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

Time for the Taste of Christmas

With Thanksgiving over, it’s the right time to head over to Claremont Village for a taste of Christmas: Burt & Rocky’s peppermint ice cream. It’s stabilizer free, meaning that it has that creamy, full-fat, traditional ice cream shop texture. It’s Barbie-doll pink, minty, and dotted with small chunks of peppermint candy that’s crispy in the center but has melted into a minty goo around the edges.

A small serving looks more like a double scoop compared with the average Westside gelato shop or even Rite Aid, and costs $2.20.

Also in the area is Dr. Bob’s “dipping store,” where you can taste the ice cream near its source. (Or you can just buy it at Gelsons or Bristol Farms.)

McConnell’s, made in Santa Barbara, has peppermint stick ice cream (without stabilizers). Short of going up to SB, it’s available at Whole Foods and Gelsons.

Bert & Rocky’s Cream Co [Inland of LA]

242 Yale Ave., Claremont

909-625-1852

Locater

Bert & Rocky’s Cream Co [Inland of LA]

360 W. Foothill Blvd., Upland

909-946-6805

Locater

Dr Bob’s Hancrafted Ice Cream [Inland of LA]

1101 W. McKinley Ave., Pomona

909-865-1956

Locater

McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, Inc. [Santa Barbara County]

835 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara

805-963-8813

Map

Whole Foods [Citywide]

Bristol Farms [Citywide]

Gelsons [Citywide]

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Burt & Rocky’s Peppermint Ice Cream

Indian-Style Brussels Sprouts

janetfromreno’s husband marries South Asian flavors with northern hemisphere fall staple Brussels sprouts in this delicious dish. Janet suggests tasting as you go, and adjusting the spicing to suit your palate.

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed, and cut in half

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger

1 Tbsp. cumin powder

2 tsp. sugar

2 tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. cayenne

1 cup water

juice of 1 lime

a small handful fresh cilantro, washed and chopped

Saute Brussels sprouts in olive oil for a few minutes. Add garlic, ginger, sugar, and spices, continuing to stir. Add water and lime juice, and cook, stirring occasionally until sprouts are nearly done to your taste. Add cilantro and finish cooking. Taste and adjust seasonings.

This is also excellent with the addition of a few red potatoes, peeled and chopped fine, and sauteed with the Brussels sprouts in the first step.

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Indian-style Brussel Sprouts.

Mashed Potato Cakes

When you’ve got leftover mashed potatoes, the best way to revive them is to make them into mashed potato cakes. Add whatever herbs or flavorings sound good to you–hounds especially like chopped scallions and grated cheese. Some mix in an egg as a binder, but many find this is unnecessary, and can sometimes make the mixture too wet to shape easily. Drier mashed potatoes are easier to shape and pan fry, but potatoes rich in butter and cream can be dredged in seasoned flour and fried up well. Fry in olive oil or butter over medium heat until well browned on the bottom without moving, about 5-6 minutes, and flip to brown the other side. They’ll be crisp outside, soft and warm inside, and very satisfying.

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how would you make mashed potato cakes?

Pork Belly

The new hot ingredient in high-end cooking is pork belly; it’s a cut that’s a lovely combination of fat and lean. It’s the same cut that’s used for bacon, but it’s unsalted and fresh. Pork belly can be braised or slow roasted. It lends it self to rubs and Asian flavorings.

Formerlyfingers says it’s a unique textural sensation, with alternating layers of collagen-rich fat and tender meat.

You can prepare pork belly at home. Niman Ranch sells it online.

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Pork Belly.com???

Pho. What Makes It Good?

There’s lots of agreement about what makes for a good bowl of the traditional Vietnamese noodlesoup called pho (it’s pronounced “fuh”). Pho bo tai is the popular beef and noodle version, with raw beef added to cook in the hot broth.

The aroma should rise up and make you hungry. The broth should be steamy, but not so hot that it will instantly cook the beef through. (The best pho joints keep the thinly sliced beef cold, and add it in a clump, so it remains rare in the center.)

No one flavoring should dominate; charred ginger, star anise, and the various herbs, should combine into a flavorful whole. The broth should have a silky feel from the long cooking of bones and meat.

Each bowl will get broth, noodles that have some body, and a choice of meat. There’ll be a variety of garnishes from which to choose: bean sprouts, cilantro, basil, scallions, and lime to brighten the flavors. Add some of the sweet and hot sauces, to your taste.

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What is really good Pho

Roast Pork at Tweety Deli

Dave MP thinks the roast pork that comes in the roast pork wonton soup at Tweety Deli is the best in San Francisco. A generous serving of tasty, nicely sweet pork comes in a simple broth with large pieces of bok choi and overcooked, falling-apart wontons. For $4, though, the soup is worth it just for that lovely pork.

Tweety Deli [Mission]

1200 Vermont St., San Francisco

415-642-1189

Locater

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Roast pork wonton soup at Tweety’s Deli–23rd and Vermont by SF General Hospital

Mini Buns

If you’re making homemade sliders or adorable miniature sandwiches for a party, you can buy mini buns from Neldam’s Bakery. mochimunchie made miniature pulled pork sandwiches with them for a party and the guests loved them.

