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

Burmese Home Cooking, for a Day, in Queens

Good Burmese food is hard to come by in New York, so chowhounds always look forward to the home cooking at the summer fair put on by a Burmese church in Queens. This year’s is August 12. (Read about last year’s fair.) “It’s a great time, and the food is equal to or better than anything I’ve had in Burma,” says el jefe.

Typically there are up to 10 tented booths, each with “a mom or grandmother busy making interesting food,” says MORE KASHA. Few booths, if any, have English signage, though the vendors are unfailingly friendly and helpful in answering questions. They may hold back on spicing for non-Burmese customers, so don’t be afraid to ask for more chiles, lime, and other seasonings. Pay for your food with tickets bought at a table near the entrance. Some things to look for based on last year’s lineup:

- Noodles are likely to appear in various forms. One winner is fish noodle soup–a substantial, intense yellow broth studded with fish cake and thick white noodles.

- Oily, flaky, hearty Burmese-style parathas, filled with mashed yellow beans, fried fresh to order and topped with fried onions.

- Fish salad, also made fresh to order, seasoned with spices and lime.

- Potato samosas, bean fritters, and other fried items, which you can doctor with hot sauce.

- For dessert: colorful, refreshing shaved ice topped with peanuts, dried fruits, and coconut milk. Also, faluda: a hot-pink, berry-flavored cold soup with agar, tapioca balls, vanilla ice cream, and bits of custard. “Surprising and addictive!” marvels Spoony Bard.

- And to take home, an intensely flavored, spicy-nutty condiment–in fish or pork flavors–that goes great with rice.

The event runs from noon to 6, but you don’t want to get there too late. Last year some highly praised bites–including chicken and yellow rice brought from a Burmese church in Boston–sold out early.

Myanmar Baptist Church Fun Fair [Briarwood]
Saturday, August 12, noon to 6 p.m.
143-55 84th Dr., between 143rd and Smedley Sts, Briarwood, Queens

Board Links
Burmese Food Fair–Agust 12

A Trio of Tantalizing Tiramisus

Tuscan trattoria Col Legno closes the deal with superior tiramisu, says Pan. Unlike lesser versions, it boasts deftly balanced flavors–not too much espresso, not too much sugar, cocoa, or rum, etc.

Others recommend the tiramisus at Da Umberto and Trattoria Trecolori, which is temporarily closed while it moves to new digs in the Theater District.

Col Legno [East Village]
231 E. 9th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves, Manhattan

Da Umberto [Chelsea]
107 W. 17th St., between 6th and 7th Aves, Manhattan

Trattoria Trecolori [Theater District]
to open at … 254 W. 47th St., between Broadway and 8th Ave., Manhattan

Board Links: Best tiramisu in Manhattan

Kick-Ass Gyros

This spot has tasty, house-made Greek and Middle Eastern fare: top-notch gyro with plenty of lamb and beef in a house-made pita, with superb yogurt dressing. Falafel sandwich is deeply flavored, and the whole merges into a happily unified mass of chickpea balls, salad, and filling. Sandwiches are about $6.

Green Olive [West LA]
12001 Wilshire Blvd., Bundy, Los Angeles

Board Links: The Green Olive

Fakin’ It, Asian-Style

Did you go vegetarian but miss meat? A bunch of Asian vegetarian restaurants can fill the void with dishes using “fake meat” (tempeh or some such) with fairly convincing taste and texture. This stuff was originally concocted for observant Buddhists, particularly monks, and is mostly a Taiwanese thing, says ladelfa, although it’s also found on the Chinese mainland. Here in LA, you can also find Thai, Philippine, and Vietnamese restaurants that serve fake meat dishes.

If you’re going to try just one, start with Fine Garden. With a new owner, new menu and, thinks ladelfa, the chef from the formerly great (now not so much) Veggie Wok, this place now offers the best dishes from three or four good-but-now-defunct Chinese vegetarian restaurants of San Gabriel Valley.

Probably the best-known Chinese vegetarian place is Happy Family. There’s an all-you-can-eat buffet, but the menu runs to hundreds of items, with some fancier dishes. The fake meat is very good in cold appetizers and the mini Hunan ham sandwiches. Curry chicken, hand rolls, and shrimp dishes are good. Despite the ersatz offerings, AquaW says, “I like it because it doesn’t try to hide the vegetarian quality of the vegetarian meat (which at Happy Family I believe is mostly derived from tofu, taro, or mushroom).” And the flat-out vegetable dishes are really well made, adds Jerome, especially the enokidake lily flower soup (jinzhen tang) and houtougu soup (a special soup with monkey-head mushrooms).

