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

Apples and Oysters

Head up to Sebastopol for a double dose of natural beauty. First, taste some of the many varieties of apples grown by Walker Apples, including Northern Spys, Pink Ladies, Romes, and Arkansas Blacks. Twenty dollars will buy your forty pounds of apples, and they let you taste each kind. It’s a great year for apples, says Ericruo–juicier than last year, very crisp, and with a good amount of acid to balance the sweet. Arkansas Blacks are particularly recommended.

Second, what problem can’t be solved with an entire quart of freshly barbecued oysters? Head to the Drakes Bay stand at the Sebastopol Sunday farmers’ market for succulent barbecued oysters. They’re $2 per oyster, or $18 to $20 for a quart. Melanie Wong says they were even good in July–and there’s no ‘R’ in July.

Walker Apples [Sonoma County]
10955 Upp Road, Sebastopol
707-823-4310
Map

Drakes Bay Oysters [Marin County]
formerly Johnson

At Blue Ribbon Market, Mustard Like Fine Wine

At Blue Ribbon Bakery Market, the mustard can upstage the sandwiches. Benjamin68 has no complaints about his smoked duck and honey on toast, but his enduring memory is of amazingly good Dijon mustard, with “intense, vibrant flavor and an incredibly long finish, like a great wine.” Made in France, it’s sold under the Blue Ribbon brand, both the Dijon ($6 a bottle) and a whole-grain variety ($8).

Blue Ribbon Bakery Market [Greenwich Village]
14 Bedford St., between Downing St. and 6th Ave., Manhattan, NY
212-647-0408
Locater

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Fantastic mustard at Blue Ribbon Market

Mexico City Flavor

El Huarache Loco stand in the Alemany Farmers’ Market provides a taste of home–if you’re from Mexico City, that is. Huaraches, handmade from fresh masa before your eyes, are fried up with just the right touch of grease, says marlon. Quesadillas made with squash blossoms are wonderful, melty and hot. Everything tastes right to folks from Mexico City–even the mole is reddish and tastes of almonds, like it does back home. Try one of their aguas frescas with your food, or check out their cafe de olla, made with piloncillo for a nice molasses flavor.

El Huarache Loco [Bernal Heights]
at the Alemany Farmers’ Market
100 Alemany Blvd., San Francisco
415-647-9423
Locater

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Huarache Loco: Mexico City food

Filling Up on Baked Goods at a Gas Station in Brooklyn

Devotees of Ostrovitsky, the hound-endorsed bakery in Midwood, can fill up on kosher treats in Borough Park at a satellite outlet tucked into a Rio gas station. Selection is smaller than at the Avenue J flagship, but it passes the road test, reports Mike R. He rates the challah “high-test” and the hamantaschen “89 octane.” There’s also coffee and a steam table laden with pastas, potato kugel, kasha varnishke, and other hot foods.

Ostrovitsky Coffee Shop and Bakery [Borough Park]
3715 14th Ave., between 37th and 38th Sts., in Rio Service Station, Brooklyn
718-436-5222
Map

Ostrovitsky Bakery [Midwood]
1201 Ave. J, at E. 12th St., Brooklyn
718-951-7924
Locater

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Great Challah in Brooklyn?

Turning Over a New Leaf

Leaf Cuisine, a (mostly) raw and vegan restaurant, is a good choice for anyone looking to eat light, says Poorwater, who likes their wraps and salads. You can build your own wraps and salads using nine kinds of filling.

For something more filling, go for the croquettes, “delicately dehydrated until crispy on the outside, soft and yummy on the inside,” as the menu says.

The croquettes are pretty tasty, and come with flavorful sauces. There’s veggie sunburger (vegetable-seed croquettes with sweet, tangy tomato sauce), Bombay burrito (lentil croquettes with coconut-curry sauce), and Mediterranean medley (sun-dried tomato and walnut croquettes with spinach pesto).

In salad form, these come topped with tomatoes, sprouts and greens. (The house dressing, a creamy ginger-shoyu, is delish.) In a wrap, they’re rolled up in a collard leaf (default) or a sprouted grain tortilla.

