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

Dona Maria: Mexican Bright Spot in Suffern, NY

Dona Maria, open since spring, brings something different–and welcome–to Suffern. It’s Mexican food, “but nothing like Rockland has ever seen,” reports Deven Black; “much, much better than the canned beans and reheated glop” slung by some local competitors. Expect bright, authentic flavors in inventive, slightly dressed-up dishes that really work–like seared salmon, seasoned with a dusting of chiles and herbs, or a Mexico-and-beyond cheese plate of anejo, cotija, and Manchego, among other choices. “Everything is cooked fresh,” Deven adds, “except the beans and sauces, which are made the way they should be…very slowly.”

Dona Maria Mexican Bistro [Rockland County]
41 Lafayette Ave., near Chestnut St., Suffern, NY

Board Links: Fiesta Garibaldi in Nyack gone

“Pizza” by Another Name: Lahmajoun

Lahmajoun is kind of like a Middle Eastern pizza, a crispy flat crust smeared with seasoned ground meat. They’re best, of course, straight out of the oven. Go to Sasoun Bakery, and you’ll likely see people waiting around for fresh, hot and delicious lahmajoun. Sasoun also has pretty good boreks, triangular savory pastries filled with cheese or spinach.

But Burger Boy swears that Partamian has the best lahmajoun in the city.

And Koko’s Bakery has great breads, lahmajoun and boreks, says Tom Swift.

Sasoun Bakery [East San Fernando Valley]
625 E Colorado Blvd., at Glendale Ave., Glendale

Sasoun Bakery [East Hollywood]
5114 Santa Monica Blvd., at Normandie, Los Angeles

Abraham Partamian Armenian Bakery [South LA]
5410 W Adams Blvd., at Burnside, Los Angeles

Koko’s Bakery [Pasadena-ish]
1674 E Washington Blvd., at Oxford, Pasadena

Board Links: Turkish Pizza??

Me, You, and BBQ

It’s not quite Kansas City style, but the BBQ spare ribs at Thai ‘N I are almost as tender and every bit as tasty as the best baby backs, says kdoc. These things are Flinstones-huge (about 9 inches), and have a distinctly different flavor from traditional American BBQ, but they’re outrageously tasty. The chicken is also top-notch. And you’d never get pad thai or mee krob at an American BBQ joint.

The green salad has a nice-and-tangy ginger vinaigrette, and their wonton soup is unusually garlicky and rich, with delicious chicken-stuffed wontons, says davinagr.

A rib-chicken combo is $10.

Thai ‘n I [West San Fernando Valley]
17544 Ventura Blvd., at Encino Ave., Encino

Board Links: Thai ‘N I BBQ review–Encino

Frascati – Neighborhood Action

In an area with lots of little neighborhood joints, Frascati is the choicest. First courses include perfect gazpacho, outstanding charcuterie, wonderful tuna tartar, and duck rillettes and salad with rabbit rillettes. Entrees include duck breast with hazelnut-sweet corn wild rice and morels; pork tenderloin with Italian sausage, and halibut with clams in broth. Every single dish is spot-on, reports rtmonty.

They’re famous for their black and white pudding; it’s one of the best bread puddings in town. Blueberry tarts are equally wonderful.

Frascati [Russian Hill]
1901 Hyde St., at Green, San Francisco

Board Links: Frastati Report

Bun Comin’ At Cha!

Vietnamese makes for good summer food. One favorite is bun cha. In the US, it’s cool, springy rice vermicelli, with grilled meat and herbs on top and veggies on the side. The traditional version you’ll find in Vietnam serves the charred meat on the side, in a bowl with warm, tangy broth.

You can get the standard US meat-on-top version at Loi’s. “I love Loi’s with a burning passion,” says pane. Their bun cha is excellent–the char on the meat is unbelievable, and the meat itself is quite fresh. If you get there early enough, you may see the owner walking through the restaurant with live chickens.

Hung Ky’s bun cha rocks, says chaddict. It’s the traditional Vietnamese style, with the meat in a separate bowl in lovely broth.

Bodega Bistro makes lovely bun cha with grilled pork and pork sausage pieces in the tangy broth, says david kaplan. Noodles, picked carrots & daikon, and a pile of herbs come on the side, along with lettuce leaves for wrapping. It’s delectable, agrees fino wino. The slightly fatty pork is so tender and the broth is so good, he’d sup it like soup.

Binh Minh Quan also serves the traditional bun cha. And Saigon has a decent version.

Loi’s Vietnamese Restaurant [Sunset]
2228 Irving St., San Francisco

Hung Ky Restaurant [Tenderloin]
337 Jones St., San Francisco

Bodega Bistro [Tenderloin]
607 Larkin St., San Francisco

Binh Minh Quan Restaurant [Chinatown]
338 12th St., Oakland

Saigon City Restaurant [Peninsula]
418 E 3rd Ave., San Mateo

Board Links: Authentic Bun Cha in bay area?

Scottish Oatcakes

Scottish oatcakes will surprise you, if you’re expecting them to taste like cookies. A real deal oatcake is 100% oats, with some sort of shortening, baking soda, salt, and water. That’s it. The result is a coarse, very dry, thin biscuit that’s strangely addictive.

Oat cakes are easy to find in the UK, where they’re eaten with butter, jelly, or as a vehicle for cheese, fish, or meat. Paul J has seen them at Cost Plus World Market (an Oakland, CA-based chain with stores all over the US). British import shops would likely carry them, as well.

