The CHOW Blog rss

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

In New York, Store-Bought Paratha That Cures All Ills

Here’s a cure for the jaded palate: surprisingly fresh-tasting handmade parathas, packaged by Corona’s Delicious Foods. For howler, who’d been feeling vaguely out of sorts, these stuffed Indian flatbreads were just what the doctor ordered. “I could walk. I could SEE,” he testifies. “Go now and get yourself some.”

Active ingredients–besides wheat flour, corn oil, and a good measure of spice–include aloo (potato), mooli (radish), or gobi (cauliflower), among others. Warm them on a skillet till slightly crisp, and eat them with yogurt, Indian pickle, dal, or kachumbar (a relish of tomato, onion, cilantro, chile, and lime juice). Or just by themselves.

howler’s restorative came from a Patel Brothers store in Floral Park. Delicious Foods’ paratha has also been sighted at the Subzi Mandi stores and, in Manhattan’s Curry Hill, at Little India Store.

Delicious Foods [Corona]
112-02 Roosevelt Ave., at 112th St., Corona, Queens
718-446-9352
Map

Patel Brothers [Citywide]
multiple locations

Subzi Mandi [Citywide]
multiple locations

Little India Store [Murray Hill]
128 E. 28th St., between Lexington and Park Aves., Manhattan
212-683-1691
Map

Board Links: parathas!

Sobakoh, Japanese Noodle Contender in the East Village

The newest name to come up in the “best soba in town” conversation is SobaKoh, whose organic buckwheat noodles have gradually won a chowhound following since its arrival last spring. Stroll by during the day and you can watch the noodles rolled and cut by hand through a street-side window at this serene East Village shop. They come out flavorful, nutty-tasting, and uncommonly delicate–wonderful hot, cold, or in other guises, like fried or in salads. “It deserves more business than it’s getting,” suggests Simon, who ranks its cold soba equal to or better than nearby Sobaya’s, and just a step below that at the much pricier Honmura An.

Daily specials are numerous and excellent. Recent choices include airy soft shell crab tempura, refreshing daikon salad with ginger and yuzu, and special soba offerings with eel-hijiki tofu cake or salmon roe and grated daikon. Hounds also appreciate SobaKoh’s artful presentation, caring service, and open, calming space. “This place is an oasis of calm in the East Village frenzy,” writes rose.

In Midtown, Soba Nippon comes recommended for first-rate authentic handmade soba. kvn also swears by its soba salad (with shredded chicken, beef, or tofu), not cheap, but immensely rewarding.

SobaKoh [East Village]
309 E. 5th St., between 2nd and 1st Aves., Manhattan
212-254-2244
Map

Sobaya [East Village]
229 E. 9th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan
212-533-6966
Map

Honmura An [Soho]
170 Mercer St., between Houston and Prince, Manhattan
212-334-5253
Map

Soba Nippon [Midtown]
19 W. 52nd St., between 5th and 6th Aves., Manhattan
212-489-2525
Map

Board Links: Japanese noodle bars
handcut soba noodles in EV?
Soba Koh —excellent meal

Best in Show: Delicatessens

The votes for best deli categories are in, and unscientifically compiled:

Best all-around deli: Brent’s. Possible exception: their chopped liver, which CynD says is awfully sweet. Then again, deadorinjail calls it fantastic.

Best pastrami: Langer’s. Get it with the delectably creamy and tangy Russian dressing.

Worst value: Jerry’s

Very good chicken/matzo ball soup, if not the best ever: Jerry’s (the crazy mishmosh soup has rice, kasha, kreplach, veggies, matzoh balls, and noodles, and plenty of chicken)

Best rye bread: Factor’s/Langer’s/Canter’s

Best chopped liver: Greenblatt’s, Canter’s

Best pickles: Nate ‘n’ Al’s, Canter’s

Best knishes: Schwartz’s bakery: Potato and kasha knishes; also terrific poppyseed cakes.

