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

Overheard on the General Topics Boards

"Karinto are sweet snack crackers, deep-fried bites of light dough and molasses-y caramelized sugar. I tried them for the first time in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago (at Azabu Karinto) and was hooked." - david kaplan

"One piece of cultural information is that Turkish coffee is always brought out on a tray with a glass of water. You MUST have the water on the tray. I don't know why, though." - luckyfatima

"Belly lox is absolutely the saltiest – and one of my favorites! I like stronger flavored salmon in general, not just belly but also Scottish, which (depending on the producer) is one of the smokiest. Nova to me is a total waste – all the expense, none of the flavor. But that's just my opinion." - BobB

Time to Get Your Fry On

Pegmeister calls it the first sign of spring: when local fried clam joints start opening up for the season. The Ipswich Clam Box is already open; the Clam Box on Wollaston Beach in Quincy opens this weekend; and Tony's, also on Wollaston Beach, is soon to follow.

Which to choose for your first-of-the-season foray? The Clam Box of Ipswich edges out the Clam Box in Wollaston for greatness. BarmyFotheringayPhipps says, "[L]et me put it this way: if we're driving along the south shore, we will detour to the Wollaston Clam Box for dinner. But we will book a Zipcar SPECIFICALLY to go to the Ipswich Clam Box." The fried clams are above reproach, and the surroundings are classic vintage clam shack.

Tony's is a worthy competitor, perhaps even worthier than its neighboring Clam Box: "I prefer Tony's. I think their oil tends to be 'cleaner', resulting in a crisper/less greasy product," says Science Chick. Tony's onion rings, however, are inferior to the Clam Box's, "more like well done onion strings," complains Pegmeister.

Clam Box of Ipswich [North Shore]
206 High Street, Ipswich
978-356-9707

Clam Box [South Shore]
789 Quincy Shore Drive, Quincy
617-773-6677

Tony's Clam Shop [South Shore]
861 Quincy Shore Drive, Quincy
617-773-5090

Discuss: 1st Sign of Spring — Clam Box Wollaston Beach

Pulled Pork by the Pint

CnD's Barbeque Grille gives a good name to holes in the wall: The tiny, cheerful storefront turns out excellent takeout-only barbecue and sides. The pulled pork is prime: "moist and smoky," says Chris VR. The ribs are also sheer goodness, with a "vinegar sauce which does not at all overpower the meat," says drbangha.

Also on the menu: chicken, sandwiches (including hot pork sausage), and, on weekends, potato salad and cornbread stuffing with sausage that Chris VR says is "very nice" if a bit pricey at $8 a pint. The pulled pork is $10.95 for a pint. Meal combos are available, with ’cue and sides like mac ’n' cheese, cornbread, collards, and baked beans.

The place is owned by a friendly husband-and-wife team named Charlotte and Dana, the "C" and "D" for whom the restaurant is named.

CnD's Barbeque Grille [North of Boston]
10 Vernon Street, Wakefield
781-621-8403

Discuss: CnD Barbecue Grille in Wakefield

Sandwiches from a Cook’s Illustrated Alumnus

Cutty's is a newish Brookline Village sandwich shop that's moved into one of those restaurant graveyards where place after place fails. But a December Boston Globe interview with owner Charles Kelsey that identified Kelsey as a former Cook's Illustrated editor got the hounds all worked up, and it appears their anticipation was not in vain.

According to Allstonian, the Cutty's space is "simple, pretty" and "nice and bright," with white walls and lots of wood. The food lives up to the surroundings, particularly the lunch sandwiches, which lizbomze calls "really, really good." The best one is the roasted pork, served with either pickled fennel and roasted garlic or broccoli rabe and provolone, as well as a side of "perfectly seasoned homemade potato chips."

BarmyFotheringayPhipps tried ham and pimiento cheese as well as the roast beef sandwich, "both of which were outstanding and entirely good value for money. These are top-quality ingredients perfectly matched: they don't need to be huge to be satisfying." And they're not: Some people may think the sandwiches are a bit small, particularly if they try ordering a half sandwich. But with everything on the menu in the under-$10 range, hounds agree that Cutty's offers good value.

Cutty's [South Shore]
284 Washington Street, Brookline
617-505-1844

Discuss: Cutty's, Brookline Villiage, 2/25/10

Overheard on the Boston Boards

"In Cambridge, Cambridge Common, on Mass Ave between Harvard and Porter, does excellent fried pickle spears in a lightly spicy beer batter." - zach272

"If you are on 117 near the Stow/Bolton line and happen to see a sign outside Applefield's Farm Stand that says 'Peggy's Eggrolls Today' STOP, get out, get the eggrolls." - stupiddog

"Pho Pasteur has the best veggie pho in Chinatown by far. SO many different veggies." - SaraASR

In Defense of Cheap Tippers

The spirit of Mr. Pink, apparently recovered from his Reservoir Dogs adventures, takes a moment to possess a still-living body and write up a dining-related blog post for the New York Times. In it, as you'd expect, he expresses his irritation with servers who expect a generous tip. To be fair, the writer (David Sax, the author of Save the Deli) doesn't advocate stiffing your waiter or waitress; he just fumes impotently at the mandatory tips for parties of six or more (if you've ever been on the other side of that relationship, you'd understand why they're mandatory) and the hollowness of the "underpaid server" argument as presented to an underpaid journalist.