Walker’s makes a variety of them, which you can buy online via web site.

Board Links: Scottish Oat Cakes

Tender Stir-Fried Beef

The two keys to making tender stir-fried beef are 1) how you slice the meat and 2) how you cook it. Hounds’ favorite cut for stir-frying is flank steak, but they also like top round and sirloin. Here’s how to slice and cook for tender results.

-Slice the meat against the grain in even, very thin slices. Partial freezing makes it easier to cut thin and evenly.

-Make sure the oil is very hot. Stir-fry for just a minute or two. Once the pink is almost gone, it’s done.

TorontoJo offers these tips for making a great beef-and-vegetable stir-fry: 1) marinate the beef for 15-20 minutes before cooking in some soy sauce and sherry (add a couple teaspoons of cornstarch if you’d like for thickening); 2) fry garlic/ginger for a few seconds before adding beef; when beef is done, remove to a bowl; 3) add more oil to pan if needed, then stir-fry vegetables until almost done. Return beef to pan, along with whatever sauce ingredients you are using, and cook for a just a few seconds more to marry everything together.

mhoffman add this tip for those with electric stoves or who otherwise need help getting pans really hot: preheat your pan in a 500 or 550 degree oven. Just make sure to use a pot holder!

Board Links: Best Beef for Stir-Fry ?

Sprouts in Garlic: To Remove or Not to Remove?

Traditional wisdom, along with most cookbooks, says to remove the little green sprouts that grow in older cloves of garlic, which are supposedly indigestible. Chowhounds say there’s no evidence of that, but the sprouts can be bitter, especially when raw. So their removal is entirely up to you–but removing is advisable if you’ll be using the garlic uncooked.

Board Links: The sprout in the garlic clove

Jack the Horse – Pub Fare with Breeding in Brooklyn Heights

A couple months out of the gate, Jack the Horse Tavern is earning a following in Brooklyn Heights with refined chow and a comfortable neighborhood vibe. Some, however, find it too expensive. “The food is good, nicely prepared and presented. The space is lovely, the atmosphere very much like a country inn or tavern. This is a nice place to spend an evening with friends,” sums up Fleur. “But the prices seem a little high for what it is.”

The brief menu offers salads and other starters plus grilled and roasted meats and seafood. Early winners include salmon medallions with orange reduction; chopped chicken liver with rhubarb compote on toasted baguette; kale, chorizo, and cranberry bean soup; and herbed fries with homemade-tasting ketchup and blue cheese sauce. Some stumbles: dried-out roast pork breast and chewy, under-salted hanger steak. The well-chosen wine list tops out at $45 a bottle. Draft beers are mostly from craft brewers, including Brooklyn Brewery and Six Point.

“Overall, very good,” reports queue, “a real restaurant along the lines of the others we frequent in the neighborhood”–including Noodle Pudding and Henry’s End, and roughly between the two in price. “We will probably return often.”

Jack the Horse Tavern [Brooklyn Heights]
66 Hicks St., at Cranberry, Brooklyn

Board Links: Jack the Horse Tavern in Brooklyn Heights

Around the World with New York Pork Chop Lovers

Esperanto, the pan-Latin place in the East Village, grills a nice pork chop and serves it with chayote and pineapple salsa. The setting is casual and fun, and often there’s live music, says Peter Cherches. Great caipirinhas and mojitos, too.

For another Latin take on the pork chop, there’s El Deportivo, a Puerto Rican joint in Hell’s Kitchen that fries up killer chuletas empanizada with crisp, garlicky breading, “so good I was gnawing the bones,” confesses Pupster. Also on the menu: grilled pork chops with gravy.

Good, hearty Southern-style smothered pork chops can be had at the Pink Tea Cup in the Village and Maroons in Chelsea, which serves them with white corn grits and sweet plantains–a nod to the Caribbean half of its menu.

In Chinatown, you’ll find excellent pork chops–surprise!–at the Excellent Pork Chop House, which serves them fried, over rice, or in soup with noodles. Good stuff and really cheap, says Greg.

Hounds also go for lemongrass-marinated grilled chops, Vietnamese style, at places like Saigon Grill. (By the way, Saigon Grill’s Upper East Side location has closed–purportedly for renovation–but there are signs that it’s gone for good now that its new Village location is open for business.)

In Brooklyn, Cobble Hill favorite Chestnut does a fabulous grilled pork chop, stuffed with fig and served atop white polenta, advises Pupster. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays you can order it as part of a $25 prix fixe three-course dinner, one of the better midweek bargains in town.

Esperanto [East Village]
145 Ave, C, at 9th St., Manhattan

El Deportivo [Clinton]
701 9th Ave., at W. 48th St., Manhattan

Pink Tea Cup [Greenwich Village]
42 Grove St., between Bleecker and Bedford, Manhattan

Maroons Restaurant [Chelsea]
244 W. 16th St., between 7th and 8th Aves., Manhattan

Excellent Pork Chop House [Chinatown]
3 Doyers St., between Pell and Bowery, Manhattan

Saigon Grill [Greenwich Village]
91 University Pl., between E. 11th and 12th Sts., Manhattan

Saigon Grill [Upper West Side]
620 Amsterdam Ave., at 90th St., Manhattan

Saigon Grill [Upper East Side]
1700 2nd Ave., at 88th St., Manhattan

Chestnut [Cobble Hill]
271 Smith St., near Degraw, Brooklyn

Board Links: Pork ChopsUES Saigon Grill Closed for “Renovations”?!