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

La Calaca Loca

La Calaca Loca is crazy good, says rworange, with a slew of stand-out dishes. Everything tastes as fresh as from a top farmers’ market. Definitely get the spectacular pico de gallo, made with deeply flavored summer tomatoes, fresh cilantro, and Mexican oregano, and boosted with a shot of tart lime juice. Even the lowly lime is excellent here.

You also want crispy beer-battered Baja-style fish tacos ($3.50) with addictively tart sauce. These are the tacos that make rworange understand the lure of the fish taco. You can get yours crispy-style for an extra 85 cents, served wrapped in a delicately fried, crisp tortilla, which is in turn wrapped up in another excellent soft tortilla. And don’t ignore the grilled fish taco, because it’s freaking great, too.

Also required eating are the chilaquiles ($5): house-made corn ships cooked in slightly spicy green tomatillo sauce and mixed with roasted green poblano chiles. Scrambled eggs are served on top; get them on the side so as not to adulterate the perfection of these chilaquiles. And for those too “pollo” to get street-vendor roasted corn, they have a good version here, slathered with mayo, rolled in crumbled queso fresco, and sprinkled with chile.

To drink, have a pomegranate soju margarita ($5), clove-spiced horchata, or any of their aguas frescas. And check out the rich, eggy flan with piloncillo syrup.

La Calaca Loca [Temescal]
5199 Telegraph Ave., at 51st St., Oakland
510-601-8226
Map

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Oakland (Temescal)–La Calaca Loca – Chilaquiles, crispy fish tacos, Niman Ranch meat, pomegranate margarita & crazy-good pico de gallo

Studio City Gets Lucky

Studio City residents are buzzing about the new restaurant Risotto. The word is: delicious food, healthy portions, and affordable prices–with $7 corkage!

Ravioli all’aragosta (lobster with goat and ricotta cheeses) is a star of the menu, says Das Ubergeek, with tons of lobster and just the right tang from the cheese in the well-made ravioli. The sauce is spicy tomato.

Fillet of sole and sea bass are fabulous, adds Chow Bella. Also recommended: risotto ai gamberi (with perfectly cooked shrimp), fork-tender filet, and rabbit. That rabbit was apparently dry when Daily News critic Larry Lipson visited, but maybelle found it just as tender as can be.

There’s a better-than-average selection of wines by the glass; Das Ubergeek likes their Ravenswood Lodi zinfandel that reeks of mold (as the waiter who offered it warned) but tastes divine–spicy, warm, woody, and jammy.

Dinner for two (no appetizers, one glass of wine, and one dessert) is about $50. Service is very good and there’s a lovely patio outside.

Risotto [East San Fernando Valley]
formerly Spumanti
12650 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
818-761-7600
Map

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Review: Risotto, Studio City
Risotto, a new Italian Restaurant in Studio City. You’ve got to check this place out

Tucked Away in Pasadena, Magnolia Blooms

Open for almost a year, Magnolia is a great local pub in Pasadena, tucked away in what used to be a floral shop, says The Oracle. It’s unrelated to the Magnolia in Hollywood. The place seems to be going for 30-something hipster appeal, but in reality all types and ages hang out there–it’s a very relaxed vibe.

And although the food didn’t stand out much initially, they’ve apparently worked out the kinks. The menu is creative, in the comfort food vein, but…atypical. How often do you see PB&J on brioche? Gruyere macaroni and cheese is a huge crock of yummy goodness with a breadcrumb crust. Cornflake-crusted chicken tenders are really good, with a sweet dipping sauce.

Happy hour, from 5 to 7 p.m., means $5 well martinis and half off their food menu. There are also lots of interesting wines by the glass, half bottle, and bottle.

The space is well designed, with modern touches throughout–the indoor seating area has plush red velvet wallpaper and dim lighting; outdoors, there are more seats, an oak tree and a bar. It’s still not a huge place, though, and can get pretty crowded at happy hour–after all, that’s when two martinis and three filling appetizers are about $30.

