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

Real-Deal Pizza

Il Dolce Pizzeria is a real-deal, unpretentious, artisanal pizza maker, in the Italian instead of the New York mold, says cdmedici. It's run by a couple from Argentina and Roberto, the male half of the couple, was trained at the Verace Pizza Napoletana.

Il Dolce imports flour from Naples, makes mozzarella every day, and produces pizzas that are utterly delicious. "The crust was not the afterthought like so many other places," says cdmedici. "It has nice texture and flavor." You can get pizzas like the poletto: pesto, mozzarella, meatballs, and fresh basil. Then there's patata, with chile oil, mozzarella, Gruyère, pancetta, and fingerling potatoes. Or, try the salciccia: garlic sauce, pancetta, fresh mozzarella, Italian sausage, caramelized onion, and rapini.

There are also some non-Italian touches, like empanadas that were the best cdmedici has ever had.

Il Dolce Pizzeria [Orange County]
1902 Harbor Boulevard, Costa Mesa
949-200-9107

Discuss: Il Dolce Pizzeria- Costa Mesa....finally a real deal unpretentious artisanal pizzeria

Addictive, Spicy Chinese Food

"There’s something about spicy Chinese food that keeps people coming back for more," says Pandan Express. For your next hit, go to Yunnan 168, the newest purveyor of San Gabriel Valley heat.

The house special Yunnan rice noodles have a wonderful broth with green onions rounding out the richness of chicken, says Pandan Express. The slices of meat, textured like a more delicate char siu pork, are perfectly seasoned. And the slices of chicken leg are "flavorful, juicy, and perfectly tender," says Pandan Express. "I hadn’t had chicken cooked so well in a long time."

Home-style tofu has strong wok qi: It's fried on the outside, still custardy on the inside. "The dish had that lingering taste which I associate as a precursor to a spicy bite, but the bite just never hit," says Pandan Express.

Yunnan 168 [San Gabriel Valley]
1530 San Gabriel Boulevard, San Gabriel
626-280-7688

Discuss: Yunnan 168 -- another player in the spicy Chinese game

Water That’s Less Boring

Water That’s Less Boring

This week's mission: The world's simplest drink gets complicated. READ MORE

Overheard on the Los Angeles Boards

"Try Beyond the Olive in Pasadena. They opened a few months ago and have a huge selection of California olive oils." - kingstonc

"All About the Bread is fantastic. Basically a rip-off of Bay Cities in that they duplicated their bread and serve Boar Heads meats." - bruinike

"Call it what you want, spicy cold noodles, dan dan mien, or just the Sichuan version of Mac N Cheese, it's freaking fabulous." - ipsedixit

Mostarda Is In

[caption id="attachment_36103" align="alignright" width="290" caption="The mixed-fruit mostarda di Cremona is one of the most well-known versions of the relish."]Mostarda di Cremona is one of the most well-known versions of the relish.[/caption]

Mostarda, an Italian relish of fruit preserved in mustard syrup is passing up aioli as the trendy condiment of the moment. "I think it's popular right now because it can be made with all kinds of seasonal fruit--cherries in the spring, stonefruit in the summer, pears and apples in the winter," says chef Lauren Kiino, a partner at Il Cane Rosso in San Francisco, which often serves a seasonal mostarda on its porchetta sandwich. "It is a really versatile way to dress meat: pork, game, and duck especially."

Also spotted at: Le Cirque in New York city, made with quince and served with suckling pig; Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, made with pears, and served with crispy duck al mattone and Brussels sprouts; and Momofuku Ssäm Bar, also made with pears and served with pig's head and sauerkraut.

Image source: Flickr member Sifalcia under Creative Commons

Erbaluce, Your New Date-Night Spot

Erbaluce has been open about a year now. It drew a bunch of mixed reviews at first, but has since settled into greatness. The menu is Italian, but not red-sauce. Chef Charles Draghi, formerly of Marcuccio's in the North End, focuses on Piemontese cuisine: low on the butter and cream, heavy on the nutmeg and citrus. The all-Italian wine list is impressive, the meats and vegetables are locally sourced, and Draghi is a near-constant presence: in the kitchen every night, and out visiting at customer's tables. The atmosphere is a bit white-tablecloth-y for some, but the bar is cozy and relaxing, and no one will frown at you if you show up in jeans.

