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

Grocery Chains Create Celebri-tillers

Local farmers are getting star treatment by major food retailers these days, and we’re not just talking about those giant farmer photos at Whole Foods: Regional grocery chains and even Wal-Mart are jumping at the chance to court the growing buy-local movement. Kroger, Publix, and Food Lion stores now showcase produce from nearby farms, BusinessWeek reports, and in several states Wal-Mart is now running a Salute to America’s Farmers program (which involves giant signs pointing to locally grown fare, and sometimes in-store samples from the farmers themselves).

Why the sudden awareness of these formerly neglected farmers? In part, the article says, it’s due to the spotlight placed on local food economies by writer Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and his subsequent public conversation with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey.

Still, the stores’ primary motivation is not ethical but (duh) financial:

Whole Foods, in the last few years, has been on a torrid growth streak by satisfying shoppers’ desire for locally grown, wholesome, and organic food, even at premium prices. But this year, revenue growth at Whole Foods slowed to single digits, just as Wal-Mart jumped aggressively into the fray, vowing to bring down the prices of organics and make them accessible to a mass audience…. The result is that both of those companies and plenty of others are trying to build their credibility by touting their ties to the local farming community.

Have you come across any local-food displays at your grocery store or (gasp!) the neighborhood Wal-Mart? (Would you even be caught dead in a Wal-Mart?) How’s the selection?

Neto Caffe

NETO, says Ken Hoffman, is a Hebrew acronym that means something like the English acronym WYSIWYG. And Neto Caffe’s additive-free yummies, with no coconut oil or shortening or anything unpleasant, stand up to repeated tastings. The giant rugulach has a buttery, soft, flaky crust–not the usual piece of sweet concrete–and turns one’s mind to the bustling bodegas of Tel Aviv. Soft, chewy house-made pita and hummus that reeks of garlic cannot be put down.

Some hounds balk at the prices–$10-12 for a sandwich, $7.25 for yogurt and granola. Others, like sally r., are very enthusiastic and find the prices reasonable for the quality.

They also serve shnitzel.

Neto Caffe [Peninsula]

135 Castro Street (across from the Mountain View train station), Mountain View

650-625-9888

Map

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Neto Caffe in Mountain View

Map

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Neto Caffe in Mountain View

Seafood Rice Baked in a Coconut – Late Night Cuisine

Denny’s Cafe is a Hong Kong-style coffee shop featuring sil yeh, late-night eats. It’s open until midnight during the week, and until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. The chow is tasty, says Melanie Wong, such as the exciting seafood rice baked (and served) in a whole coconut. Baking in the coconut means the long-grain rice is tender and infused with the fragrance of fresh coconut. Shrimp, scallops, and plump mussels are tucked inside, too, along with bits of omelette and green onion. The mild flavor of the dish makes it perfect to accompany a more strongly flavored item. It costs $6.95.

Also great: ox tongue with mushrooms and spaghetti, and oxtail soup noodles.

Denny’s Cafe [Richmond]

5530 Geary Blvd., San Francisco

415-386-3288

Locater

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Sil Yeh at Denny’s Cafe on Geary

Stollen: The Taste of Christmas

Christmastime means stollen to a lot of people, and Emil’s Swiss Pastry makes far and away the best, says Paliman. “It is the difference between any commercial bakery, and one run by a baker who actually has serious training. Emil has been doing this in his bakery for almost 50 years, and before that at the old Blum’s, of happy memory.”

He has stollen with and without marzipan. Basic stolen is $8 for small, $15 for large. Marzipan is a dollar extra. Pfeffernussen and cookies are amazing also.

Rockenwagner Bakery is making stollen daily through Christmas. The rest of their baked goods are delish, says mikester, so it seems like a promising prospect. A loaf is $16.

SwissMiss recommends Shoop’s, a German deli, for Dresdener stollen.

European Deluxe Sausage Kitchen (see also ChowNews #204) has stollen, but it’s a little heavy on the marzipan and light on the orange peel for RicRios.

Emil’s Swiss Pastry [West LA-ish]

1567 Barry Ave., at Barrington, Los Angeles

310-820-2666

Locater

Rockenwagner Bakery [Culver City-ish]

12835 W. Washington Blvd., at Beethoven, Los Angeles

888-626-0382

Locater

Shoop’s Delicatessen [Beaches]

2400 Main St. Ste. A1, at Hollister, Santa Monica

310-452-1019

Locater

European Deluxe Sausage Kitchen [Midtown]

9109 W. Olympic Blvd., at Doheney, Beverly Hills

310-276-1331

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Stollen

Butai: Underappreciated Japanese Grill in Gramercy

Butai is not what it appears. Belying its modern, bilevel space, it specializes in traditional robata-style grilled dishes. “We loved it. They are cranking out really good Japanese bar food with very few missteps,” marvels kenito799.

