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Flying Saucers Spotted at Alberto’s

A flying saucer is a creature born of California-Mexico hybrids, particularly from Alberto's, a local Mexican chain, or many of the Alberto's derivatives that populate the landscape.

The common thread is a fried flour-tortilla bowl. Typically, it's loaded with soupy refried beans, slow-cooked shredded beef, onions, bell peppers, grated cheese, and chopped lettuce.

"When it comes Flying Saucers, time is of the essence," explains elmomonster. "The crispiness of the tortilla has a tenuous existence, rapidly being soaked by the wetness to turn into the texture of limp noodle...which isn't necessarily bad, because this hybrid of a taco salad and rustic beef stew is even better when the weather is cold and rainy.

"It's perfect when you are in need of something warm, wet, and sloppy. Just pick it up and eat in the privacy of your home, preferably with plenty of napkins," says elmomonster.

An excellent one is made at Santa Ana's branch of Alberto's.

Alberto's Mexican Food [Little Saigon]
1425 E. Edinger Avenue, Santa Ana

Discuss: Believe in Flying Saucers! At Alberto's (and Other Clone-ertos) that is...Review with PHOTOS

A Piece of LA’s Japanese History

Decades ago, Boyle Heights was mostly Jewish, with a good-sized Japanese population. Otomisan opened in Boyle Heights in 1956, and it's still serving excellent food, in utterly charming digs. The food is familiar—teriyaki, tempura, and sukiyaki.

"But classics carried to wondrous heights are still wondrous nonetheless," says SecretAsianMan. "Fundamentally, Mr. Hamada, the genial man-in-the-kitchen uses high quality ingredients and executes flawlessly."

There's juicy chicken, moist pork, and sweet shrimp. Gyoza are hand-folded and steam-fried to tender crispness, and the spider rolls are noteworthy, with creamy avocado, snappy cucumber, and meaty fried soft-shell crab. Seafood tempura is a monster of a dish, with huge prawns, squid rings, and a whole soft-shell crab, and batter that's fantastically light, crispy, and barely oily.

Sukiyaki is the other specialty of the house, with plenty of beef and vegetables.

"I always think of this place as a 'treasure' in the historical sense," says TonyC. "Surely there's better food, but the staying power, the cultural significance, and the simple charm here is really hard to beat."

Otomisan [East LA]
2506 E. First Street, Los Angeles

Discuss: Otomisan: An Enduring Japanese Treasure in East Los Angeles

Beer to Wrestle With

High-alcohol, big-on-flavor beers are getting lots of attention from brewers and beer drinkers right now. San Francisco breweries Magnolia Pub & Brewery and the 21st Amendment even christened February "Strong Beer Month" and served six special beefed-up beers that they'd created. And in Munich, Starkbierzeit—strong beer season—has just started up. So what exactly defines a "strong" beer? Dave McLean, owner of Magnolia Pub & Brewery, says his definition is intentionally broad—any beer over 8 percent ABV—to allow himself more freedom to explore different styles and get creative. Because of the higher alcohol percentages, he explains, you can really "explore the outer reaches of beer flavor via the added structure … additional residual sugar, and more intense fermentation notes." The downside is that if handled wrongly, the beers can be very sweet. READ MORE

Overheard on the Los Angeles Boards

"Well, for those of you who have lamented the loss of Swiss Matterhorn on Oxnard where Barone's now resides, beware, Ueli and Judy Huegli will be setting up shop at the San Remo at 13727 Victory Boulevard, Van Nuys in the very near future." - carter

"The Gjelina gnocchi with ricotta cheese and brown butter is amazing. Little pillows of happiness."
- wienermobile

"My new obsession at South Philly Experience is the Italian sandwich — their broccoli rabe is so garlicky and good." - a_and_w

It’s Not Stealing, It’s Unauthorized Takeout

Natalie, the star of this instructional YouTube video I Rob Food Buffets, says that pilfering from all-you-can-eat buffets isn't really thievery: "If you think about it, we're not really stealing their food, we're just, like, eating it at a different time and location." Her video is a bit slow to start, but at 1:46 she begins handing down some excellent tips, such as coming armed with resealable bags and storage containers, and sleight-of-hand techniques for emptying food into them.


It’s Morning in Brooklyn

Iris Café sounds like the coffeehouse Brooklyn Heights has been waiting for. It's a cozy, friendly spot, Peter says, but most important to Chowhounds, its food is way better than the neighborhood norm. This is "a smaller, nicer, much much tastier, more mellow Tazza," he says. "The menu is very, very limited but everything I've had has been A+ for a coffee house/café."

