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

Sheba Piano Lounge

Maya loves Sheba Lounge for upscale Ethiopian food–especially a dish of sirloin tips cooked in clarified butter with Ethiopian spices. The vegetarian sampler platter and lentil sambussas are great, too, and the mild injera will be loved even by those who claim to hate Ethiopian food. Food for two, plus two beers and a fantastic pomegranate martini, will run you about $50.

Besides the food, the real draw of the place is the atmosphere, featuring the eponymous piano, a comfortable lounge with a fireplace, big armchairs, and “two female owners who spoil you with great service,” says Maya. It’s the best option in the area by far, and a great destination in its own right.

Sheba Piano Lounge [Fillmore]

1419 Fillmore Street, at Ellis, San Francisco



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Sheba Lounge–what to order?

Savory Strawberry Salsa

Corundas (tamales) where the masa is made with olive oil instead of lard shouldn’t be good. Especially vegetarian corundas, topped with grilled cactus and potatoes. But, as it turns out, these abominations from the Emeryville branch of Cocina Poblana are indeed good–moist and tasty, and better than many lard versions. “This dish was just so wrong from every point of view that to win me over it had to be good,” says rworange. And it is.

The place gets extra points for its unusual and tasty salsas, like a hot peanut salsa and a savory, smoky strawberry salsa made with chunks of chopped fresh strawberry.

Cocina Poblana [Emeryville]

1320 65th Street, at Hollis, Emeryville



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SF & Emeryville–Cocina Poblana–Corundas, 5 moles, 6 + salsas (peanut, strawberry,etc), breakfast soup & more.

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



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

360 W. Foothill Blvd., Upland



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

1101 W. McKinley Ave., Pomona



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

835 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara



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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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



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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



Panorama Baking


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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



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Best Indian in Brooklyn?

MADINA-nice Coney Island Avenue alternative