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

Licorice, Molasses, Imperial Stout

The wax-topped "Reserve Series" of beers by the Deschutes Brewery in Oregon tend to be really good, and the latest release of "The Abyss" is unsurprisingly delicious. Though it sounds overly fancified—brewed with molasses and licorice, barrel-aged, high alcohol content at 11 percent—the beer is surprisingly restrained and balanced. There's no black licorice slapping you in the face. The finish is dry and, unlike other "imperial" versions of beers that can be way over the top in booziness, this one is scarily easy to drink for a high-ABV beer. It's best sipped solo, but it does taste pretty good paired with chocolate coins.

Deschutes' The Abyss, $12.99

Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut

Big, bulging bags of nuts are an important part of the holiday season for some hounds. Where can the best be found now that Dairy Fresh Candies is a thing of the past? itaunas says that "many Italian grocers carry good quality nuts in the shell. Usually around the holidays that extends to pecans, but walnuts are more common, and pistachios are a given. They have good turnover and I have always found them fresh."

Velda Mae points out that "Trader Joe's prices can't be beat" for nuts to bake with. For out-of-hand eating, several hounds praise the pistachios at Fastachi, while Sevan Bakery right across the street also has a good nut selection. jogo7375 wonders over the "epicenter of quality nuts in that little corner of Watertown."

Fastachi [MetroWest]
598 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown

Sevan Bakery [MetroWest]
599 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown

Discuss: High Quality Nuts

Comfort Food for Breakfast

Grub is an oasis of culinary charm in the middle of Hollywood's grimy postproduction district, says wesleywong. The place is best known for its superb breakfasts, "comfort food inside a comfortable environment," says wesleywong.

The brunch menu is huge. Appetizers are busy plates like a spicy crab and artichoke dip with a pepper jack cheese crust, and lime- and coriander-dusted tortilla chips to attack the stuff with. The dip has a generous amount of crab and just enough jalapeños to get your morning started, says wesleywong.

Egg scrambles are excellent, like the chicken pesto sausage, roasted onion, red pepper, and mozzarella, which has "a meaty heart of deliciously seasoned chicken," says wesleywong. And it comes with potatoes that are "crispy on the outside and so soft and warm on the inside."

Grub [Mid-City]
911 Seward Street, Los Angeles

Discuss: Betty Fraser's Grub: Grub'bin In a Hollywood Oasis [Breakfast review w/ pics!]

Bus Stop Coffee Tease

This new bus shelter ad for McDonald's uses a steam machine that, when released, reveals the otherwise hidden text. While it's quite smart and probably effective for someone who's frantically moving his body around to keep warm, I could also easily see how this could be mistaken for a homeland security issue.

Via Direct Daily

Gin & Titonic: Offensive Yet Awesome

Too soon? In the eyes of some critics, including Titanic historian Brian Ticehurst, there's no excuse for a newly created ice cube tray that lets drinkers make a replica of the Titanic, plus four icebergs.

"How long will it be before this firm makes ice cubes of the Twin Towers to commemorate 9/11?" he asks in a Daily Mail article about the controversial party gadget.

Obviously, there are certain events that would be nothing short of revolting if rendered as kitschy ice trays. The Jonestown Massacre, for example (despite the Kool-Aid tie-in), or the Bloody Sunday killings would not be very good topics for cocktail conversation.

But the Titanic's sinking, while tragic, was accidental, and there's no denying that if you're going to render a historical event in a manner such that it cools your drink, an ice-based accident is one of the neatest fits you're going to stumble upon.

Crispy Cubes of Fried Pig’s Blood

Want good pig's blood rice cakes? Go to Happy Dolphin Bay in the Shun Fat supermarket plaza. You can get gloriously bloody rice cakes: little rectangular cubes, about an inch long and a 1/4 inch thick, with fried, crispy edges. "The flavor was right—tastes just like they do back in Taiwan," says Mr Taster. "The exterior texture was good too, nice and crispy-chewy."

The cubes are a little small compared to the huge cakes you get in Taiwan, so the version here doesn't quite have the softer chewy interior; these are more 90 percent crisp, 10 percent chew. But they scratch the crispy pork blood rice cake itch, sure nuff, says Mr Taster.

Happy Dolphin Bay [San Gabriel Valley]
18481 Colima Road, Rowland Heights

Discuss: Emergency! Best pigs blood rice cake in Rowland Heights area?

Leading Light of the Valley

carter's favorite restaurant in the Valley used to be the much-beloved and mourned Max. But carter has finally found a worthy successor in the brand-new Raphael, operated by Arnon and Anon Raphael.

"Anon and Arnon (son and father) really understand what wines and foods the public wants to eat in a standardized restaurant setting. And they do it very well," says carter. You can get rare lamb; you can even get their Moroccan-style Peking duck rare. Both lamb and duck are superb, says carter. "Food is good, the wine terrific," agrees Loradio. "They are looking to please and the place is homey."

Their mushroom soup is "probably as rich and tasty a version as you will have tasted in a long while," says carter. There's also tasty peanut butter ice cream for dessert, and good bread pudding, too.

Prices are in the mid-$20s for mains at dinner, but lamb and filet mignon bump up to the mid-$30s. "Definitely not the cheapest place in town, yet may be the best at many other attributes you deem appropriate to an evening out for dinner," says carter.

Raphael Restaurant [San Fernando Valley - East]
11616 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City

Discuss: Raphael – Studio City

Overheard on the Los Angeles Boards

"Unfortunately, I don't think you'll be able to buy Japanese saba locally, except maybe at a place like Mitsuwa that might have a small supply when they are in season, but expect to pay a premium. In the fall months, Mitsuwa does carry fresh sanma (pike mackerel) for sashimi." - E Eto

"The cook is right there in front, no secrets here. Be patient with him, the food is from scratch and made w/love."
- iheartjavier

"The ramen at Oki Doki uses their amazing chicken broth. They season it with salt, to not cloud the gorgeous golden color with soy or miso. ... If you want a clear soup for your ramen that'll make a Jewish grandmother proud, head here." - Professor Salt

Make Your Own Lox

People look at me like I'm crazy when I start making my New Year's resolutions in early December, but I just love thinking about all the ways I'm going to  better myself. Besides trying to smell less musty, climb Half Dome, and play electric guitar, here are my (cooking) resolutions:

1. Cure my own lox. Check out this great recipe from Heeb magazine. I'm going to cross-reference it with the tried-and-true version we did at CHOW. Maybe I'll even try to make bagels to go with it.

2. Make my own soft pretzels to dip in mustard and eat with beer.

3. Make Japanese hot pots from this book.

4. Make kinpira gobo, Japanese braised burdock root.

What do you want to make in 2010?

New Finds: Meat-Loving T-Shirts

If Italian cured meats make your heart beat faster (assuming that isn't a cardiac incident), perhaps you can get into Wooster Street Meats' line of lovely meat-centric shirts. The names of various meat products (prosciutto, brasciole, mortadella) are emblazoned across the chest, with simple line drawings to accompany them. What better way to proclaim your love of soppressata?

Wooster Street Meats T-Shirts, $19 to $35