Brent’s Delicatessen [West San Fernando Valley]
19565 Parthenia St., between Corbin and Tampa, Northridge
818-886-5679
Map

Langer’s Delicatessen [Midtown]
704 S. Alvarado St., at 7th St., Los Angeles
213-483-8050
Map

Jerry’s Famous Deli [Westwood]
10923 Weyburn Ave., at Westwood, Los Angeles
310-208-3354
Map

Jerry’s Famous Deli [West Hollywood]
8701 Beverly Blvd., at Sherbourne, West Hollywood
310-289-1811
Map

Jerry’s Famous Deli [East San Fernando Valley]
12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
818-980-4245
Map

Jerry’s Famous Deli [Beaches]
13181 Mindanao Way, Marina Del Rey
310-821-6626
Map

Jerry’s Famous Deli [West San Fernando Valley]
16650 Ventura Blvd., Encino
818-906-1800
Map

Jerry’s Famous Deli [West San Fernando Valley]
21857 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills
818-340-0810
Map

Jerry’s Famous Deli [South OC]
3210 Park Center Dr., Costa Mesa
714-662-3354
Map

Factor’s Famous Deli [Midtown]
9420 W. Pico Blvd., at Rexford, Los Angeles
310-278-9175
Map

Canter’s Fairfax Restaurant [Fairfax Village]
419 N. Fairfax Ave., at Beverly, Los Angeles
323-651-2030
Map

Greenblatt’s Delicatessen [West Hollywood]
8017 W. Sunset Blvd., at Laurel Canyon, West Hollywood
323-656-0606
Map

Nate-n-Al’s Deli & Restaurant [Beverly Hills]
414 N. Beverly Dr., at Brighton Way, Beverly Hills
310-274-0101
Map

Schwartz Bakery [Fairfax Village]
441 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles
323-653-1683
Map

Schwartz Bakery [Midtown]
8616 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
310-854-0592
Map

Schwartz Bakery [Midtown]
7113 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles
323-931-3563
Map

Board Links: The Best Deli in LA

Real-Deal Middle Eastern Food

George thought he knew muhammara, the Middle Eastern spread of red pepper, walnuts and pomegranate. Heck, back in NY he ate the stuff every week at a homestyle Lebanese restaurant. But the muhammara at LA’s Marouch, he says, is on another plane completely.

“Almost glowing purple red and laden with toasted pine nuts and slivered browned almonds, the walnut and pepper paste seemed to sing with spices just beyond my ability to name. It was so good, it was actually hard to eat a lot, almost overwhelming to the senses in a way, not just because it was rich or heavy.”

Oh yeah, makanek sausages with cinnamon and cloves are really good too. David Kahn says the rotisserie chicken at Marouch is second to none–cooked to order, flavorful and with perfectly crispy skin.

Nearby, at Sasoun Bakery, you can get the best, freshest lahmajoun (Middle Eastern baby pizzas topped with ground beef) for $9 a dozen, says Joe. Just heat them up on a griddle till toasty.

Usually, Sunnin gets nothing but love on the board–it’s often cited as having the best falafel around. But a couple of posters who grew up with Middle Eastern food say it just doesn’t measure up to the real thing. The mezze (starters) are better than the entrees, says ayana, but even for those you’re better off with Magic Carpet, Carnival or Carousel. For entrees, go to Wahib’s, Carnival or Carousel.

Marouch Lebanese Restaurant [East Hollywood]
4905 Santa Monica Blvd., at Edgemont, Los Angeles
323-662-9325
Map

Sasoun Bakery [East San Fernando Valley]
625 E. Colorado Unit A, at Glendale Ave., Glendale
818-502-5059
Map

Sunnin Lebanese Cafe [Wealthy Westlands]
1779 Westwood Blvd, at Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles
310-477-2358
Map

Sunnin Lebanese [South Bay]
5110 E. 2nd St., at Granada, Long Beach
562-433-9000
Map

Magic Carpet Restaurant [Midtown]
8566 W. Pico Blvd, at Corning, Los Angeles
310-652-8507
Map

Carnival Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
4356 Woodman Ave., at Ventura, Sherman Oaks
818-784-3469
Map

Carousel Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
304 N. Brand Blvd., at California, Glendale
818-246-7775
Map

Carousel Restaurant [East Hollywood]
5112 Hollywood Blvd. # 107, at Normandie, Los Angeles
323-660-8060
Map

Wahib’s Middle East Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
910 E. Main St., at Granada, Alhambra
626-576-1048
Map

Board Links: Sunnin: I don’t get it
Marouch Mouhamara

A Brief Guide to Rolling Street Vendors, and Their Associated Honks

Some of the best food in this town comes right to your door. Poke your head out when you hear the honk of a horn or a tinkling bell, and you might fine homemade tamales, Mexican popsicles, or any number of other oddball delights, sold from a hand-pushed rolling cart. The popsicle vendors typically sell popular brands of Mexican and American treats, but a lot of the other vendors are offering homemade tasties. The less official-looking the vehicle, the more likely the food tastes homemade. Best of all are shopping carts, likely selling what grandma and mom make in the kitchen at their house.

