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

Kitsho

There’s darn good sushi at Kitsho, says Porthos. It loses some points for rice quality and for the commercial wasabi-from-a-tube, but compensates with extremely fresh and delicious fish, and a nice selection of imported fishes.

Kinmedai (extremely rare in the Bay Area) is very fresh and rich, and your order arrives with two cuts (the one from the belly is particularly excellent). Shimaaji is amazing, even richer and silkier than the kinmedai. Aji is soft and oily, though not as fine as the shimaaji–excellent, as far as aji goes.

Toro is labelled “o-toro,” but is probably closer to chu-toro in quality–too much red meat, not enough fat.

Omakase here is mindblowing once the chef learns your taste, says KK. He’ll open your eyes and mouth to all sorts of new experiences. And there are always surprises–various preparations, and special fishes hidden away out of sight.

Howard, the chef, is well-known for his cooked dishes, too. He’s especially good at soy bean products. He makes tofu in-house; try the three bean appetizer–cold tofu with green, black, and soy beans. There’s great miso, with broth finer than any you can find at Bay Area ramen shops. And Howard’s natto is the best–try natto toro maki, or any other natto preparation you can think of. And he’s got the best selection of shiromi in the neighborhood. There’s smooth and sweet grouper; delicate, wonderful moi. Nowhere else can you get hirame no konbu jime (kelp miranted hirame).

Also great: maguro zuike, and tamgo yaki. Ask for a fresh batch of tamgo yaki to get the juiciest cut. Their tamgo yaki is the second best in town, right after Sawa Sushi’s. There’s a good selection of sake, too.

Not so good: anago and ankimono. If you want good ankimono, go to Ino Sushi.

The cost is around $5-$6 per order of nigiri. Cuts are quite generous–to the point where Porthos feels nigiri almost overbalances towards fish. Of course, this is not something most people will find problematic…

Kitsho [South Bay]
19541 Richwood Dr., Cupertino
408-873-1444
Map

Sawa Sushi [South Bay]
1042 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale
408-241-7292
Map

Ino Sushi [Japantown]
22 Peace Plaza #510, San Francisco
415-922-3121
Map

Board Links: Sushi Alert: Kitsho in Cupertino

Lively Greek Flavors, Far From Classic, at Parea

Greek newcomer Parea offers some appetizing-sounding entrees, but it may take you a while to get that far into the menu. Hounds are stuck on its inventive mezethes, like crispy pork with beets and pistachios, and goat dumplings with manouri cheese and mint. Also nice: pickled octopus with beans and tomato; sausage kalamaki with orange peel, yogurt, and chile (which “delivers a really gratifying smack of heat,” reports Deb Van D); and ceviche-like spinalos of tuna or yellowtail, with sprightly accents from olive, almond, fennel, and blood orange. “Very innovative, delicious, kind of sparkling food,” sums up djk.

The menu, developed by Cleveland chef Michael Symon, also includes a section of don’t-miss house-cured meats, highlighted by venison and lamb with notes of nutmeg, cinnamon, and saffron. Among the entrees, reports djk, are pan-roasted skate wing (with pickled cauliflower and blood orange) and halibut with fava beans and green peas in lemon broth, subtle and full of flavors of spring. Recommended desserts: blood orange tart with chocolate ice cream, and rhubarb-stuffed pastry with sesame ice cream.

The small plates are indeed small, advises Deb Van D, “but at $7 per you feel you can add in without toppling the budget.” The space is smart, airy and comfortable, she adds, and service is warm and helpful.

Parea [Flatiron]
36 E 20th St., near Park Ave. S., Manhattan
212-777-8448
Map

Board Links: Parea, anyone?
Parea, nice
Low Key Wine Bar / Small Plates
your first PAREA preview

Veggie Burgers without the “Faux”

There are veggie burgers that try to mimic meat, and there are ones that taste like exactly what they are: vegetables (and grain)! Here are some recommendations for finding the latter.

The entire Gardenburger line (there are many varieties) is 1. really tasty and 2. true to its vegetable roots.

Dr. Praeger’s Burgers, sold at Trader Joe’s, have a wide following.

Trader Joe’s Indian-seasoned Nirvana patties are very nice.

Morningstar Farms Garden Veggie Patties have a nice blend of veggies and a good mouth-feel.

Sunshine Burgers have a clean, unique taste, reports Val Ann C. Their main ingredients include ground sunflower seeds and brown rice.

Vegelicious Veggie Burgers are great, raves jilli42. Look for their “Santa Fe.”

Bobfrmia likes Veggie Patch Bistro Burgers, made from wild mushrooms and rice; they’re sold at Costco.

Also recommended: Annie’s California burgers.

Board Link: Un-meaty veggie burgers?

Canned Salmon

Canned pink salmon is often mushy, and the skin and bones put some people off. You can work around it by slipping the skin off the fish and picking out the bones (or just crush them right in, as they’re soft and a great source of calcium).

Another alternative is to pay more for skinless, boneless canned salmon. Some brands almost taste fresh. Here are some hound-approved brands of high-quality canned salmon:

Bumble Bee prime filet canned salmon, which tastes close to fresh (rworange).

