Tag Archives: Queens cuisine

C’est magnifique


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Bradley Hawks

French cuisine is oddly one of the most difficult cuisines to find in Astoria, especially when it comes to table service. As a matter of fact, it could be argued that until last month, one solitary restaurant served a croque madame. Luckily the opening of Francis Café marks the second bistro in Astoria, presently open for lunch, dinner, as well as petite dejeuner, so I took a chance to swing by.

Francis Café is actually an outpost of Francis Staub — owner of Le Gamin in Williamsburg and Ft. Greene, as well as Staub cookware. So considering his famous association, I decided it would be well worth our time to see what he has cooking.

There is nothing particularly extraordinaire about the menu itself, beyond several classic French dishes, especially during breakfast and lunch — just simple sections with a few offerings under each. Breakfast dishes include a few varieties of omelettes, quiche, even a pain perdu. The success at Francis Café lies in the quality (and quantity) of each dish, as each is superbly executed as if to create a postcard to French cuisine.

Moules Frites are extremely tender. Crepes are exquisitely folded and tucked onto the plate as a culinary gift. Dry-aged steak frites is so juicy it falls apart at a prodding.

On one occasion, I made the mistake of ordering a croque monsieur accompanied by a side dish sampler of haricot verts, au gratin potatoes and a morel risotto. When the first of the plates arrived at the table, I gasped at the portion. But as I began to attempt to tackle even a fraction of each section of my meal, the food drew me in until suddenly there was hardly anything remaining. My will power faded, rendering me helpless.

Be prepared, as the cuisine here is actually that excellent. Desserts arrive and last seconds before they are devoured. There are glistening pear tarts, soufflés and brulees. Coffee is as excellent as it should be in any French restaurant.

The menu transition between lunch and dinner is profound, rendering dinner service an experience entirely unique to lunch. The sandwiches are dropped along with the quiches for rich, savory stews and dishes cooked over a span of time, like bouillabaisse or coq au vin. A pappardelle pasta one afternoon was exceptional, rich with rabbit ragout. It is the sort of restaurant where you want to try everything, and find yourself returning to do precisely that.

When you arrive, take a moment and focus on the menu as though you were going to devour absolutely everything on it. And then simply order one entrée, followed by a dessert and a café au lait. Trust me, you will not regret it. And then return again and again and again, as if each visit were your very first. Everything is truly that good.

Francis Café
35-01 Ditmars Blvd
Astoria, NY 11105
718-606-6532

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

Ben’s Best: A New York classic


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

While many kosher delicatessens around the country have come and gone, Ben’s Best in Rego Park has remained a staple in the neighborhood for nearly 70 years, using one simple rule.

Owner Jay Parker, a Rockaway native, makes certain the restaurant is a master of one trade. The menu at the eatery has not changed much since his father, Benjamin, opened it in 1945 and they have not tried to branch off into other areas of the food industry.

From day one, Ben’s Best has produced high-quality kosher deli sandwiches, sides and classic entrees.

“You come here for a particular item,” Parker said. “People step through the door, they want to step back in time. They want to remember the old days.”

Parker assumed control of the restaurant after his father passed away in 1984. When he was younger he didn’t want to own the deli.

Parker was a bond trader on Wall Street, who was let go after his company was sold. It was then that he had an epiphany and turned down offers from other Wall Street companies.

“I remember walking out of that building and I said I will never ever place myself in a position where somebody else will decide whether or not I make a living,” Parker said.

The deli offers all kinds of kosher overstuffed sandwiches including flavorful pastrami, turkey, roast beef and bologna, among other meat selections. For about 35 years Parkers has been buying these meats from the same vendor.

Crunchy pickles, coleslaw and thick-cut french fries, golden brown to perfection, are popular sides on the menu.

The deli has various soups, such as old-fashioned chicken soup, which are made fresh from scratch every day.

The deli also serves wraps, salads and various entrees, including salmon and steak, but sandwiches are its specialty. In fact, it has unique sandwiches named after community leaders, such as former Congressmember Gary Ackerman, which is corned beef, turkey and onions with a Russian dressing.

The restaurant even offers a special sandwich-eating challenge for really hungry customers or people looking to push their stomachs.

The Ben’s Best Challenge is a whopping pound of deli meat– corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, turkey and salami– on a club roll, a 20-ounce bowl of matzo soup, a half-pound of coleslaw, two pickles and two orders of french fries.

Anyone who finishes the entire meal will receive a mug, be entered in a raffle to win a $100 Ben’s Best gift certificate, and have their picture on the wall of the restaurant and its Facebook account.

