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

Noo Na: Relief for Korean-Challenged Prospect Heights

Month-old Noo Na isn’t the most authentic Korean restaurant in town, but Prospect Heights hounds are mostly happy to have it given the long-standing scarcity of kimchi in Brooklyn. Seasoning is muted and panchan servings are sparse, but flavors are bright and clean.

“It’s pretty good–and a GREAT addition to the neighborhood,” writes pitu, who recommends haemul soondubu jigae (soft tofu-seafood stew), slightly short on seafood but delicious, and respectable haemul pajun (seafood pancake) and bibim bap, available with spicy squid or beef. Barbecue is done not at tableside but in the kitchen; scratch reports tasty, fresh bulgogi (grilled marinated beef), served with a fistful of nicely sauteed onion and mushroom. jason carey likes dumpling soup in mild, tasty broth but finds a pork-kimchi-tofu saute lacking in meat and chile kick. “Americanized despicified Korean food,” he concludes, “but clean- and healthy-tasting, and a good neighborhood alternative.”

Critics are holding out for something better. “I wanted to like Noo Na, I really did,” swears giveitsomeseoul, a long-deprived Korean food lover who went with high hopes but left disappointed. She complains of sweetish bulgogi, cold rice and mandu (dumplings), and clueless service.

Noo Na [Prospect Heights]
formerly Nalani’s
565 Vanderbilt Ave., at Pacific St., Brooklyn

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Noo Na?
Noo Na report.. Vanderbuilt Korean.. prospect hts.

Mussels in White Wine Sauce

A classic dish that’s quick to make, mussels steamed in white wine with a couple of aromatics is much more than the sum of its parts; the wine and mussel liquor combine to create a heady sauce. Make sure to have a loaf of good bread on hand to sop up every drop! carswell shares a recipe to serve 2: Scrub and beard 2 pounds mussels. Put in a big pot with 1 large onion and 1 small stalk celery, both finely minced, some fresh or dried thyme and 1 cup dry white wine. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Steam just until the mussels open, about 5 minutes. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper and chopped parsley.

ali patts’s method is similar, but he begins by sauteing chopped onion and garlic in butter, then adds mussels and wine and steams and finishes as above.

Here’s a tip that JoanN says is definitely worth the extra effort: after the mussels have opened, remove them to a bowl with a slotted spoon and boil down the liquid in the pan until reduced by about a third. It helps concentrate the mussel juices in the sauce and makes for a far more flavorful one than you get without the reduction.

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Mussels w/white wine sauce?

Diving for Gyros at Panos

Gyro lover BearCity has settled on a favorite: Panos Char Broiler, a drab dive in the Valley. A huge amount of well-seasoned beef and lamb with some fresh tomatoes, slathered in cucumber-yogurt tzatziki and wrapped in a grill-toasted pita, explodes with flavor. You can get it to go, but it’s more practical to stay and eat at a table because of the delicious drippage.

Gyros are $5.25. They also make a mean char-broiled burger.

Panos Char Broiler [East San Fernando Valley]
16045 Victory Blvd., Woodley, Van Nuys

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Panos Charbroiler-Best Gyros

Cooking with Duck Fat

Chowhounds agree that duck fat is one of the tastiest things you can cook with. Here are some favorite ways to use it:

Potatoes fried or roasted in duck fat are just about perfect. Duck fat is also great for cooking grilled cheese, frying eggs, and sauteing spinach or chard.

Rub duck fat over a whole chicken or turkey before roasting. It gives a richer flavor than butter, with more depth, says Kishari.

Caramelize onions very slowly in duck fat and you are in for a sublime treat, promises Sean Dell. Use the onions in a tart, or mixed with some potatoes.

Slow poach high-fat fish such as salmon in duck fat at a low temperature, for one of the richest, most succulent pieces of fish you’ll ever have, recommends HeelsSoxHound.

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Duck Fat–the gift that keeps on giving?
Duck Fat

Just Keep Telling Yourself It’s Make Believe …

Sometimes the combination of sweet and savory can be divine. Some people love to enrobe their salty snacks in chocolate, while I am partial to the bacon maple bar from Portland’s Voodoo Doughnut.

But the Photoshop contest at photo display site Worth 1000 just goes too far. The challenge was to “create an all new meal by adding the dessert to the main dish.” The results, while technologically flawless, are the opposite of food porn. Savor a Sausage Split, a baked ham and yam pie, or my favorite, Stew ala-Mode.

Freezing Cooked Pasta

You can make your own pasta TV dinners, by freezing leftovers. Cooked, sauced pasta freezes well. A large pan of lasagna almost always yields leftover portions.

Let the pasta thaw completely before reheating, to avoid overcooking. If you make a pasta dish specifically for freezing, you can undercook the pasta a bit.

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Freezing Pasta

XO Sauce

XO Sauce, also called Hong Kong sauce, is a Cantonese sauce/condiment. It’s very pungent and is made with dried fish, scallops or shrimp and spices. Like anchovies, it will add depth of flavor to all sorts of dishes, from stir fries to BBQ sauce.

