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

Warm Caprese “Salad”

Caprese salad is a classic–and minimalist–Italian tomato-season dish of sliced ripe tomatoes, fresh whole-milk mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. You can intensify the flavors of this summer staple by using a toasty bread base and warming it all up.

There are two simple methods for prep: oven or grill. In the oven, bake baguette slices brushed with extra virgin olive oil at 450F for 5 minutes. Add a slice of tomato to each slice of bread, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add a slice of mozzarella. Bake again for another 5 minutes or so, just until cheese begins to get a bit melty. Top each with a basil leaf; drizzle with more extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a little more salt. “Eat and swoon” (wyf4lyf).

On the grill, follow the same procedure, first toasting the bread, then returning it to melt the cheese a bit. Some hounds prefer to hide the basil leaf under the cheese so its flavor really permeates. HWiley puts all ingredients inside halved pita breads and tosses on the grill; the pita crisps up while the insides gets the same warm melting effect.

Board Links: Baked Caprese “Salad” —FABULOUS!!!

Omakase at Anzu

Porthos has finally enjoyed Takahashi-san’s omakase at Anzu. He enjoyed the best sushi he’s had in San Francisco, ranking a respectable fourth in his personal all-time sushi rankings, behind such luminaries as New York’s Sushi Yasuda and Los Angeles’ Mori Sushi. The rice is good, though not the transcendent rice of Yasuda. Anzu’s strength, though, is in its wide variety of high-quality fish. yamada3 likes Anzu even better than Sakae. Anzu’s sushi is delicate and feminine, compared to Sakae’s more masculine sushi, which can sometimes be more about the fattiness and oiliness of the fish than its delicate sweetness. “Sakae was like sushi that grows hair on your chest,” he says.

Very important for your Anzu visit: sit at the sushi bar. Only at the sushi bar will you get fresh-grated wasabi.

Omakase is very, very strong. You’ll start with a sashimi plate. On Porthos’ visit, the sashimi plate included beautifully pink chu-toro (fattier than the alleged o-toro at Kitsho), buttery kingfish, flavorful copper river salmon, and firm, clean tasting mejini. Then, a comforting little bit of sukiyaki as a meaty palate-cleanser.

Then came nigiri. Porthos’ omakase included creamy, buttery kanpachi; fresh high-grade hamachi; and gorgeous and sweet bluefin tuna. Santa Barbara uni was sweet and fresh, the architecture of the uni well preserved. Ayoyagi and mirugai were both sweet, crispy, and refreshing. Tairagai was firmer and sweeter than regular scallops. And their o-toro was light pink, but with big fat streaks of white–very rich and fatty. Dessert was a refreshing handroll with ume, tobiko, sharkfin, and shiso.

Weak links: pre-packaged anago and unagi. And fishy aji. And their kohada.

Now for the important data. Takahashi-san has revealed that he gets his fish on Tuesdays and Fridays, with the big shipment coming in on Tuesdays. On Tuesday, he has up to forty types of fish. So the best time to go is Tuesday through Friday. Caveat: if it’s a holiday in Japan, the fish shipments come a day later.

Anzu Restaurant [Union Square]
222 Mason St., San Francisco

Sakae Restaurant [Peninsula]
240 Park Rd., Burlingame

Kitsho [South Bay]
19541 Richwood Dr., Cupertino

Board Links: Sushi At Anzu (finally)

Solid Homey Filipino Food to the South

Gold Tray Manila serves very satisfying homey Filipino food, says Alice Patis. It’s a tiny little store and bakery, jam-packed with pre-packaged snacks from the Philippines, and shrink-wrapped bakery items like kutsinta, sapin-sapin, cassava cakes, and bibingka.

There’s also a little steam table, with solid Filipino fare. For $4.99 you get two items and rice. Bangus–fried milkfish–is a Filipino standard; Gold Tray’s version has some serious lip-smacking, salty goodness. It may not be fresh from the fryer, but it’s still got some crispiness to it. Most importantly, it’s served boneless–very important for this bony little fish. Mussels in broth are really good, too–mussels are plump and unsmelly, and the broth is deep and slightly sweet. It’s flavored just from the sauteed mussels and veggies–no stock, no MSG–with a bit of a bite from some ginger and black pepper.

Halo halo is huge, with the highest ratio of solids to liquids she’s seen in a halo halo. There’s a great variety of solids too, pinipig (puffed rice) predominating, but with lots of beans, jellies, coconut cubes, ground mung bean, taro hunks, soft jackfruit shreds, and other unidentifiable but yummy stuff. It’s totally worth the $3.99.

Tuesdays and Thursdays they have an all-you-can-eat buffet for $5.99, and a greater selection from the steam table.

Elsewhere: four Filipino chowhounds descended on Ihaw Ihaw after a recent heavenly experience at Tribu. Verdict: they universally choose Tribu as the superior Filipino restaurant overall. However: Ihaw Ihaw does have super pinakbet (vegetable stew with shrimp paste). pilinut would return just for pinakbet and some rice.

