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

Cold Eggplant Serendipity

A simple saute of eggplant with sweet onion and cumin seeds tastes absolutely spectacular cold the next day, reports Aromatherapy.

Heat oil until fairly hot, add cumin seeds and cook until they pop. Then add chopped sweet yellow onion and chopped eggplant, and saute until tender. Chill, and dress with with a good squirt of fresh lemon juice. Warning: your eggplant may turn an odd blue-green-gray color upon chilling, but it tastes great regardless.

Board Links: Cold eggplant serendipity

Fresh Lychees

Fresh lychees are great eaten out of hand, but here are some other things to do with them.

Pop whole unpeeled lychees into zipper-top freezer bags and freeze them. They stay fresh tasting and juicy for months, and each piece, when peeled, is like a burst of lychee sorbet, says Fleur.

Pitted fresh lychees are excellent added to a cold custard (fya-dub).

A recipe for lychee granita (courtesty of bolletje):

About 1 lb. lychees, shelled and seeded
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
juice of one lemon

Boil water and sugar for 2 minutes to make simple syrup. Blend syrup, lychees and lemon juice in a blender, then strain through a mesh seive and let mixture cool in the fridge. Put it in a shallow pan in the freezer, stirring with a fork to break up ice crystals every 20 minutes or so (more frequently as it freezes more), until it reaches the texture of coarse shaved ice. Champagne and elderflower syrup make good additions.

Board Links: Lychees

Talking Pizza from Ronkonkoma to Riverhead

For hounds who hang around Ronkonkoma’s LIRR station, Scibelli’s is a go-to pizza destination. The near-perfect balance of sauce, cheese, and crust puts its regular slice ahead of the pack in that part of Long Island, says AmityGuy1. Also good: grandma slices and moist, dense garlic knots.

Other local contenders include Aegean Pizza in Holbrook, Gino’s in Patchogue, and La Margherita in Medford.

Out in Riverhead, coll sounds an uphill alert at Carlo’s Pizza Oven, which wasn’t bad to begin with but now, under new ownership, has refined its once-thickish crust to perfect Brooklyn-style thinness.

Scibelli’s Pizza [Suffolk County]
90 Railroad Ave., near Ronkonkoma LIRR station, Ronkonkoma, NY

Aegean Pizza [Suffolk County]
5801 Sunrise Hwy., in Sun Vet Mall, Holbrook, NY

Gino’s Pizzeria [Suffolk County]
22 W Main St., between Ocean and Railroad Aves., Patchogue, NY

La Margherita Pizzeria [Suffolk County]
1229 Station Rd., near Horse Block Rd., Medford, NY

Carlo’s Pizza Oven [Suffolk County]
435 Osborne Ave., between Lincoln and Pulaski Sts., Riverhead, NY

Board Links: Great pizza at Scibelli’s at LIRR Ronkonkoma Station.

East Side Italian, Old and New: La Cantina Toscana and Antonucci

La Cantina Toscana, which has been around for some time without attracting much attention from hounds, cooks true Tuscan chow, reports Peter Cherches. “I’ve been surprised it is so under the radar,” he adds. Yet other low-flying hounds have sussed out its typically Tuscan game menu, which features hearty pasta with cinghiale (wild boar) ragu. Boar also turns up in a sausage appetizer with cannellini and long-marinated in a sturdy stew served with chard and polenta. Other first-rate pastas include gnudi with spinach and ricotta in sage butter.

“I liked its good Italian feel–meaning fresh simple ingredients, a menu set up as Italian, not American, and actual Italians cooking and running the place,” writes eduardo. Adds Captain, “It is not a restaurant at which one gets the feeling the owners are seeking to make a killing. Rather, it feels like this is what they want to do, and are trying to make a living at it. Also, it is quite common to hear more of the diners speaking Italian than English.”

A mile or so uptown, there’s promising early word of satisfying, minimalist Italian dishes at Antonucci, a six-month-old trattoria from the former owner of Midtown Venetian restaurant Remi. jordana reports fresh, flavorful gnocchi with peas and pasta with mushrooms, as well as superior focaccia, not overpowered by herbs. The short menu also includes salt-baked branzino, braised lamb shank, beef short ribs, seafood risotto, and small plates including octopus with beans and bottarga, and roasted vegetables with bagna cauda.

La Cantina Toscana [Upper East Side]
1109 1st Ave., between E. 60th and 61st Sts., Manhattan

Antonucci [Upper East Side]
formerly Pearson’s Texas Barbecue
170 E. 81st St., near 3rd Ave., Manhattan

Board Links: great Italian on the UES
Out of Towners who used to live in Italy want some good Italian food. Suggestions?
Great Italian Uppereast

Move Over, Here Comes Big Papi

When Big Papi’s opened over July 4th weekend, without so much as a sign out front (a giant neon wurst still sits on the roof, a vestige of the previous tenant, the late lamented Atlas Sausage) it did a booming business simply on the strength of the aroma of smoke and meat from the barbecue pit outside, which perfumes the neighborhood for blocks.

