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

Five Hamburger Contenders In Brooklyn

The je ne sais quoi in the alluring hamburger at Cocotte is a dash of cognac, which is drizzled over a fistful of top-notch beef at this Park Slope bistro and bar. Swiss cheese, portobello mushroom, and great French fries complete the plate. Best burger in Brooklyn, declares EJC.

Elsewhere in the Slope, hounds love Helios’ half-pound Black Angus burger, which comes juicy and nicely charred on a house-made brioche roll. Sharp cheddar and freshly sauteed mushrooms put it over the top, says redgirl. For a few bucks more, add standout herb fries or a better-than-you’d-expect side salad of greens, very good crumbled feta, onion, and a tasty vinaigrette. Few reports so far from the Greek side of the menu, except that lamb souvlaki and eggy, lemony avgolemono soup are worth a try.

In Williamsburg, dive bar-turned-bistro Sweetwater makes an excellent, slightly fancy burger with Gruyere and caramelized onions on an English muffin–“which may sound twee to you but I assure you isn’t,” promises benghoil.

Carroll Gardens’ Crave rolls out a 10-ouncer–nicely seasoned meat “with a bit of a kick to it,” says David B–with pickled onions on onion brioche.

And in Brooklyn Heights, the Heights Cafe serves excellent char-broiled burgers with freshly made fries or onion rings, says Fleur.

Cocotte [Park Slope]
337 5th Ave., at 4th St., Brooklyn

Helios [Park Slope]
formerly Elios
82 6th Ave., between St. Marks and Prospect Pl., Brooklyn

Sweetwater [Williamsburg]
105 N 6th St., between Berry St and Wythe Ave., Brooklyn

Crave [Carroll Gardens]
570 Henry St., between Carroll and Summit, Brooklyn

Heights Cafe [Brooklyn Heights]
84 Montague St., at Henry St., Brooklyn

Board Links: great hamburger in brooklyn
helios: great burger
Great burger alert

Telepan Revisited

From the amuse bouche on, zGustibus was sold on the farm-to-table experience at Telepan. The three-part curtain-raiser for his recent dinner comprised chilled carrot soup with olive oil, crostini with mushrooms and beans, and puff pastry filled with cheese. “So delicious, sweet and fresh tasting. It was a definite signal of the kind of greenmarket experience we were about to have.”

At this seven-month-old restaurant on the Upper West Side, chef Bill Telepan (Judson Grill) shows a soft spot for eggs. Two winning dishes: coddled eggs atop collard greens and scrapple, and pea carbonara with pancetta and poached egg (which you mix into a delicious mess in the egg pasta). “If you like to break eggs on top of things, then this is definitely your restaurant.”

In some courses, the accompaniments outshine the star ingredients. Halibut comes out crisply seared outside, moist and flavorful inside–yet it’s upstaged by the chanterelles, wild spinach, and killer crisped gnocchi it’s served over. Overall, though, the end result is a delicious and well-conceived meal. “A lot of times a restaurant will have a great menu but the food doesn’t live up,” observes zGustibus. “At Telepan, the food definitely lived up to the menu.”

Brunch is no letdown, early reports suggest. Even at $25, it’s “an enormous value,” says anon646–a prix fixe deal of two courses plus a generous bread basket of first-rate scones, cinnamon rolls, small doughnuts, and assorted cakes. Winning starters include smoked brook trout (a Telepan signature) on potato-chive blini. Recommended main courses: lobster-scallion omelette and a blowout babka-style chocolate French toast, as amazing as it sounds.

Telepan [Upper West Side]
72 W. 69th St., between Columbus Ave. and Central Park West, Manhattan

Board Links: Telepan: Summer Menu (Long Review)
Telepan Review?

The House

Need some tall food? Like, tall as a house? House Restaurant stacks food tall with high-quality technique, fanciful mosaic-like presentations, and vibrant flavors, says Melanie Wong.

The kitchen’s best talents are demonstrated in a wonderful grilled fresh fig salad: a mix of mizuna and other salad greens with six halves of sweet, squishy, delicately charred and caramelized black Mission figs. An even better appetizer is seared dayboat scallops. Described as a spicy ponzu sauce, the emulsified citrusy sauce is more akin to a beurre blanc made with olive oil.