Ben’s Best
96-40 Queens Boulevard
718-897-1700
Open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday
And 9 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Wheelchair accessible

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

 

A taste of Portugal


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by  Sheila Diamond

A few blocks east of the Cross Island Parkway, Mateus offers a taste of Portugal.

Entry is through the bar, which I noticed was well stocked with more than 100 different bottles of wine from all over the world but most from Portugal.

Hosted by Ilidio Chaves, the dining room is modest in size with a party room further in the rear.

Tastefully decorated, the ambient sound level allows easy conversation across the table — a wonderful change from so many so called “in” dining spots where you have to either yell across the table or keep silent because no one can hear you.

Attentive service starts right away. The wait staff is pleasant and knowledgeable, answering cuisine questions with an ease that makes selecting your meal a delight.

Beverage service is moderately priced with a bottle of Portuguese Dao wine available for $15 and mixed drinks at equally affordable prices.

Appetizers such as Mussels with green sauce and parsley were delicious, and broiled calamari was just so light and tender I will not go back to fried again.

Salad is more than ample for the table and very fresh. Two of us ordered the 1 ½ pound lobster with broccoli and snow peas and they arrived with oysters, shrimp and clams on the plate so beautifully presented that we had to take a picture of it.

Another order was for Picanah steak, which came in two large pieces that were cooked to perfection and served with beans and rice. We had to put part of it aside because we couldn’t eat it all. A constant favorite of mine is the grilled pork chop, which arrived with a light glaze, tender and juicy.

Almond cake with caramel sauce dessert recommended by the staff was joined by red velvet cake, both of which really topped off the evening.

All this for less than $90 per couple including tip. In our opinion, Mateus is a great value. Try it, you’ll love it.

Mateus Restaurant & Bar
222-05 Jamaica Avenue, Queens Village
718-464-4522
Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m.
Sunday until 8 p.m.

SHEILA DIAMOND


MORE DINING PROFILES

 

The menu is a ‘Katch’


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirano

Step away from your average sports bar food, music and experience — and take a trip to an Astoria spot that will truly “Katch” your attention.

Since opening in May, Katch Brewery & Grill has settled into the heart of the community and is now in the middle of becoming an entertainment bar that will leave its customers remembering their visit.

As you walk into the restaurant you are left in awe by the state-of-the-art HD televisions, playing every sport, along every wall.

Katch has a whopping 50 beers on tap, in addition to about 20 other beers available in bottles. But don’t worry, you won’t be left alone to figure out which beer satisfies your thirst because the beer menu is separated into groups and selections are listed from lite to dark.

With the cold air making its way in, Katch is enclosing its outdoor beer garden, which together with the indoor space could seat over 400 patrons.

But now let us get to the mouthwatering and unique changes that are coming to the Katch menu.

Welcomed by classic hits from David Bowie and Bob Marley, we were given a first taste of brand new menu items, and some remaining dishes, cooked up by Executive Chef Chad Bowser and made with the freshest ingredients, which will be available starting November 22.

We started the night off with Katch’s version of pigs in blankets with bratwurst, a German beer sausage, served with beer mustard. Then we sunk our forks into mushroom risotto balls that with every crunch made you want more and more.

Then came the sliders, that definitely kicked our taste buds. The first set of sliders was Simply Pulled Pork, found already on the menu, that come with barbecue pulled pork, homemade pickles and cabbage served on potato bread buns. We then tried the brand new (and still in the works) smoked pulled duck sliders that featured a sweet dark cherry compote that balanced out the angry orchard apple cider cheese sauce.

Bowser then introduce us to his “not your average grilled cheese” sandwich that featured three layers of brioche bread, with a different melted cheese between each slice, and a side order of fries. We couldn’t leave Katch without trying the B.B.Q Burger, one of the current signature dishes, that melts in your mouth when you bite into the coffee-rubbed 10 ounce burger served with Gouda cheese, pickles, smoked bacon, red onions and barbecue sauce all cuddled into an English muffin.

We ended the night with homemade pumpkin pie, made from fresh pumpkins, which was perfect for the season.

Along with the food, the Katch staff will be allowed to have more fun with the customers and there will be a list of rules above the bar that one must adhere to while enjoying Katch’s signature Kocktails.

The new Katch will debut on Friday, November 22 with musical guest, BonJourney, and with many more surprises for an unforgettable dining experience.

Katch Brewery & Grill
31-19 Newtown Avenue, Astoria
Monday – Friday 4 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Saturday 11 a.m. – 4 a.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. – 2 a.m.