Several Chowhounds love Kuya’s. itadakiMAN is a regular; his favorites there are hitong kano (deep-fried catfish), inihaw no baboy (grilled pork chops), adobo rice, salpicao, and, of course, crispy pata. There are also great pork sinigang, miki nihon, sisig, and halo halo. Great service and great prices, says SFcaterer.

Gold Tray Manila [South Bay]
5320 Monterey Hwy., near Ocean Palace restaurant, San Jose

Ihaw Ihaw [Peninsula]
a.k.a. San Bruno Ihaw
422 San Mateo Ave., San Bruno

Tribu Grill [Peninsula]
235 El Camino Real, San Bruno

Kuya’s [Peninsula]
460 San Mateo Drive, San Bruno

Board Links: Crispy Pata, etc.—Ihaw Ihaw vs. Tribu
Gold Tray Manila – solid homey filipino food in San Jose

XLB Update

Dispatch from San Gabriel Valley–there are some awesome xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, at J&J, says estone888, in the same strip mall that houses the pretty-damn-good xlb of Mei Long Village (whose potstickers remain superior).

J&J Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
a.k.a. Jin Jiang Restaurant
301 W. Valley Blvd. #109, Del Mar, San Gabriel

Board Links: J&J XLB–thanks jouznutz

Coconut Ice Cream

Coconut ice cream from the freezer in the market at Simpang Asia is incredibly pure-tasting, says PayOrPlay, like a coconut-milk sorbet. Taro and durian flavors are similar, and really good. And the stuff sold at LAX-C, the mother of all Thai supermarkets, is supposed to be great.

Al Gelato’s coconut gelato may be their best flavor–intensely rich and coconutty.

Mateo’s has enjoyable ice cream bars (paletas) and scooped ice cream, says petradish. The coconut flavor comes in two variations, one being creamier. They also have very good burnt milk (leche quemada) ice cream and tropical fruit sorbets.

Simpang Asia [Culver City-ish]
10433 National Blvd., Mentone, Los Angeles

Al Gelato Continental Desserts [Midtown]
806 S. Robertson Blvd., Gregory Way, Los Angeles

Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars [Midtown]
4222 W. Pico Blvd., Crenshaw, Los Angeles

Mateo Ice Cream & Fruit Bars [Culver City-ish]
4929 Sepulveda Blvd., Lucerne, Culver City

Mateo’s Ice Cream & Juice Bar [Inland of LA]
522 E. Vine Ave., Glendora, West Covina

Board Links: Coconut Ice cream.

At Perry Street, One Vegetarian Feels at Home

Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Perry Street has an unlikely convert. DavyTheFatBoy, who had dismissed the place as “too French, too fussy, too vegetarian-unfriendly, and more concerned with presentation than flavor,” has eaten his words–which went down easy after a recent dinner of surprising, inventive, well-conceived vegetarian dishes.

Highlights included green pea ravioli with morels, fried fingerling potatoes with aioli, cherry tomato salad with red onion and herbs, braised artichokes with peas and onions, house-made mozzarella with champagne mango and red peppercorns, and fresh corn and scallions, liberally buttered. Also delicious: spinach with a touch of olive oil and slivers of jalapeno (“who knew jalapenos could do that to spinach?”). “Not a dud in the bunch,” Davy marvels.

Just as impressive, Perry Street’s menu features few vegetarian dishes; much of this knockout dinner was assembled on the fly from sides that usually come with non-vegetarian entrees. Yet each, Davy adds, “was a completely thought-through dish, not a buttered side vegetable. The whole experience totally surprised us–the lack of attitude, the ingredients, the flavors and textures, and the $121 bill for two (including four glasses of wine, before tip). It’s clear that this is a serious restaurateur at the top of his game.”

Perry Street [Greenwich Village]
176 Perry St., at West St., Manhattan

Board Links: Amazed by Perry Street

Coffee Break: Best Beans in Brooklyn and Beyond

Brooklyn coffee lovers have come to depend on D’Amico in Carroll Gardens for its wide selection of fresh roasted beans, fairly priced. “I can’t live without the dark roast Colombian Supremo,” confesses lisa, “a little more expensive, but sooooooo good.”

Self-described coffee obsessive Ann is hooked on the extra-strong Thunder Road blend at Park Slope’s Java Joe. “Truly great coffee,” she declares. “Not cheap, but not outrageous, and they really know their coffee.”

Dallis Coffee, which has been roasting coffee since 1913, is another go-to spot for fresh beans. “The coffee is excellent, and the prices are as well,” writes mshpook. It no longer has a retail shop but fills orders online or by phone or fax. If you can’t wait for shipping, you can pick up your order at Dallis’s office in Ozone Park.

redgirl swears by the whole bean French roast at Blue Apron–strong and full bodied, not overly acidic, and well priced. It’s from the same roaster used by hound-endorsed coffee source Zabar’s.

Also recommended by java hounds: Park Slope’s Leaf and Bean, Gorilla, and Union Market, Brooklyn Heights hound hangout Sahadi, and in Queens, old-world shop Baruir in Sunnyside for Turkish- and Armenian-style roasts and blends.