You can find it in Chinese markets. It tends to be expensive. It’s <a href=”
”>$14 at Amazon.

Asian Food Grocer is another source for XO. SU says their XO sauce is amazing, and made almost entirely of dried scallops. You can choose spicy, or not.

Or, try making it for yourself with <a href=”
”>this recipe.

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XO Sauce: Where to Buy?

Picking on the Little Guy

If seven friends and family members haven’t already emailed you the great piece by Michael Pollan in this week’s New York Times Magazine, check it out here pronto (requires registration). In the article, Pollan—one of the most vocal and thoughtful commentators these days on food policy and politics—outlines the “hardheaded, pragmatic” reasons for buying locally produced food. He also gives a riveting account of how federal response to the recent E. coli scares will probably hurt small farmers.

Since cow manure from nearby farms is the likely source of the contamination, Pollan explains, the FDA could easily decide that animals and vegetables don’t belong on the same farm. But to an old-school, preindustrial farmer, that rule would seem bizarre; “to think of animal manure as pollution rather than fertility is a relatively new (and industrial) idea,” Pollan writes. And that new concept creates some new and industrial problems:

Wendell Berry once wrote that when we took animals off farms and put them onto feedlots, we had, in effect, taken an old solution—the one where crops feed animals and animals’ waste feeds crops—and neatly divided it into two new problems: a fertility problem on the farm, and a pollution problem on the feedlot. Rather than return to that elegant solution, however, industrial agriculture came up with a technological fix for the first problem—chemical fertilizers on the farm. As yet, there is no good fix for the second problem, unless you count irradiation and [hazard analysis] plans and overcooking your burgers and, now, staying away from spinach. All of these solutions treat E. coli 0157:H7 as an unavoidable fact of life rather than what it is: a fact of industrial agriculture.

Pollan also touches on the issue of mandatory federal inspections, which pose a potential disaster for small farms. “Already, hundreds of regional meat-processing plants—the ones that local meat producers depend on—are closing because they can’t afford to comply with the regulatory requirements the USDA rightly imposes on giant slaughterhouses that process 400 head of cattle an hour,” Pollan writes. But these across-the-board requirements aren’t geared solely toward consumer safety:

If the U.S.D.A. demands that huge plants have, say, a bathroom, a shower and an office for the exclusive use of its inspectors, then a small processing plant that slaughters local farmers’ livestock will have to install these facilities, too. This is one of the principal reasons that meat at the farmers’ market is more expensive than meat at the supermarket: farmers are seldom allowed to process their own meat, and small processing plants have become very expensive to operate, when the U.S.D.A. is willing to let them operate at all.

By the way, the declining number of small processing plants may also be why some meats don’t taste as good as they should. Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill once told me that the reputation of grass-fed beef for being tough has more to do with industrial slaughterhouse processing than with the meat’s low fat content. The big places process so many animals, Barber says, that the still-warm meat gets stuck immediately into a giant fridge, which toughens it up. Regional slaughterhouses (in addition to being more humane) send the meat through various cool-down rooms before refrigerating it, preserving its tenderness. But because there are so few small regional plants left, some grass-fed cows meet their end in the same kinds of facilities as all the rest—making both their meat and their last few moments on earth a whole lot worse.

Up to Mom’s Standards: Alejandro’s Filipino Cuisine

Being Filipino, pleasurepalate is super picky when it comes to Filipino food. Magic Wok came close to her mom’s high standard of cooking, but Alejandro’s has blown that right out of the water.

Spicy goat stew features tender meat that’s not a bit gamey, perked up by olives. Shrimp hipon comes in a creamy coconut sauce that’s good enough to eat by itself. For hard-core lovers of fried pork, the crispy pata–crunchy golden skin with moist meat underneath–will not disappoint.

There’s a variety of unusual smoothies, like pandan and green mango (with a hint of tartness and maybe some pistachio) and yellow corn milkshake (oddly likable).

For dessert, go for suman–sweetened rice wrapped in banana leaves, topped with fried coconut and a piece of flan.

Alejandro’s [Eagle Rock]
4126 Verdugo Rd., York, Los Angeles

Magic Wok Enterprises [Artesia-ish]
11869 Artesia Blvd., Artesia

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Alejandro’s Filipino Restaurant in Glassell Park (review & photo link)

A Different Take on Tiramisu and Cannoli

Frank_Santa_Monica was knocked out by cake and cannoli from the unassuming Vienna Pastry in his ‘hood. Tiramisu cake is delicate, rich, and not too sweet. At $22, it feeds up to 20 people. Their cannoli, unlike the traditional kind, has a chocolate buttercream filling that’s truly amazing.

Xericx, whose office often gets cakes from here, notes that other selections aren’t that impressive.

Vienna Pastry [Beaches]
1215 Wilshire Blvd., 12th St., Santa Monica

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Vienna Pastry