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

When offal is far from awful


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

Mombar is settled in the middle of a segment of Steinway Street known as Little Egypt.  Twenty years ago it was just a copy shop, on a stretch of road filled primarily with Greek and Italian businesses.  Its transition to one of the most talked about destinations for Southern Egyptian cuisine probably played no small part in inspiring the neighborhood to become what it is today—a string of cafes, restaurants and shops studded with hookah in every size, shape, and color.  Halal shops feature various meats on skewers, warm pita accompanying crushed lentils and chickpeas, and strong coffee served with honey-soaked pastries.

Mombar pops out to any pedestrian walking down the street. Designed and run by chef/owner Mustafa El Sayed (his brother, Ali, runs the Kabab Cafe a few doors down), the whimsical storefront and dining room took seven years to decorate, and features a kaleidoscope of mosaics, mugs, children’s-crayon-drawings, pillows and tapestries, creating the playful ambiance of a Technicolor cantina.

The array of menu offerings is equally whimsical, though each individual dish is fairly straightforward.  This is not the place to come for fusion, or an Americanized rendition of Egyptian cuisine hidden beneath sauces or cheese.  This is the stuff of serious Egyptian culinary purity, and won’t taste like anything comparable to the unfamiliar palate.

Moustafa himself prepares each and every plate to order, so expect to make an evening of it.  Appetizers range from $7 to $8, and entrees are $12 to $25.  A tasting menu is available for $30 per person.  You can also build your own tasting, simply by giving your server a set price in which you’d like to work.

Lamb testicles are boiled, then peeled and sautéed in a lemon-garlic cream sauce—something like an extremely tender herbed chicken sausage meatball.  The server stirs a quail egg into a clay pot of lamb cheek, which tastes extremely similar to a hearty Bolognese sauce, served with toasted pita points.  Da-jaj bel-zitoon arrives in a clay pot of savory chicken tajeen with stewed olives and vegetables. The roasted rack of lamb, braised in butter and spices and blanketed in wilted greens, literally falls off the bone.

Beer and wine are available, but be sure to try the hibiscus tea, made with hibiscus imported from southern Egypt.  Or a mango lassi, which arrives unstirred, a swirl of salty and sweet.

On a visit to try the El Sayed’s cuisine, chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain expressed his envy of those fortunate enough to live nearby. There’s nothing quite like this anywhere else, that’s for certain. But for the adventurous diner, it’s well worth a trip to Astoria for the experience.

Mombar
25-22 Steinway Street, Astoria
5-11 p.m. daily except Mondays
718-726-2356
Cash Only

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

Soup dumplings: The best things come in small packages


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

As the autumn chill gradually grows in the air, so too does the desire for warm comfort foods.  While a whole steaming bowl of soup may still be just a bit too much, why not try a slider version?  Sound absurd?  Then you definitely need to stop by the Nan Xiang Dumpling House in Flushing, where patrons swear by some of the most popular soup dumplings in the entire city.

Dumpling meatballs are hand rolled and suspended in aspic, chilled, and then packed into paper thin wrappers fresh to order, twisted at the top into tiny gift-wrapped bites that arrive at the table in baskets piping hot from the steamer, which transforms the aspic into a complex broth.  My favorite is the crab and pork version, like a miniature surf and turf, which sell for just $6.50 for six dumplings.

There are several YouTube videos that demonstrate proper technique, but no matter how many times I eat a soup dumpling, I still get excited.  Warning: the broth in these little guys is extremely hot.  It is best to tenderly pluck a dumpling by the top, hold the empty soup ladle just beneath your chin, all while nibbling a tiny hole into the side of the dumpling, allowing the broth to gently trickle into the ladle.  Instantly, you have a spoonful of luscious soup, and a seafood meatball dumpling ready to devour.

While the dumplings are exceptional—Nan Xiang also serves excellent fried pork dumplings, steamed vegetable dumplings, and even Shanghai shao mai—the full menu holds a variety of other hidden gems worthy of notice.  Hint: do not feel rushed when ordering.  The servers will immediately approach your table for an order, without even offering a menu.  Observe around you a dining room of locals who sometimes even order as they are sitting down.  But if you ask for a menu for perusal, the staff gladly adjusts the pace of service accordingly.  On one occasion, an elderly Chinese couple next to me ordered as they were seated, and food arrived within minutes.  When I asked if this was their favorite place in the neighborhood, they laughed, explaining they had just arrived from Texas an hour ago—that several friends had told them Nan Xiang needed to be their first stop and had instructed them precisely what to order.

Following their lead, I tried the turnip puffs, like a savory Chinese miniature counterpart to the Italian sfogliatelle.   Where the Italians use custard, these Chinese pastries are filled with shredded daikon, minced vegetables, and tiny cubes of pork—then crusted in sesame seeds and baked to golden brown.

