makes small batches twice a day, so it’s really fresh. Limited seating, but the space is nice.

Gelato Fantasia [Culver City-ish]
10422 National Blvd., Motor, Los Angeles
310-280-9771
Map

Board Links: Al Gelato Disappointment

Crown Cafe Taken over by Chung King

The Hunanese restaurant Crown Cafe is no more, and a branch of the Monterey Park Sichuanese restaurant Chung King has taken its place, Chandavkl has found. The menu and deli section look the same.

At the Monterey Park Chung King, minced pork with red and green peppers is terrific, and terrifically hot, says Bob Brooks. Fried chicken with chiles is another great dish–pretty much everything is sizzlingly spicy here, including the incendiary water-boiled beef. Delicious, though. From the deli case, try fried peanuts, jade celery, pig ears, or spicy beef jerky…you can’t go wrong. You may cry (especially while eating the jerky), but you can’t go wrong.

Chung King [San Gabriel Valley]
Formerly Crown Cafe
a.k.a. Hunan Restaurant
1000 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel
626-286-0298
Map

Chung King Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
206 S. Garfield Ave., Garvey, Monterey Park
626-280-7430
Map

Board Links: Chung King Opens Up In Former Crown Cafe Location
Chung King–SGV

Hero Worship: Dominick’s Reigns Supreme

Dominick’s Deli is an East Side lunchtime destination and the go-to spot for Captain, who’s fallen hard for the Supremo. That’s a hefty hero of soppressata, prosciutto, pepperoni, provolone, sweet peppers, and lettuce on a semolina roll–a lunch and a half for $6. “It’s pretty filling but I get it down,” he confesses.

Chile heads might go for Dante’s Inferno (hot soppressata, pepperoni, smoked prosciutto, jalapeno cheese, hot peppers, tomato). Also on the menu: pastas, salads, grilled chicken sandwiches, hot heros (meatball, sausage and peppers, chicken parmigiana, francese or marsala, broccoli rabe-mozzarella, etc.), and more.

Dominick’s Deli [Lenox Hill]
1109 1st Ave., between E. 60th and 61st Sts, Manhattan
212-838-5283
Map

Board Links: Inexpensive lunch near Bloomies (59th)

More Boulangerie Doesn’t Always Mean Better

The Bay Bread group has opened two more Boulangeries–Union Street in Cow Hollow and Columbus Street in North Beach–in addition to their four locations on Pine, Polk, Cole, and Fillmore. These folks make some of the best canneles in town (some of the only, in fact): dark and crusty. Skip the blonder ones, though–go for the dark. Their dense almond croissant comes close to Melanie Wong’s twice-baked ideal. It’s one of the few items for which Bay Bread beats Tartine hands-down.

The bad news is that the new branches don’t measure up. Macaroons at Union and Columbus are held in refrigerated cases–horrors to Mari and others who love the room-temperature macaroons at the Pine and Polk locations. Compared with the Pine location, the Columbus location has a soulless, airy, and unchocolately chocolate chip brioche, and a fakey-tasting caramel-apple rugalach, says cerise. French onion soup at the Union outpost is flavorless, says Meatball. Ouch.

La Boulange at Union [Russian Hill]
1909 Union St., San Francisco
415-440-4450
Map

La Boulange at Columbus [North Beach]
543 Columbus Ave., San Francisco
415-399-0714
Map

Boulangerie Bay Bread [Fillmore]
2325 Pine St., San Francisco
415-440-0356
Map

Boulange de Polk [Polk Gulch]
2310 Polk St., San Francisco
415-345-1107
Map

Boulange De Cole Valley [Cole Valley]
1000 Cole St., San Francisco
415-242-2442
Map

Boulange de Fillmore [Pacific Heights}
2043 Fillmore St., San Francisco
415-928-1300
Map

Board Links: La Boulange on Union Street in SF
Columbus Avenue Boulangerie now open.

Nha Trang Revisited, and Other Manhattan Vietnamese Picks

Manhattan may lack world-class Vietnamese chow, but many hounds happily get their fix at Chinatown’s dependable Nha Trang. The don’t-miss dish is smoky, sumptuous suon nuong (barbecued pork chops), insists jungirl, a fan for 16 years and counting. She likes it as a rice plate, with broken rice that soaks up the great meat juices; bun (rice vermicelli) can serve the same purpose.

