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

The Restaurant Critic’s Diet

In their respective blogs this week, two of the nation’s preeminent restaurant critics dish about how to stay fit in a career where eating is part of the job description.

Michael Bauer, restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, and Frank Bruni, restaurant critic for the New York Times, each recently shared tips for maintaining his weight while working. You can read Bauer’s suggestions here and Bruni’s here (oddly enough, they both wrote about the topic on the same day).

Bauer recommends daily exercise, eating regularly, and eating good food (“When something tastes good, you need less to feel satisfied”). For his part, Bruni touts the merits of routine exercise (which includes running, a personal trainer, and Pilates, according to a recent article in Men’s Vogue), as well as portion control, while admitting he suffers the occasional transgression:

Those of us who want to keep eating intensely flavorful and often intensely caloric foods without assembling a wardrobe by Omar the Tent Maker or trading leather belts for elastic waistbands have to abide by certain regimens and rules.

In other words, I shouldn’t have made and eaten that gigantic bowl of salty, heavily buttered popcorn last night. (It fell pretty far outside the realm of occupational duty, and the only portion control I exerted was making sure I ate fistful upon fistful of it.)

Like Mother’s Milk…If You Grew Up in a Kelp Bed

The luscious live uni at Hamano Sushi is an essential dining experience, says BernalFarmer. It’s served on the half shell, so you can play with all the spines. The meat is sweeter and more melting than regular uni; it tastes and feels like ocean water ice cream. $12 for five pieces, and it’s outstanding.

Hamano Sushi [Noe Valley]
1332 Castro St., San Francisco

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Live Uni at Hamano

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

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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

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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

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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

Pho Hoai Restaurant [Gravesend]
1906 Ave. U, between E. 19th St. and Ocean Ave., Brooklyn

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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

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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