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Week of December 2, 2002

the underground gourmet
Hearty Attack
The name of the place, Touch of Hungary, is a touch misleading. It's not that this new College Point, Queens, storefront isn't a source of authentic home-style Hungarian cooking: It's just that after witnessing a standard portion here, the last words that you'd consider placing before "Hungary" would be "touch of." Let's just say that should an aspiring International Federation of Competitive Eating champ ever tire of his training regimen of hot dogs and matzo balls, he might consider this restaurant's goulash. The dish is served in true Hungarian fashion as a thick soup, not a stew, loaded with chunky cubes of beef, potatoes, carrots, and mild paprika (if you like it spicier, ask). The "small" ($5.50) portion comes in a colorful oversized ceramic cup, as disproportionately large as Lily Tomlin's rocking chair. The large size—enough to fuel an average-sized Super Bowl party—is twice as big but costs only two bucks more.

There's also a beef stew called marhapörkölt ($13.95), a huge platter of tender, fatty beef matched by as much nokedli, a toothsome spaetzle-like pasta, to soak up the juices. Cabbage stuffed with beef and rice with its twin peaks of tangy sauerkraut, and an estimable sliced-pork dish with sour cream and bacon, are similarly hearty and delicious. If you make it to dessert (and few do), try the gesztenyepüré, a sweet chestnut paste that looks like it’s been run through the linguini maker and topped with whipped cream. —ROB PATRONITE
Touch of Hungary
121-17 14th Road, College Point

Raising the Bar
Scharffen Berger, Berkeley's bittersweet answer to Callebaut and Valrhona, has created a boutique bar to mark its fifth anniversary. The limited-edition Porcelana, made from rare Venezuelan criollo beans, has a 75 percent cacao content and a distinctive fruity, dark-chocolate flavor sure to appeal to the type of connoisseur who sings its praises—soft tannins, mild acidity—in winespeak. They're only available by the dozen, which presents a delectable holiday dilemma: to stuff stockings, or to stockpile?
$60 per dozen, at

Inside Job
The Monday-night dinner series at Inside celebrates seasonal ingredients (pumpkins and gingerbread), explores variations on a single-dish theme (grilled cheese), and, with the aid of an outdoor smoker, ambitiously tackles barbecue. But the recurring Mexican night gives "staff meal" a new meaning: Every Mexican employee, from waiter to dishwasher, cooks a favorite family recipe (and chef Charleen Badman gets a well-deserved break). The next south-of-the-border supper will be served December 9, featuring à la carte selections like prickly-pear margaritas, pozole, carne asada, and a version of chiles en nogada that substitutes pecans for the classic walnut sauce.
9 Jones Street

object of desire
Satanic Majesty
As far as we're concerned, any dish with the word devil in its name is bound to be better than one without it. Consider devil's food, deviled eggs, and devils on horseback—and now Frank Crispo's updated take on chicken diavola ("devil-style"). The chef dresses up this juicy, chili-peppered bird for the holidays with an herby, fresh pomegranate glaze and ruby-red seeds for a lip-smacking hot-sweet-tart effect.
240 West 14th Street

Ask Gael
Where will I find a retreat from excess?
"If we must go out, let it be something light," my mate begged in a fit of foie gras regret. Soba Nippon, with its sinuous and tasty noodles, proves the perfect restorative. An offshoot of the venerable Nippon Restaurant, this soba stop can be peaceful and almost deserted at dinnertime except for a scattering of passionate fans. One of them, a Japanese friend, suggests appetizers to share, like char-broiled eggplant, pickled vegetables, fried squid, takoyaki dumplings, splendid tuna pirikara (chopped with cucumber and marinated in spicy fish roe), or agedashi mozzarella, the delicious updating of a Zen classic. The house does sushi too, but soba noodles (made fresh daily, from the optimum mix of 80 percent buckwheat and 20 percent wheat) is why we're here. So serious is owner Nobuyoshi Kuraoka that he grows his own buckwheat in Canada. And how soothing these noodles are, coiled in heady broth with add-ons like grated yam, tempura shrimp, slivers of duck, or deep-fried tofu.
Soba Nippon
19 West 52nd Street

Bites & Buzz Archive

Week of November 25
Upscale lunching on the west side; thanksgiving dinner with Daniel Boulud; thali heaven at Hampton Chutney; Stone Soup delivers this holiday season.
Week of November 18
Serious cider for holiday celebration; affordable lunch luxury at Lutece.
Week of November 11
New cheese courses; specialty food haven Blue Apron Foods; Fresco by Scotto on shelves nationwide; Gael checks out the beef for dinner.

and more ...

Photos: Bruce Katz and Kenneth Chen

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