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

Visions of Sugarplums

Fighting hard not to give in to your food cravings? A new study says a little of what you fancy keeps you from pigging out. As the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reports in a story that originally appeared in The Washington Post, the study found that trying to restrict food (particularly carb-y foods) too severely can backfire:

Rather than ‘eating in moderation all along, you end up rebounding,’ and consuming more calories, notes Jennifer Coelho, lead author of the University of Toronto study, published in this month’s Appetite journal. ‘It’s better to try to find a balance.’

The story notes that cravings for foods like broccoli or radishes are rare. Instead, cravings for french fries or ice cream are de rigueur, as are cravings for familar “comfort” foods:

‘Think of food cravings as a sensory memory,’ notes psychologist Marcia Pelchat of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. ‘You remember how good it felt the last time you had that food. You have to have experienced eating it before.’

Whether it’s possible to learn to crave healthy, lower-calorie foods is not known. ‘In theory, you ought to be able to learn to crave carrot sticks,’ Pelchat says. ‘But 95 to 97 percent of the foods that people report craving are energy-dense.’

In the brain, food cravings activate the same areas that are affected by cocaine, alcohol, cigarettes and even the pleasure of buying lots of shoes, notes Pelchat, who in 2004 published the first brain images of food cravings.

This doesn’t surprise me. When I give in to my Snickers bar yen, I resemble nothing so much as one of those rats pressing a bar to get cocaine.

Chapli Kebab at Darbar

Melanie Wong samples chapli kebab wherever she can find it, and the version at Darbar still rocks. Maybe it’s the exotic scent of toasted cumin and coriander mingled with sizzling grilled meat. Maybe it’s the crunch of the crackly brown crust, contrasting with the velvety tenderness of the micro-ground beef interior. Or maybe it’s the fiery-hot spicing, briefly cooled by the chilled mint chutney. Don’t be fooled by that cool mint chutney, by the way–it’s full of raw jalapeno madness. Two gorgeous patties are only $3.99.

The sarson ka saag is no slacker, either–it’s made with fresh mustard greens instead of depressing frozen spinach, it’s good and garlicky, and it has a beautifully fluffy texture.

Darbar [Polk Gulch]
1412 Polk St., San Francisco
415-359-1236
Locater

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Chapli Kebab Greatness at Darbar (SF)

New Pupuseria in Santa Rosa

For pupusas, Salvadoran empanadas, and other tasty things, check out the new Pupusas Salvadorenos, says Stephanie Sugars. They serve Salvadoran antojitos, such as four kinds of pupusas, empanadas de platano (with beans or custard), tamales, pasteles, and nuegados. They also serve breakfast and large plates. The food is excellent, especially the empanadas de platano with custard–crispy on the outside, cool and creamy on the inside.

Bring your own metal fork if you want one, since dishes are served with plastic forks. The space doesn’t have booths, but it has lots of tables along the walls and in the center–great for getting a crowd of people together.

Pupusas Salvadorenas [Sonoma County]
1403 Maple Ave., Santa Rosa
707-544-3141
Map

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New Santa Rosa Pupuseria

Pushcart Derby: Midtown’s Best Meat on Wheels

Among the countless street carts that peddle grilled meat in Midtown Manhattan, three entries lead the field–though chowhounds disagree on which ones win, place, and show.

The cart that feeds throngs of nighthawks till 4 a.m. at 6th Avenue and 53rd Street is known to some as Chicken and Rice, or just “The Cart”. It’s the one with the daunting lines and the fan website; they sure come through with terrific lamb gyros and chicken, in rice plates or pita sandwiches. E Eto says subtle seasoning allows the meat flavors to take the lead. He also notes that the lines–and resulting continuous turnover–mean the food doesn’t sit around drying on a hot grill, as it does at many other street carts. Rice and salad are mediocre, though. For vinouspleasure, the appeal of this place lies in texture: tender chicken, slightly crispy lamb, velvety white sauce.

There is huge praise for their sauces, especially that white sauce; it’s creamy, yogurty, just about perfect. The hot one is searing and, some say, lacking in depth. The barbecue one is skippable.

The Kwik Meal and Kwik Gourmet carts on 45th Street turn out the best street-legal lamb in Midtown, says vinouspleasure, who faults only smallish portions compared with rival vendors. They, too, season their meat with restraint, says E Eto, though a pleasing pepperiness sings out. Also appreciated by hounds: pinpoint timing on the grill, tasty chicken thigh meat, and real lamb (not pressed gyro meat). The default hot sauce is fruity, vinegary, and nicely piquant; chile heads can opt for a hotter hot sauce, but be warned–it’s combustible. Beyond chicken and lamb, the Kwik Meal carts offer tiger shrimp and fish specials like salmon or grouper.

The Trini-Pak Boyz at 43rd and 6th go heavier on the spice, producing the best-seasoned chicken in Midtown, says E Eto. Here, too, high turnover pays off in freshly cooked meat. Rice and vegetable accompaniments are uncommonly tasty, and the hot and white sauces are on par with those at 53rd and 6th. The Trini part of the menu includes curries, jerk, and roti that vinouspleasure rates good but not great.

