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

Get Your Greek On

When it comes to Greek food in L.A., the first name that springs to mind is Papa Cristo’s. For take-out or eating in, Greek grocery items and Thursday family dinners, the place is perpetually popular. Grilled octopus is charred lovingly and incredibly tender, and the tzatziki is better than anywhere else, says Mr Taster. Taramasalata is good too.

George’s Greek has delicious, no-nonsense Greek/Cypriot food, including saganaki and a stellar kleftiko, raves rjw_lgb_ca. It’s in Long Beach (where the Pine St. location is reckoned a bit better than Belmont Shore) and downtown L.A. (lunch only).

The Firehouse in Reseda isn’t strictly Greek (you can also get burgers, or fish and chips), but they have tasty food, made to order. If you don’t usually like stuffed grape leaves, try their vegetarian version. It’s longer and more loosely packed than most other grape leaves, with a tomato and rice filling. There are sampler plates, and most combos include Greek salad, pita and rice/fries for $10. It’s all delicious, says LisaN.

Petros is the antithesis of the Greek restaurant stereotype: sleek and stylish, with young, hot waiters. But the food is really good, though somewhat California-sized (we mean smaller).

Ulysses at the Grove may have better grilled octopus than Papa Cristo’s, and very tasty spanakopita. Okra and boiled dandelion greens are great, and they do a succulent, delicious lamb shank.

Papadakis is more on the fine-dining side, but it’s a family-run place with really good food, says diningdivala.

Athena’s, a Greek/Italian hole in the wall, has tasty moussaka, lamb shank, and lentil soup, says mushky.

Mykonos is Long Beach’s best kept secret for Greek food, says Eat_Nopal, who recommends saganaki, baby octopus, and rack of lamb.

And cheesy though it might be, the Great Greek has really yummy roast spring lamb and can be fun for groups, what with the dancing waiters, flaming cheese and all. Get the Greek Feast.

C & K Importing/Papa Cristo’s [Koreatown]
2771 W. Pico Blvd., at Normandie, Los Angeles

George’s Greek Cafe [South Bay]
formerly Malvasia Mediterranean Taverna
5316 E. 2nd St., Long Beach

Georges Greek Deli [South Bay]
318 Pine Ave., Long Beach

George’s Greek Cafe [Downtown]
735 S. Figueroa St. #131, Los Angeles

Firehouse Restaurant [West San Fernando Valley]
18450 Victory Blvd, Tarzana, CA

Petros Greek Cuisine [Beaches]
451 Manhattan Beach Blvd., at Ardmore, Manhattan Beach

Ulysses Voyage [Fairfax Village]
6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles

Papadakis Taverna [South Bay]
301 W. 6th St., San Pedro

Athena’s Rotisserie & Pizzeria [Santa Clarita]
18853 Soledad Canyon Rd., Canyon Country 91351

Mykonos [South Bay]
5374 E. 2nd St., Long Beach

Great Greek Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
13362 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks

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Firehouse Restaurant, Reseda Review
Where to go for Greek food in L.A?.

Comfort Me with Email

Ruth Reichl and the Gourmet gang have just launched a new weekly email newsletter to clutter up your food-related inbox.

Although I (slightly) mock, I found a grain of information in the first one that made me sit up and take notice:

Lodge is quietly phasing out its original finish in favor of pre-seasoned cast iron–- so devotees who prefer to season their own cookware need to stock up.

Eek. Although most of my cast iron pieces were already seasoned when I got them (because I do a lot of shopping at garage sales), somehow a factory finish on my cast iron just isn’t appealing.

Brunch at O’Reilly’s Holy Grail

San Francisco’s other Irish bars don’t come close to competing with O’Reilly’s, says waterboy. Try the smoked trout on a potato pancake–the potato pancake is crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, the way it’s supposed to be but rarely is. And the trout is like smoked love. Rich coffee and great mimosas round out a great brunch experience.

And as for dinner, the peat-smoked pork shank “puts almost any piece of meat to shame after you eat it,” says Doodleboomer.

O’Reilly’s Holy Grail [Van Ness Corridor]
1233 Polk St., San Francisco

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O’Reilly’s Holy Grail

Talking Pizza in Nanuet: a Superior Mushroom Pie

Martio’s bakes a superior thin-crust fresh mushroom pizza–“the best anywhere I’ve been,” swears Deven Black, who has been around. Also worth a sniff: their shrimp Parmesan hero.

Martio’s Pizza [Rockland County]
171 S. Middletown Rd. (Main St.), between Orchard and Prospect, Nanuet, NY

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Lunch in Nanuet

A Hound Walks Into a Bar…and Finds Killer Wings

At McKenna’s, a dingy watering hole on West 14th, there’s a bright spot for Chowhounds: improbably good chicken wings. Piping hot and robed in a sweet, sticky, liquorish glaze, they come with blue cheese dressing and a heap of crispy, salty fries. Simply divine, sighs sweetpickle.

McKenna’s Pub [West Village]
245 W. 14th St., between 7th and 8th Aves., Manhattan

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Where are the best wings in NYC

Great Mexican Supermarket Grub

Vallarta Supermarket, a Latino chain with a cluster of branches in the San Fernando Valley, has been expanding like a pack of Gremlins. Dirt cheap but scrupulously clean, they’re smart enough to branch out a little bit from the “Latino grocery store” stereotype, so that gabachos can do normal grocery shopping there too, says Das Ubergeek.