At the restaurant formerly known as Vege House (now called Wang’s Family Restaurant), you’ll find yourself chowing down on more hard-core Chinese dishes with lots of Buddhist monks. Some of the flavors here are an acquired taste for Westerners. Weekday lunch special gets you too much food for about $5.

Au Lac is well known for pretty good vegetarian renditions of Vietnamese dishes–the goi cuon (spring rolls) are delicious. Don’t be put off by the realistic-looking faux shrimp. Noodle soups are pretty excellent, and it’s all very fresh, says Tkn. But ladelfa says their food is generally oversugared and recommends Thuyen Vien as being much better. Try the pickled baby lotus root salad.

California Vegan is a Thai place using fake meat–bijoux recommends the mock chicken with spicy eggplant and the cheap lunch specials.

To make your own, Bodhi Vegetarian Supply has a jaw-dropping selection of frozen fake meats, most of it from Taiwan, says ladelfa. There are also dried soy chunks that you soak in water and use in place of chicken or beef in stews and the like. Prices are about as low as it gets for this kind of stuff.

The San Gabriel Supercenter also has a good selection in its frozen food section–three or four of their open-top freezer units are entirely vegetarian. Adjacent to those is a refrigerated-goods area with interesting soy meats, pressed tofu strips, and more.

The San Fernando Valley doesn’t rival SGV for Chinese restaurants, but Jerome points vegetarians in the area to Vegetable Delight. Turns out the fake shrimp get their realistic coloring from seaweed.

In Orange County, Veggie Bistro has mostly (but not all) Vietnamese fare–faux beef dishes are particularly good, says wendy8869, like vermicelli with beef. Eggplant curry soup and shrimp dishes are also chow-worthy–there are Chinese and Italian dishes too–good for when there are a lot of taste buds to accommodate.

Cerritos has Vegi Wokery (Chinese), and Irvine has Wheel of Life (Thai).

The Filipino restaurant Papillon draws a lot of responses, good and bad. The omnivorous ElissaInPlaya loves it, but after an initial rave, the vegetarian wowimadog went back with Filipino husband and relatives who weren’t impressed–7 out of 10. It’s certainly worth a try, and they have vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions of most dishes. The vegetarian house special chicken is flavorful, and the texture just right, says Nicole.

Fine Garden Vegetarian Cuisine [San Gabriel Valley]
formerly Veg Table Restaurant
841 W. Las Tunas Dr., Mission, San Gabriel

Happy Family Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
608 N. Atlantic Blvd., Hellman, Monterey Park

New Happy Family Of Rosemead [San Gabriel Valley]
8632 Valley Blvd., Walnut Grove, Rosemead

Happy Family Restaurant [East LA-ish]
869 N. Wilcox Ave., Via Campo, Montebello

Happy Family Restaurant [Inland of LA]
18425 Colima Rd., Batson, Rowland Heights

Vege House Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
a.k.a. Wangs Family Restaurant
1400 E. Valley Blvd., New Alhambra

Au Lac Gourmet Vegetarian [South OC]
16563 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley

Thuyen Vien [Little Saigon]
11080 Magnolia St., Katella, Garden Grove

Bodhi Vegetarian Supply [San Gabriel Valley]
8450 Valley Blvd. #106, Rosemead

San Gabriel Superstore [San Gabriel Valley]
1635 S. San Gabriel Blvd., Valley, San Gabriel

Vegetable Delight [West San Fernando Valley]
17823 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills

California Vegan [West LA]
12113 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles

California Vegan Restaurant [West Hollywood]
7300 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

Veggie Bistro [East LA-ish]
6557 Comstock Ave., Whittier

Vegi Wokery [Artesia-ish]
11329 183rd St., Gridley, Cerritos

Wheel Of Life [South OC]
14370 Culver Dr. #2, Irvine

Papillon Vegetarian Cuisine [Beaches]
408 Main St., El Segundo

Board Links: Vegetarian “Fake Meat” Restaurants- Recs?
City Beat’s “Next Big Ethnic Craze”: Papillion

Pricey Chinese: Abalone vs. Lobster

Where does one eat Chinese on an expense account? Well, it depends on whom you’re trying to impress.

If you want pricey, rare Chinese ingredients, go with a straight-up Cantonese seafood specialist. Good choices are R&G Lounge, Koi Palace, or South Sea Seafood Village. The setting at Koi Palace is particularly nice, though it’s outside the city. You can also opt for a private room upstairs at R&G Lounge. At all these places you’ll find things like abalone and shark’s fin.