The ploughman sandwich is a pub lunch on a baguette with upmarket touches: serrano ham, smoked cheddar, sliced apple, and onion jam. Baked goods, savory or sweet, are exceptional. Ham and cheddar biscuits are studded with chunks of high-quality meat. Sticky buns are worth getting there early for ("while they're still warm," Peter advises). For breakfast, try oatmeal with sautéed apple and a drizzle of caramel sauce, or eggs and soldiers: soft-boiled eggs with lightly buttered toast strips. Coffee is from the well-regarded West Coast roaster Stumptown.

There's another hound-worthy breakfast at Café Mei Mei in Cobble Hill, which just started serving it on weekdays. BGRose has had sensational cornflake-crusted French toast, fried eggs with jalapeño and Gouda, and fresh-squeezed blood orange juice. "The place is lovely in the morning," he adds, "with sun streaming in from the back windows." Here, too, the coffee's from Stumptown; "what else?" BGRose shrugs, "they now own all of Brooklyn."

Iris Café [Brooklyn Heights]
20 Columbia Place (between Joralemon and State streets), Brooklyn

Café Mei Mei [Cobble Hill]
231 Court Street (between Warren and Baltic streets), Brooklyn

Discuss: Iris Cafe — A *fantastic* new addition to Brooklyn Heights
Cafe Mei Mei breakfast

A Taste of Scotland in the Village

Highlands is a gastropub with a Scottish burr. Open since fall, it lays out a drink-friendly menu that ranges from house-cured salmon to pastylike vegetable bridie pastries to haggis that hails from New Jersey.

foodyum tried Arbroath smokie kedgeree, a peppery dish of smoked haddock in curried rice topped with poached eggs, and found it tasty and distinctive. cimui recommends leg of lamb braised in wine. iFat finds Highlands more about beverages than food and stronger on starters than entrées, but says it draws a congenial crowd and is "a really nice drinking establishment."

Highlands [Greenwich Village]
150 W. 10th Street (at Waverly Place), Manhattan

Discuss: Where can a couple of 40-yo married guys go for drinks?
Tonight: Fatty Crab or Mary's Fish Camp?

A Neighborhood Bistro Dances with the Stars

The old-line bistro La Mangeoire has brought in a ringer, and hounds are on to him. He's Christian Delouvrier, who landed here after gigs at (among other places) the short-lived Secession and, back in the day, the four-starred Lespinasse.

Now, out of the spotlight, he's turning out French comfort food from Provence and beyond that is unexpectedly fine for a decades-old neighborhood place. JoanN was blown away by choucroute garni, a recent special that featured around six kinds of sausage plus oxtail, pork, and meaty fatback in a bounteous portion that could've served two. A crispy salt cod cake with basil, olives, tomatoes, and capers was also outstanding, she says.

Miss Needle reports a delicious pâté course, calf's liver with sage sauce and mashed potatoes, and seared scallops with pasta and lobster-lemongrass sauce. But several of these dishes, curiously, were undersalted. "Never had this issue at Lespinasse nor the vast majority of restaurants," she says.

La Mangeoire [Midtown East]
1008 Second Avenue (near E. 53rd Street), Manhattan

Discuss: Best French bistro in NYC??
French for a Francophile

Overheard on the New York Boards

"Crunchy skin, tender chicken falling off the bone, covered in garlic sauce. Everything about it was delicious and I'd come back just to eat this again." - robertgoulet, on crispy chicken with garlic at South China Garden

"As you walk in you'll see a display case with beautifully colored, clear-eyed, fresh fish.... Try the Chilean sea bass in grape leaves with parsnip mash. Sounds gimmicky, but was delicious." - paulnyc, on Kellari

"Hornado Ecuatoriano does a greeeaaat lechon. And if you walk past the kitchen, you will probably see the pig." - Jeffsayyes

El Bulli to Be a Culinary Academy

Yes, it's true: One of the world's most prominent restaurants is shuttering for good at the end of 2011. Citing a "bestial pace" and money problems, Ferran Adrià is calling it quits.

Adrià has long said that El Bulli doesn't make money and that he never intended to be a chef, so maybe his exit makes sense. The good news is that starting in 2014, El Bulli will be a nonprofit academy for molecular gastronomy. Reports AFP: "The private foundation will grant between 20 and 25 scholarships annually for chefs and other industry professionals and one of its long-term aims will be to compile an 'exhaustive and detailed' encyclopaedia of contemporary cuisine."

Aspiring molecular gastronomists: Start polishing your CVs now!