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

This Ain’t No Moonshine

It might sound like a cop out to sell un-aged whiskey for an aged whiskey price, but micro distilleries like Death's Door Spirits in Wisconsin and Tuthilltown Spirits in New York aren't just bottling their whiskey before they age it to make a quick buck. They're making it taste good and stand on its own. And it's paying off, with white whiskey cocktails showing up at places like Nopa in San Francisco, where it's used in a variation on the Manhattan and Rye House in New York City, where it's infused with apples.


Rare Discoveries from Gujarat at Bhojan

Bhojan is doing a few things most of New York's Indian restaurants do not, and its dhokla, the steamed lentil cake from Gujarat, is as good an example as any. bigjeff finds it the freshest he's had, perfectly cooked and served with two sauces and a crunchy raw mung-bean salad.

Opened around a month ago, Bhojan is part of a mini-empire that includes Dhaba and Chola, among other northern-leaning Indian places. Here the focus is slightly different. Besides highlighting the underrepresented cuisine of Gujarat, this all-vegetarian restaurant makes its own sweets and also offers a lineup of chaat and other small plates (including chili cheese toast reminiscent of the hound-approved snack at Mumbai Xpress in deepest Queens).

A good one-stop introduction to the menu is a $16 thali combination meal: Gujarati, Punjabi, or "ashram"-style, a Buddhist-friendly variation that omits onion and garlic. jeff describes a generous and diverse feast that "kicks the ass of any thali I have ever had." The ashram version included, among other things, an amazingly smooth and tasty achar (pickle), an eggplant-potato dish "cooked so perfectly I can't even understand," and four or five starches (rice, breads, dhokla). Lau pronounces the Gujarati thali "awesome," with too many dishes to list; "everything was fresh, light and good," he adds—"felt good after eating here." There's also an $8 lunch thali, which ChiefHDB considers a good deal but sugartoof found a tad meager.

The vibe is energetic and the décor modern and bright, including photo-friendly spot lighting over the tables, so "get your gorillapods out," bigjeff advises.

Bhojan [Murray Hill]
135 Lexington Avenue (between E. 27th and 28th streets), Manhattan

Discuss: Please Update Me on Curry Hill South Indian Options
Seeking superb 'food oasis' for my wife's 40th birthday – – > details enclosed

In Queens, Peruvian Beyond Chicken

Most New Yorkers seem to expect Peruvian restaurants to offer roast chicken, and Cuzco Peru in Queens doesn't leave them hungry. But for some its pollo a la brasa comes up short next to rivals like the popular Pio Pio chainlet.

corgi, who finds its chicken tender and tasty, if not as highly seasoned as the competition, suggests that we think beyond the bird. He says the ceviche, aguadito de pollo (chicken soup), parihuela (seafood soup), and leche de tigre, a soupy ceviche variant with shrimp, fish, and squid, are all tasty and reasonably priced. "Someone here CAN COOK," he declares.

Cuzco Peru [Rego Park]
98-102 Queens Boulevard (near 67th Drive), Rego Park, Queens

Discuss: Cuzco Peru in Rego Park, Anticuchos? Leche de Tigre? This is not just another Brasa joint.
Read: Why did the guy cross the road?

Shanghai Refinement at Tang Pavilion

Tang Pavilion trots out some of the usual Chinese-American suspects, but buttertart says the smarter orders are specialties from Shanghai and thereabouts. She finds the bean curd skin with fresh soybeans the best and most refined version in town. "I love the slight texturing on the bean curd sheet," she says, "made by its being drained on a cloth."

Other good bets include tender lion's head meatballs, chicken with yellow leeks, asparagus with lily bud, West Lake vinegar fish, scallops with pickled vegetable and bamboo shoot, and rice cake with Chinese sausage ("splendidly chewy and savory"). This Midtown restaurant is a step above the norm in appearance, "nicely appointed with oxblood ceramics any one of which I would be delighted to own," buttertart adds.

Tang Pavilion [Midtown]
65 W. 55th Street (between Fifth and Sixth avenues), Manhattan

Discuss: Tang Pavilion
Taste of Shanghai (Shang Hai Xiao Chi) – delicious shanghainese in flushing

How Not to Make Cooking Fun

Last week, CBS KPIX-TV Channel 5 came by our test kitchen to film three kids, Gamespot editor Ricardo Torres, and me playing with Nintendo’s latest video game, “Let’s Get Cooking.” The game was released after Michelle Obama challenged video-game makers to create games that would get kids exercising and cooking more, part of her Apps for Healthy Kids initiative.

After a weekend of playing it at home and another day of playing it with Leo, Matt, and Alley, three eighth-graders from the Bay Area, we concluded that it’s not really a game, nor is it very fun. It’s merely an instructional digital cookbook compiled by America’s Test Kitchen, which prints the nerdy and informative but somewhat dry Cook's Illustrated magazine.