The BBQ is the real deal, and the meats were excellent even dry. Says GVDub: “Their rub was superb–a hint of sweet, a hint of spice, a hint of salt, all nicely balanced by the kind of smoky flavor that only comes from the proper ‘low and slow’ cooking over a well-banked fire. The pork ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender and the beef ribs were appropriately chewy, but not overly so. The chicken was beautifully permeated with smoke, tender, and still juicy.”

The sauces were really good too, more vinegar-based than sweet (Memphis rather than Kansas City), setting off the meat’s natural sweetness nicely. The hot sauce doesn’t blast its way through your mouth, but lets its heat sneak up on you.

pizzafreak raves about the chopped pork sandwich, but wasn’t quite so keen on the mild sauce that comes on top. “The pork was out of this world, wonderfully charred on the edges, the meat just a bit pink, fabulous aroma, wonderful taste.”

Sides keep up the high standard–mustardy, herb-flecked potato salad; creamy, rich coleslaw; slightly smoky, not-too-sweet beans; and perfectly done greens.

It’s a classic family-run joint, and there’s pretty much always family hanging out there. Since the only furnishings are four picnic tables, eating in is naturally family-style.

OK, not everything is perfect at this joint–the beverage assortment is limited to Pepsi products and Mexican sodas. Still, the menu seems to be a work in progress–cornbread is coming, and the owner says he’s working on getting a larger pit. Dare we dream of whole barbecued pigs??!!

Plates come with choice of two sides. Small is $5-6 depending on the meat; large $8-9. “The Hookup” combo platter is $12, and you can also get meats by the pound.

Big Papi’s Rib Shack [East San Fernando Valley]
10626 Burbank Blvd., at Willow Crest, North Hollywood

Board Links: New Q in North Hollywood
Big Papi’s further review

A Nice ‘L’ at BLD

Well, BLD (from the owners of Grace) just opened, and Chowpatty was one of the first hounds to try it and report back on the L.

“Menu was a little less imaginative than I had hoped, but as you might expect from Grace, ingredients and preparation were first-rate all the way. My main quibble was the prices–I guess this isn’t the ‘90s anymore!”

Hemp seed-crusted tofu salad with Asian greens and grilled shishito peppers ($12) is light and flavorful with a soy dressing. The hemp seeds give a nice crunch. The menu could use some more salads–does anyone really want bean and bacon soup right now? Turkey burger with Gruyere ($12) weighs in hefty and looks mighty good.

Dinner is the same as lunch, plus grilled half chicken, hanger steak, or grilled salmon with two sides each.

Several of the sandwiches–Wagyu burger, short rib sandwich, and pork sandwich–are over $15.

The former Opaline, thrn former Cafe Capo space has been nicely updated–again–and now has an airy, open layout, with the former bar area serving as the entrance.

BLD Restaurant [Midtown]
formerly Cafe Capo/Opaline
7450 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles

Board Links: BLD for lunch review

Palo Alto Sol: Guajillo of Godliness

Cecelia has been going to Palo Alto Sol for ten years. She likes the mole fine, but the thing that really floats her boat is their pure pollo al guajillo. The chicken itself is variable in quality, but the sauce is always fabulous–mellow, complex, and deeply chile, without being spicy. That guajillo always satisfies, in all the dishes that use it.

The salsas are showstoppers, too–a fresh, chunky tomatillo, and a smoky salsa of roasted peppers.

Palo Alto Sol Restaurant [Peninsula]
408 S California Ave., Palo Alto

Board Links: Palo Del Sol (Palo Alto, CA) —wonderful mole and guajillo sauces

New Quality Sushi Presence

Hime is it, says chaddict. If he didn’t live so far away, he’d be there constantly.

Hamachi sashimi with jalapeno and soy-garlic sauce ($11.20) is one of the best dishes. It’s got just the right amount of jalapeno and very light saucing. You have to get this one.

Kobe beef lettuce cups ($9.50) are not super Japanese, but taste seriously good nonetheless, filled with a warm, savory beef mixture. A dish called “Japanese Garden” ($12) is a terrific example of kaiseki cuisine: eight cold vegetable preparations, all distinct. The textures of the vegetables are sublime; even the yam tastes different, with an utterly unique texture. This is a huge dish–split it, or it’ll be most of your dinner (by no means a bad prospect).

Sashimi moriawase ($19.50) is quite a lot of stuff–fish, scallop, amaebi, and tempura prawn heads–served in a lit bowl filled with ice. Baked black cod with saikyomiso ($18.50) is cooked to absolute perfection–silky delicate, yet boldly flavored. It’s even better than the black cod at Ame.

Forty bucks a person before tip will get you enough food for a lunch’s worth of leftovers.

The place has a great vibe, and exceedingly friendly staff.

Hours: from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
5:30 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays.
Closed Mondays.

Hime [Marina]
Formerly Market Place Cafe
2353 Lombard St., San Francisco

Board Links: Hime’s menu

Bad Food, Great Review

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