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

May Wah Fans, Meet Wah Mei (and Other Chinatown News)

Good news for lovers of the bargain pork chop: On the site of the late, lamented May Wah, the reassuringly named Wah Mei is turning out a similar menu of under-$5 Chinese lunch plates. Under new ownership—but with some of the old cooks—Wah Mei trumps May Wah’s single pork chop option by offering several, including a “house special” chop; black pepper, garlic, and onion chops (all $4.25 over rice); and a new “Macao-style” pork chop burger ($2.50).

The big difference, however, is in the seasoning. “For the first time,” says HLing, “their pork chop tasted good to me. The chop as well as the minced meat sauce over rice were all tasty. The old May Wah’s meat did have a great aroma, but the smell didn’t translate to taste.” makistar, in dissent, prefers the old ways: “It’s not bad food, but it’s missing the to-die-for aroma. If May Wah was a 10, Wah Mei is a 7.”

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, on Chinatown’s eastern fringe, these are sad days for devotees of Happy Joy, a recent victim of rising rents. “The gentrification below Delancey continues,” laments jimmyjazz, who will miss curry chicken, beef chow fun, and spicy string beans, among other things, from the sprawling Chinese-Malaysian menu.

Another Chinatown favorite, Cantoon Garden, is alive and well and on top of its game, serving dependably delicious Cantonese food. Casseroles are smart orders here. banquo loves the one with tender lamb—loin, knuckle, neck, and other parts—plus tofu skin, Chinese cabbage, and jujubes in a thick, rich stock scented with star anise. Fish head and stewed chicken casseroles are also reliable and comforting, Brian S advises.

Other winners: corn–fish maw soup, fried chicken with garlic sauce, and lobster in XO sauce—not the most delicate version in town, says banquo, but fresh, garlicky, mildly spicy, and a deal at $20 for two lobsters. One don’t-miss seasonal special is pea shoots with two kinds of egg: thousand-year egg and lightly poached fresh egg, blended in a pleasingly salty ground-meat sauce. “I was blown away by this dish,” sighs Polecat.

Wah Mei Pork Chop Fast Food [Chinatown]
Formerly May Wah Fast Food
190 Hester Street (between Baxter and Mulberry), Manhattan

Cantoon Garden [Chinatown]
22 Elizabeth Street (between Canal and Bayard), Manhattan

Board Links: Last chance for May Wah pork chop rice–Closing Feb 17th
Happy Joy to close
Cantoon Garden—review

At Cobble Hill’s Hibino, Fresh Japanese Flavors

The sushi at Hibino is perfectly fine, but for something out of the ordinary, check out the Kyoto-style small plates called obanzai. They’re the specialty at this Cobble Hill spot, opened in late March by two alumni of Manhattan’s Sushi Samba.

An early crowd-pleaser: cleanly fried croquettes featuring eel and shiso in creamy, risottolike rice. Other recent choices from the daily-changing menu include spring vegetable oshitashi, braised tuna in ginger-soy broth, and smoked salmon ceviche with apple and shiso dressing. House-made tofu and other soy foods might turn up in obanzai—like delicious yuba-wrapped shrimp—or in the also daily-changing miso soups.

Sushi and sashimi feature uncommonly fresh and well-cut fish. Eel is especially nice, reports Nehna. Also recommended: rich, tasty spicy tuna rolls and the filling, kitchen-sink futomaki, loaded with fresh seafood, egg, and other stuff (though some find the competing flavors muddled).

Hibino reminds some locals of Taku, a short-lived hound hangout whose unconventional Japanese menu drew disappointingly sparse crowds on nearby Smith Street. “I hope they can pull off a nontraditional Japanese menu in an area where a similar endeavor failed,” writes lambretta76.

Hibino [Cobble Hill]
Formerly Jam for Bread
333 Henry Street (at Pacific), Brooklyn

Board Links: Hibino–Henry St @ Pacific

Baked Treats Around Jackson Heights

Tiny, crunchy, sugar-dusted pastry twists, filled with a dab of jelly, are a hound-worthy treat at Monika, a grandmotherly Polish deli in Jackson Heights. “Really good,” says Jim Leff. “They had a flavor I’ve never experienced before in this nabe … it made me disoriented for a minute until I could regroup and identify it. It was butter.” In the refrigerator case, look for soups, bigos (pork-sauerkraut stew), and other prepared foods from Brooklyn’s dependable Old Poland.

A block east, Aqui Colombia makes fine alfajores (caramel-filled cookies) in the yellow, crumbly style, not the lardy, shortbready style. For the latter, Jim recommends neighborhood Peruvian restaurants like Don Alex.