Other favorites include the salty sticky rice roll—stuffed with a fried cruller, pork floss, and house pickles—as well as the fried rice cakes, like Chinese gnocchi sliced into coins, then sautéed in a rich brown gravy with vegetables and tender slices of beef.

Sample a few dishes, then return sample some more.  Items range in price from $1.25 to $9.95 for the seafood crispy rice noodles, should you decide to splurge.  But be sure to start with a soup dumpling, because the best things sometimes really do come in small packages.

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao
38-12 Prince Street, Flushing 11354
718-321-3838
pen daily from 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

 

Vivaldi: Life begins anew


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

SPICED YELLOWFIN TUNA LOIN 2

It’s had several reincarnations but Vivaldi has got it right.

The beloved Cafe on the Green was a go-to place for fine food, wonderful ambiance and a warm welcome from operator Joe Franco.

Now, it’s Billy Pappas at the door and around the room mingling with patrons. The site overlooking the Throgs Neck Bridge is in good hands once again.

They recently opened for lunch and I was so happy to be there. As I got out of my car and walked up to the front door I couldn’t help but smile at the beautiful landscaping surrounding the building and the gorgeous flowers at the front door. They set a tone as I walked inside and was greeted by the hostess.

The handsome bar is enhanced by the stone fireplace and warm woods and banquettes used in the open area of the dining room. The room is very inviting, but we chose to sit in the larger dining area adjacent to the large terrace. It was filled with sunlight and overlooked the beautiful gardens and weeping willow tree on the adjacent golf course.

But I know Vivaldi’s greatness is the food, which sings. I began my meal with the best fried calamari I have ever eaten. The chef has enhanced the crispy fish with caramelized onions and a wonderful blend of spices. I also liked the roasted red peppers in a tangy marinara sauce.

Of course there are salads. I liked the combination of ricotta salata with red onions, olives and mint in a lemon vinaigrette. And the tasty tomato soup with basil and topped with crusty croutons had a lovely texture.

The bread basket is not to be ignored. It is served with a rich olive oil for dipping the crusty bread. I kept nibbling because it was irresistible.

For the main course there was an outrageously delicious dish of spicy lamb sausage with sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, spinach, tomato and pieces of feta. It ignited my palate and I enjoyed each bite.

For pasta lovers there is a must-try rich ricotta gnocchi. And the catch of the day is prepared as you request it. There are also chicken and vegetarian dishes.

Of course no meal is complete without dessert and we had a sampling of several. Vivaldi has its own pastry chef and he should be given an Oscar for taste and presentation. The Italian cheesecake melted in my mouth but I relished the small, warm donuts that had a raspberry sauce for dipping. Of course there is a chocolate treat in their hazelnut torte. What a wonderful way to end a delightful meal.

I can’t wait to sample their new Sunday brunch. They are open every night except Monday for dinner. See their specials for ladies on Thursday nights.

Try it, I know you’ll love it!

Vivaldi
201-10 Cross Island Parkway, Bayside
718-352-2300
Major credit cards accepted
Hours:
Open seven days
Saturday & Sunday brunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Online Reservations
Wheelchair Friendly
Accepts Credit Cards

PEARL ADLER

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

 

Greek Donut = Gronut?


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Bradley Hawks

Manhattan may have the famed cronut, Williamsburg may be rapidly catching up with the newly hyped ramen burger, but Queens has its own fare. Loukoumades have already been dubbed the unofficial donut of Queens.

She doesn’t call it the Gronut, but Katarina Davoultzis makes her own version of loukoumades—a traditional Greek donut — every single day from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and she has rapidly developed a following of loyal patrons. While Café Boulis stays open until 8 or 9 p.m. most evenings, Davoultzis is just as much a part of the draw as her famous donuts.

“We make everything fresh,” she boasts with a proud smile. “You want a frappe, it’s going to take a minute,” she explains, “because I am going to get the milk straight from the cow.”

She’s part chef, part matron, part emcee, and every bit as sweet as her pastries.

It is rumored that in ancient Greece, these fried dough treats were presented to winners of the Olympics as “honey tokens.” At Café Boulis, the rings of homemade dough are shaped and fried to order using a special machine rarely found outside of Greece, then served with any variety of toppings, ranging from Nutella to chocolate syrup and sesame seeds. The best way to order them, however, is “all the way”—drizzled with Greek honey, and lightly dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar.

These mini golden rings come six to an order for just $4 and fit in the palm of your hand. They sell boxes and large trays as well.

Café Boulis also serves an array of paninis, salads, wraps, and other traditional Greek desserts, along with several coffees. Baguettes are stuffed with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. Phylo sheets are wrapped around spinach and cheeses, before being baked into golden brown pies.