Magnolia [Pasadena-ish]
492 S. Lake Ave., between Granite and San Pasqual, Pasadena
626-584-1126
Locater

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Magnolia (pasadena)–review

Pho Hoai Revisited: True Vietnamese in Brooklyn

Chicken in rich yellow curry, grilled shrimp over rice vermicelli, and salmon in a lively casserole with ginger and scallions are some of the things they do well at Pho Hoai, which has two locations in Brooklyn. “Very authentic–none of the overly sweet Vietnamese food you get in most places here,” says Muffin, who adds that it measures up to the chow you’d find in Vietnam.

noisejoke recommends robust stir-fried crab, delicate and salty/sweet grilled pork on rice sticks, and creamy egg custards. Past reports praise pho, pork chops, and spring rolls. PAL rates Pho Hoai’s Avenue U location ahead of the Bay Ridge original.

Pho Hoai Bay Ridge Restaurant [Bay Ridge]
8616 4th Ave., between 86th and 87th Sts., Brooklyn
718-745-1640
Locater

Pho Hoai Restaurant [Gravesend]
1906 Ave. U, between E. 19th St. and Ocean Ave., Brooklyn
718-616-1233
Locater

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I HAVE FOUND THE BEST VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT IN NYC!!!
Long, messy Brooklyn post (Asian, coffee, tacos, and more)

At Westville, an Unbeatable Chicken Reuben

Westville makes a chicken reuben that you shouldn’t miss, insists jungirl. It’s grilled sliced chicken, sauerkraut, bacon, cheddar, avocado, pickles, and Thousand Island dressing on buttery grilled rye. Ten dollars, served only at lunch.

Westville [Greenwich Village]
210 W. 10th St., between Bleecker and W. 4th Sts., Manhattan
212-741-7971
Locater

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Cheap lunch in the West Village?

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes are all kinds of delicious, but the trick is getting your paws on some green tomatoes. If you grow tomatoes–or know someone who does–then you can fry up all the end-of-season tomatoes that won’t have time to ripen and have yourself a feast. The trick is to make sure the tomatoes are really firm, tart, and green all the way through, says dixieday2.

dixieday2’s recipe: slice green tomatoes 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick, dredge them in a mixture of cornmeal and flour seasoned with lots of salt, pepper, and cayenne, then fry them in oil until well browned. Drain on paper towels, and allow them to cool off a little before you eat them; otherwise you’ll burn your tongue.

pikawicca takes a slightly different approach: slice tomatoes about 1/2-inch thick. Salt and pepper. Dip in flour, then beaten egg, then cornmeal or cracker crumbs. Fry in approximately 1/2-inch of hot fat (bacon fat or lard are particularly nice) over medium-high heat until nicely browned. Serve as is or with cream gravy.

rockycat says that, while it’s not a traditional combination, remoulade sauce goes really well with fried green tomatoes.

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fried green tomatos

Pollo Pibil

Pollo pibil is a Yucatecan dish: chicken marinated in achiote paste and sour orange juice and baked in banana leaves. The hardest ingredients to find are fresh banana leaves, and sour oranges. You may be able to find fresh banana leaves in Mexican markets, and they are almost always available frozen in Asian supermarkets. If you can’t get banana leaves, you can bake the chicken in foil instead, but the banana leaves lend a unique grassy note to pibil dishes, notes adamclyde. Defrost frozen leaves, cut out the thick veins, and steam them just long enough to make them pliable. Sour oranges can also difficult to find, but a combination of orange juice with lime juice or vinegar makes a good substitute.

Pollo pibil is served with a red onion escabeche (pickled onions). Here are PBSF’s recipes for both:

1 cut up chicken, about 3 lbs.
1/4 cup achiote paste
1/4 cup orange juice
juice of half a lime
2 tsps. grated orange zest
1 yellow or white onion, sliced
2 small tomatoes, sliced

Mix together the achiote paste, orange juice, lime juice, and zest. Rub the paste over the chicken and marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute the onion in a little oil until brown and soft. Season with salt and pepper. Line a baking dish with banana leaves or foil. Place the marinated chicken pieces, including any marinade liquid, on the leaves or foil. Season with salt. Spoon the cooked onions on top of the chicken and top with tomato slices. Place more banana leaves or foil over the chicken to completely enclose it in the pan.

Bake for about 40 minutes. Turn the oven up to 450, cut the banana leaves or foil on top open, and let the chicken brown on top (about 10 minutes). Check to be sure the chicken is cooked through.

