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

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

Bubble Tea

Bubble tea, pearl tea, or boba tea are a few of the names for a refreshing drink made with fruity tea or milk (tea made from real fruit, naturally, tastes a lot better than drinks made from flavored powders). A good boba shop offers lots of flavors.

The “bubbles” are big, slippery tapioca balls that sink to the bottom. A fat straw let’s you suck ‘em right up. It’s a beverage you both drink and chew!

Pei has discovered that you can buy vacuum packed tapioca that’s been partially cooked, so it requires only 5 minutes of boiling. Look for it in Asian markets.

Board Links: What exactly is Bubble Tea?

Coffee Ice, Meet Iced Coffee

Chowhounds who like their iced coffee strong have learned that the trick to avoid dilution is to make their iced coffee ice from coffee! As it melts, it won’t add water to your cold cuppa, just more coffee goodness. Some hounds simply brew coffee, freeze in ice cube trays, and store the cubes in freezer bags, but others get more elaborate.

Nyleve has nailed down her perfect methodology: She makes a strong brew with her drip coffee machine, and makes coffee ice cubes from that. For her iced coffee, she pulls a long shot from her espresso machine and puts it in the blender with an equal amount of milk, and sweetening to taste; with the machine running at high speed, she adds four coffee ice cubes (one at a time) until they’re all blended in, then pours it over (plain) ice.

mic9ael makes espresso ice cubes and blends them up with cold coffee, cream, and sugar. For a Colombian version, add a little pinch of cinnamon and sprinkle cocoa powder on top (Fleur).

Board Links: Best iced coffee ever

Anything But Pastrami at Memphis Minnie’s

Don’t go to Memphis Minnie’s expecting the New York pastrami of your (or someone else’s) childhood. ChowFun christened it a “Sloppy Yossel,”arriving slathered in barbecue sauce, weirdly spiced, and more smoked than cured. The answer is to go for the fatty brisket. Moist, smoky, and fork-tender, it’s the best Civil Bear, a competitive brisket-cook, has ever had.

But the real sleeper meal at Memphis Minnie’s is brunch. They make pulled pork with sweet potato hash over biscuits and tangy greens, and gravy made from their own sausages. Another good option: BBQ brisket hash, spicy and smoky and primed for oozing poached eggs. The biggest surprise is their French toast, so light and crispy that it may do some time near the fryer, speculates Chowsmurf. The accompanying compote is made with whole strawberries.

Memphis Minnie’s [Haight]
576 Haight St., San Francisco
415-864-7675
Map

Board Links: Brunch at Memphis Minnie’s- My new ‘guilty’ pleasure
Pastrami Chowdown…Part One!...Memphis Minnie’s