A dessert shelf encompasses every potential desire for the sweet tooth, from cookies and pastries to traditional Greek sweets. The baklava and galaktoboureko are certainly worthy of note.

But it is undeniably the loukoumades that keeps drawing in the crowds. Crispy on the outside, warm and soft spongey cake inside, the version at Café Boulis is really unparalleled, and makes the perfect morning, midday or afternoon treat.

What goes better with donuts than coffee? The java selection at Boulis is also some of the best around, with everything from Greek coffee to caramel macchiato, frappes to iced cappuccinos.

Whether stopping by for a morning coffee and pastry, light lunch, or evening nosh, Café Boulis is best enjoyed seated at is sidewalk café, amidst the sailboats on the mural of the Aegean Sea.

Café Boulis
30-15 31st Avenue, Astoria
718-806-1014
Monday-Thursday 7 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sunday 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

Roka rocks!


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

Stepping inside Roka Turkish Cuisine feels like drifting across the Atlantic Ocean, far from bustling Metropolitan Avenue to the Mediterranean.

Co-owner Anet Dulger, who grew up in Istanbul, inherited her cooking style from her mother and sisters. She created a menu based on her upbringing and uses imported Turkish ingredients to draw out authentic tastes.

Dulger buys olive oil directly from Turkey and fish that is caught off the Atlantic coast in Europe. Despite the extra expense she believes “taste and quality are the most important thing.”

Vegetables are bought locally from farmers’ markets and chicken and lamb, the majority of meat on the menu, is purchased from farms in Pennsylvania that raise the animals naturally.

For starters the bread is made fresh from scratch. Light and soft, but with just the right amount of firmness, it complements Turkish olive oil nicely.

Roka offers customers a wide variety of starters from soups to salads and so much more.

Some appetizers on the menu include rich hummus, creamy lebni, savory baba ganoush, stuffed grape leaves and spicy Ezme Acili. Each has a distinctly different taste. But ordering a platter of multiple dips for $12 and mixing and matching each for different combinations creates a wildly delicious experience as each new combination explodes with a variety of flavors.

For entrées, meats and seafood are generally grilled and cost under $20. The chicken and lamb kebab are very savory, while the köfte or Turkish meatball, which is grilled lamb with parsley and onions, is smoky and tender.

Roka offers specialty drinks that include Turkish teas and Turk kaveshi, or Turkish coffee that go perfectly with traditional baklava. The dessert, which is a pastry made with honey and pistachio, is flaky and sweet.

If the scrumptious food isn’t enough to convince someone to try Roka, then maybe the health factor would.

Most of the food at Roka is loaded with spices that have various health benefits. Dulger uses lots of parsley, which is rich in vitamins, known to limit cancer and control blood pressure.

“If I don’t eat it, I don’t serve it,” Dulger said.

Roka Turkish Cuisine
116-35 Metropolitan Avenue, Richmond Hill
718-850-7700
Hours- Tuesday- Sunday, noon. -11 p.m.
Wheelchair accessible: Yes

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

The real deal: Smokin’ Aces BBQ


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

!IMG_0160

If the BBQ at Smokin’ Aces in Douglaston were any more authentic, it would be illegal in New York City. But here it is, in view of the platform at the Douglaston LIRR station.

Executive pit master Brian Tolsano and staff serve up an outstanding American menu, in a smart space with a great old bar, at prices that won’t make you lose your appetite.

The appetizer menu adds to the familiar bar food with a couple of outstanding shrimp selections, Philly cheese steak egg rolls, Mexican street corn and savory interpretations of various chip/dip offerings. Try the buffalo shrimp instead of the usual wings.

Portions of sticky baby back or peppery Memphis style ribs, Texas style brisket, pulled beef, pork or chicken are expertly prepared and very substantial. The lamb or beef burgers are juicy and satisfying. Their double burger – a large beef patty stuffed with smoked brisket and topped with smoked bacon, cheese, crispy onions and BBQ sauce — is hard to stop eating and hard to finish.

There are enough chicken, fish, shrimp and entrée salad selections to satisfy those who aren’t BBQ addicts, and in the true sense of the word hospitality, you can get substitutions. Want a steamed vegetable instead of fries? Not a problem. No smoked bacon in your Cobb salad, you say? Okay.

If you have any room for dessert, the praline caramel cheesecake features a crumbled brownie crust and, no, you can’t have the recipe. Excellent pecan pie, chocolate lava cake and banana pudding round out the finishers.

Smokin’ Aces has been honing the menu by actually listening to regular patrons. The result is one of the best three-cheese mac and cheese offerings to be had; the diet-busting stuffed baked potato will seduce spud seekers. Few things are more satisfying to a foodie than suggesting something to a restaurateur and then actually have them listen. I’m very satisfied with the attention to detail here.

