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

Around India, Around The Bay

Had enough CTA (chicken tikka masala)? Bored with dosas? Done with the Pakwan/Shalimar/Naan’n’Curry standards? Then it’s time to branch out and try other Indian regional offerings!

Fijian-Indian: To some, Fijian-Indian can be full of bones with little meat and thin gravies, and few of flavors we’d expect from Indian cuisine, says Sixy. But Curry Corner could change your mind. It’s the first Indian food rworange really liked: strong flavors, freshly ground spices, and critters still in the shell or on the bone, just as God or the evolutionary impulse intended.

Desi-Chinese: Masala Grill has a good selection of Indian (a.k.a. “Desi) -Chinese food. They’ve received mixed reviews in the past, but from the high quality of non-Desi dishes she’s recently had there, Caitlin McGrath thinks it could be a good bet for Desi-Chinese items, as well.

Gujarati: Gujarati food is known for fried snacks called farsans, and chutneys that are both sweet and salty. Sultan will prepare a Gujarati meal if pre-ordered; their Gujarati dishes are not on the regular menu. Shayona and Krishna also have Gujarati food, but more snacks than full meals; Krishna also has a thali at lunch that’s very good and inexpensive.

Andhra: For red-hot Andhra thalis, try Tirupathi Bhimas. Quality, variety are both terrific, and they do beautiful, brilliantly fresh vegetarian curries, raves Melanie Wong.

Curry Corner Takeaway [East Bay]
26657 Mission Blvd., Hayward

Sultan [Tenderloin]
339 Taylor St., San Francisco

Masala Grill [East Bay]
39158 Paseo Padre Pkwy, in Gateway Plaza shopping Center, Fremont

Shayona Snacks and Catering [South Bay]
in Bochasanwasi Swaminarayan Hindu Temple
25 Corning Ave., Milpitas

Krishna Restaurant [East Bay]
40645 Fremont Blvd #1, Fremont

Tirupathi Bhimas [South Bay]
1208 S Abel St., Milpitas

Board Links:
Curry Corner Revisited – Mom’s cooking & Tales of Indo-Fijian Food

Bob’s Red Mill

Bob’s Red Mill carries all kinds of high-quality provisions: flours (some gluten-free), grains, beans, seeds, oats, nuts, and other baking needs. Lots of raves from the hounds for these guys.

Their hot cereal mixes can be used in in breadmaking, and taste perfectly good microwaved with just added water. Bob’s steel cut oats are terrific and cheaper than McCanns. Their coarse-ground cornmeal makes a fine pot of grits or polenta.

It’s best to buy these sorts of products from stores with good turnover, or else order online.

Board Links: Bob’s Red Mill: any good??

Wild and Farmed Salmon

There’s no question that wild salmon tastes better and contains fewer contaminants (industrial chemicals) than farmed. “Consumer Reports” magazine recently produced an article revealing that it’s difficult to know which you’re buying, regardless of labeling. And you can’t tell by the color, because the farmed fish are fed food that gives them a “real” salmon color.

Mislabeling is said to be most common during the off season for wild fish. So buy wild salmon during the season (May through September), when their labeling is most likely to be accurate.

Board Links: Consumer Reports on wild salmon [Moved from Home Cooking]

No-Cook Pasta Sauce

Summer is the time for hot pasta with an uncooked, room-temperature sauce made from excellent tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil. It’s not the sort of thing you need a formal recipe for; ingredients and ratios depend on personal taste. Here are some pointers.

The basic drill is: chop tomatoes, mix with olive oil, chopped fresh basil, mint, or parsley, season with salt and pepper and a bit of chopped garlic (or a bruised garlic clove or two–remove before serving). Let sit at room temperature for a half hour or so to let flavors meld. Cook pasta in well-salted water, drain (do not rinse!), combine with sauce, and toss well. Add cheese (most common: Parmesan or Pecorino Romano). Toss again, and check seasoning. It’s best served on warm (not hot) plates.

Other ingredients chowhounds like to add for variation: kalamata olives, capers, arugula, scallions, fresh fennel, toasted pine nuts, fresh mozzarella, brie, goat or feta cheese. Softer cheeses melt into the hot pasta, making for a luxurious texture.

Board Links: HOT PASTA with COLD SAUCE

Cooking Less Bilious Beans

Here are some tricks for cooking beans that hounds say will minimize unpleasant intestinal effects.

Put beans in rapidly boiling water and let them boil for two minutes; take off heat and let them sit for an hour. Discard the water and continue cooking with fresh water (rworange).

Add a tablespoon of baking powder to your pot of beans and water; bring to a boil; rinse, cover with fresh water and simmer (*Candy).

Add a strip of kombu (a thick seaweed sold at Japanese markets) to the cooking liquid (it leaves no discernible flavor).

Add a tiny pinch of the Indian spice asafoetida (“heeng” in Hindi), a pungent tree resin in powdered form (careful–a little goes a long way!). It aids in digestion.

Board Links: How to “de-gas” beans?

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

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