Rubenstein’s red sockeye canned salmon works wonderfully in salads and sandwiches (Emilief).

Dave’s Gourmet is a canned wild salmon from California recommended by Nancy Berry. It can be found at some Whole Foods stores or ordered at: http://davesalbacore.com

Vital Choice is another good brand, says Faith Lubitz.

Board Link: Can we talk about canned salmon?

Tickled Pink at In-N-Out

It’s well known that burgers at the In-N-Out chain are cooked to order. What’s not so well known is that you can order them cooked as you’d like, and they’ll take—and execute reasonably well—orders for rare and medium rare burgers without flinching. Since patties are small, it’s best to order a double if you want a truly juicy sandwich, though.

Board Links: Ordering Your Burger Rare at In N Out

Summery Cocktails

One requires cooling cocktails to to take on summer’s heat. Here are a few delicious ideas.

For those seeking cocktails that are truly refreshing (rather than fruity/sweet), gin or vodka and and tonic are ideal; try adding a muddled sprig of mint for a summery twist, says Candy. Campari and soda with orange, and salty dogs (gin and grapefruit juice) are also great for those prefering a drier, tarter quaff.

Bellini-inspired cocktails are fun and beautiful. Make fresh fruit puree (or cheat by using frozen), and mix 2 parts puree to 1 part vodka. Chill. Put 1 to 2 oz puree mixture in a flute and top with prosecco, Champagne, or other sparkling white wine (Aaron).

If you’re a fan of slushy drinks, daiquiris are a great choice. Here’s dragonfly’s recipe for a luscious banana daiquiri: Fill your blender with ice, add a banana, half a small can of frozen pineapple juice concentrate, and half the same can’s worth of white rum. Blend everything up, and garnish as desired (e.g., with mint, fruit, slice of lime). Try adding some ginger!

For a great party drink, Ellen offers this recipe:
1 basket fresh raspberries
16 oz fresh grapefruit juice
16 oz vodka 4 oz raspberry liqueur (e.g., chambord) or cassis
1 750 ml bottle sparkling wine

Place raspberries in bottom of a very large pitcher or a punch bowl and muddle. Fill with ice and add grapefruit juice, vodka, and raspberry liqueur. Add sparkling wine, stir, and strain into martini glasses garnished with a fresh raspberry.

Board Links: Taking this out for a Spin -- Summer Cocktails

Summery Cocktails (Virgin Territory)

Fun, summery non-alcoholic drinks abound, so there’s no excuse for serving non-drinking guests sodas or Shirley Temples!

Juice Spritzers—juice plus sparkling water or soda—can be scrumptious. Try guava juice or Pom pomegranate juice (by far the best-tasting brand, say hounds) with ginger ale. AnneInMpls suggests a shot of cranberry juice, the juice of half a lime, and seltzer or club soda (if it’s too tart, add simple syrup to taste).

Watermelon juice is always a big hit, and is very easy to make, says curiousbaker. Just cut watermelon into big hunks, wrap in cheesecloth, and squeeze with your hands into a bowl or pitcher. (It’s easy to do and goes very quickly, she promises.) Let a vanilla bean sit in the juice for a few hours before serving, and serve it very, very cold.

Jamaica —the Mexican beverage made from dried hibiscus flowers—is lovely and very easy to make. Add 1 1/4 cups jamaica flowers (find them at Hispanic groceries) to a gallon plus 2 cups boiling water, and let them steep until the water is cool (or you can steep it overnight. The jamaica will turn a bright ruby color. Strain through cheesecloth or a fine sieve, and sweeten to taste (Sam D.).

Board Links: Summer non-alcohol cocktails

Mexican, All Dressed Up and Delicious

Crema does what one chowhound calls “highfalutin Mexican”—a red flag for many—but pulls it off with aplomb. “This place doesn’t seem to get much buzz here, and I’m not sure why,” says josephsm, who loves its grilled rib eye in pipian rojo (pumpkin seed-red chile mole) and perfectly spiced pork ribs broiled in sweet-sour salsa.

Other winners from chef Julieta Ballesteros (who first got hounds’ attention at Mexicana Mama in the Village): Chilean sea bass (broiled in achiote paste, served on plantain puree with pineapple escabeche) and tostados en callo de hacha (corn mini-tortillas topped with scallop, avocado, mango salsa, and chipotle aioli).

It’s not cheap—entrees run $17 to $26 at dinner—but portions are large. Margaritas come in novel passion fruit and tamarind varieties—tasty but pricey at $12. Service is friendly and professional, the room colorful and inviting.

Dissenters complain about the prices, and some think Ballesteros’ sweet-savory combinations err on the sweet side.

Crema [Chelsea]
formerly Sandia
111 W 17th St., between 6th and 7th aves, Manhattan
212-691-4477

Board Links: Crema (17th btwn 6 and 7Ave)
Crema

Nha Toi

Nha Toi translates as “Our House,” and it really does taste like it. This place makes simple, homey northern Vietnamese food. Nha Toi is like a dream, says Alice Pastis, or at least to a flashback to her childhood in Vietnam eating her mother’s traditional cooking–her mother’s old country cooking, that is, before they moved to the US and she started using American ingredients and time-saving shortcuts.