The bar – beautiful focal point for the room – was old when first installed in this neighborhood hideaway years ago, back when Madonna was renting a room nearby and frequented the place. It’s well stocked with wines, draft and bottled beers, all the necessary ingredients for fancy cocktails and a selection of upscale whiskeys. Regulars greet each other while they dine and drink in their appointed spots, as in any good “Cheers” bar.

This may be the secret which has eluded previous owners. Smokin’ Aces is a bit of country hospitality in the city. Just head north, up Douglaston Parkway and when you get to the fork in the road (country enough for you?) take it to the left. You’ll leave Aces – full.

Smokin’ Aces BBQ
41-25 235th Street, Douglaston
718-225-8787
Cards accepted
On-street parking
Kids’ menu
Parties welcome
pen 4 p.m. to midnight Monday-Thursday; Friday 3 p.m. to midnight; Saturday noon to 1 a.m.; noon to 10 p.m. Sunday

GEORGE ELIAS

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

 

Jollibee is Jolly Good


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Bradley Hawks

Strolling under the No. 7 train along Roosevelt Avenue, a long line of anxious customers queue up along 63rd Street.  The draw is a pop restaurant from the Philippines known as Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC).

Jollibee has been a popular fast food chain since its inception in Quezon City, Philippines in 1978.  It now has a total of over 2,500 stores worldwide, including 27 in the United States.  American Jollibees can be found in California, Nevada, Hawaii, Washington, as well as one location in Jersey City, and one NYC location in Woodside.

Now four years old and marked by a cartoon statue of a jolly bee just outside the entrance, the lines have somewhat simmered down, but the dining room is almost always packed.  The most popular dish is the “Chickenjoy” fried chicken, although they serve several Filipino-inspired dishes.

A $1 spam sandwich looks like a little old man sticking its tongue out at you, but goes down like a perfectly tasty ham and mayo slider.  Two kinds of pasta are also popular, especially with kids.  The “Jollibee Spaghetti” is served in a sweet tomato sauce filled with bits of ground beef, sliced hot dogs, and topped with cheddar.  It is admittedly far more enjoyable than it might sound.  The “Palabok Fiesta” is one of the most interesting and unique dishes—a serving of  bihon “glass noodles” with a garlicky shrimp palabok sauce, pork cracklings, tinapa (smoked fish flakes), ground pork, shrimp, and sliced hard-boiled eggs.

One of the tastiest snacks on the menu are the lumpia—crispy shanghai spring rolls filled with spiced pork sausage.  For $3 you get six, served with a sweet and sour sauce for dipping.

Burgers are served in four size variations from “Yum” to “Amazing Aloha,” which is topped with grilled pineapple.  Meats are also available served bunless with rice, including several breakfast items—like milkfish belly with rice and sliced egg.

Desserts include bubble teas and tropical fruit-filled “pies,” but the “Halo-Halo” is the one not to miss.  A plastic cup is filled with crushed ice and sweetened milk, coconut shavings, red beans, chickpeas, and Jell-O cubes, all capped with violet taro ice cream and a slice of flan.

Stare as you might at the tie-dye-slushee-custard dessert, you will be the only customer seemingly baffled by the oddly beautiful ice treat.  Everyone around you in the dining room at Jollibee knows and loves it well as plain, old-fashioned comfort food.

Jollibee
62-29 Roosevelt Avenue, Woodside
718-426-4445
Open 7a.m.-11p.m. daily

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

Jamaica puts on its bib for newcomer CityRib


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Bradley Hawks

As you approach 89th Avenue traveling along Parsons Boulevard through the heart of Jamaica, you cannot help but take immediate notice of the pristine white and tinted glass façade protruding from the Italian architecture of the Moda building—formerly the Queens Family Courthouse.  It is Jamaica’s newest sit-down restaurant, CityRib.

CityRib arrives on the scene as a long overdue dining addition to a popular shopping mecca, previously only catered to by Applebee’s a few blocks around the corner on Jamaica Avenue.  Considering its proximity to JFK Airport and a nearby public transportation hub, a specialty restaurant of this degree has been a long-awaited addition to the area.  It marks the first venture outside of Manhattan for HPH, which also owns Harry’s Steak and Harry’s Italian in the Financial District.

The 200-seat dining room boasts vaulted ceilings and exposed brick, with stenciled logos emblazoned on the walls, along with a 30-seat, industrial-themed bar, marrying classic stone etched with Roman numerals and galvanized metal.  Fourteen beers are served on tap, as well as a full menu of specialty cocktails, and an intimate wine selection.  But anyone coming to a place called CityRib isn’t coming for just the drinks and atmosphere.

