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

Salmon With a Dairy Chaser

At the new Cambrian Plaza Farmer’s Market (Wednesdays, 4-8 p.m.), one of the best booths is the one run by Red River Smoke House, which smokes a range of fish at their Half Moon Bay smokery. The little tub o’ magic here is their smoked salmon and cream cheese spread. It’s full of bits of smoky salmon that are actually visible to the naked eye. “The predominant flavor is that of fish with a cool dairy chaser,” says Ken Hoffman.

These guys are regulars at farmers’ markets throughout the Bay Area.

Cambrian Park Farmers’ Market [South Bay]
Camden and Union Aves., San Jose

Red River Smoke House [Peninsula]
205 Yale Ave., Half Moon Bay

Board Links: Red River Smokehouse—top flight Salmon spread

Go West for Dinner with a View

The latest designer steakhouse, or one of the latest (it’s hard to keep track), West has an impressive location atop Hotel Angeleno, by the 405. Yes, the view is basically of the freeway, but all those colored lights actually look pretty when you’re not stuck in traffic below. So try to get a window seat.

For a steak place, the most unanimous raves are for the pastas–porcini gnocchi and fresh ravioli stuffed with juicy, flavorful short rib meat.

A lot of the appetizers sound good-not-great, but white anchovies on crisp celery with blanched almonds stand out. Burrata with char-grilled peppers is lovely.

As for steaks, the verdict is mixed. tokyoastrogirl (who was invited for a free meal) says her 20-ounce, bone-in ribeye with chile rub was one fine piece of meat (roast chicken pales by comparison), but no hint of chile anywhere. MikeLewis75 had the porterhouse, and says the quality and seasonings are nice but medium-rare came a bit too charred. diningdivala found both the sage-rubbed veal chop and the steak pretty bland. In the end, non-steak dishes seem more appealing.

For dessert, the molten chocolate cake (surrounded by what seem to be pink peppercorns coated in chocolate) is a winner. Fondue, which takes 15 minutes, is okay, but peach tartlet with mint confounds almost all who encounter it.

The biggest props of all are for service–courteous, accomodating, quick to right any wrongs.

West Restaurant [Wealthy Westlands]
in Hotel Angeleno
170 N. Church La., Los Angeles

Board Links: WEST restaurant- review w/ photos

All Raw, All Vegan … and All Good

The big surprise of Cafe Gratitude is that an all-raw, all-vegan restaurant can impress the hell out of everybody, even the decidedly non-vegan Melanie Wong. All hounds are unanimous in their praise of Gratitude’s crackers. They’re delicious and crispy, especially the red crackers with flax seeds. The thick-cut, brown cracker out pumpernickels most pumpernickel breads. These crackers show up in a lot of dishes. The “I am happy” platter consists of hummus with crackers; the “I am present” platter is the cheese of the day (like, for instance, soft cashew cheese) with apples, olive tapenade, crackers, and toast. Agrees david kaplan, the crackers are absolutely terrific. His favorite dish for pure cracker enjoyment: bruschetta, where crackers are topped with tomatoes and other nibblies.

Their guacamole is luscious and beautiful; salsa is zingy and fresh. Another favorite: crimini mushrooms, stuffed with soy sauce-flavored nut paste. The dish with kimchee and vegetables over rice or quinoa is great, and displays their willingness to make things properly spicy.

Desserts are the biggest surprise of all; they’re unqualifiedly tasty. Lemon pie is satisfyingly tart; soft-serve ice “cream” is full of the natural sweetness of dates and a touch of vanilla. Best of all: a creamy key lime pie, vibrant with lime, over a fine date and nut crust.

Not so great: dull tapenade; bitter, stringy kale and seaweed salad; and underspiced, mushy falafel. And Caesar salad is a failure. You try making a Caesar salad without anchovies. Or cheese

And a final word of warning, from Melanie: be careful about some of their drinks, if you’re not used to a high-fiber diet. We don’t want anybody to get hurt out there.

Cafe Gratitude [Mission]
2400 Harrison St., near 20th St., San Francisco

Board Links: “I AM ABUNDANT” . . . Cafe Gratitude, San Francisco

The Great Books Program, Alcoholics’ Edition

Great books on cocktail making?

Gromit says he’s read every cocktail book of note, and his favorite by far is “Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century,” by Paul Harrington and Laura Moorhead. It doesn’t attempt to be a complete compendium of every possible concoction; there are, in fact, relatively few recipes. But it offers a deep understanding of what makes a good cocktail. In spite of its non-comprehensiveness, this is the best choice for a new mixologist to grok the true classics of cocktail.