And for an uncommonly good online source, BGRose recommends Massachusetts’ Barrington Coffee Roasting Co., which provides lightly roasted espresso beans for Village favorite Joe. Drop by either of Joe’s two shops and they’ll sell you Barrington’s beans in small batches.

D’Amico Foods [Carroll Gardens]
309 Court St., between Degraw and Sackett, Brooklyn

Java Joe Coffee and Tea [Park Slope]
414 8th St., between 7th and 8th Aves, Brooklyn

Dallis Coffee [Ozone Park]
100-30 Atlantic Ave., near 100th St., Ozone Park, Queens

Blue Apron Foods [Park Slope]
814 Union St., at 7th Ave., Brooklyn

Blue Apron Foods [Park Slope]
438 7th Ave., near 15th St., Brooklyn

Zabar’s [Upper West Side]
2245 Broadway, at 80th St., Manhattan

Leaf and Bean of Park Slope [Park Slope]
83 7th Ave., between Berkeley Pl. and Union St., Brooklyn

Gorilla Coffee [Park Slope]
97 5th Ave., at Park Pl., Brooklyn

Union Market [Park Slope]
754 Union St., at 6th Ave., Brooklyn

Sahadi Importing Co. [Brooklyn Heights]
187 Atlantic Ave., between Clinton and Court Sts, Brooklyn

Baruir [Sunnyside]
40-07 Queens Blvd., at 40th St., Sunnyside, Queens

Barrington Coffee Roasting Co.
Lee, MA

Joe [Greenwich Village]
141 Waverly Pl., between 6th Ave. and Gay St., Manhattan

Joe [East Village]
9 E. 13th St., between 5th Ave. and University Pl., Manhattan

Board Links: Web Source For Coffee [Split from thread on Outer Boroughs]
Whole-bean coffee retail. Help!

Kohlrabi – Raw!

Most recipes call for cooking the bulb-shaped veggie kohlrabi–roasting, mashing, simmering in soup, and so on. It’s delicious however you do it, though perhaps not ideal for the summer palate. But Kohlrabi’s great raw, too–even older, larger bulbs that may seem too fibrous to munch uncooked. Only the outer layer of the bulb is fibrous, explains Aaron; many people peel off just the skin, but you need to remove the fibrous layer beneath the skin as well. The heart of the bulb will be tender enough to eat raw.

You can make kohlrabi into a slaw, or use it as you might jicama (though it contains much more water). Or try this Indian finger food prep–especially refreshing if you chill the kohlrabi before preparing it, notes Jupiter: Chop peeled kohlrabi into matchstick-size pieces, squeeze lemon or lime onto them, generously sprinkle with cayenne, and toss. Perfect with a cold beer (best with a light brew like lager or pilsner).

Board Links: mole pastes?

Chowhounding 101: Indian Food in the U.S.

India is a vast country with numerous regions–and regional cuisines. Each of India’s 28 states is like its own country, with its own cooking style.

The Indian food served in the U.S. is mostly divided into the food of the North or the South. There are commonalities, like basmati rice or reliance on vegetarian dishes. (The test of a good Indian restaurant is how well they prepare vegetables.) Spices, condiments, sauces, and bread are equally important, and the variety will seem dizzying.

Boogiebaby has supplied a terrific listing of dishes to get you started:

North Indian:
Dal Makhani–black lentils cooked with kidney beans and butter
Chicken Makhani–chicken in tomato/butter sauce
Palak Paneer–Spinach with Indian cottage cheese
Aloo Gobi–Potato and Cauliflower
Bengan Bharta–mashed eggplant
Raita–yogurt with cucumber (usually, could be other types as well)
Saag Gosht–Lamb cooked in spinach
Malai Kofta–vegetable dumplings in cream sauce
Shahi Paneer–Indian Cottage Cheese in a cream sauce
Biriyani–Veggies, chicken, or lamb slow cooked with basmati rice, onions, and sometimes nuts and raisins

South Indian:
Dosa–rice/lentil crepe
Masala Dosa–dosa stuffed with spiced potatoes
Sambhar–lentils cooked with tamarind and veggies
Upma–semolina cooked with veggies
Uttapam–pancake type with tomatoes and onions
Rasam–tamarind water with spices (good for digestion)
Idli–steamed rice/lentil patties
Vada–fried rice/lentil donuts
Coconut chutney–served with dosa, idli and vadas

Board Links: Please educate me regarding Indian cuisine

Beans, Beans

The British love their baked beans–in particular, Heinz baked beans with tomato sauce, in the blue tin. Unlike American Boston baked beans, they’re not sweet.

They’re served with the typical English breakfast, and as a topping on buttered toast (even better, place a fried egg with grated cheese on top of the bean-topped toast). You’ll see them spooned over a baked potato, too. You might want to add some water to the beans to make them soupy.

A nice accompaniment is brown HP Sauce, another British staple. Heinz beans and HP Sauce are available in shops that sell food from the UK.

Board Links: English beans on toast?