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

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?

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!

Real Shwarma?

rabaja likes Meditterranean [sic] Spirit, across from Long Life Books, where the chef/owner is very nice, and adds little innovative twists like fresh red cabbage salad mixed into the shwarma sandwich. Shwarma plate is quite good, as well. Maybe not as good as the long-loved and long-lost North Beach branch of Truly Mediterranean, but good.

In the North Bay, Aram’s Cafe has great all-lamb shwarma, available Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday as a special. Don’t forget to ask them to put in some of their red pepper sauce (sometimes they forget).

Melanie Wong recommends Small World’s shwarma. It’s made with beef tri-tip, and roasted in the oven rather than on a spit, but you can’t argue with the flavors. She especially loves their spiced onions.

Yummas offers a good lamb/beef shwarma in a lavash wrap.

Taboun has great chicken shwarma and lamb shwarma; it’s great with extra hot sauce. Their falafel deluxe is also fine. Call 5-10 minutes ahead to cut your take-out wait.

Many dislike Ali Baba on Valencia, but Kmanlove says shwarma at Ali Baba on Linden makes the best he’s had in San Francisco.

Goood Frikin’ Chicken [Mission]
10 29th St., San Francisco

Meditterranean Spirit [Polk Gulch]
1303 Polk St., San Francisco

Aram’s Cafe [Sonoma County]
131 Kentucky St., Petaluma

Small World Restaurant [Napa County]
932 Coombs St., Napa

Yummas [Sunset]
721 Irving St., San Francisco

Taboun [Cole Valley]
201 Parnassus St., San Francisco

Ali Baba [Peninsula]
127 S. Linden Ave., South San Francisco

Board Links: New suggestions for shawerma in San Francisco?

The Real 50’s Diner

Westlake Coffee Shop is a classic 50’s diner, with counter, booths, and middle-aged waitresses in uniforms. While the whole thing is neat and clean and all that, it retains the distinct flavor of genuine 50’s atmosphere–as opposed to retro faux joints, like Johnny Rockets. And the food is slightly greasy, in a good way, says larochelle.

$10 (including tip) will get you eggs with corned beef hash, hash browns, sourdough toast, and coffee. Eggs are perfectly done, made with individual egg pans so you get that nice medium-done yolk with no burning on the white. Hash browns are nicely crispy, and corned beef hash is of the beef-paste-mixed-with-potato-chunks variety. It’s in the spirit of canned corned beef hash, yet doesn’t taste canned.

Westlake Coffee Shop [Peninsula]
52 Park Plaza Dr., Daly City

Board Links: The Diner that time Forgot – Westlake Coffee Shop Daly City, CA – delightfully greasy

Fabulous Filipino Breakfast

There is stunning, addictive, soul-satisfying Filipino breakfast to be had at Eva’s Meal Stop and Mini Mart, says rworange.

First of all, this is a JOINT. Expect a chow-adventure, not linens and table service. Ambiance is basically that of a, well, Filipino 7-11, with styrofoam take-out trays. There are a few tables, but mostly this is a take-out joint.

$2.95 gets you their standard breakfast, including tasty garlic rice, tomatoes, an egg, and your choice of breakfast meats. Both meats are stunning. One choice is longsilog–two truly excellent course-ground garlic sausages, plump and beautiful. The other is tosilog–sweetened, cured pork slices (think thick-sliced glazed bacon, without the fat). There are also fresh lumpia, the only lumpia rworange has ever liked. It’s basically a massive Filipino egg roll, chock full of cubed chicken, garlic, diced peanuts, and lots of fresh veggies, including green beans, lettuce, garbanzos, carrots, and even some sweet crunchy jicama. Their lumpia are carefully wrapped in white paper to keep the wrapper from drying out. The breakfast is completely and utterly absorbing.

For $3.95, you score the deluxe breakfast, with your choice of fish in place of breakfast meat. They also do a 14-item steam tray for lunch. Lunch prices are the same–$2.95 for a standard lunch, and $3.95 for a deluxe lunch.

Eva is super-helpful to non-Filipinos. She’ll explain what everything is, and how you’re supposed to eat it.

Mon-Fri: 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
Sat-Sun: 8 a.m.-7 p.m.