For some reason, people are scared to buy food from a little lady pushing an icebox around. Do not be scared. This is somebody’s home cooking. It does not get more personal than this. Do not think, “terrifyingly unofficial.” Think “beautifully homey and unadulterated.” And they are bringing it to your door!

Offerings vary depending on the season. Winter brings tamales. Right now, there’s corn on the cob. Vendors tend to circulate most in the evenings, and around schools at lunchtime. Check around parks in the afternoon.

rworange offers a guide to the rolling vendors of San Pablo and Richmond. You can try to catch these folks, or else just be inspired by her account to find your own picks.

CART #1: the best street vendor find for potato chips ($1.50) is a guy selling potato chips, corn on the cob, fruit, and raspados. He has a grocery shopping cart with one cooler filled with ice, another filled with fruit, and another with hot ears of corn. There are little bags of chips attached to the sides of the cart. He always announces himself with six brief horn blasts.

Chips are handmade and so thin they’re nearly transparent. The oil and the chip are one. Holding up one chip is like looking through spuddy stained glass. Order them with everything–salt, a dollop of hot sauce, and a squirt of lemon. Or order them plain, to appreciate the pure beauty. Many, many vendors seem to be selling these exact same chips, so there must be a single supplier. Vendors sell them in pint-sized food storage bags.

Also good from this same vendor: pale corn on the cob, $1.50, speared on a stick, brushed with margarine, rolled in powdered cotija cheese, and sprinkled with chili pepper. It’s very good. There’s also mango ($2.50)–a big bag of dead ripe sweet juicy mango, mixed up with chili powder, salt, and a squirt of lime. It’s delicious and smoky, and better than the mango from Fonda. Raspados ($1) are pre-crushed ice doused with bottled syrups in bright colors. The green syrup is as satisfying as a lime popsicle. These are not as good, though, as the raspados from the vendor on the corner of MacDonald and 22nd.

All of the above snacks–corn on the cob, mango with chili powder, and raspados–are very common among Mexican street vendors, and can be found from rolling vendors in any neighborhood with a decent-sized Mexican population.

CART #2: A nice, grandmotherly lady with a folding grocery cart, who uses a braying type of horn. She sells corn on the cob, chicharrones, and mangos. Her corn on the cob is larger, but not as sweet as those from Cart #1. Her chicharrones de harina are awesome–big, crunchy sheets of faux-pork skin, made from flour.

CART #3: The ice cream guys. No matter what they sell, they all have the same silvery bells. Although they all have La Michoacana stamped on their carts, they sell very different varieties of ice cream and paletas (Mexican popsicles). There are lots of paleta brands, though, like American popsicles, they almost all taste the same. Average price for a paleta is $1.25.

karoline sends us to 23rd and Mission, where there’s a little cart that’s sometimes by the Walgreens and sometimes by Factory 2 U. Sometimes it’s next to La Copa Loca. They sell corn on the cob with fixings. Their specialty: chili mayonnaise.

There are many stationary fruit and Mexican corn vendors in Oakland along International, mostly between Fruitvale and 39th. Please note: for almost all these vendors, the only thing visible is the fruit. You have to ask for corn–“elote”–and they’ll produce it from a cooler hidden underneath the fruit. “It’s the street vendor ‘secret menu’: hidden corn,” notes Ruth Lafler.

Raspado Cart [East Bay]
2131 MacDonald Ave., outside La Raza Market, Richmond
510-232-4339
Map

Corn on the Cob Cart [Mission]
23rd St., and Mission, San Francisco
Map

Many Vendors [Fruitvale]
International Blvd., mostly between Fruitvale Ave. and 39th St., Oakland
Map

Board Links: The bells of San Pablo – Street Eats a la cart

Golden Era Vegetarian 2 Better Than the Original

Golden Era 2 is now open, and it’s significantly better than the original Tenderloin branch of Golden Era. This is, for those not in the know, a vegetarian Vietnamese place featuring all sorts of fake meats made from soy and suchlike. alohatiki doesn’t think well of the original Golden Era; she vastly prefers their sister restaurant, Golden Lotus. But, much to her surprise, she found Golden Era 2 utterly pleasing. Both veggie chow fun and bun hao noodle soup are excellent.

Golden Era 2 [Richmond]
832 Clement St., between 8th and 9th Aves., San Francisco
415-668-4888
Map

Golden Era [Tenderloin]
572 O’Farrell St., San Francisco
415-673-3136
Map

Golden Lotus Vegetarian Rest [East Bay]
1301 Franklin St., Oakland
510-893-0383
Map

Board Links: Golden Era 2 Vegetarian Sighting —Clement Street

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

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

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

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