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

Touring Sunset Park by Wok and Steamer

There's a wok master in residence at Zheng Yuan Bao Gourmet. Jim Leff describes beautifully stir-fried chow rice noodles, balanced and deeply satisfying, from this tiny Fujianese-run spot in Sunset Park's Chinatown. Another knockout dish pairs perfectly cooked squid with slightly charred "Chinese New Year" rice cakes.

It's possible the master is not always in. hoi lai's rice cakes weren't at all charred, and much of his squid was rubbery. He did, however, enjoy the delicious clear broth that came free on the side. That may point to yet-unrevealed deliciousness in the menu's deep lineup of soups, which seem to be popular orders. For now, though, Jim strongly recommends anything out of the wok. "Even if you only hit the right guy at the right time one time out of three," he promises, "it's worth it."

Your odds of hitting the right guy are way better at a nearby street cart that peddles steamed-to-order cheung fun, the Cantonese-style rolled rice noodles. This one-man mobile kitchen ladles loose, watery batter into a shallow tray, sprinkles on your filling of choice (options include beef, pork, barbecued pork, dried shrimp, and egg), then slides it into the steamer box. It cooks for only a minute or two, setting just enough that the cook can nudge it into a rough roll with a plastic scraper, then cut it up and flip it into a takeout box. So it comes out warm and meltingly tender, the farthest thing from the thickish, gluey cheung fun that circle many dim sum dining halls in carts. Here it's finished with squirts of sweet soy and, if you like, peanut or hot sauce. Get all three, Jim urges: "Just keep nodding 'yes.'"

He also voices a resounding "yes" for the marvelous pork bao and vegetable bao at Happy House a few blocks north. hoi lai is sold on the pork version, a steamed bun enclosing flavorful meat in flavorful sauce.

And if you're still hungry, Amy Mintzer would like to put in a word for Family Dumpling on Seventh Avenue, whose dumplings are not universally beloved around here. But its scallion pancake is stellar, she swears: tender, light, crisp yet chewy. "Takes this simple snack to a new level," Amy declares.

Zheng Yuan Bao Gourmet [Sunset Park]
805 57th Street (near Eighth Avenue), Brooklyn

Street vendor [Sunset Park]
Eighth Avenue and 61st Street, Brooklyn
No phone available

Happy House [Sunset Park]
5016 Eighth Avenue (between 50th and 51st streets), Brooklyn

Family Dumpling [Sunset Park]
5602 Seventh Avenue (at 56th Street), Brooklyn

Discuss: Zheng Yuan Bao Gournmet (sic) in Sunset Park Chinatown
Sunset Park Chinatown: "Rice Noodle" Dim Sum From Scratch

The Ultimate Gamer Sodas

In a move that is sure to add at least +5 to Jones's cred with RPG fans, the company has released Dungeons & Dragons–themed sodas in a "Spellcasting Soda" limited edition pack. Because there's nothing like a cold Potion of Healing for a little refreshment. Or a bottle of Illithid Brain Juice to keep you sharp during the afternoon slump.

Jones Spellcasting Soda, $10.99 for a six-pack

Island Warmth for Uptown Hounds

Freda's is a welcome uptown newcomer whose jerk chicken kills (in the best possible sense of the word), says sarahmilne. "Tender, brown, spicy, saucy wonderfulness," she says. Worthy sides include rice and peas and uncommonly light, almost soufflélike callaloo, made here with okra and coconut milk. Lemonade manages to be "sweet sweet sweet" yet also refreshing.

Décor is inviting, service is sweet. sarah's sole quibble concerns the television: "The History Channel on at full blast at 1 in the afternoon in a half-empty restaurant? It doesn't matter, though. They can play whatever they like, they're still going to see a fair amount of me."

Freda's [Upper West Side]
993 Columbus Avenue (at W. 109th Street), Manhattan

Discuss: Freda's Caribbean Soul Food

The Wonder That Is the Ramen Fork

The noodle dish known as ramen is one of those wonder foods that lives a truly complicated existence, both filling and transcending the massive space that separates the degenerate eating habits of American college freshmen and truly refined Japanese cooking. Thus: If you hadn't been notified that the dish has its own fork, you've been missing out.


Neighborly Italian in Red Hook

O'Barone in Red Hook is quietly building a following with simple, well-made Italian chow.

Salads are a high point of the brief menu, with clean, bright flavors. Two standouts are farro with champignons, chickpeas, grana, and lettuce, and baby spinach with beets, potatoes, and goat cheese. lazylghtng recommends ravioli with nutty, pestolike asparagus sauce and tagliatelle with calamari and pancetta in spicy tomato sauce. Puppimus loves the fagottini filled with Gorgonzola, served in walnut sauce with cubes of sweet sautéed pear. The menu also takes a few unexpected turns, including pork schnitzel and spätzle with pancetta and cheese—a nod to the Italian chef's Austrian mom.

O'Barone, open since last summer, sets a low-key, rustic mood, lazylghtng writes, and the food "is clearly cooked with love." He warns, though, that both food and service can be inconsistent.

"I consider Al Di La the best Italian in Brooklyn," says gfood (who's not alone here), "and I would put this a notch below; but it still makes for an excellent meal and a fun evening."

O'Barone [Red Hook]
360 Van Brunt Street (between Wolcott and Sullivan streets), Brooklyn

Discuss: O'Barone in Red Hook

Overheard on the New York Boards

"We enjoyed a range of vegetarian apps—their beet sformato and braised endive, in particular—as well as a seafood puff with ramp oil pesto sauce received as an amuse which we all loved. [T]he chickpea-octopus-polenta pasta dish was tasty, and a dish of polenta with mushrooms was delicious." – jen kalb on Aliseo

"I cannot tell you how amazing this was. Thick cut bacon, fresh eggs, and some perfectly melted light cheddar on warm fresh bread. The bread was similar to Cuban sandwich bread, baguette shaped, not too thick or thin and very soft so it didn't squish out the eggs and cheese. I could go on forever; it was fantastic and totally justifies its $6." – 2slices on the Barnyard Classic at Barnyard

"I ordered the tortilla and ricotta pound cake and thought dark thoughts about high prices, sure I would never return. ... Then they handed me the bag—decently heavy it was. The tortilla was a big joyous celebration of the marriage of potato, onion, and lots of oil. ... The pound cake was enough for tea for two and again excellent." – wew on Saltie

Will Israel Embrace the Jewish Deli?

Ruben, Israel's "first authentic Jewish deli," is now a few months old and about to open its second location. The question, says Gil Shefler in Forward, is whether pastrami on rye will stick in the land of falafel on pita. "Food critic Janna Gur, author of 'The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey,' is doubtful. 'Ruben is a fun place which serves good food, but I find it hard to believe deli foods will gain widespread popularity in Israel—it just doesn’t fit the mentality,' she said."


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