Street vendor [Midtown West]
a.k.a. Chicken and Rice
53rd St. at 6th Ave., SW corner, Manhattan
Map

Kwik Meal [Midtown West]
45th St. at 6th Ave., SW corner, Manhattan
Map

Kwik Gourmet [Midtown West]
45th St. at 5th Ave., SW corner, Manhattan
Map

Trini-Pak Boyz [Midtown West]
43rd St. at 6th Ave., SE corner, Manhattan
Map

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west side carts review

Lunetta: Italian Bites and a Boerum Hill Makeover

The inventive Japanese food at Boerum Hill’s Taku delighted Chowhounds but played to an often-empty house—so the owners rewrote the script. Exit Taku, enter Lunetta, an Italian place offering inexpensive small plates starting at $3 and entrees in the $11 to $15 range, heavy on rustic, slow-cooked fare.

Chef and co-owner Adam Shepard remains in the house, but instead of Berkshire pork ramen he’s making satisfying orecchiette with sausage, among other things. Winning small dishes include roasted beets with rosemary, meatballs in deep, creamy sauce, cheese and cured meat plates, and bruschette with toppings such as mushrooms, roasted eggplant, and ricotta with lemon. For dessert, consider gelati—a recent trio of mascarpone, toasted almond, and chocolate hazelnut was rich and delicious. Service is friendly, though some report shaky timing and other opening-month missteps.

The Smith Street crowd is warming to the new format. “The place was PACKED,” Nehna reports after a satisfying Friday dinner. “I’m glad to see the new venture getting off to such a good start, as much as it saddens me that I never once saw Taku that busy. I guess the neighborhood got what it wanted.”

Lunetta [Boerum Hill]
formerly Taku
116 Smith St., between Pacific and Dean, Brooklyn
718-488-6269
Locater

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Taku to Manhattan; chef opens La Lunetta
Lunetta on Smith
la lunetta impressions

Le Petit Prince: A Little Bit of Paris in Astoria

Le Petit Prince, a new French bakery in Astoria, turns out a beautiful croissant–buttery, flaky, and rich, with just the right density in the soft midbelly, reports Rufo. Apple tarts, pain au chocolat, and irresistible little mini-cakes–soft, nutty, and perfectly moist–have also caught hounds’ attention. Another encouraging sign: friendly service by an actual French person behind the counter. “It is a nice change from the Greek bakeries,” says kellyc96.

Le Petit Prince [Astoria]
33-09 Broadway, between 33rd and 34th Sts., Astoria, Queens
718-777-3040
Map

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Le Petit Prince- New Bakery in Astoria

Tasty Pan-Asian Tapas

Why aren’t more people talking about Yatai, wonders Dave and Stuff after two knockout meals there. The “Asian tapas bar” certainly has an eclectic menu, with gado gado, “monsoon ceviche,” sushi rolls, and Korean tuna sashimi.

But oysters on the half shell are simple–just a dash of soy and citrus–and perfect. Shiitake mushroom, stuffed with spicy tuna and topped with pickled onions, is excellent. Albacore sashimi is fresh and delicious, a great match for the crispy onions that come with it. DIY charcoal-grilled ribeye is the most expensive thing on the menu at $17, and worth it.

Desserts are made in-house, and include a fine pumpkin flan.

Four beers, 4-5 plates, and dessert for two comes to about $72.

Yatai Asian Tapas [West Hollywood]
8535 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood
310-289-0030
Locater

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Yatai Asian Tapas in Hollywood

Rocking the Sea Spiders

The new San Gabriel Valley supermarket 168 is having a crazy deal on Dungeness crab: $2.99/lb, $3.99/lb for the giant ones, reports africanizedkiller, and the crowds are out in force for the deal.

It’s worth keeping an eye on Shun Fat supermarket, says monku–they sometimes have them for $1.99/lb.

168 Supermarket [San Gabriel Valley]
1421 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra
626-282-5168
Map

Shun Fat Supermarket [San Gabriel Valley]
421 N. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park
626-308-3998
Locater

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Live from 168 in Alhambra: it’s Dungeness (2.99/lb)

Spicy Popcorn

If you enjoy your popcorn with a kick, here are a few ways to do it:

Use some hot chili oil as part of the oil for popping your popcorn, or mix Creole seasoning into the oil.

Stir Tabasco or hot smoked Spanish paprika into melted butter and toss with popped corn. jbyoga likes a combo of curry powder, sriracha sauce, and salt. If you make microwave popcorn, toss it with garlic powder and cayenne, recommends MeowMixx.

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Spicy popcorn

Fondue

Who doesn’t have an old fondue set tucked away in the back of a cupboard? With winter approaching, it’s time to haul that sucker out and have a fondue party.

For a lot of folks, fondue means one thing: melted cheese (often Gruyere and Emmental), combined with white wine, kirsch, and spices. You spear crusty bites of bread on special long-handled forks, and dip them into the cheese, for a communal meal. At the bottom of the pot, the cheese will form a delicious crust; the crust the best part, says Candy.

Fondue bourguignonne is raw beef cooked in a in hot oil in pot a fondue pot, speared on the end of those long-handles forks.

A dessert fondue can be made from melted chocolate, with fruit, marshmallows, or a sturdy chunk of cake for dipping.

The older fondue pots require sterno to keep the ingredients hot. Durm says the little cans of sterno are getting hard to find. But there are now exciting new electric fondue sets.

Here’s one that could double as a little deep fryer.

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Fondue
Fondue Set?