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

A Glutton for Mutton

I’m tired of wimpy food writing that places more emphasis on manners than good old-fashioned feasting. So while my usual fare is effete food writers and chefs with tame recipes for goat cheese ravioli or, heaven forfend, vegetarian dishes, I’ve left my heart in Billings, Montana, where food writer Chef Boy Ari visits a sheep farm that used to grow sprouts.

“We didn’t climb to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables,” the sheep farmer explains. Don’t call him anti-environmentalist, though. Farmer Dan sells his lamb at the Clark Fork River Farmer’s Market. ““It’s not just about cutting out the middleman,” Dan says. “It’s about making people aware of the agriculture going on in their neighborhoods, and keeping the dollars local.”

He gifts Chef Boy Ari with a pack of lamb ribs, inspiring the writer to go to town:

When I put the ribs on the grill, I saw no shortage of fat on them. I let them sizzle and sputter until the outside was a crisp brown, seasoned them with salt and pepper and dove in. If the expression “chewing the fat” has any grounding in a literal act, this could be it. My teeth made little headway. My face got covered in grease. But my mouth couldn’t stop eating. The ribs tasted too damn good.

Ice Cream of the Godsl

Ice Cream of the Godsl

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Fake Accent

Fake Accent

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Flor de Loroco Pupusas…and Organic, Ranch-Raised Salvadoran Lizard

A pupusa is a Salvadoran dish, somewhere between a pancake and a dumpling, which consists of a rice or corn flour shell filled generously with things like cheese, beans, chicharrones, vegetables, or some combination of these. When prepared well, it is one of the chief gifts of God to man not mediated by a hierarchical priesthood. One of the best fillings for pupusas is the slightly exotic but traditional flor de loroco, the flower bud of a South American plant.

Some of the best loroco pupusas are to be had at La Santaneca, says Mari. Robert Lauriston likes this place especially for the curtido, the spicy cabbage condiment that goes on top of pupusas. Another place to try is Balompie Caf

Awesome Falafel at Sabra Grill

Sabra Grill makes delicious falafel–they even measure and fry the falafel balls to order, at least when it’s not too busy. The falafel balls are warm, crisp, and flavorful, served on beautiful, pillowy pita bread, with ripe tomatoes and crisp iceberg lettuce. The whole thing is sauced with excellent tahini and a bit of garlic, chive, lemon, and pickle. At $5.50 it’s a great lunch option, so appealing that fine wino would rather walk five blocks to get Sabra Grill falafel than walk across the street to Oasis.

Sabra Grill [Chinatown]
419 Grant Avenue, second floor, San Francisco

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Tasty Falafel sandwich at Sabra Grill

The Emerson: Fresh from the Farm in Woodstock

The Emerson at Woodstock is an appealing stop for slightly upscale American dishes with an emphasis on fresh local produce. krissywats reports a wonderful special-occasion dinner highlighted by a faultless strip steak (with Guinness-and-onion sauce) and terrific scallop and chicken satay appetizers. Also on the menu: fish chowder, burgers, pastas, and a long list of seafood choices. Sunday brunch, a seasonal thing, resumes this month. If the weather’s good, try for a table on the porch at this restored 19th century farmhouse.

The Emerson at Woodstock [Ulster County]
109 Mill Hill Rd. (Rte. 212), at Rte. 375, Woodstock, NY

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anniversary dinner in woodstock, ny?

Gino: Stellar Chopped Salad and Other Classics

Gino, a time-capsule Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side, has somehow escaped hound attention–until now. serious says it deserves a try, if for nothing else than its first-rate Gino salad, a delicious chopped salad with beets and capers. Also recommended: paglia e fieno al segreto (white and green pasta with “secret sauce”). Pastas, steaks and chops, veal (marsala, piccata, Milanese, etc.) and a handful of simple fish dishes round out the northern-leaning menu. Cash only, as it has been for six decades.

Gino [Upper East Side]
a.k.a. Gino of Capri
780 Lexington Ave., between E. 60th and 61st Sts., Manhattan

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This Little Piggy Is a Work in Progress

The much-discussed Oinkster, chef Andre Guerrero’s “slow fast food” restaurant, has finally opened in Eagle Rock. Those who beat a path to its door report disappointment with what they get for their money, but portion sizes have reportedly improved.

Hamburgers get the best reviews–juicy, on hand-formed buns, that at $4.75 for 1/3 lb. are relatively easy on the wallet. But the house-cured pastrami sandwiches prompt hounds to wonder, Where’s the beef? Oinkster’s version definitely doesn’t stack up to the average deli portion (although it’s actually cheaper than Langer’s).