In addition to grilled stuff, the menu offers hot and cold appetizers, sushi and sashimi, and a couple of noodle dishes. Except for a few fusiony sushi rolls, they play it fairly straight. kenito wonders if that’s one reason business appears to be light at this sister restaurant to Hapon and Maxie in Midtown: “It doesn’t seem to be getting the appreciation it deserves. Maybe it’s not westernized enough for that neighborhood.”

Upstairs is the serene main dining room; downstairs is the bar and a small counter that looks into the kitchen, affording a view of cooks working the grill. Service is friendly and attentive, and ambience is cozy, comfortable, and chic without being pretentious, says cinnamon lover.

Some recommended dishes (many from the specials menu):

- Kushiyaki (grilled skewers): In the same league as city front-runner Totto, says kenito. All excellent: chicken thigh, wing, skin, gizzard and hip, skirt steak, squid tentacles, kabocha, duck with scallion, pork belly with ponzu, bacon-wrapped shishito peppers. Skewers are $2 to $5–and half price on Monday nights.

- Grilled whole saury from Japan ($15): A good-sized (11-inch) fish, cooked so the skin is crispy and the flesh succulent. You can eat all the bones except for the spine, and the delicious liver is left in place.

- Grilled short rib: Meaty bones are served alongside juicy rare slices. Grilled meats can be ordered in entree or “tapas” portions; even the $13 tapas portion is pretty big.

- Tempura of shiso-wrapped chicken with green tea salt ($7): Four large, tasty pieces with lots of crispy shiso leaf.

- Chawan mushi ($6): The traditional steamed savory custard, packed with good stuff, including two big gingko nuts and a shrimp with real flavor.

- Agedashi tofu ($6): Commendable texture, well-balanced flavors, and sufficient seasoning.

- Sashimi: kenito reports perfect yellowtail “toro” ($4) and mackerel ($2.50), and deeply flavorful uni ($4), but says toro was a bit off. Wasabi is fresh.

- Desserts: Lily bulb soup is flavorful but heavy on the red bean paste. Black sesame pudding is drizzled with caramel; the pudding is not too sweet, so the caramel complements it nicely.

Butai Restaurant [Gramercy]
115 E. 18th St., between Park Ave. S. and Irving Pl., Manhattan
212-387-8885
Locater

Yakitori Totto [Clinton]
251 W. 55th St., 2nd floor, between 8th Ave. and Broadway, Manhattan
212-245-4555
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Butai-A Great Find!

Favela Grill: Fresh, Satisfying Brazilian Chow in Astoria

At Favela Grill, a promising new Brazilian place in Astoria, don’t overlook the weekday specials. A good one is bacalhau (salt cod) stewed with potatoes, olives and onions, which might turn up on Fridays, Brian S reports. The specials, served with rice and exceptionally tasty beans, are $10 or, before 3 p.m., $7 for a smaller portion.

Favela, which replaces a churrascaria called Girasol, offers some grilled meats, but its menu leans more toward roasts, stews, and sautes. One smart order is moist, flavorful carne de sol (sun-cured beef) with onions and manioc fries. For starters, try light, fresh-tasting empanadas–fillings include bacalhau, meat, and tuna with peppers. Overall, it’s simple, sturdy, comforting chow, some of it a tad short on flavor, says quentinC. “The food is not mind-blowing,” he adds, “but it’s fresh, down-to-earth and well prepared.”

A few blocks south, a veteran Brazilian buffet and churrascaria has settled into a satisfying groove. “You must try Brasilianville”, insists smudgy, a fan of its unique, tasty buffet dishes, solid grilled meats, and bargain prices. junglekitte says a recent buffet spread featured impeccably fresh pasta, potato salad, beets, green beans, chicken in cream sauce, and stupendous corn pudding, among other things–all for $8. “Everything I tried was top-notch. I felt like I was back in Brazil.” As with any buffet, timing is critical. Look for fresh batches of chow sometime after 8 p.m., when hungry regulars start to fill the room.

Meats are dependably good. Brian S reports a scrumptious, 13-ounce portion of wine-marinated entrana (skirt steak), done extra-rare to order, for just $5.80. “On a good day at La Portena or Esquina Criolla you could do better–for three times the price,” he notes.

Favela Grill [Astoria]
33-18 28th Ave., near 35th St., Astoria, Queens
718-545-8250
Map

Brasilianville Cafe and Grill [Long Island City]
43-12 34th Ave., between 43rd and 44th Sts., Long Island City, Queens
718-472-0090
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Favela review
Favela in Astoria?
Astoria
Great food at Brasilianville Cafe and Grill

Are We Bloated Yet?