Look for the specials. Nha Toi offers shaking beef and green papaya salad, like any other decent Vietnamese restaurant, on their 180 item menu. But the specials menu includes a profusion of items completely unique to the Bay Area Viet dining scene.

Here are some notes to entice you: Raw fish salad is spectacular. It’s very fresh fish cooked in lime, like ceviche. The fish is not flaky, but more pleasantly chewy, like lobster. Add lots of finely chopped peanuts and herbs, and a blanket of crispy fried shallots. And some perfectly fried shrimp chips on the side.

Ca nuc kho mia, $9: Norwegian mackerel braised in sugarcane sauce. This is meltingly tender fish, rich in omega-3 fats. The slightly peppery sauce is shudderingly beautiful (and not very sweet). There are no pin bones in the fish, just a spine so soft it disintegrates in your mouth.

Canh mong toi/muop, $8: soup with Vietnamese spinach, squash, fresh shrimp, and charmingly misshapen mini-patties of crab. The broth is not much more than water with the flavor of veggies and seafood, but that simplicity is key to the pleasures of this dish.

Nem ran: spring rolls made with thin rice paper wrappers from Hanoi. These are northern-style spring rolls, using a different wrapper than the more common southern-style cha gio (also available here). These nem ran are filled with fresh crab, black mushroom, and some glass noodles. The filling has more oomph than your usual spring roll, and wrappers are fried to a crisp on the outside, but still a tender and chewy inside.

Mixed ong choy salad: This is a dish of the North Vietnamese poor–a jellyfish substitute, for those who can’t afford real jellyfish. It’s pork skin, with the fat removed, cooked gently to the texture of jellyfish. It looks like long shaved slices of onion, and is served with ong choy, halved shrimp, chopped mint, sesame sauce, and fish-sauce dressing. Very odd, but very tasty.

Exciting dishes yet untried include: raw beef salad with toasted rice and ginger, steamed young chicken with julienned lime leaves, and steamed pork with herbs and shrimp paste.

They serve various fruit shakes for $3, plus a number of che (sweet bean drinks). The tea here is nice, with a flowery, fragrant touch. Entertainment-wise, there’s a TV plus a tiny space for a little band.

Nha Toi Restaurants [South Bay]
formerly Thu DO Sandwiches
460 E William St., between 10th and 11th, San Jose
408-294-2733
Map

Board Links: Favorite Vietnamese
Nha Toi Report (long) – Northern Vietnamese in San Jose

The Brazilian Burger with More in it Than You Could Possibly Imagine

San Francisco Pizza serves an x-tudo (Brazilian burger) which is very good, and very, very, very large. The bun is five inches across. Inside is a half pound of hamburger. And thickly chopped pieces of bacon, hot dog, corn, peas, pineapple, two fried eggs, melted cheese, lettuce, onions, and tomato.

Oh, and shoestring potatoes.

And maybe a second hot dog. To be clear: these are not OPTIONS for what MIGHT come inside. This is what does come inside every order of X-tudo, The Stupendous Burger From Another Dimension.

Says rworange: you wouldn’t think the pineapple would work in this, but it adds it’s a nice sweet note. (Actually, Your Editor Thi isn’t really surprised by the pineapple. He was already bludgeoned past the possibility of surprise by the time we got to the peas.)

Every bite is a slightly different flavor combination. And, while it’s a fine sandwich as is, be sure to add some packets of mayo and catsup. With a full condiment load, it hits the next level. She says, “I’ve figured out how Brazilians always look so young and fit while eating this type of food. They must all die young. Eat delicious, die young. Sounds like a plan to me. Better than chugging Ensure later in life.”

Chowhounds compared this version to the version at East Bay Pizza thusly: the latter has more fries, and better presentation, but the former has the finer taste. And it’s bigger. Way bigger.

Be aware: this is a pizza joint run by Brazilians who used to run a more Brazilian-intensive restaurant. The menu you’ll get when you walk in the door looks mostly like a generic pizza chain menu…with some hints of Brazilian flavor (frango con catupiri pizza —with Brazilian soft cheese and hearts of palm; Portuguese pizza —with salami, linguica, green olives, onions, sliced hard-boiled eggs and virgin olive oil, etc.).

But if you want the x-tudo or the other pure Brazilian delights, you’ll have to beg for the Brazilian menu. There you’ll find such delights as roasted pork ribs, sauteed chicken in saffron sauce, and: X-tudo, The Stupendous Burger From the Twelfth Dimension.

San Francisco Pizza [East Bay]
1190 Macdonald Ave., Richmond
510-412-4400
Map

East Bay Pizza [East Bay]
12847 San Pablo Ave., Richmond
510-233-1920
Map

Board Links: Richmond – San Francisco Pizza (Porto Brazil)… X-tudo on steroids … with pineapple