Entrees are generous and equally good. Creamy-textured and crisp-crusted fried chicken livers with garlicky soy marinade are like Chinese fried chicken and are very fresh tasting. Accompanying greens are somewhat underseasoned, yet a good foil for the meal’s other assertive flavors. Braised Niman ranch pork shoulder is topped, unnecessarily but luxuriously, with gorgeously crusty foie gras. The fatty and fork-tender pork gives off warmly spicy, garlicky, and slightly sweet juices that mix well with the side of nori rice and Napa cabbage. Other hits are flatiron steak with wasabi noodles and spicy slaw, and perfect seared crisp-skinned sable (black cod) with Dungeness crab and avocado maki.

As if you’d have room, chocolate cake is great, with deep fudgy texture and crunchy praline bits.

The sole misses are vegetable accompaniments (with rib eye), which are undercooked to the point of hardness; overcooked, tough fried calamari; and bland blueberry bread pudding.

House Restaurant [North Beach]
1230 Grant Ave., San Francisco

Board Links: The House in San Francisco

Fisherman’s Wharf Survival Guide

Sooner or later, whether you’re a local or visitor, highbrow or lowbrow, native or transplant, you’ll need to eat at Fisherman’s Wharf. Fear not: it can be done.

Alioto’s is an old standby, with 50’s decor, great views, and waiters in tuxedos. The Godfather would eat here if he’d lived to move to SF, says rworange. At lunchtime there are good deals, even though a la carte pricing puts a cup of soup over $7 and fresh fish of the day as high as $30. One good catch is the Sicilian chicken soup, a half-sandwich of bay shrimp, and dessert, all for $12. The soup is a deeply golden chicken broth with a few peas and noodles, some cooked egg yolk, and meatballs. The broth doesn’t have much chicken flavor, but it’s house-made and pleasant enough. The bay shrimp are delicate and fresh. For dessert, creme brulee is among the best rworange has had: thick, rich, and very deeply yellow from the eggs, with a perfect hard caramelized top.

For a totally different kind of Fisherman’s Wharf meal, run to Saigon Grill for banh mi. Not kidding. The meat in the grilled lemongrass pork banh mi (thit nuong) is so good you’ll pull pieces out and eat them by themselves. Thin tender slices of pork with a whisper of fat, all nicely marinated with a touch of grill flavor, and slightly sweet like teriyaki. They use nice crusty rolls with mayo, pickled daikon radish, and carrots, fresh cilantro, and large slices of super-fresh jalapenos. It’s a wonderful mix of texture and flavor–hot, sweet, smoky, crunchy, velvety–that’s worth the $3.50 (yep, nearly twice what you’d pay in the Tenderloin).

If you’re spending lots of time around the Wharf and Pier 39, pull down the whole list of suggestions by rworange, whose other favorites are Gary Danko, Nick’s Lighthouse, Scoma’s, Eagle Cafe, and Ana Mandara.

Alioto’s [Fisherman’s Wharf]
8 Fishermans Wharf, San Francisco

Saigon Grill [Fisherman’s Wharf]
2731 Taylor St., between Beach & Jefferson St., San Francisco

Gary Danko [Fisherman’s Wharf]
800 N. Point St., San Francisco

Nick’s Lighthouse [Fisherman’s Wharf]
2801 Taylor St., San Francisco

Scoma’s [Fisherman’s Wharf]
47 Pier, San Francisco

Eagle Cafe [Fishmerman’s Wharf]
39 Pier 39 #201, San Francisco

Ana Mandara [Ghirardelli Square]
891 Beach St., San Francisco

Board Links: Fisherman’s Wharf Crabby Crawl – Lunch at Alioto’s
SF- A Tale of Two Banh Mi – Saigon Grill & Little Vietnam Café
Hey, San Francisco visitors, tell the locals about Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

Oyster Crackers

Good chowder deserves good oyster crackers!

The Premium cracker brand is fine for just floating in soup, but Trader Joe’s oyster crackers are puffy, pillowy crackers with more oomph. If you like a more substantial cracker, the well-known Skyline Chili folks in Cincinnati include a box of theirs for free with every order of chili!