The nearby Aires del Sur bakes first-rate Argentine-style empanadas and sweets. Special pastries, especially anything with dulce de leche, are a good bet, ladymurasaki advises.

Monika Polish Meat and Deli [Jackson Heights]
80-10 37th Avenue (near 80th Street), Jackson Heights, Queens

Aqui Colombia Antojitos Bakery and Enterprises [Jackson Heights]
81-08 37th Avenue (at 81st Street), Jackson Heights, Queens

Don Alex [Jackson Heights]
95-04 37th Avenue (at 95th Street), Jackson Heights, Queens

Aires del Sur [Jackson Heights]
77-07 37th Avenue (between 77th and 78th streets), Jackson Heights, Queens

Board Links: market watch: Jackson Heights
NYT Real Estate Section Article: Author Moves to Jackson Heights for the Food

Sweetness and Soy at Kyotofu

Kyotofu transforms Japanese staples and seasonings into elegantly wrought sweets. There’s delicate, gingery rice porridge. These folks really love their soy products: There’s soy magicked into every form of sweet. There’s dense, warm chocolate with rich miso filling; sublime black-sesame tofu; subtley nutty tofu cheesecake with a bit of peppery sansho.

It’s all fantastic and unique, says kathryn, who loves the attention to detail evident in the well-chosen accompaniments on each plate, e.g., candied ginger, sour cherries, a seven-spice tuile. She recommends the $15 dessert kaiseki, which showcases much of the menu. It comprises an opening sweet, a sampler of three or four desserts, and petits fours—usually sweet, soft cookies made from okara, the soy bran left over after tofu is made.

Kyotofu, whose New York shop is the first stateside outpost of a chain from Kyoto, also offers a strong sake selection plus original cocktails like the Shibuya martini: shochu, guava, and muddled ginger. In addition, there’s a short menu of savory dishes, mostly ignored by sweet-toothed hounds. But the tofu-chicken meatballs are quite good, jsgjewels says.

Kyotofu [Clinton]
705 Ninth Avenue (between W. 48th and 49th streets), Manhattan

Board Links: kyotofu wait time
Desserts and Appetizers in W. 40s/50s?

Superior Calzone in Carroll Gardens

Lucali’s has won a lot of fans with its well-crafted brick-oven pizza; it turns out a calzone that’s just as good. A long rectangular crust, baked to a nice exterior char. Cut into it and you get a beautiful ooze of top-quality ricotta—worlds apart from the greasy glop you get in your average calzone, observes surly. Steve R, who recently sampled Lucali’s calzone and pizza side by side, admits he’s hard pressed to choose one over the other.

Lucali’s Pizza [Carroll Gardens]
575 Henry Street (between Carroll and First), Brooklyn

Board Links: New Restaurant–Henry btw Carroll and 1st

Gorgeous Gyros in the Village

Meaty, spicy gyros and terrific tzatzikióin platters or pita sandwiches are the draw at Karavas. “Truly spectacular,” declares NAtiveNewYorker, who adds that the perfect pita also deserves props. Of Karavas’ two locations, guttergourmet gives the edge to the shabbier Seventh Avenue shop, which makes pizza as well as Greek plates.

Karavas Place [Greenwich Village]
162 W. Fourth Street (at Sixth Avenue), Manhattan

Karavas Pizza ’n’ Pita [West Village]
108 Seventh Avenue S. (near Christopher Street), Manhattan

Board Links: Best Gyros?

Uncle Mina Goes Chula

Williamsburg’s Uncle Mina, a humble hangout for Egyptian chow, has changed hands, and been renamed Falafel Chula. Mina’s new owners are the folks behind nearby Taco Chulo, which gets only mixed marks from hounds. But, surprisingly, Falafel Chula’s been doing pretty well.

Early reports praise carrot salad, foul medammas (seasoned mashed favas), and the falafel deluxe sandwich (falafel, hummus, eggplant), part of an expanded new menu. And the redone interior is an inviting upgrade from Mina’s formerly dingy digs.

In Carroll Gardens, two-month-old Mazzat is another promising spot for Middle Eastern bites from a broadly Mediterranean menu emphasizing small plates. Kibbeh and baba ghanoush are smart orders. The warm vibe, attentive service, and well-mixed cocktails are also winning fans. “The neighborhood needed something like this,” writes Theo43.

A more established hound destination, Cobble Hill’s Yemen Cafe, makes intensely meaty lamb soup—”the one thing that will warm you down to your bones on a cold rainy day,” reports a grateful dixieday2. A small bowl of the deep brown broth, flecked with chopped onion and herbs, is just $2.