Chef Joe Mollol has taken notable caution to create a menu suited for a broad range of palates.

“A lot of barbecue restaurants only offer starters that are smaller versions of the larger barbecue plates,” said Mollol.

The CityRib starters read as more of a southern approach to tapas, and could quite easily serve as a rewarding meal all on their own.  Cheddar and garlic grits are deep fried.  The deviled eggs are heavenly, with the egg tops removed, the hard-boiled whites piped full of whipped egg yolk, presented like Faberge ornaments standing on end.  Bacon-jeweled smashed potatoes are wrapped in wontons and served as spring rolls blanketed with melted cheddar cheese.  Each small bite is addictive.

“Low and slow is our motto,” explained the chef (referring to temperature and cooking duration), as he presented the first of the barbecue plates.

The menu boasts ribbons of carved brisket, pulled pork shoulder and Kansas City style racks of ribs. A Cajun-buttered grilled salmon with steamed spinach is one of the restaurant’s tastier non-BBQ offerings.  And the price point falls well beneath those of its competitors in the city.

Side dishes include southern favorites like collard greens that sing of bacon and vinegar, a classic rendition of macaroni and cheese, moist buttery squares of corn bread and crunchy fresh green beans.

“We aren’t trying to imitate your mother’s cooking,” said Mollol, “but we have tried to showcase technique and flavors that will appeal to everyone.”

CityRib
89-04 Parsons Boulevard, Jamaica
718-878-3599
Open daily, dinner only from 4 p.m.

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

Tantalizing Turkish for under $10


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

It is a storefront you would walk past hundreds of times without noticing.  The clean white-table clothed interior is equally unassuming.  But the lunchtime crowds at Turkish Grill on Queens Boulevard are not simply there because of the $8.95 lunch special that includes a starter, entrée and soft drink.  The Mediterranean cuisine here is straightforward, fresh, and some of the most delicious in the neighborhood.  But yes, there is the incredible lunch special, which is difficult to pass up.

For starters, choose from a shepherd’s salad of cubed tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, peppers and parsley tossed in a light vinaigrette, or perhaps lentil soup, smoky babaganush or patlican salatasi (eggplant puree or salad), creamy hummus, lebni (dill yogurt with walnuts and garlic) or a generous portion of piyaz (white bean salad).  The tabouleh salad is crisp and cool, with specks of bulgur and shredded scallions and parsley in olive oil.  The dishes here are loaded with bright flavors that are refreshingly light on the stomach.

Entrée options include classic Turkish kebabs, from paprika-rich lamb adana, to herbed chicken, lamb doner shaved from the spit, cubed lamb shish kebabs, to ground lamb kofte—each accompanied with rice, grilled peppers, and pickled cabbage and onions.  Sandwich versions of each (without the appetizer and drink) are also available at lunch for just $5.

If you want to stray from the prix fixe, add an appetizer for the table or crave a beautiful vegetarian option, the mixed appetizer is a fantastic dip sampler, with generous portions of Lebini, humus, eggplant salad, Tabuleh, eggplant with sauce and Piyaz.

Other recommended add-ons include a Lahmacun for $3.75—a Turkish “pizza” with ground lamb and chopped vegetables, ideal for sharing.  The pide are also delicious, like pastry boats filled with Turkish kashar cheese and your choice of filling (go for the sucuklu with sliced Turkish sausage and mozzarella).

An entrée worthy of deviating from the lunch special is the Karides Guvec, a shrimp casserole loaded with mushrooms and vegetables, baked with a bubbling brown crust of cheese, and served with rice.

For dessert, the baklava is superb, and certain to satiate your sweet tooth.  Kunefe is also exceptional, a disc of molten cheese sandwiched between layers of shredded phyllo, drizzled with sweet warm syrup, and dusted with walnuts. Custard-lovers will enjoy a slice of kazan dibi, like Turkish flan with a caramelized top.

Come initially for the great deal and a fine introduction to Turkish cuisine at a reasonable price.

Return to explore the menu, and venture into some of the neighborhood’s tastiest Turkish cuisine.

Turkish Grill
42-03 Queens Boulevard, Sunnyside
718-392-3838
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

Steak and so much more


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

RW Prime wants its clientele to have a “five-star experience,” said manager Eric Rodriguez. Between the diverse menu, attentive staff and upscale yet relaxed environment, it truly was quite the experience.

The steakhouse, located on the second floor of Resorts World Casino, has menu options that go well beyond just steak. After noshing on the selection of three breads I was served, I told my waiter to hit me with his best shot, and he did.

I sat back in my cushioned booth and admired the dark wood and leather combination of my surroundings as my first course was served: one plate was a jumbo lump crab cake while the other had was crabavocat, which Rodriguez called RW Prime’s signature dish.