What to order:

• Wild boar, a "signature dish, always on the menu," Draghi told MC Slim JB. "The sauce varies with the seasonal availabilty of produce: A couple of months ago, it was a mosto based on fresh black grapes."
• Sicilian-style octopus.
• Roasted rabbit.
• Sardines: "When you see these guys fresh, do not hesitate and order them," says yumyum.
• Razor clams, with a citrusy green peppercorn broth: "I could have tipped the bowl up and just guzzled this nectar," says yumyum. "Razor clams had been delivered that morning by the Island Creek oyster guys."

The menu changes daily, since what's local and fresh also shifts frequently. "Seriously guys, this is one place, like my beloved Estragon, that should be packed to the gills every night of the week," says yumyum.

Erbaluce [Bay Village/South Cove]
69 Church Street, Boston
617-426-6969

Discuss: Is erbaluce too fancy?

Bring On the Party Platters

During the holiday party season, many a host hopes to pick up pre-made nibbles to avoid hours of preparation and cleaning. Formaggio Kitchen is justifiably known for its cheese selection, but its groceries and meats are also wonderful—if pricey. MC Slim JB has bought, in addition to cheese, "various salumi, charcuterie, deli-case items like anchovies, olives, and roasted peppers, cookies, petit fours, candies (salt caramels, yum), fresh produce, bread, dairy products (they carry Chip-in Farm eggs), oils, vinegars, dried legumes, dried pasta, wine, beer," and says the "quality is impeccable, but you pay a premium for it."

hotoynoodle once bought a plate of Spanish ham there made from pigs fed on grape must: "I still dream about it. It was also $25 a pound, lol." Splendid Spatula has had a good experience with platters of cheese, salumi, and spreads. And pocketgarden speaks up for the prepared-food holiday specials: "Eduardo the head chef does the bulk of holiday menu catering himself, and his beef stew is really delicious, the epitome of good home-cooking. Eduardo's food (daily dinners, soups, and holiday menus) are how you always hoped your grandmother's cooking would taste. Not cheap, but you won't be disappointed."

Formaggio Kitchen [Cambridge]
244 Huron Avenue, Cambridge
617-354-4750

Discuss: Formaggio Kitchen-Experiences Beyond Cheese?

Overheard on the Boston Boards

"My SO likes a traditional Xmas dinner but I am not a fan of pink neoprene supermarket ham." - drb

"The last time I was there they told me they had no pork shoulder after I'd watched them use some in a meat stuffing mix they were grinding up for a customer ahead of me." - Allstonian

"Craigie (if you haven't been there) is one of the best cocktail bars in the city although you might have a difficult time getting a seat ... and their head bartender (Boston magazine Best Mixologist 2009) is leaving at the end of the month supposedly so you better go soon." - barleywino

Using Flesh to Sell Flesh

USA Today pokes around a bit on one of the least-appealing ad-related stories to surface in recent months: Restaurant chains are waging large-scale campaigns to convince people—OK, mostly young men—to eat fast food by playing off the completely commodified sex appeal of Kim Kardashian and the Burger King "Shower Babe." (In the latter case, viewers get to vote for what bikini she wears while she showers under the leer of a web-camera. Hey, that's really cool, and not at all evocative of pornography.)

The theory behind both campaigns: Young men can be convinced to eat Carl's Jr. salads (Kardashian) or Burger King burgers (Shower Babe) by the deployment of female flesh.

Anyone who's ever seen a commercial can't be particularly surprised by these tactics. Sex has sold stuff for a while now [Warning: Mildy sexy retro pin-up ads].

What's interesting about these campaigns is how direct they are. "HOT BABE!" they shout. "BRAND NAME! YEAH! BUY!" Relatively low numbers on the Shower Babe campaign (a mere 70,000 unique visitors since its launch on December 8) indicate that just a touch more wit or subtlety might pay dividends. Or maybe they indicate that only 70,000 guys are slow-witted enough to think the Burger King Shower Babe is their best source of free online stimulation.

Prisoners Sue Over Soy

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Illinois Department of Corrections is being sued on the grounds that it is feeding inmates too much soy.

"The plaintiffs are 'suffering irreparable, actual harm by being forced to continue to eat food that has too much soy in it,' according to an amended complaint filed in June. The effects have ranged from acute allergic reactions and heart problems to gastrointestinal distress and thyroid dysfunction, it says."

This is the latest blow to soy's super healthy image, writes Trib reporter Monica Eng. "Scientific studies have volleyed back and forth on whether high soy consumption reduces or increases cancer risk, inhibits mineral absorption and affects sperm concentrations. But most agree that soy, especially unfermented varieties, can cause problems with the thyroid function and digestion."

Image source: Flickr member southerntabitha under Creative Commons