“The Joy of Mixology,” by Gary Regan, is hardcore, and definitive, says JeremyEG.

“Esquire Drinks” is a thorough introduction to cocktails and how to make them. It’s got plenty of new cocktails, but manages to avoid the “juvenile abominations being passed off as adult beverages today,” sniffs warrenr.

“The Craft of the Cocktail,” by Dale DeGroff is a beautiful book, with nice pictures, cocktail history, and recipes for cocktails both classic and trendy.

“Cowboy Cocktails,” by Grady Spears, has interesting versions of standards, and cool garnishes and munchie recipes, too.

“The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks,” by David Embury, is one of the seminal texts on mixology, says Tom Swift.

Best Cocktail Book?

Some Great Sippin’ Vermouths

jacquelinec’s heart has been captured by Vya Vermouth, a half-sweet, half-dry vermouth. Serve it on the rocks, and sip it. Chris VR agrees, never having realized vermouth could be so good on its own.

warrenr insists that the best sweet vermouth on Earth is Carpano Antica Formula. It’s almost too good to mix. And darren72 recommends Carpano’s Punt e Mes, which is also excellent on the rocks.

Board Links: Great vermouth

Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes are the green shoots that grow from developing bulbs of certain strains of garlic. They usually curl at the top, and may have little white blossoms which sometimes contain what looks like a tiny garlic clove. Garlic growers have to lop them off to keep the bulb developing underground, so scapes are a fleeting seasonal crop most likely found at farmers’ markets.

Scapes are delectable, with a gentle flavor that’s much less pungent than mature garlic. They can be used to lend a garlic perfume (e.g., put a half a scape in a pot of cooking rice for a subtle garlic note), as an herb, or cooked and eaten like a vegetable.

Scapes are perfect pureed with butter to prepare herb butter for vegetables, fish, etc., or made into pesto with basil or another herb. Used as a vegetable, they work well paired with other green veggies (e.g., asparagus, peas) in frittatas or stir-fries.

Nyleve just lets scapes fly solo. Here’s how: cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces, toss in a large skillet with olive oil for a couple of minutes over high heat, add some chicken broth and salt, cover and let cook until tender over medium heat.

Board Links: Garlic Scapes

Spicy Mexican Pickled Veggies

Cynsa shares her recipe for Mexican restaurant-style spicy pickled carrots and jalapenos.

Hot Pickled Carrots and Jalapeno Peppers
8 large carrots
12 fresh green jalapeno peppers
1 medium onion

3 cups water
2 cups white vinegar
1 T salt
1 tsp dried oregano
2 dried bay leaves
24 whole black peppercorns

Scrub and peel carrots, slice on diagonal 1/4” thick. Wash jalapenos and slice 1/4” thick (remove stem, but leave seeds and white membrane). Cut onion in quarters, then cut slices 1/2” thick.

Bring brine ingredients to a gentle boil. Add carrots, resume boil; lower heat, simmer 10 minutes. Add onion slices and continue cooking for another 10 minutes on low heat, or until carrots are just fork tender (tender-crisp). Add jalapenos to pot; return to gentle boil, reduce heat and simmer for 3-5 minutes, just until chiles are no longer bright green (do not overcook, or chiles will be mushy).

Remove from heat; let sit covered for 5 minutes. When cooled, place in covered glass container. Refrigerate overnight before using. Will last a couple of weeks in refrigerator.

Board Links: Mexican pickled veggies?

In New York, Store-Bought Paratha That Cures All Ills

Here’s a cure for the jaded palate: surprisingly fresh-tasting handmade parathas, packaged by Corona’s Delicious Foods. For howler, who’d been feeling vaguely out of sorts, these stuffed Indian flatbreads were just what the doctor ordered. “I could walk. I could SEE,” he testifies. “Go now and get yourself some.”

Active ingredients–besides wheat flour, corn oil, and a good measure of spice–include aloo (potato), mooli (radish), or gobi (cauliflower), among others. Warm them on a skillet till slightly crisp, and eat them with yogurt, Indian pickle, dal, or kachumbar (a relish of tomato, onion, cilantro, chile, and lime juice). Or just by themselves.

howler’s restorative came from a Patel Brothers store in Floral Park. Delicious Foods’ paratha has also been sighted at the Subzi Mandi stores and, in Manhattan’s Curry Hill, at Little India Store.