Trenton Oyster crackers are an old brand of cracker perfect suitable for good chowder. They’re now called OTC (for Original Trenton Cracker). Pat Hammond had thought them extinct.

Board Links: Oyster Crackers

Lobster “Culls”

A cull is a lobster missing a claw. It still has plenty of good meat, of course. Culls were once highly discounted, but consumers caught on and the price has increased to the point where they may not work out as bargains anymore, pound for pound. And if claw meat is your favorite, you’re likely better off buying a whole lobster.

Board Links: Lobster Retail Value–Cull vs. Whole?

Chow 101: Miso

The healthful properties of miso are legendary. It’s a living food, with enzymes and other microorganisms said to aid digestion. It tastes good, too! It’s made from fermented soy beans and other grains and is a mainstay of Japanese cooking. The lighter colored miso is delicately flavored and used in light soups, sauces and salad dressings. Use darker miso in heavier dishes, like stews, or as a table condiment.

South River Miso is artisanal and fire-roasted. Their products are for sale at their website, which includes lots of miso information and recipes ranging literally from soup to nuts (and miso desserts, too).

Board Links: artisan tofu makers

Roast Beets Make Great Salads

Roasting beets concentrates their earthy sweetness, transforming them into intense mouthfuls of deliciousness that play well with lots of other tastes and textures. And all kinds of great salads are possible.

To roast beets, cut off any greens (good eating in their own right) and scrub bulbs clean. Wrap them tightly in foil (or put them in a covered roasting pan or casserole) and roast until tender when pierced with a knife (around an hour at 350F, depending on size). When cool, skins will peel off very easily (wear powder-free latex or vinyl gloves, or hold them with a paper towel, to avoid staining your hands).

A range of fruits and vegetables complement roast beets in various ways. Some match their soft texture and/or sweetness (avocado, oranges, mangoes) and others lend textural contrast (endive, raw fennel). Other popular additions to beets salads are nuts and soft, salty cheeses (goat, blue, feta). Most suggest using light dressings on beet salads; walnut and olive oils are good bases.

For something a bit different, mix beets with yogurt, a little garlic, and fresh dill (oaklandfoodie).

Board Links: Really good beets at home [topic digression moved from SF board]

Getting Creative With Kimchee

Chowhounds love to use kimchee to perk up all kinds of simple recipes.

Kimchee is delicious chopped into tuna for sandwiches.

theannerska serves it with seared tofu, just a little soy sauce, and scallions.

Kimchee’s great atop burgers, but bigjeff likes it even better mixed into the ground beef before he forms the patties.

It adds oomph to soup: try kimchee with broth and dumplings; or GretchenS’s combo of kimchee, shredded cabbage, scallions, and tofu in chicken broth, with some of the juice from the kimchee jar added in at the end.

Dommy makes kimchee pizza by mixing a little kimchee juice into her sauce and spreading on a prepared crust, adding fresh mozzarella, and baking. When it comes out of the oven, she puts kimchee on top. bigjeff adds kimchee to leftover pizza, and reheats in the oven.

Board Links: what can I do with my kimchee besides stand in front of the fridge and eat it

Punto Fijo: Peruvian Sleeper In Jackson Heights

Jackson Heights’ Punto Fijo deserves more attention than it gets for its homey, traditional Peruvian food, says kenito799. “It will fulfill all your Peruvian cravings,” he promises, especially if you’re hankering for carapulcra, a meaty stew made with dried potato. Also recommended: ceviche tiradito; anticuchos (grilled thin-sliced cow heart, excellent with green aji sauce); jalea (fried mixed seafood) or fried chunks of corvina; papas a la huancaina.

“I’ve been a few times and have not been disappointed,” reports sandrina, who singles out the fried calamari, served with cassava fries, a creamy green hot sauce and a pinkish sweet one.

Punto Fijo Restaurant [Jackson Heights]
89-12 Northern Blvd., between 89th and 90th Sts, Jackson Heights, Queens

Board Links: Punto Fijo Peruvian (moved from Manhattan Board)