Eva’s Meal Stop and Mini Mart [East Bay]
2511 San Pablo Ave., Pinole

Board Links: Pinole–Wonderful Eva’s $2.95 Filipino Breakfast

An Oasis of Spice in Orange County

Tropika seems like a mirage in the middle of Orange County: white linen, full bar, and authentically spicy Malaysian food. And did we mention that it’s in Orange County? elmomonster checked it out and confirmed its culinary cred.

Start with roti prata (also known as roti canai), a classic snack with Indian roots. “Similar to naan, but stretched impossibly thin, the texture of roti is flour tortilla meets phyllo dough–crisp and crackly at its periphery, paper-thin and chewy throughout.” Dip it in the aromatic red curry with chicken and potato.

Tropika does a spot-on version of nasi lemak, rice cooked with coconut milk, so richly flavored you could eat it alone. But you don’t have to, since it comes with chunks of deep-fried chicken steeped in spicy red curry, fried anchovies with peanuts in sambal (chile paste), and hard-boiled egg and cucumbers to balance out the heat.

Rendang beef, a dish beloved in Indonesia as well as Malaysia, is braised in coconut milk with ginger, garlic, coriander and lemongrass. Tropika’s rendang is properly falling-apart tender, the sauce reduced to a sticky brown paste. The spices are as sharp as a hot blade, sharper than even the mellower Indonesian style.

Seafood hor fun is more subtle and nuanced, flat rice noodles stir-fried and sluiced with a velvety gravy, with shrimp, squid, scallops and baby bok choy mixed in.

At lunch, soup (a tangy broth stocked with vegetables) and salad come with all dishes. For less adventurous dining companions, there’s also pad Thai (the restaurant bills itself as Malaysian and Thai cuisine), and it’s pretty tasty.

Roti prata is $3.25, nasi lemak is $8, beef rendang is $13, and hor fun is $9.

Tropika [South OC]
17460 E. 17th St., Yorba/Enderle, Tustin


Board Links: Tropika in Tustin–New Malaysian Restaurant for O.C.–Review with PHOTOS

Sweet Tea

Sweet tea is a southern staple, and there’s a good reason it’s called sweet tea, not iced tea. It’s real sweet; not just sweet, but sweeeet. It’s not all about sugar, though. Proper preparation and the right kind of tea are even more important, say chowhounds.

While the best hot brewed tea is made with loose leaves, southern sweet tea always begins with tea bags. Any good black tea will do, but there are specific brands hounds recommend. Luzianne tea, a New Orleans product, is blended especially for making iced tea, and will stay clear, says Candy, who warns that Assam teas make for cloudy iced tea. The ultimate tea for iced tea is from Charleston Tea Plantation (available as <a href=”
”>American Classic Tea from Bigelow). This, says Danna, is the only tea grown in the United States. “It smells sooooo good!”

Here’s how to make sweet tea:

Boil 4 cups of water with 1 cup of sugar. Add 10 regular-size tea bags, remove from heat and cover. Let sit until cool, then pluck out the the bags (don’t squeeze them, or you’ll make the tea cloudy). Pour into a gallon-size pitcher and fill with water or refrigerate the concentrate to make one glass at a time. It will only keep for a couple of days (LisaAZ).

Interesting tip: oc climber adds a pinch of baking soda to the boiling water to smooth out the tannins.

Becca Porter offers an alternate method: Put 4 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Add three tea bags, and turn the heat to medium. When bubbles form on the edge, pour the solution into a pitcher, and discard the tea bags. Stir in 1/2 to 3/4 cups sugar. Add two quarts cold water, and stir. Serve over ice. Becca prefers Lipton tea bags.

Board Links: sweet tea

The Many Lives of a Vanilla Bean

Vanilla beans are expensive, but you can reuse a single pod and still extract lots of flavor. Here’s the proper sequence to make the most of the declining results:

First use:
Scrape out the beans for a potent wallop of vanilla.

Second use:
Steep the seedless pod in a liquid (e.g., milk for ice cream for custard, juice or wine for poaching fruit). Then rinse thoroughly and let dry on a countertop.

Third use:
“Store” the pod for a while to produce a subtle hint of vanilla: in your sugar jar to make vanilla sugar (perfect for baking or sprinkling); in a bottle of maple syrup; in your vanilla extract (to pump up its flavor); or in a mason jar of bourbon, brandy, or rum (the more pods the better) to create your own homemade vanilla “extract.”

Board Links: Use or toss this used vanilla bean?