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

Mr. Pollo

vinchar likes the chicken and arepas at the newly-opened Mr. Pollo. Arepas are kind of like discs of cornbread with cheese inside. The arepas here are huge and terrific, with medium-sweet masa; they go for $1 each. The chicken is reasonably moist and pleasantly garlicky, even if you get there late and take the last chicken. A new place worth checking out if you’re in the area.

Mr. Pollo [Mission]
2823 Mission Street, at 24th St., San Francisco

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Mr. Pollo (?) ; new at 24th and Mission

Devin Tavern: All-American Comforts in Tribeca

Hearty American chow and creative cocktails are drawing downtown hounds to Devin Tavern, opened in summer by the owners of nearby steakhouse Dylan Prime. Crowd-pleasers include pan-roasted duck, corn souffle with lobster bisque, a Gruyere burger with pork belly, and grilled Arctic char (with broccoli rabe, white bean puree, and veal reduction). Some dishes are too rich for their own good; nice briny Wellfleet oysters are nearly overpowered by the accompanying lardons and Hollandaise.

Mixology is first-rate. Good bets on the cocktail menu include the pepper basil caipirinha, Raleigh Collins (silver tequila, lemon juice, house-made limoncello), and Blue Tomato (vodka with a blue cheese-stuffed pickled cherry tomato).

Hounds also love the handsome brick-and-beam space. But some find the food too pricey, with most entrees in the mid-$20s and topping out near $40. “For a place that bills itself as a tavern, it’s on the high side,” advises Phil E. “We were extremely happy with our meal, but someone coming in expecting something more casual (the environment is, the food isn’t) might be surprised.”

Devin Tavern [Tribeca]
363 Greenwich St., near Franklin, Manhattan

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Where to go to dinner tonight….anywhere south of 14th
Help! Need a dinner spot in Tribeca (or near the 1) Tonight…
Devin Tavern–Review (Long)

Lucali’s: Masterly Brick-Oven Pizza in Carroll Gardens

New York’s hottest new pizzeria is an old-school kind of joint with deep Brooklyn roots. Lucali’s in Carroll Gardens has equipment from the departed Leonardo’s, sausage from Esposito Pork Store, and an owner whose pizza god is Domenico DeMarco of hound mecca DiFara. ” I think we have a winner here!” exults bobjbkln.

The pie at Lucali’s, which opened in October and is already drawing crowds, is thin but not super-thin, made with care and attention to craft, and baked in a wood-and-gas-fired brick oven. “The crust is the perfect combo of chew and char, the ingredients first rate,” says missmasala. CTownFeedR reports a flavorful crust, tasty sauce, a stellar cheese combination of fresh mozzarella and grated grana padano, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil at the end.

Although chef-owner Mark Iacono is inspired by DeMarco, his pie has its own personality. “The pizza is not like DiFara’s,” observes bobjbkln. “It’s brick oven, and the crust is somewhat thicker. The cheese is more chewy than DiFara’s. In all, the pizza reminded me more of Totonno’s than DiFara’s, but it was certainly very good.”

Iacono is still getting to know his oven and its quirks. Some complain of overly charred pizzas, others of soggy, underdone ones–but if it doesn’t come out right, he’ll cheerfully make a new one.

Besides the pizza, hounds dig the vibe: low lighting, Caruso on the jukebox, and intoxicating wood smoke aromas. “Still working out the kinks, true, but all the elements are there,” writes sadie. “This place should succeed. He’s got the passion and the pizza–the rest is up to us.”

Lucali’s Pizza [Carroll Gardens]
575 Henry St., between Carroll and 1st Pl., Brooklyn

DiFara Pizzeria [Midwood]
1424 Ave. J, at E. 14th St., Brooklyn

Totonno Pizzeria Napolitano [Coney Island]
1524 Neptune Ave., between W. 15th and 16th Sts., Brooklyn

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Loucallie’s: Wood-fired Brick Oven Pizza in Carroll Gardens
New Restaurant–Henry btw Carroll and 1st

Chicken Pho – the Good, the Bad, the Gristly

The world of pho eaters can probably be divided between those who love it no-holds-barred funky (bring on the tendon, the tripe, what have you) and those who prefer not to find any funny stuff in their bowls.

If you’re looking for chicken pho without the ick factor, russkar gives major props to Pho Thanh, where the broth is solidly good and there’s nothing but boneless, skinless white meat in addition to the noodles.

On the other end of the spectrum is Pho Bolsa, where a bowl of pho ga means deeply flavored broth, chicken meat, guts, and maybe even ovaries. Not for the faint of heart, but it’s fantastic, says kingkong5.