Wraps and salads average about $10. They also have appetizers, soups, and other entrees.

Also in the area is Leonor’s, a vegetarian Mexican place. The food is fresh, clean and satisfying, says Poorwater, though you’ll probably want to add salt and hot sauce. In addition to the usual Mexican fare, they also have pizza, burgers, and salads. Oh yes, “burgers.” They use fake meat and soy cheese–not like the real thing, but kind of tasty in its own way. Fake chicken, for example, is a lot like a salty matzoh ball.

Leaf Cuisine [East San Fernando Valley]
14318 Ventura Blvd., at Beverly Glen, Sherman Oaks
818-907-8779
Locater

Leaf Cuisine [Culver City-ish]
11938 Washington Blvd., Culver City
310-390-6005
Locater

Leonor’s Vegetarian Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
11403 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood
818-980-9011
Locater

Leonor’s Vegetarian Mexican Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
12445 Moorpark St. # C, at Whitsett, Studio City
818-762-0660
Locater

Leonor Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
5217 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village
818-769-6315
Locater

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Leaf Cuisine in Sherman Oaks–Report (also, a Leonor’s Mexican Vegetarian mention)

Doughnuts for the Beverly Hills Set

With Fritelli

Fromage Fort

Fromage fort is an old French creation born of frugality, a means of using up all the odd–and old–bits of cheese that have accumulated in the pantry. It can be made from any mix of hard, semisoft, and soft cheeses, and all mixes seem to work, so long as they’re not too salty. You trim them of their rinds and any moldy spots, and combine them in a food processor with a clove or two of garlic and enough white wine (or cream, or vegetable stock) to make a rough paste, perfect for spreading on bread or toast. It’ll keep about a week in the fridge.

Several recommend Alton Brown’s recipe.

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Fromage Fort

Bagels by Mail

Bagels are serious business in New York. Happily enough, some favored New York delis will deliver their babies by mail. The cost of shipping perishable goods overnight is high, but if you really need a New York bagel:

For Ess-a-Bagel, call the 3rd. Ave. location, 212-980-1010

Janet from Richmond has had great success ordering H & H bagels.

L_W orders from Bagel Boss and says the bagels come fast and fresh.

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Mail order bagels

Things You Never Thought You’d Cook With: Pineapple Rinds

Never again must the thorny hide of the pineapple be relegated straight to the trash can or compost bin. You can make delicious stuff with it, like a fizzy, fermented Mexican beverage called tepache and a spicy-fruity condiment called pineapple vinagre.

Tepache is particularly common along the central west coast of Mexico and in Mexico City, says Eat Nopal, who describes his homemade batch as lightly fizzy like a spritzer, and refreshing, with hints of alcohol, pineapple, and woodsy flavors. It makes an exotic drink all on its own or a good cocktail mixer. Here’s the recipe he uses. Where the recipe says to let the mixture “simmer” for 48 hours, it means let it steep. Eat Nopal adds no ale and lets it steep for 72 hours; it will ferment without a boost, and the carbonation mostly occurs in the last 24 hours. He also says that all the English-language recipes for tepache he’s seen use the whole pineapple, but Mexican recipes tend to use only the rind, which is what he does; his tastes like the tepache he drank in Mexico.

Pineapple vinagre is a condiment made by boiling pineapple rinds to extract their flavor, then combining the boiling liquid with garlic, habanero chiles, herbs, and spices. It’s used for making ceviche, and for sprinkling on kebabs, beans, etc., says oakjoan.

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What to do with leftover pineapple rinds? Tepache

Tofu Skin

Tofu skin (a.k.a. yuba) is wonderful stuff. It’s a thin skin that forms on top of boiled soy milk. The skin is dried in sheets and used for all sorts of applications after it’s been rehydrated. You can occasionally find it frozen, too.

Use yuba like wonton wrappers. Or slice the stuff into noodles, or deep fry it.

Dim sum parlors will sometimes have items using tofu skin; just ask.

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Tofu Skin