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Restaurant recommendations, new openings, and highlights from the NY Chowhound community.

Fresh Ethiopian from Harlem to the East Village

Even for confirmed carnivores, the vegetarian combination is a rewarding choice at Zoma, a newish Ethiopian restaurant in Harlem. For $17 you pick four dishes; the combo can feed two and comes with plenty of injera, the spongy teff-based flatbread, for dipping and scooping.

Best bets include fassolia (green beans sautéed with garlic and tomato), misir wett (red lentil stew), and gomen (sweet, long-cooked collard greens). Buticha is a coarse chickpea mash, served cold; it’s tasty, but some may find it disagreeably mealy. Preparations are varied, and seasoning is clear and appealing. “This isn’t Spicy Mina cooking, with complex layering of flavors,” writes rose water, referring to the Bangladeshi gem in Woodside, Queens. “It’s not subtle. I love it.”

Among the nonvegetarian dishes, kafka1 recommends tibs wett: sirloin cubes in an intense, dark red stew flavored with berbere (a blend of chile and other seasonings), kibe (seasoned butter), and other spices and herbs. Other standouts: assa tibs (tilapia in currylike sauce), doro wett (a rich chicken stew with egg), yebeg alitcha (tender lamb braised in mild sauce), and samosalike sambusas (labeled “fillo pastry” on the menu, and filled with either lentils or ground sirloin).

Another relative newcomer, Meskel in the East Village, was swamped by crowds for weeks after a rave newspaper review, resulting in long waits, service meltdowns, and lots of angry muttering (and online posting). Now things have settled down, and the place sounds like a solid neighborhood Ethiopian option.

Here, too, the vegetarian combo is a smart order. zorgclyde reports uncommonly fresh flavors in the string beans (a similar preparation to Zoma’s) and tikil gomen (a currylike sauté of cabbage with carrots, garlic, and ginger), both a fine match for the tangy injera. Meat dishes—including many of those offered at Zoma—get mixed but mostly encouraging marks; some, however, find them underspiced.

Zoma [Harlem]
2084 Frederick Douglass Boulevard (a.k.a. Eighth Avenue, at W. 113th Street), Manhattan

Meskel Ethiopian Restaurant [East Village]
Formerly JahMama’s
199 E. Third Street (near Avenue B), Manhattan

Board Links: What to order at Zoma new Ethiopian place ?
recent visit to meskel

Matchless Matzo Ball Soup

Roslyn’s Landmark Diner makes chicken matzo ball soup that you must not miss, insists Jim Leff. They may not serve it every day, so call ahead. Except for this superb soup, Jim advises, the fare is basically “stupid generic diner.”

Landmark Diner [Nassau County]
1023 Northern Boulevard (at Searingtown), Roslyn

Board Links: Excellent Chicken Matzoh Ball Soup in Roslyn, LI

Hot Off the Grill in Astoria, Stellar Balkan Sausages

Astoria’s newest Balkan-style grill promises to be one of its best. At Cevabdzinica Stari Most, the signature cevapi (beef sausages) are as good as they get: charred and crisp, tender, juicy, well seasoned, and agreeably greasy all at once. “If there’s better, it’s at some place I haven’t gotten to yet,” says hatless, who ranks them well ahead of those at local rivals Cevabdzinica Sarajevo, Ukus, and Djerdan. “So goooood!” seconds tony70, a Macedonian expat and a fan of Stari Most’s “Sarajevo burger.”

Named after the landmark bridge in Mostar, the new place is bigger and nicer-looking than the competition, done up Old Bosnia style, and offers free Wi-Fi and outdoor seating. For now the kitchen is sticking to meat; other choices include lamb chops, sweetbreads, and sudzuk (dry beef sausage), all served with good chewy bread, mild ajvar (pepper paste), chopped onion, and tangy kajmak (thick sour cream). By summer, they expect to add some Bosnian-style savory pies.

Cevabdzinica Stari Most, a.k.a. Restaurant Old Bridge [Astoria]
28-52 42nd Street (between 28th and 30th avenues), Astoria, Queens

Cevabdzinica Sarajevo [Astoria]
37-18 34th Avenue (between 37th and 38th streets), Astoria, Queens

Ukus [Astoria]
42-08 30th Avenue (near 42nd Street), Astoria, Queens

Djerdan [Astoria]
34-04A 31st Avenue (at 34th Street), Astoria, Queens

Board Links: Cevabdzinica Stari Most/Old Bridge

Park Slope’s Tempo Offers a $25 Dinner Deal

Another hound-endorsed Brooklyn restaurant has come forward with an attractive weeknight dinner deal. Tempo in Park Slope has gone prix fixe during the week, selling three-course dinners for $25. Steve R says this offer, like a similar one on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Cobble Hill’s Chestnut, is among the best dinner bargains around.

Choose from 8 to 10 appetizers, a dozen entrees (some carry a $5 supplement), and 8 to 10 desserts. At $25, Steve figures, prix fixe items are about two-thirds the normal price. The menu has been tweaked, with appealing new dishes like a tripe appetizer in tomato sauce, light and tasty pea flan, and outstanding seafood in lobster sauce over a lightly fried risotto cake. Old favorites remain, including duck pastilla rolls, wild greens with goat cheese roulades, and pappardelle with wild boar and mint. “Go,” urges Steve. “Before they change something.”

Light eaters may not find the new arrangement a bargain. jinx, who’s accustomed to splitting an appetizer, a dessert, or both, says, “The prix fixe, while a good deal, actually makes a meal there more expensive. This isn’t really a complaint, just an observation. We enjoyed our meal and as always, service and ambience are great.”