Pho Thanh [Little Saigon]
13055 Euclid St., Garden Grove

Pho Bolsa Restaurant [Little Saigon]
14092 Magnolia St., Westminster

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Pho’ Thanh- Perfect Chicken Pho’

Delicata Squash

Delicata is sweeter than most varieties of winter squash, and denser in texture. It’s difficult to peel, but the peel is edible. You can use it in recipes as you would butternut squash; or cut it in half, seed it, and roast it with 1 Tbsp. each butter and brown sugar in each half, then scoop and eat.

wyf slices it into rings, tosses with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then roasts on a sheet pan at about 375F until it’s tender. pitu does the same, but adds fried sage leaves and shallots.

oakjoan loves this treatment for delicata squash: combine coarsely ground whole spices (she likes fennel, cumin, coriander, and black peppercorns), crumbled oregano, a couple of crushed garlic cloves, and salt, and mix with olive oil. Brush on quartered squash and bake at 400F for about 15 minutes; test for doneness continue baking if necessary.

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Delicata squash

Fire Up the Hot Pot

Hot Pot City is sort of a do-it-yourself place–each table has a cast iron griddle at its center, with a hot pot in the middle. You serve yourself ingredients from the refrigerated case in the back of the restaurant, and you can cook up hot pot soup and sizzling meat at the same time. You’re charged per plate for the ingredients: $2-5.

Vegetables, tofu, and shrimp are amazingly fresh, but the beef, lamb, and venison get a bit dry from standing uncovered in the refrigerator. The meats are also trimmed of their fat, so it’s a good thing that butter for cooking is complimentary. Steamed rice also comes free.

Dinner for two runs about $30.

Hot Pot City [Little Saigon]
15606 Brookhurst St. Suite E, Westminster

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Hot Pot City mini-review

Peanut Milk

“Peanut milk” has recently emerged as a possible item of consumption in many of our communities. What’s it like?

ipsedixit was “not really blown away,” which is a much more diplomatic response than that of other chowhounds. Pei says “it tastes like the water after you boil a lot of shelled peanuts for hours and hours, but grittier.”

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Anyone ever try PEANUT MILK?

Decadent Country Ham Spread

Country ham, a bit of bourbon, and a lot of butter. That’s all there is in this rich spread pikawicca calls addictive. A southern specialty, country ham can be hard to find outside the south except via mail order, but coconutz notes that many Chinese markets carry Smithfield country ham. It’s often possible to buy slices of country ham, cooked or uncooked, so you don’t have to commit to a whole one.

If your ham is already cooked, skip the initial part of the recipe, courtesy of Candy:

12 oz. raw cured country ham
1/4 cup plus 2 tsp. good bourbon
1/4 cup water
8 oz. unsalted butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350F. Soak ham in cold water for 20 minutes. Drain ham and place in baking dish; add 1/4 cup bourbon, water, and some pepper, and bake for 30 minutes. Discard liquid and set ham aside until it’s cool enough to handle. Remove any fat and chop the ham roughly; put in a food processor and grind. Add butter and remaining bourbon, and process until well combined. Pack into containers and refrigerate; let warm slightly before serving. Serve with warm toast points, biscuits, or crackers.

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Country Ham Spread, make this!

Themed Dinner Parties

Chowhounds like to feed their friends at dinner parties, and what’s cooler than hosting a dinner party with a theme? Okay, it’s not that cool, but it could be fun.

cackalackie suggests a Bollywood theme–serve curries, dosas, and pani poori, play Bollywood movie soundtracks, and provide bindis and henna tattoos for guests to wear.

atheorist proposes Russian zakuski as a theme–the Russian appetizer course, including blini and ice-cold vodka. Make the buckwheat pancakes and serve smoked fish, pickles, sour cream, and honey.

ML8000 likes the idea of serving school cafeteria food. Or, says chowser, how about “Balls Around the World”–ball-shaped food from every culture?

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Theme Dinner Party Ideas?

Battle Pie Crust

It takes a lot of hubris to declare that you’ve found the recipe for “the perfect crust.” Of course, The New York Times, being the paper of record and all, has enough cred to do it.

In a piece sure to be almost as popular as last week’s Bittman bread fest, Melissa Clark bakes a few dozen pie crusts to render (ha!) a verdict on the best fat to use for shattering flakiness combined with melting tenderness.

Butter, shortening, suet, lard, duck fat, peanut butter, olive oil, and more. Her choice? Leaf lard, the fat that surrounds a hog’s kidneys. But it isn’t easy to prepare:

Step one: pick out any bloody bits and sinews, chop the fat into pieces, and render it slowly in a double boiler for eight hours.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the L.A. Times also thinks it has the ultimate crust. Betty Hallock visits City Bakery’s Maury Rubin to get the skinny on his rich tart dough. Like the aforementioned bread recipe, the “miracle crust from the master” promises to take away the guesswork and simplify a complicated process:

You don’t need a food processor or even a mixer. You’re not scrutinizing your dough, hoping to see what looks like snowy peas or barley or the Infant Jesus of Prague. You don’t have to worry about overworking the dough because even if you knead it and slap it and press into it to patch up some torn spots, it turns out great.

Which crust will win the day? We’ll just have to bake them both! Or maybe this one. And ooh, the legendary cider pie sounds like it should go on my list as well. So many pies, so little time.