Another option is to use dinner rolls. San Francisco Sourdough makes a good version, available in the bread aisle in local grocery stores (look for the orange label, not the green one), that won’t overpower the flavor of the sandwich you’re making. foodiegrl has successfully used them to make sliders with grass-fed beef and pickled onions.

The best rolls ever are made by Panorama, but they can be tough to get ahold of. Robert Lauriston notes that they sell at many farmers’ markets (check their web site for locations), and suggests you call ahead to see if they could bring you some when they are at your local market. foodiegrl notes that these are the rolls that Myth restaurant uses for their sliders. Just don’t get seduced by the beautifully glossy, eggy dinner rolls ordinarily on sale at the Panorama stand at the farmers’ markets–they have orange rind in them, probably not appropriate for most savory sandwich uses.

Neldam’s Danish Bakery [Downtown]

3401 Telegraph Ave., Oakland

510-658-1967

Locater

Panorama Baking

800-808-7077

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Know of a good bakery that sells mini hamburger buns?

Madina: Full-Throttle Pakistani Spice in Brooklyn

Robustly spiced steam-table curries and first-rate meats and breads from the tandoor are winning fans at Madina in Kensington. It’s the best of the many Pakistani places on the Coney Island Avenue strip, for gnosh’s money–not that a lot of money is required.

Chicken kababs, with a slight char and strong peppery kick, are around a buck apiece. Nan, baked to order, are pillowy at the edges, crisp and thin at the center, and finished off with a brushing of butter and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Vegetable dishes–okra, chickpeas, spinach with potato, etc.–deliver complex flavors and authentic heat. “Nobody could complain that they’re toning things down for the American palate,” says gnosh.

It’s mostly takeout, but a recent expansion created a room where diners can sit down.

Madina [Kensington]

563 Coney Island Ave., at Beverley Rd., Brooklyn

718-469-3535

Locater

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Best Indian in Brooklyn?

MADINA-nice Coney Island Avenue alternative

Olympic Pita Comes to Manhattan; and Other News

Brooklyn’s Olympic Pita–celebrated for shwarma, falafel, and stellar fresh-baked flatbreads–has branched out in Manhattan. Sprightly vegetable salads, served as sides or generously stuffed into sandwiches, are another highlight. Despite the restaurant’s name, many fans prefer the thicker laffa bread to the pita.

The scramble system of ordering has flummoxed many newcomers since the place opened in November. “It is a bit chaotic. People had no idea where to go,” reports Miss Needle. So here’s the deal: Go to the cashier in the back on the right. Place your order and pay. Then return to the front and give your receipt to one of the counter guys.

In another welcome expansion, Midtown’s Taksim has opened a second restaurant in the East Village. A highly promising report from Pan raves about lentil balls, rice-and-herb-stuffed cabbage leaves, and hearty, slow-cooked lamb shank and eggplant in tomato sauce, among other things. “Go now,” he urges. “In a few months, the place will be hopping.”

On the Upper West Side, Vinnie’s is no more. It was just a neighborhood pizza joint, but it grabbed hound attention for a time with unexpected offerings like crustless, quiche-like zucchini pies.

Olympic Pita [Garment District]

58 W. 38th St., between 5th and 6th Aves., Manhattan

212-869-7482

Map

Olympic Pita [Midwood]

1419 Coney Island Ave., between Aves. J and K, Brooklyn

718-258-6222

Locater

Taksim [East Village]

99 2nd Ave., between E. 6th and 5th Sts., Manhattan

212-979-5400

Locater

Taksim [Midtown East]

1030 2nd Ave., near E. 54th St., Manhattan

212-421-3004

Locater

Vinnie’s Pizza [Upper West Side]

285 Amsterdam Ave., between W. 73rd and 74th Sts., Manhattan

Map

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The Olympic Pita in Manhattan?

Taksim East Village

great pizza on UWS

The OC’s Old-School Mexican American Joint

Mexi-Casa has been serving up giant meals of consistently tasty Mexican-American food at paupers’ prices since the ‘60s (when no non-Latinos in OC could pronounce the word ta-que-ria), and recently moved to new digs, says GrindzHound.

Make sure to get the cheese chips, roasted in the oven to toasty, bubbly perfection. Al pastor and carnitas are especially good. A lot of people seem to like salsa roja with al pastor, but it makes a great combo with salsa verde–the combination of tomatillos, crunchy onions and the meat is a classic one. There’s also a sinus-clearning chile verde and beef tacos, the shell and beef deep-fried together for a meaty roasted flavor.

Combination lunch with two items, rice and beans is $3-4. Combination dinner (same) is $4-5.

Mexi-Casa Restaurant [South OC]

1778 W. Lincoln Ave., at Euclid, Anaheim 92801

714-635-2612

Locater

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Maybe the Best Value in OC, Mexi-Casa.