For dessert, Bay Ridge hounds endorse Sweet Arayssi, descended from a venerable bakery in Beirut. Its rendition of the nut- or date-filled shortbreadlike cookie called maamoul is moist, aromatic, and delicious. brooklynsabra, who has fallen hard for the one with pistachio, ranks Arayssi’s ahead of competing cookies at D’Vine Taste in Park Slope, Damascus Bakery in Cobble Hill, and Mansoura in Gravesend. jen kalb finds Arayssi’s maamoul wanting, both in the quality of the cookie and the complexity of the fillings, and prefers the individually wrapped ones at Damascus.

Falafel Chula [Williamsburg]
formerly Uncle Mina
436 Union Avenue (between Devoe and Metropolitan), Brooklyn

Taco Chulo [Williamsburg]
318 Grand Street (between Havemeyer and Marcy), Brooklyn

Mazzat Mediterranean Kitchen [Carroll Gardens]
208 Columbia Street (between Sackett and Union), Brooklyn

Yemen Cafe [Cobble Hill]
176 Atlantic Avenue (between Clinton and Court), Brooklyn

Sweet Arayssi [Bay Ridge]
7216 Fifth Avenue (between 72nd and 73rd streets), Brooklyn

D’Vine Taste [Park Slope]
150 Seventh Avenue (between Garfield and Carroll), Brooklyn

Damascus Bakery [Cobble Hill]
195 Atlantic Avenue (between Clinton and Court), Brooklyn

Mansoura Pastries [Gravesend]
515 Kings Highway (between E. Second and Third streets), Brooklyn

Board Links: Falafel Chula in Williamsburg
Mazzat on Columbia St
Lamb Soup at Yemen Cafe—a cure for what ails you
Sweet Arayssi in Bay Ridge

Bouchon Bakery’s Lobster BLT

Bouchon Bakery dresses up its BLT with lobster—and why not? “Wow!” swoons khainajr, knocked out by the combination of sweet lobster, salty/smoky bacon, tarragon aioli, and garden-fresh tomato and lettuce on a rich brioche. A splurge at $17, but he isn’t complaining.

Bouchon Bakery [Columbus Circle]
10 Columbus Circle, Third Floor (in Time Warner Center), Manhattan

Board Links: Taking A Bite Out of The Big Apple…

Beyond Cheesecake at Cascon

Cascon Cheesecake wants everybody to know it’s not just about the cheesecake. As if to prove it, it has come through with superb sfingi, the Italian sweets associated with last month’s Feast of San Giuseppe. ZenFoodist, previously a faithful devotee of D’Aquila in Bayside, says Cascon has made her a believer with ethereally light cannoli cream in perfectly tender fried dough puffs. They’ll be selling them through Easter.

If you miss out on the sfingi, you can still check out Cascon’s beloved cheesecake, which lives up to its reputation. The New York–style chocolate swirl cake is sublime, raves kenito799: rich and dense yet not heavy, and not too sweet. “I see no reason to get New York cheesecake anywhere else,” he concludes.

Cascon Cheesecake [Whitestone]
704 149th Street (at 7th Avenue), Whitestone, Queens

Pasticceria D’Aquila [Bayside]
33-31 Francis Lewis Boulevard (between 33rd and 34th avenues), Bayside, Queens

Board Links: Cascon’s Sfingi di San Giuseppe
Cascon Cheesecake
Cascon Cheesecake Queens

Sausage Soup, Ginger Vodka, and Other Russian Comforts

Don’t go to the Oceanview Cafe expecting an ocean view. There isn’t one. What’s worse, says frenetica, “it’s an ugly little restaurant, not good for lingering, and the service is sullen as hell.” But the soup—ah, that’s a different story. Myasnaya solyanka is traditional, hearty, and very good, a sharply acidic, tomato-tinged clear broth loaded with chunks of sausage, olives, and other goodies. “You have to like frankfurters,” frenetica notes, “as they often appear in ‘mixed meat solyanka.’” Also not to be missed: blini with caviar.

At Anyway Cafe, ignore the menu’s Frenchified touches and go for well-done Russian standards. They lay out a great herring plate and serve delicious, light pelmeni, with higher-quality fillings than you’ll find at the Russian warhorses of Brighton Beach. Don’t miss the wonderful house-infused honey-ginger vodka (other flavors include berries, fruits, horseradish, dill, and chile).

Oceanview Cafe [Brighton Beach]
290 Brighton Beach Avenue (between Brighton Second and Third streets), Brooklyn

Anyway Cafe [Manhattan Beach]
111 Oriental Boulevard (at West End Avenue), Brooklyn

Anyway Cafe [Homecrest]
1602 Gravesend Neck Road (at E. 16th Street), Brooklyn

Anyway Cafe [East Village]
32 E. Second Street (between Second Avenue and Bowery), Manhattan

Board Links: ISO best Russian Restaurant