Tempo [Park Slope]
256 Fifth Avenue (between Carroll and Garfield), Brooklyn

Chestnut [Cobble Hill]
271 Smith Street (near Degraw), Brooklyn

Board Links: Tempo prix fixe

Something in the Air in Chinatown … Durian Pudding

Chinatown sweet shop Whatever has added a new fruit dessert, and if the wind’s blowing right, you just might catch a whiff of it when you get off the subway. The recently introduced durian pudding is smooth, custardy, and authentically fragrant, HLing reports. Look for it on the specials board, not the regular menu.

Whatever [Chinatown]
Formerly Hui Lau San
150 Centre Street (near Walker), Manhattan

Board Links: Durian pudding w/fresh durian at ‘Whatever’

A Couple of Hash Houses in Queens

Most diners these days get their corned beef hash from … well, you don’t actually want to know where they get their corned beef from. But a dwindling minority still cook this dish using actual meat, onions, and potatoes, rather than scraping it out of big tin cans packed at distant factories. Among those most excellent holdouts is Jackson Heights’ Mark Twain Diner. Joe MacBu likes the hash for its fine-chopped texture and the lift it gets from fresh parsley.

By contrast, Rego Park’s Shalimar Diner goes big, serving a chunky hash that’s relatively light on potato, says dude. Different but also delicious.

Mark Twain Diner [Jackson Heights]
72-12 Northern Boulevard (between 72nd and 73rd streets), Jackson Heights, Queens

Shalimar Diner [Rego Park]
63-68 Austin Street (near 63rd Drive), Rego Park, Queens

Board Links: Homemade corned beef hash in Queens

An Uptown Croissant Contender

If its croissants are a fair measure, Chokolat Patisserie is off to a strong start. They’re agreeably dense and sweet, reports HLing, and the chocolate ones achieve an optimal ratio of chocolate to pastry. olia admires their buttery interior and shatteringly crisp yet not overly dry outer layer.

The four-month-old bakery also makes cakes, tarts, cream puffs, muffins, and other treats—not yet sampled by hounds—and serves coffee and tea. But don’t count on hanging out there: The tiny shop has only a handful of stools.

Still, says HLing, it’s an elegant spot and a welcome addition to the neighborhood north of Columbia.

Chokolat Patisserie [Morningside Heights]
3111 Broadway (between La Salle and W. 122nd streets), Manhattan

Board Links: Chokolat Patissery? Bway btw La Salle & 125

Amazing Filipino Coconut Buns in Jersey City

The best bite at Red Ribbon, suggests bigjeff, is the ensaimada: a soft, sweet, sticky Philippine-style coconut bun topped with cheese. It is quite good straight from the bakery and amazingly, ridiculously good after five minutes in a toaster oven, bigjeff adds.

Red Ribbon BakeShop [Hudson County]
591 Summit Avenue (at Newark), Jersey City, NJ

Board Links: delicious ensaimada

Masterly Hamburgers from Two Upscale Grills

Hamburger hounds have had little to say about Rare Bar and Grill, but maybe they haven’t yet tried the T-bone burger. This relatively new menu item is a mixture of chopped sirloin and strip, flambéed in tequila, wrapped in apple-smoked bacon, and topped with Murray’s cheddar and a scattering of crispy batter-fried onions. Simply sublime, sighs Scotty100. It’s pricey at $21, he adds, “but man, it was awesome.”

The Knickerbocker Bar and Grill, a perennial favorite in the Village, offers another reliably good burger, a bistro-style version topped with cheddar and bacon and served on a grilled brioche roll. Decent fries and a salad come with it. Delicious and perfect, promises Nikki NYC. Steak lovers endorse Knickerbocker’s T-bone—better than those at dedicated steakhouses, swears tsiblis.

Rare Bar and Grill [Midtown East]
In the Shelburne Hotel
303 Lexington Avenue (at E. 37th Street), Manhattan
212-481-1999 ext. 9

Rare Bar and Grill [Greenwich Village]
228 Bleecker Street (at Sixth Avenue), Manhattan

Knickerbocker Bar and Grill [Greenwich Village]
33 University Place (at E. Ninth Street), Manhattan

Board Links: The ‘T-Bone’ Burger at Rare Bar and Grill…
Burger at Knickerbocker?

A Cuban Hit Parade in Forest Hills

Latin Cabana Express is an instant sensation in Forest Hills, which evidently nursed a deep hunger for homey Cuban chow. Opened last month by the owners of Astoria’s popular Latin Cabana, it has been jammed from day one.

Early favorites include beef picadillo, goat fricassee, steak or chicken sandwiches, and juicy, well-marinated grilled chicken. fran124, who’s partial to the Cubano (roast pork, ham, and cheese on a pressed soft roll), considers the new place a quantum improvement over the empanada joint it replaced. “It’s about time,” declares maria_nyc. “This neighborhood needed a good, cheap Latin food place.”

Prices are a big draw. The $5.50 lunch special comprises an entrée (around four choices daily) and a couple of sides, which include salad, plantains, fries, garlicky yuca, and rice (white, yellow, or black). House specialties range from $8.25 to $9.95, and sandwiches are $2.75 to $4.50. For $3, try a fresh, cooling shake; guanábana (soursop) is one interesting choice.

The staff is friendly but frazzled, struggling to handle the crowds. There are a handful of stools, but this is mainly a takeout operation. A nearby alfresco option, weather permitting, is cozy MacDonald Park, a few blocks west off Queens Boulevard.

Latin Cabana Express [Forest Hills]
Formerly La Mancha Empanadas
72-34 Austin Street (between Ascan Avenue and 72nd Road), Forest Hills, Queens

Latin Cabana [Astoria]
34-44 Steinway Street (between 34th and 35th avenues), Astoria, Queens

Board Links: Cuban Fast Food on Austin Street