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

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

Real-Deal Middle Eastern Food

George thought he knew muhammara, the Middle Eastern spread of red pepper, walnuts and pomegranate. Heck, back in NY he ate the stuff every week at a homestyle Lebanese restaurant. But the muhammara at LA’s Marouch, he says, is on another plane completely.

“Almost glowing purple red and laden with toasted pine nuts and slivered browned almonds, the walnut and pepper paste seemed to sing with spices just beyond my ability to name. It was so good, it was actually hard to eat a lot, almost overwhelming to the senses in a way, not just because it was rich or heavy.”

Oh yeah, makanek sausages with cinnamon and cloves are really good too. David Kahn says the rotisserie chicken at Marouch is second to none–cooked to order, flavorful and with perfectly crispy skin.

Nearby, at Sasoun Bakery, you can get the best, freshest lahmajoun (Middle Eastern baby pizzas topped with ground beef) for $9 a dozen, says Joe. Just heat them up on a griddle till toasty.

Usually, Sunnin gets nothing but love on the board–it’s often cited as having the best falafel around. But a couple of posters who grew up with Middle Eastern food say it just doesn’t measure up to the real thing. The mezze (starters) are better than the entrees, says ayana, but even for those you’re better off with Magic Carpet, Carnival or Carousel. For entrees, go to Wahib’s, Carnival or Carousel.

Marouch Lebanese Restaurant [East Hollywood]
4905 Santa Monica Blvd., at Edgemont, Los Angeles

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

Sunnin Lebanese Cafe [Wealthy Westlands]
1779 Westwood Blvd, at Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles

Sunnin Lebanese [South Bay]
5110 E. 2nd St., at Granada, Long Beach

Magic Carpet Restaurant [Midtown]
8566 W. Pico Blvd, at Corning, Los Angeles

Carnival Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
4356 Woodman Ave., at Ventura, Sherman Oaks

Carousel Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
304 N. Brand Blvd., at California, Glendale

Carousel Restaurant [East Hollywood]
5112 Hollywood Blvd. # 107, at Normandie, Los Angeles

Wahib’s Middle East Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
910 E. Main St., at Granada, Alhambra

Board Links: Sunnin: I don’t get it
Marouch Mouhamara

A Brief Guide to Rolling Street Vendors, and Their Associated Honks

Some of the best food in this town comes right to your door. Poke your head out when you hear the honk of a horn or a tinkling bell, and you might fine homemade tamales, Mexican popsicles, or any number of other oddball delights, sold from a hand-pushed rolling cart. The popsicle vendors typically sell popular brands of Mexican and American treats, but a lot of the other vendors are offering homemade tasties. The less official-looking the vehicle, the more likely the food tastes homemade. Best of all are shopping carts, likely selling what grandma and mom make in the kitchen at their house.

For some reason, people are scared to buy food from a little lady pushing an icebox around. Do not be scared. This is somebody’s home cooking. It does not get more personal than this. Do not think, “terrifyingly unofficial.” Think “beautifully homey and unadulterated.” And they are bringing it to your door!

Offerings vary depending on the season. Winter brings tamales. Right now, there’s corn on the cob. Vendors tend to circulate most in the evenings, and around schools at lunchtime. Check around parks in the afternoon.

rworange offers a guide to the rolling vendors of San Pablo and Richmond. You can try to catch these folks, or else just be inspired by her account to find your own picks.

CART #1: the best street vendor find for potato chips ($1.50) is a guy selling potato chips, corn on the cob, fruit, and raspados. He has a grocery shopping cart with one cooler filled with ice, another filled with fruit, and another with hot ears of corn. There are little bags of chips attached to the sides of the cart. He always announces himself with six brief horn blasts.

Chips are handmade and so thin they’re nearly transparent. The oil and the chip are one. Holding up one chip is like looking through spuddy stained glass. Order them with everything–salt, a dollop of hot sauce, and a squirt of lemon. Or order them plain, to appreciate the pure beauty. Many, many vendors seem to be selling these exact same chips, so there must be a single supplier. Vendors sell them in pint-sized food storage bags.

Also good from this same vendor: pale corn on the cob, $1.50, speared on a stick, brushed with margarine, rolled in powdered cotija cheese, and sprinkled with chili pepper. It’s very good. There’s also mango ($2.50)–a big bag of dead ripe sweet juicy mango, mixed up with chili powder, salt, and a squirt of lime. It’s delicious and smoky, and better than the mango from Fonda. Raspados ($1) are pre-crushed ice doused with bottled syrups in bright colors. The green syrup is as satisfying as a lime popsicle. These are not as good, though, as the raspados from the vendor on the corner of MacDonald and 22nd.

All of the above snacks–corn on the cob, mango with chili powder, and raspados–are very common among Mexican street vendors, and can be found from rolling vendors in any neighborhood with a decent-sized Mexican population.

CART #2: A nice, grandmotherly lady with a folding grocery cart, who uses a braying type of horn. She sells corn on the cob, chicharrones, and mangos. Her corn on the cob is larger, but not as sweet as those from Cart #1. Her chicharrones de harina are awesome–big, crunchy sheets of faux-pork skin, made from flour.

CART #3: The ice cream guys. No matter what they sell, they all have the same silvery bells. Although they all have La Michoacana stamped on their carts, they sell very different varieties of ice cream and paletas (Mexican popsicles). There are lots of paleta brands, though, like American popsicles, they almost all taste the same. Average price for a paleta is $1.25.

karoline sends us to 23rd and Mission, where there’s a little cart that’s sometimes by the Walgreens and sometimes by Factory 2 U. Sometimes it’s next to La Copa Loca. They sell corn on the cob with fixings. Their specialty: chili mayonnaise.

There are many stationary fruit and Mexican corn vendors in Oakland along International, mostly between Fruitvale and 39th. Please note: for almost all these vendors, the only thing visible is the fruit. You have to ask for corn–“elote”–and they’ll produce it from a cooler hidden underneath the fruit. “It’s the street vendor ‘secret menu’: hidden corn,” notes Ruth Lafler.

Raspado Cart [East Bay]
2131 MacDonald Ave., outside La Raza Market, Richmond

Corn on the Cob Cart [Mission]
23rd St., and Mission, San Francisco

Many Vendors [Fruitvale]
International Blvd., mostly between Fruitvale Ave. and 39th St., Oakland

Board Links: The bells of San Pablo – Street Eats a la cart

Golden Era Vegetarian 2 Better Than the Original

Golden Era 2 is now open, and it’s significantly better than the original Tenderloin branch of Golden Era. This is, for those not in the know, a vegetarian Vietnamese place featuring all sorts of fake meats made from soy and suchlike. alohatiki doesn’t think well of the original Golden Era; she vastly prefers their sister restaurant, Golden Lotus. But, much to her surprise, she found Golden Era 2 utterly pleasing. Both veggie chow fun and bun hao noodle soup are excellent.

Golden Era 2 [Richmond]
832 Clement St., between 8th and 9th Aves., San Francisco

Golden Era [Tenderloin]
572 O’Farrell St., San Francisco

Golden Lotus Vegetarian Rest [East Bay]
1301 Franklin St., Oakland

Board Links: Golden Era 2 Vegetarian Sighting —Clement Street