A seasonal must-order–and the season is drawing to a close–is cua lot rang muoi (salt and pepper fried soft shell crabs). Also recommended: cha gio (spring rolls), ca chien chanh (whole fried fish), canh chua ga (hot and sour chicken soup), and rau muong xao toi (hollow-stem water spinach with garlic). Ech chien bo (frog legs fried in butter) is the equal of La Grenouille’s, swears guttergourmet (and Nha Trang, unlike La Grenouille, also makes frog legs with chile and lemongrass).

Not everyone is a fan–overall, Nha Trang is just OK, says Mike Lee. And even some of its partisans admit that pho isn’t among its strengths. The best in town for this Vietnamese noodle soup remains Cong Ly (see also ChowNews #189), which brews a deep, alluring beef broth that’s the key to superior pho. “It’s simple, straightforward, very cheap, and authentic,” writes surly, “the closest we have in Manhattan to the great Vietnamese food in California’s Orange County.” And, adds Mike Lee, they don’t skimp on the ngo gai, or sawleaf herb. Beyond pho, Cong Ly scores with its bun bo hue, a spicy, meaty noodle soup from central Vietnam–though others like the version at Thai Son (see also ChowNews #191).

Other neighborhood Vietnamese picks include Pho Grand, Nam Son, Pho Tu Do for bun rieu (rice noodle soup with crab), and Pho Viet Huong, where Peter Cherches recommends cha gio, spicy shrimp salad, bo la nho (grilled beef in grape leaves), and anything with lemongrass and hot pepper.

Nha Trang Restaurant [Chinatown]
87 Baxter St., between Walker and White, Manhattan
212-233-5948
Map

Nha Trang Restaurant [Chinatown]
148 Centre St., between Walker and White, Manhattan
212-941-9292
Map

Cong Ly Restaurant [Chinatown]
124 Hester St., at Chrystie, Manhattan
212-343-1111
Map

Thai Son [Chinatown]
89 Baxter St., between Walker and Bayard, Manhattan
212-732-2822
Map

Pho Grand [Chinatown]
277C Grand St., between Eldridge and Forsyth, Manhattan
212-965-5366
Map

Nam Son Vietnamese Restaurant [Chinatown]
245 Grand St., between Bowery and Chrystie, Manhattan
212-966-6507
Map

Pho Tu Do [Chinatown]
119 Bowery, between Grand and Hester Sts, Manhattan
212-966-2666
Map

Pho Viet Huong [Chinatown]
a.k.a. Nha Hang Pho Viet Huong
73 Mulberry St., between Canal and Bayard, Manhattan
212-233-8988
Map

Board Links: Vietnamese–What’s the best?
Nha Trang–what to order
Nha Trang —Centre or Baxter?

Earthshaking Dessert Tip: Cafe Lafayette’s Chocolate Volcano

At Fort Greene’s Cafe Lafayette, you can top off with the Chocolate Volcano–high-quality chocolate, judiciously sweetened raspberry sauce, excellent vanilla ice cream. For devotees, the earth moves. “Perfection every time,” sighs realbreadplease, who declares this the best chocolate dessert in all of Brooklyn. Good robust coffee, too.

Cafe Lafayette [Fort Greene]
99 S Portland Ave., between Lafayette Ave and Fulton St., Brooklyn
718-624-1605
Locater

Board Links: chow experiences in Fort Greene

Marvelous Silicone Baking Mats

A silicone baking mat–commonly referred to as a Silpat (the name of the best-known brand)–is one of a baker’s best friends in the kitchen, hounds agree. They are stick-resistant even where parchment paper fails, help cookies and other baked goods brown evenly without burning on the bottom, can withstand high oven temperatures, and are dishwasher safe. Beyond lining cookie sheets, they’re also great for roasting vegetables, rolling out and kneading dough without sticking or using too much extra flour, and making candies such as nut brittle.

There are, however, a few baking tasks they’re not well suited for–like achieving the correct texture on the bottom of delicate ladyfingers and high-volume holiday baking where you’re churning out many dozens of cookies simultaneously.

Silpat is, again, the best-known brand, but a number of companies now make mats that perform equally well and vary in price. They can often be found at good discounts via Amazon.com’s Friday-only sales, or using Bed Bath & Beyond’s frequently mailed 20% off merchandise coupons.

Order a standard half sheet pan-size silicone mat online.

Board Links: Silpat Baking Mat

Fruit-Flavored Syrups

Fruit-flavored syrups are good for making flavored drinks or tea. Monin and Da Vinci brands use natural ingredients (including sugar–no high fructose corn syrup here). Both offer a variety of sugar-free flavors, as well.

Board Links: Iced Tea