The crabavocat, with a bottom layer of crab meat, top layer of avocado and fried shrimp garnish on top, was a satisfying combination of salty and savory. The fried shrimp and avocado toned down the salty crab meat and made for a very smooth, delicious bite. The small amount of basil and tomato coulis added a nice component.

Rodriguez noted that since the restaurant’s opening two years ago, the menu has progressed from simply a steakhouse menu to a greater variety of dishes. This showed more and more with each course I was served. The creativity and thought put into several plates was evident.

Quickly after I was finished with my first course, I was brought out two salads: a simple caprese with tomato, mozzarella and basil along with a bibb and endive salad.

Upon my first bite of the bibb and endive dish, I thought I was tasting candy. The combination of caramelized goat cheese, candied pecans , poached pear and beet and orange dressing made it so.

For the entree, I was brought the fish of the day, a pan-seared sea bass, and another special, a surf-and-turf dish.

The sea bass, which literally melted in my mouth, was served over a bed of risotto in a creamy tomato sauce and topped with peas, asparagus, cherry tomatoes and shrimp. The diversity of the dish made for a unique and delectable experience and was my favorite of the night.

The steakhouse did not disappoint in the “turf” portion of my surf and turf. A filet, cooked medium, was both juicy and flavorful – all that you want in any piece of steak. A Brazilian lobster tail accompanied the filet and the combination of the two did not disappoint.

Side dishes are also available. I sampled the jasmine rice, baked potato and sautéed mushrooms. I enjoyed every bite. Other sides include shoestring potatoes, creamed spinach and sautéed broccoli rabe with roasted garlic.

Outside of its main, spacious dining room, RW Prime also has a sports bar for a simpler, quicker meal and an outdoor terrace with tables and couches. A DJ plays on the terrace Friday and Saturday nights.

Call ahead before heading to the steakhouse to guarantee a table at what I considered a fantastic, versatile dining experience.

RW Prime
Resorts World Casino
110-00 Rockaway Boulevard
718-215-2828

 

MORE DINING PROFILES

Pancakes for dinner


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

pancakes

There’s nothing quite like pancakes for dinner, especially when those pancakes are Café Triskell’s tissue-paper thin buckwheat crepes painstakingly prepared in the culinary tradition of Brittany, France.

Once you pass through the doorway, you are transported to a secluded, rustic, French café with one cook, one server and just a handful of tables. Daily specials are inscribed on a chalkboard and the restaurant’s Facebook page. Chef Phillippe Fallait, a pastry chef by training, showcases both savory (try the chicken and goat cheese) and sweet crepes on the permanent menu alongside a handful of French classics.

Begin, of course, with a crock of French onion soup, the onions caramelized so tender they blend with the broth. Golden bubbles of cheese rise and fall before you in a thick layer of gruyere and swiss.

The frisée salad rivals even the best bistros in Manhattan, with a mountain of chicory, lardoons, buttery croutons, crumbles of bleu cheese and poached egg.

Next, five pinwheels arrive on a green-tinted platter – juicy chicken curled with ribbons of mozzarella, swiss and savory slivers of ham. A hearty entrée for one, the plate easily divides into meal-teasers for two to five people.

Salty medallions of corned beef arrive on crispy potatoes, topped with arugula, a poached egg, and hollandaise sauce, elevating corned beef hash to rustic French breakfast.

I am a sucker for a croque madame (anything with eggs and cheese, please), and the version here is one of my very favorites. Essentially, it is a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. But at Triskell, the pièce de resistance is a delicate béchamel that bubbles under the blankets of swiss, all topped with a golden-centered egg, perfect for popping and dipping.

Steak frites arrive sizzling in a skillet, and a pork stroganoff caught me off guard in a wonderful way, the tender creamy sautee served with a buttery bowl of mashed potatoes, ideal for mixing and matching bites of flavor. The chicken and lamb bastilla with a pompom of frisée on it transports me to Morocco, with the crumbled meat and seasonings packed into a crisp pastry parcel. Escargots are rendered sublimely tender and buttery, with intense garlic and sweet, tangy bursts of cherry tomatoes.

Dessert here is a must, with a flute of sparkling apple cider. The lemon and sugar crepe is sublime in its simplicity, and even better with a mixed berry compote on top. If they have not run out (because they so often do), ask for a shot glass of Fallait’s signature banana fudge jam to top a plain crepe. It will leave your lips sweet for an after-dinner French kiss.

Café Triskell
33-04 36th Avenue, Astoria
718-472-0612
Wed – Sun, 11a.m. – 10 p.m.

 BRADLEY HAWKS

 

MORE DINING PROFILES