If, however, you want a more globalized version of upscale Chinese, for what PegS refers to as “regular SF business folks,” the answer is different. Tommy Toy’s is the consensus top pick. Get a private room, order off the set tasting menu, and enjoy the French take on classic Chinese flavors. Superior service and valet parking, too.

Shanghai 1930, Silks, Yank Sing, or the Mandarin, are other good choices in this category, depending on what you’re after. Go to Yank Sing for expensive dim sum (more lobster than abalone) or to the Mandarin for its great waterside view.

R&G Lounge [Chinatown]
631 Kearny St., San Francisco

Koi Palace Restaurant [Peninsula]
365 Gellert Blvd., Daly City

South Sea Seafood Village [Sunset]
1420 Irving St., San Francisco

Tommy Toy’s [Financial District]
655 Montgomery St., San Francisco

Shanghai 1930 Restaurant [Embarcadero]
133 Steuart St., San Francisco

Silks at Mandarin Oriental [Financial District]
222 Sansome St., San Francisco

Yank Sing [Embarcadero]
101 Spear St. (in Rincon Center), San Francisco

Mandarin Restaurant [Embarcadero]
900 N. Point St., San Francisco

Board Links: High End–Classy Chinese Restaurant in San Francisco…where to find?

Sushi at Kaygetsu

Although the modest chef, Toshi-san (who worked together with Sakae’s chef, Hiro-san, in a previous restaurant), says his restaurant specializes in kaiseki, sushi is done to perfection, says K K. Ask for omakase, and be treated to one of the Bay Area ’s sushi masters.

A highlight is scallop nigiri, placed atop a shiso leaf and topped with a thick goopy mixture of uni and miso and a wee bit of caviar. Hirame (halibut) is taken from a large cut, de-skinned, carved carefully and pressed into the rice, with a bit of ponzu on top. Kanpachi comes from Japan, not Hawaii, and is free of the stringiness, fishiness, and sliminess of some kanpachi. Isaki makes a rare appearance: similar to sea bass or suzuki, and totally fresh. One last standout is tamago yaki (egg), which shows off the flavors of ground shrimp and dashi–it beats out other renditions up and down the West Coast.

A bonus is watching the chef’s knifework and his skill in pressing fish into rice.

The one downside to sushi at Kaygetsu is the limited variety of fish. Being primary a kaiseki restaurant, Toshi-san stocks a limited range of ingredients. But the limited variety is a small price to pay for the freshness and skill that goes into the sushi.

Price for one for omakase lunch: $68 plus a mandatory 16% tip.

Kaygetsu Restaurant [Peninsula]
325 Sharon Park Dr., Menlo Park

Board Links: Sushi at Kaygetsu Menlo Park

Ebb Tide: Fish Shack, Westchester Style, in Port Chester

The menu flows with the catch at Ebb Tide, a riverside seafood house in Port Chester. If soft shell crab sandwiches or monkfish in calamari red sauce are available, get them, advises Dim Sum Diva. cervisiam, while not blown away by the joint, recommends fish sandwiches and the lobster dinner (steamed lobster, corn, and chowder for under $20). They also have other fresh fish, steamers, crab cakes, and more. Kids might go for the foot-long hot dog.

Ebb Tide isn’t cheap–even a simple lunch might crack double figures–but the waterfront setting has its charms. “There is something about eating out on the deck in the sun,” notes Dim Sum Diva. “It’s peaceful. We’ve watched the duck family across the channel nest and hatch and grow. For Westchester, it’s as close as we can get to a seafood shack.”

Ebb Tide Seafood [Westchester County]
1 Willett Ave., at the Byram River, Port Chester

Board Links: Ebb Tide Seafood and Lobster Shack, Port Chester—anyone been? Worth a trip?
Ebb Tide in Portchester

Vern’s Toffee

Vern’s toffee, out of Ft. Collins, Co., is a new name to us! Low humidity makes Colorado an excellent place for making toffee, says dml. These folks use no preservatives or chemicals.

Board Links: vosges toffee…huh?

Catalogue Your Wines, and Lots More and will help you catalogue your wine collection, with wines listed by country and region. You can check ratings and values, and find out when your wine is ready to drink. All are free to try, though registration is required to fully participate.


Hot Sauce with Flavor

El Yucateco is a hot sauce with plenty of habanero heat, but it’s flavorful and aromatic, as well. Try the red and green, both made from habanero chiles. This sauce is produced in the Yucatan, where it’s a big favorite.

Board Links: Great Hot Sauce: El Yucateco