New Fermentation Craze Developments

Kombucha, once solely the drink of people who wear Crystal Body Deodorant, landed on the front page of the New York Times Styles section a couple weeks back, marking its graduation into the mainstream. Fermented products in general are having a heyday: kimchee, sauerkraut, cured meats, coffee, craft beer, stinky cheese, no-knead bread, yogurt. Here are some interesting new developments in the fermentation movement.


Overheard on the New York Boards

"Got my wedding cake and wedding cupcakes here. Very pricey (spent more on the cakes than the dress). BUT all of it was delicious." - nicholel on Betty Bakery

"This was the essence of lobster flavor with sweet flesh and perfect texture. ... The lemon verbena put the entire dish over the edge with a silky understated but still present lemony taste—like summer on a plate." - OC Mutt on poached Nova Scotia lobster at Eleven Madison Park

"Recently, I've found that even when I order my food 'pet pet' or 'pet ma' I've been getting food that is spicy but not the full throttle capsicum blast that I expect. It seems that they've had too many people asking for heat that they couldn't handle. When I mentioned this to Mrs. Sripraphai she told me about their new codeword. If you like your food HOT and I mean REALLY, REALLY HOT, ask for it 'bomb.'" - corgi on Sripraphai

Tiny Food for Unreal People

The non-dollhouse-obsessed may be unaware that there's an entire subculture of folks dedicated to making tiny versions of fake food. There are blogs galore devoted to this obsession, most of them dedicated to sweets, like Baking in Miniature and Miniature Patisserie Chef. One such group of Lilliputian lovers put together the incredibly detailed model of a Korean restaurant shown in this video, authentic right down to the ladybug-sized egg custard tarts.

Radio Africa Doesn’t Phone It In

Radio Africa & Kitchen, perhaps the grandaddy of pop-up restaurants in the Bay Area, as a February New York Times piece pointed out, dishes out Mediterranean-Northeast African fusion cuisine on Thursday and Friday nights at Coffee Bar. The tasting menu is a great deal that gets you everything on the short menu for $40, says Melanie Wong.

In this case, starters included a velvety edamame hummus ("delicious slathered on Tartine's bread") and parsnip-leek soup with just the right amount of smoked paprika for warmth and a jolt of salty Spanish ham. Yellowfin tuna kitfo crostini is an Ethiopian take on tartare, with just a light touch of spices; it also comes with a sea urchin créme fraîche mingled with microgreens. Chiffon-like wisps of butter lettuce, barely dressed, make up an exquisite salad with juicy tangerines, radishes, and creamy goat cheese. "So striking in its quiet simplicity and perfect balance," Melanie says. The house-smoked trout and shrimp bacala, on the other hand, was on the salty side.

The mains (after an intermezzo of blood orange slices) didn't disappoint, either. Melanie's favorite was the sautéed striped bass with Ethiopian mixed vegetable alicha and roasted chestnut salsa. Sounds like a culinary mishmosh, but somehow it worked—super-fresh fish, exotically spiced collards and root vegetables, plus the sweet-and-savory chestnuts made for many an exciting mouthful. Roasted leg of lamb is great: "beautiful, medium-rare slabs of lamb rubbed with North African spices," served with couscous, green beans, and chermoula. There's a lighter version of the puff-pastry dish bastilla that uses mashed butternut squash and rainbow chard instead of the usual chicken or pigeon. Crunchy and light pastry gives way to the sweet and buttery filling that gets more complexity from citron raita and more of that roasted chestnut salsa.

For dessert, "chocolate decadence" pretty much lives up to its name, but is nicely balanced by the acidity of Meyer lemon whipped cream and hibiscus sauce.

The wine list is small but well-chosen, especially the whites and lighter reds, Melanie notes, with nearly all under $35.

Radio Africa & Kitchen [Mission]
1890 Bryant Street, San Francisco

Discuss: Radio Africa Thursday and Friday Dinners @ Coffee Bar in San Francisco

A Pop-Up Japanese Sandwich Counter

Mondays at Cafe Yulong bring "Monday"—weird, no?—a pop-up lunch operation run by the son of the house. The concept is something like fast-food Japanese sandwiches with flair, and eatzalot, who went on the first day, describes it as "interesting and delicious."

The initial menu featured sandwiches of fried cutlets—chicken, tonkatsu (pork cutlet), and ebikatsu (shrimp patty) for $7-$8. All come on an Acme torpedo roll that's layered with vegetable salad and aioli. On the side: a "varied, unusual, and also delicious" selection of pickled vegetables.

There are also a couple of sides: Spicy "popcorn" cauliflower is a hit, and bistro-style French fries are pretty good.

There's minimal service for Monday—utensils and beverages (soft drinks on ice) are self-serve. Cash only.

Cafe Yulong [Peninsula]
743 W. Dana Street, Mountain View

Discuss: New Japanese-style sandwiches, MONDAYS, downtown Mountain View