Hounds in the know have long headed to Vallarta for awesome aguas frescas, fresh tortillas and cheap produce, but the newer stores (like the NoHo one, having its grand opening) have counter service restaurants, too.

The prepared foods at Vallarta put other supermarket fare to shame. It’s easy to put together dinner for home with luscious carnitas by the pound, corn tortillas freshly made on the spot, tasty frijoles and fresh salsa. Chile rellenos, caldo de pollo and albondigas soup are excellent–all are freshly made and very inexpensive.

You can also get carne asada to grill at home–they’ll squeeze an orange over the meat before wrapping it up–and chicken milanesa.

Make sure to get some tres leches cake for dessert–it’s light and springy, soaked in milky deliciousness and topped with fresh strawberries. Bread pudding is another sure thing. Chongos and arroz con leche are supposed to be good too, but pan dulces are dry, dry, dry–with the exception of the guayaba (squares with guava jelly in the middle).

Serious sweet tooths should try some fresh dulces (Mexican candies).

Vallarta Supermarket [East San Fernando Valley]
13051 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood

Vallarta Supermarket [East San Fernando Valley]
6807 Woodman Ave., Van Nuys

Vallarta Supermarket [East San Fernando Valley]
16107 Victory Blvd., Van Nuys

Vallarta Supermarket [East San Fernando Valley]
10950 Sherman Way, Vineland, Burbank

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Vallarta Market–Everything AND MORE!
Dinner at Vallarta

Storing Apples

Apples like it cool, so don’t store them on the kitchen counter. Not many of us have root cellars these days, but that’s about the climate you want: cool and dark. A garage or basement would do, so long as the temperature doesn’t get below freezing.

The crisper drawer of the fridge will keep apples fresh quite a long time, if the drawer contains some humidity. Don’t store them with the onions, though; they’ll pick up off flavors.

You’ll get good results by putting the apples into a plastic bag with a few holes poked into it. Refrigerate.

Buy the freshest apples you can find. Before storing, check each apple for any damage. It’s true that one bad apple will spoil the lot.

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what’s the best way to store apples?

Candy at Target Stores

Target’s house-brand chocolate, called Choxie, is pretty to look at, but hounds say it tastes waxy and greasy. Hatless has found that some of the solid bars are OK. The Mexican-style dark chocolate bar, flavored with chile pepper and cinnamon, is pretty rich with a nice mouthfeel.

Txmasjoy goes to Target for the Turtle Doves. “These babies are lavishly packaged caramel and pecan hunks dipped in Dove milk chocolate and swooshed in Dove dark chocolate.”

They do have a large selection of old-fashioned candies that are hard to find elsewhere, adds BabyBee.

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Target’s store brand chocolate

No-Boil Lasagne Noodles and Permutations Thereof

No-boil lasagne noodles can work really well, provided you follow a few key steps in preparing your lasagne. Use plenty of sauce, make your sauce a bit thinner than you normally would, and make sure to cover the entire surface of the noodles with sauce. Cover your baking dish tightly with foil to keep all the moisture in the dish, removing the foil only at the end to brown the cheese on top. hbgrrl broils hers briefly after it’s fully cooked to brown the top. Karl S notes that no-boil lasagne sheets can come close to capturing the soft and silky feel of lasagne made with fresh pasta–but because they tend to be thinner than standard lasagne noodles, no-boil noodles may not stand up to overloaded, multi-layered American-style lasagnes. Many hounds favor Barilla brand no-boil noodles.

Some use the no-boil method–thinner sauce, more sauce, tightly covered dish, and more time in the oven–with standard dry lasagne noodles, using the same principles, and swear by the results. Others use a compromise method credited to Ina Garten of “Barefoot Contessa” fame: soak dry lasagne noodles in very hot tap water for 10-20 minutes before assembling your dish.

kate used to be 50’s secret is assembling her lasagne the night before, with either type of uncooked noodles, and refrigerating. Bring to room temperature and bake as usual; the finished dish is never watery and servings come out neatly.

hbgrrl points out that it’s always a good idea to let your lasagne rest for 15 minutes before serving to firm up and absorb some of the juices, or it will be a sloppy mess.

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Lasagna Noodles

Garlic – Slice, Mince, Press?

The more you do to a clove of garlic, the more potent its flavor will be. Slice the stuff into very thin slices, and it will melt into a sauce. Mince it, and you’ll get more of a garlic punch throughout your dish. Put it through a press or puree it, and it has the strongest flavor. Which method you choose will depend on what you’re cooking, how much garlic flavor you want, and how long the dish will be cooked.

Some hounds prefer to use pureed garlic in preparations where it’s used raw, like dressings or spreads, despite its potency, because biting into a whole chunk of raw garlic can be an unwelcome surprise.

Beyond using a garlic press, there are a few ways to pulverize or puree garlic. The simplest is to use a fine Microplane grater. A classic method is to first mince the garlic, then sprinkle it with salt and use the flat side of a chef’s knife to crush the garlic to a paste. You can do the same with chopped garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle.

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Garlic: crushed or chopped?