"This tipping automatically, it's for the birds." (If you want to relive the Res Dogs magic, head on over to YouTube and note that the video clip is stuffed with Tarantino-esque profanity.)

Here's what CHOW.com's etiquette columnist has to say about tipping.

Image source: Flickr member alex-s under Creative Commons

Girl Scout Slayer

Girl Scout Slayer

This week's mission: Can a knockoff cookie knock off the Girl Scouts Thin Mint? READ MORE

The Best Air I Ever Huffed

The Best Air I Ever Huffed

This week's mission: Is an expensive can of flavored oxygen any better than it sounds? READ MORE

Brave a Lost City of Orange County

Stanton is "one of the Lost Cities of Orange County, a place so theoretically unremarkable that most lovers of food couldn't name a single restaurant in it," says Das Ubergeek. But here you can find Fonda La Meche. A fonda is a very specific thing: "the Mexican equivalent of a Midwestern cafe called 'Pop's Place,' a place with cheap food, a step up from homestyle cooking," explains Das Ubergeek.

Pambazo de papa y chorizo is a small bite native to Mexico City: a soft bolillo roll dipped in red chile sauce, filled with potato and spicy sausage, then pressed and grilled. La Meche's version has a good, smoky, earthy chile sauce and surprisingly fluffy bread.

La Meche also has outstanding cecina, air-dried beef cured with salt and chiles. It satisfies some primal caveman instinct, says Das Ubergeek: "slightly salty, tough and yet tender." Another beefy delight: mole de olla, Mexican beef stew in a pot, which has tender hunks of beef chuck and big pieces of zucchini in rich, chile-flecked bouillon. "This is the soup you want on a cold, rainy night; this is the soup you'll crave when you're under the weather," says Das Ubergeek.

The true stars of this place are the tortillas. "Handmade from fresh masa, these are nearly twice as thick as supermarket tortillas, but a few shades lighter and orders of magnitude better in taste," says Das Ubergeek. "They managed to be soft—they folded perfectly despite their unusual girth—but still toothsome." You can buy a dozen for $3.50.

In short, "Fonda La Meche is exactly what it should be: a place to get just-like-Mami's cooking. It isn't fancy, it doesn't cater to people who look like me, and the cooking is honest and straightforward," says Das Ubergeek.

Fonda La Meche [Orange County]
7483 Katella Avenue, Stanton
714-484-0105

Discuss: REVIEW: Fonda La Meche, Stanton

You Can’t Hurry a Braise

"In the realm of Shanghai restaurants in So Cal, with time-intensive, slow-braised items like hong shao rou (braised pork) and ti pang (pork pump), finding establishments that serve these dishes freshly made that day are becoming rarer and rarer," says exilekiss. "So when you run across a Shanghai restaurant that makes its slow-braised meat dishes fresh that morning and throws out whatever doesn't get served to ensure freshness, it deserves to be applauded." Yes, Yu Garden is a most devoted maker of Shanghai pork.

Tuh suh hsiao yuan ti—house special braised pork shank—“arrives in all its quivering, luscious glory," says exilekiss. Most of the Shanghai-style pork shanks and pork pumps around town have been so disappointing lately, says exilekiss, tending toward dull, muted flavors. But Yu Garden's version is ultratender, moist, succulent, utterly vibrant, fresh, and delicious. It has the pure taste of slow-cooked pork, says exilekiss.

Chef Hu makes only a few of these each day, and he doesn't serve leftovers; once they're out, they're out.

Zao liu yu pian—fish slices fried with wine—has a wine sauce that's enchantingly fragrant, says exilekiss. Crab with rice cakes has soft, supple rice cakes, but what really makes this dish sing is the live crab's sweetness and brightness, says exilekiss.

One of the most unexpected surprises: chuen juen, Shanghai-style egg rolls. The superlight, superthin, crispy, crackling skin gives way to a liquid, piping-hot center of pure napa cabbage. It wows, says exilekiss.

Not everything here is great. But the great items knock it out of the park. The cooking is simple, and focuses on fresh, clear flavors.

Yu Garden [San Gabriel Valley]
107 E. Valley Boulevard, San Gabriel
626-569-0855

Discuss: Fresh, Vibrant, Pure Shanghai Cuisine (and Home of the Succulent, Braised Pork Shank) – Yu Garden (Shanghai Yu Yuan) [Review] w/ Pics!