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

At Olive Tree, Lamb Shwarma Worth Waiting for

Olive Tree Cafe grills killer lamb shwarma, says Peter Cherches–but not all the time. It sells out fast, and they may not have more ready for hours. Around 1 p.m. is a good time to look for it.

Olive Tree Cafe [Greenwich Village]
117 MacDougal St., between W. 3rd and Bleecker Sts., Manhattan

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David’s Dairy Treat: They Couldn’t Believe it Was Yogurt

David’s makes fresh, delicious, deceptively creamy black raspberry yogurt. “We actually thought for years it was ice cream!” confesses potbelliedkiln. “This summer we found out we were eating yogurt the whole time.”

David’s Dairy Treat [Cortland County]
2609 State Rte. 26
Cincinnatus, NY 13040

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Local Ice Cream Parlor in Westchester

Go for the Pastries, Stay for Lunch

Rubio’s Bakery may look like an unassuming panaderia, but this Guatemalan place has a ton of tasty-looking hot dishes too: chicken stew, pupusas, tamales studded with slivered vegetables, stewed beef and fried chicken, says can’t talk … eating.

There’s a nice array of fresh-looking pastries. Oreja is crispy and light, but the coffee one morning was stale.

Rubios Bakery [Midtown]
4972 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

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Guatemalan bakery and restaurant

Magic Wok’s Miraculous Return

Filipino restaurant Magic Wok has reopened after a strip-mall fire, just in time for the new year, and it’s as good as ever, says elmomonster.

Pinakbet, “a stir-fry that eats like a stew,” is chock-full of all kinds of veggies: yellow squash, bitter melon, eggplant, okra, and string beans, all pulled together with the flavor punch of fermented shrimp paste.

Bistek tagalog, or thin-sliced marinated steak glazed with a garlic-soy-vinegar blend, is pleasantly chewy and a little dry, halfway between jerky and fajitas.

Pancit sotanghon is fast food, Filipino mom-style: stretchy glass noodles stir-fried with green beans, pork, and tofu.

Note that the decor hasn’t changed either: the same red pleather seats, cramped booths, and complete absence of music.

Magic Wok [Artesia-ish]
11869 Artesia Blvd., Artesia

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A Filipino favorite

Cheese Fondue Fun

There are plenty of great things to dip in a cheese fondue beyond cubes of French bread. Vegetables that make good dippers include steamed or roasted fingerling potatoes, cherry tomatoes, pearl onions, blanched broccoli and cauliflower, steamed asparagus and green beans, and grilled or roasted mushrooms. Sliced tart apples, pears, and grapes also complement cheese fondues. Cornichons are traditional, as well. If you want to include meaty dippers, consider a dried meat like speck, or thinly sliced ham, sliced sausage, or seared cubes of beef filet. Also consider fruit and nut breads in addition to or in place of French bread.

A crisp green salad with a tart vinaigrette or an assortment of pickled vegetables on the side help counteract the richness of all that cheese. A light and sweet dessert of fruit or sorbet, perhaps accompanied by small squares of dark chocolate, is an ideal way to finish a fondue meal.

Several chowhounds offer raves for this recipe for three-cheese fondue with Champagne.

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what else to serve with CHEESE FONDUE

Say Aloha at the Bar

When you want Hawaiian-style cocktails, but aren’t in the mood for sweet slushy fruit-based drinks, try out these libations.

The original Trader Vic’s Mai Tai recipe is wonderfully balanced, says JK Grence the Cosmic Jester:

1 oz. each gold and dark rum
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. orange curacao
1/4 oz. simple syrup
1/4 oz. orgeat (almond) syrup
2 cups crushed ice

Shake everything together in a shaker, pour into a double rocks glass, garnish with a sprig of mint and a speared pineapple piece and maraschino cherry.

The Royal Hawaiian was the signature drink of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel back in the 1950s. Here’s the recipe:

1 1/2 oz. gin
1 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz. orgeat syrup

Shake well with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

sku recommends Sam Choy’s Li Hing Mui Margarita. Li Hing Mui powder is a popular seasoning in the Islands that’s sweet, salty, and sour all at once and is usually sprinkled on fruit. If you can’t find it locally, you can order it online.

1 1/2 oz. tequila

3/4 oz. Cointreau
2 Lemons
1 Lime
1/2 tsp. Li Hing Mui Powder

Squeeze citrus juices into a blender, add tequila, Cointreau, and Li Hing Mui powder, and blend. Rub the rim of a glass with lime juice, and rim with more Li Hing Mui powder.

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Hawaiian-style Cocktail

Organ Meat

The terms “organ meat” or offal, refers to animal innards. Feet, ears, and snouts may also be included. Some folks think offal is icky, but remember–foie gras is technically an innard. It’s goose liver and mighty expensive and delicious. If you like chopped liver, or pate, that’s organ meat too, of course. And what about giblets in the gravy?

You may graduate to sauteed beef liver (especially the super-mild veal liver) or fried chicken livers. From there, the sky’s the limit! Sweetbreads are considered a delicacy and, when properly prepared, are very mildly flavored.

Tripe, brains, kidneys, and tongue are not so much acquired tastes, perhaps, as acquired textures. Many are strange to our American palates.

Tripe is deliciously prepared in Mexican and Asian cuisines.

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organ meats?

A Nutty Snack

Sahale Snacks makes a great healthy snack, says AndrewCIrving. The snacks are a blend of nuts and dried fruits with interesting flavorings, like harissa and chipotle. They’re available at Target stores. Amazon sells them too

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Need ideas for snacking at work, tell me your faves!

Fast Times for Local Fare

An engaging Salon article (free site pass required) asks: As foodservice giants jump on the eat-local bandwagon, will they dilute the movement’s potential benefits to the environment, family farmers, and food lovers? The answer seems to be no—at least for some passionate locavores. As enviro-writer Bill McKibben tells Salon:

I think it’s pretty hard to co-opt local, though doubtless people will try…. The industrial food machine depends on economies of scale, and these simply aren’t available locally—which is good.

Running that “machine” accounts for 16 percent of U.S. energy consumption (including food processing, packaging, distribution, and refrigeration). But, Salon points out,

Those numbers don’t even take into account the amount of energy that goes into the industrial production of food, from the petroleum-based fertilizers to the heavy machinery. Every mouthful of food fairly oozes with oil, and it’s not canola.

That unappetizing thought is another good reason to support small farmers.

“Top Chef”: Cooking Up Controversy

Well, things have certainly gotten ugly fast, haven’t they? In the lead-up to this week’s Top Chef, Bravo was gleefully calling the episode the reality cooking show’s most controversial yet. I don’t know how controversial it was, but I certainly found it dark and disturbing.

It would now appear that the conspiracy theorists have been going full-throttle both in the Television Without Pity forums and at the blog Amuse-Biatch.

As Charlus of Amuse-Biatch says in his post today, “It’s time to bring in Oliver Stone.” Charlus then goes on to present screen-caps from the episode in question which seem to indicate Elia had a full head of hair during the whole course of Cliff’s attack on Marcel. What does this mean? Well, to put it bluntly, it means that after Cliff’s attack and Marcel’s subsequent escape, the rest of the cheftestants went off and had a high old happy time shaving their heads.

Bravo, on the other hand, tried to cut the episode to show the reverse chronology—that what started off as lighthearted head-shaving turned into something disturbing. Why would they do that? Well, if I’m correct in predicting that Elia is the winner, I think Bravo undertook to make Elia’s involvement (or passivity) in Clippergate seem less offensive. And they failed.

Reality-show manipulation is nothing new, but it is always rather disgusting.