At Oinkster, you can get probably the Eastside’s only Belgian frites, twice-cooked and served with garlicky aioli or ketchup. The house-made orange lemonade, made with cane sugar, is really good.

For dessert, coconut cupcakes and banana cream pie are sure things.

Classic burger $4.75, pastrami sandwich, $7.50-8.50, Belgian fries, $2.50-3.50, coconut cupcake and banana cream pie, $3.25.

Oinkster [Eagle Rock]
2005 Colorado Blvd., at Eagle Rock Blvd., Los Angeles

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Oinkster in Eagle Rock

Hot Tips on Tri-Tip

The top two tri-tip sandwiches in SoCal are, according to RSMBob: Buckboard BBQ, whose owner is something of a tri-tip evangelist, and Santa Maria gets an honorable mention.

Most days, the wood-fired grill is smoking away in front of Green Acres Market, where they make a mean tri-tip sandwich on garlic bread, says davinagr. Salads are outstanding, too–try the garlic and cheese pasta salad.

Most hounds are clued in to the great tri-tip grilled up at certain Hows Markets, usually on a rotating basis. As of this summer, though, the weekly barbecue is a feature every weekend at all locations, according to the web site.

Boneyard Bistro serves a delicious, and enormous, tri-tip sandwich, says Boy Lorin– good-quality meat, good-quality bread. It’s $14.

We’re not sure about the other Phillips locations, but the manager of #2, a member of the Phillips family (that’s BBQ royalty), says his sliced beef is tri-tip. Of course, you can get it in a sandwich.

And Wood Ranch, at the Grove, gets knocked regularly as a chain, but they do what they do very well, says RSMBob–including a somewhat nontraditional, but very tasty, tri-tip. Available as a sandwich or as a combo entree item.

Buckboard Catering Co [Inland of LA]
1386 E. Foothill Blvd. # M, Upland

Santa Maria Barbecue Co [Culver City-ish]
9739 Culver Blvd., at Duquesne, Culver City

Lou’s Red Oak BBQ [OC Beaches]
20501 Brookhurst St., Huntington Beach

Lou’s Red Oak BBQ [South Bay]
4218 Woodruff Avenue, Lakewood

Green Acres Farm Market & Catering [West San Fernando Valley]
2918 E. Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley

Hows Market [Pasadena-ish]
3035 Huntington Dr., Pasadena

Hows Market [South Bay]
4848 W. 190th St., Torrance

Hows Market [West San Fernando Valley]
11900 Balboa Blvd., Granada Hills

Hows Market [North Beaches]
30745 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu

Boneyard Bistro [East San Fernando Valley]
13539 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks
818-906-RIBS (7427)

Phillips Barbecue II [South LA]
1517 Centinela Ave., Inglewood

Phillips Barbecue [South LA]
4307 Leimert Blvd. # 3, Los Angeles

Phillips Barbeque [Crenshaw]
2619 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles

Wood Ranch Bbq & Grill [Fairfax Village]
189 The Grove Dr., Los Angeles

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Best Tri Tip Sandwich?

Baking Books to Grow On

Here are some Chowhound-endorsed baking cookbooks that cover the gamut from yeast breads through pastry and cakes that are suitable for hounds just getting in the baking groove. They’ve got clear explanations of technique but are approachable, not intimidating in tone, and have enough recipes to keep you interested once you’ve got the basics down.

Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook is comprehensive, with lots of photos, good explanations of equipment, and recipes from simple to moderately complex, so you’ll be using it long after you’re no longer a beginner. Even chowhounds who say they have no use for Martha highly recommend this one.

Nick Malgieri’s How to Bake is wide ranging and thorough, with an unfussy tone, says Hungry Celeste, and his recipes always work, according to Kelli2006.

The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion has many fans, who say the recipes are fantastic. Velda Mae warns, however, that she’s found some editing errors that can cause confusion.

Baking Illustrated is a compilation of articles and recipes from Cook’s Illustrated, and fans of that magazine’s exhaustive approach to researching the hows and whys of their recipes find it a great primer for learning baking technique as well as a source of good recipes.

Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America “guides you through with a knowledgeable hand,” says NYchowcook.

Fearless Baking, by Eleanor Klivans, doesn’t include yeast breads, but does include sweet and savory pastries and cakes, and gives very clear instructions, building from simpler to more complex techniques.

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Baking cookbooks