Pickled Onions

2 peeled red onions, sliced into 1/8- to 1/4-inch rings
1 small hot chile (jalapeno, serrano, or habanero, depending how much heat you want), sliced into thin rings
1 cup white distilled vinegar
1/2 tsp. crushed cumin seeds
1/2 tsp.crushed black peppercorns
large pinch dried Mexican oregano
large pinch salt

Bring about 4 cups water to a boil. Turn off heat and add the sliced onions. Let sit for about 5 minutes. Drain. Combine the onions with the rest of the ingredients and let them sit for a few hours before using. They’ll keep for weeks refrigerated in a covered jar.

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Have Achiote Paste..want to make Pollo Pibil

Defrosting Your Brain

If you’re a slushy drink lover but hate that ice-pick-though-your-skull feeling, try taking a sip of warm water right after it hits. There’s an artery in the back of your throat that constricts, causing the brain freeze, explains Biggie. The warm water will ease the constricted artery, thus alleviating the pain.

If you’ve ordered a drive through slurpie and don’t have any warm water nearby, there’s an acupressure point on your hand that can help, says raj1. Press for a few seconds right below the pad under your ring finger on your left hand, just a little up and to the right on your palm.

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Combating brain freeze

Spread Em!

As the weather cools, hounds chime in with their favorite toasted bread and spread combinations:

Portuguese sweet bread, lightly toasted with fresh butter goes so well with a cup of coffee, sighs chowdear.

Cafes in Hong Kong often serve sweet toasted bread (either thick, Texas Toast-style slabs of white, or perhaps raisin bread) with coconut or sweetened evaporated milk.

Cinnamon raisin bread with peanut butter is a classic combo.

Also great: black bread with butter, apricot preserves, and a sheep’s milk cheese (manchego works well).

Whole-grain bread, peanut butter, ginger preserves and banana slices: what a way to start the day, raj1 raves.

Try a toasted flagel (flat bagel), cooled and topped with scallion or chive cream cheese and cucumber slices.

Honey or whole wheat bread, darkly toasted with unsalted butter and honeycomb is excellent.

Savory bread and spread combos work well as an appetizer, like lightly toasted tomato bread, spread with a mushroom and black truffle “tapenade,” dotted with a crumbled taleggio. Deborah Madison has a recipe for luscious leeks on toast worth seeking out. Crusty Italian bread with butter and anchovies can’t be beat. A nice crusty piece of bread spread with marrow from a beef bone is an old favorite from mom, bolivianita reminisces. Also great: a sourdough onion baguette slathered swith butter and chestnut cream.

Combine sweet and savory ingredients for an intriguing balance of flavor: toast with fig jam and egg salad; fennel and raisin bread spread with roasted eggplant pesto and topped with black olive tapenade; French baguettes topped with red pepper jelly and brie; or toasted pumpernickel with goat cheese and truffle salt.

No matter what combination you choose half of the toast experience is the smell of the bread toasting, ML8000 surmises.

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What is your favorite toast and spread combination?

Paula Deen: Pied Piper?

Rachael’s busy with her network talk show and a magazine. Mario’s canceled. Tony Bourdain’s hit the road for the Travel Channel. Sara Moulton’s starting up a PBS show. No question about it, things are changing at the Food Network, where ratings are down and the honchos are nervous.

With most of the Food Network’s former go-to stars now otherwise engaged, network execs are looking to fill the chef-lebrity gap by grooming new personalities and giving stepped-up opportunities to older ones. Southern-fried matronly cutie Paula Deen has been given the biggest leg up, with a new show called Paula’s Party, set to debut September 29. According to network insiders, there are high hopes Deen’s show will attract younger viewers.

Says Deen in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “I’m keepin’ the hair high and the expectations low, and that way I can’t lose.”

Hmm, right, but the Food Network’s current strategy of airing more info-tainment and competitive cooking shows (think Unwrapped and Iron Chef) at night rather than the more traditional daytime cooking shows seems to make more sense. Why pin hopes for spryer viewers on a white-haired grandma?

Says Food Network blog critic The Armchair Cook, “This blatant MTV-ization of the Food Network worries me. Sheesh, maybe if things don’t work out with Paula and Michael, they can give her a dating show, à la Flavor of Love. For old times’ sake, maybe they could call it Butter Flavor of Love.”