Delicious Foods [Corona]
112-02 Roosevelt Ave., at 112th St., Corona, Queens

Patel Brothers [Citywide]
multiple locations

Subzi Mandi [Citywide]
multiple locations

Little India Store [Murray Hill]
128 E. 28th St., between Lexington and Park Aves., Manhattan

Board Links: parathas!

Sobakoh, Japanese Noodle Contender in the East Village

The newest name to come up in the “best soba in town” conversation is SobaKoh, whose organic buckwheat noodles have gradually won a chowhound following since its arrival last spring. Stroll by during the day and you can watch the noodles rolled and cut by hand through a street-side window at this serene East Village shop. They come out flavorful, nutty-tasting, and uncommonly delicate–wonderful hot, cold, or in other guises, like fried or in salads. “It deserves more business than it’s getting,” suggests Simon, who ranks its cold soba equal to or better than nearby Sobaya’s, and just a step below that at the much pricier Honmura An.

Daily specials are numerous and excellent. Recent choices include airy soft shell crab tempura, refreshing daikon salad with ginger and yuzu, and special soba offerings with eel-hijiki tofu cake or salmon roe and grated daikon. Hounds also appreciate SobaKoh’s artful presentation, caring service, and open, calming space. “This place is an oasis of calm in the East Village frenzy,” writes rose.

In Midtown, Soba Nippon comes recommended for first-rate authentic handmade soba. kvn also swears by its soba salad (with shredded chicken, beef, or tofu), not cheap, but immensely rewarding.

SobaKoh [East Village]
309 E. 5th St., between 2nd and 1st Aves., Manhattan

Sobaya [East Village]
229 E. 9th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves., Manhattan

Honmura An [Soho]
170 Mercer St., between Houston and Prince, Manhattan

Soba Nippon [Midtown]
19 W. 52nd St., between 5th and 6th Aves., Manhattan

Board Links: Japanese noodle bars
handcut soba noodles in EV?
Soba Koh —excellent meal

Best in Show: Delicatessens

The votes for best deli categories are in, and unscientifically compiled:

Best all-around deli: Brent’s. Possible exception: their chopped liver, which CynD says is awfully sweet. Then again, deadorinjail calls it fantastic.

Best pastrami: Langer’s. Get it with the delectably creamy and tangy Russian dressing.

Worst value: Jerry’s

Very good chicken/matzo ball soup, if not the best ever: Jerry’s (the crazy mishmosh soup has rice, kasha, kreplach, veggies, matzoh balls, and noodles, and plenty of chicken)

Best rye bread: Factor’s/Langer’s/Canter’s

Best chopped liver: Greenblatt’s, Canter’s

Best pickles: Nate ‘n’ Al’s, Canter’s

Best knishes: Schwartz’s bakery: Potato and kasha knishes; also terrific poppyseed cakes.

Brent’s Delicatessen [West San Fernando Valley]
19565 Parthenia St., between Corbin and Tampa, Northridge

Langer’s Delicatessen [Midtown]
704 S. Alvarado St., at 7th St., Los Angeles

Jerry’s Famous Deli [Westwood]
10923 Weyburn Ave., at Westwood, Los Angeles

Jerry’s Famous Deli [West Hollywood]
8701 Beverly Blvd., at Sherbourne, West Hollywood

Jerry’s Famous Deli [East San Fernando Valley]
12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City

Jerry’s Famous Deli [Beaches]
13181 Mindanao Way, Marina Del Rey

Jerry’s Famous Deli [West San Fernando Valley]
16650 Ventura Blvd., Encino

Jerry’s Famous Deli [West San Fernando Valley]
21857 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills

Jerry’s Famous Deli [South OC]
3210 Park Center Dr., Costa Mesa

Factor’s Famous Deli [Midtown]
9420 W. Pico Blvd., at Rexford, Los Angeles

Canter’s Fairfax Restaurant [Fairfax Village]
419 N. Fairfax Ave., at Beverly, Los Angeles

Greenblatt’s Delicatessen [West Hollywood]
8017 W. Sunset Blvd., at Laurel Canyon, West Hollywood

Nate-n-Al’s Deli & Restaurant [Beverly Hills]
414 N. Beverly Dr., at Brighton Way, Beverly Hills

Schwartz Bakery [Fairfax Village]
441 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles

Schwartz Bakery [Midtown]
8616 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

Schwartz Bakery [Midtown]
7113 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles

Board Links: The Best Deli in LA