With only a few hours left until Christmas, the round of holiday parties and gatherings is beginning to feel like an assault as you are faced with ever more groaning buffets. Like you, columnists, bloggers, and other opinion makers have eaten way too much. But they aren’t feeling particularly apologetic.

What’s on the menu? In South Carolina it’s sweet potato soufflé, red velvet cake, and fried chicken. But first, some latkes.

In Utah, it’s the dreaded all-day office potluck featuring plenty of cookies and candy.

M of M’s blog discovers that making Christmas cookies, even for gifts, inevitably leads to binging on Christmas cookies.

How full are we? At New York magazine’s Grub Street, the Gobbler has helpfully posted a scale of hunger and satiety from Ravenous to Blacked Out. Right now I’m at:

15. Bloated. The normal state of world-class gourmands like Orson Welles, Jackie Gleason, and Jabba the Hut.

Apparently, these articles, ubiquitous at this time of year, are not doing much good.

Chinatown Update: Amazing 66 and Other Cantonese Tips

Amazing 66, a Cantonese newcomer in Chinatown, is already drawing crowds with clean, clear flavors and inventive preparations. Braised and steamed dishes are smart picks, advises Brian S. “Braised duck with eight precious” is a generous portion of boneless duck breast topped with squid, shrimp, scallops, pork, chicken, pea pods, carrots, and mushrooms, and served with rich, ducky broth. Frog, deftly stir-fried with lily bulbs then steamed with rice, is a deservedly popular order, reports designerboy01. He senses a sure hand in the kitchen and an interest in introducing New Yorkers to less familiar dishes.

Other hits from Amazing 66’s first month in business: lobster over pan-fried noodles, baby bok choy with garlic, crisp chicken with pickled cabbage, five-spice-scented braised duck with brown mushrooms, spoon-tender beefsteak in a rich garlicky casserole, and steamed chicken with ham, broccoli, and mushroom in velvety, intensely chicken-y sauce. Portions are large, at least for now–steamed sliced salmon in black bean sauce is actually two huge salmon steaks, served in a deep bowl with dark savory broth. And you just might receive an order of soup on the house.

Rare miscues include overly chewy pork belly with squid and occasional overcooking and under-seasoning. Stick to Cantonese dishes; Miss Needle warns of leaden soup dumplings, disappointingly short on soup.

Three blocks north, a past Cantonese favorite appears to be on its game. 213 Grand Street Gourmet, which at first glance is a barbecued-meat house with a steam table, also has full English and Chinese menus. Two casseroles from the Chinese menu stand out, says Brian S: meaty chicken and mushrooms in rich brown broth, and fried fish with roast pork, mushrooms, and bean curd–both fresh and generously portioned. Past reports praise 213 Grand’s lo mein, chow fun, roast pork, and dim sum.

On Lafayette, next to the hit-or-miss Excellent Dumpling House, humble lunch spot New Wing Wong has re-emerged as humble lunch spot Wing Huang. Locals crowd in from morning till early evening for solid, cheap soup noodles, congees, barbecued meats, and rice plates. Duck gizzards over rice are an off-menu highlight, advises Pan.

Amazing 66 Restaurant [Chinatown]

formerly Eastern Villa

66 Mott St., between Bayard and Canal, Manhattan

212-334-0099
Locater

213 Grand Street Gourmet [Chinatown]

213 Grand St., between Mott and Elizabeth, Manhattan

212-226-4231

Locater

Wing Huang [Chinatown]

formerly New Wing Wong

111 Lafayette St., between Canal and Walker, Manhattan

212-274-0690

Locater

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Amazing 66 —new in Chinatown
213 Grand Street Gourmet Restaurant —Chinatown

Another Izakaya Favorite: Kan Yuzen

It’s not cheap, but Kan Yuzen is the best izakaya around, says gachimai, who places it miles ahead of places like Honda-ya. The restaurant is nice and clean, service is great, and food awesome. Waitresses in kimonos and wooden platform sandals, though, could be either nice and traditional or weirdly kitschy.


Kan Izakaya Yuzen [South Bay]
2755A Pacific Coast Hwy., Torrance

310-530-7888
Locater

Izakaya Kan Yuzen

Homemade Irish Cream

It’s easy to replicate the popular flavor of Bailey’s Irish Cream at home for a fraction of the cost. Susan627 uses Jameson whiskey in this recipe, which she gives as gifts:

1 cup light cream
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 2/3 cups Irish whiskey
2 Tbsp. Hershey’s chocolate syrup
1 tsp. instant coffee
1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. almond extract

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed for 30 seconds. Bottle in a tightly sealed container and refrigerate. Will keep for up to 2 months. Shake before using.

blue room notes that it’s important to serve this very cold, as pouring it over ice makes it watery.

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Homemade Baileys