Tag Archives: Queens dining

Basil Brick Oven: The Picasso of pizza


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Bradley Hawks

BY BRADLEY HAWKS

“The pizza was invented in Naples, and then we developed it in the north,” grins Daniele Barbos, executive chef and pizza maker at Basil Brick Oven Pizza, who first began cooking in 1986 for the Alpini, Italy’s elite brigade of mountain soldiers.

The wood-fired oven is kept blazing between 850 and 900˚F, the ingredients are imported from Italy and the mozzarella is made fresh daily (60 pounds of it a day, made each morning by Barbos himself).

“Neapolitan pies cook in 90 seconds,” explains the chef, “and can get really soggy.” Using a special recipe that yields a stronger, less doughy crust over two days of preparation, and by baking each pie for four minutes, his Northern Italian pies are able to properly hold a variety of gourmet ingredients while still boasting a crisp, thin crust. Basil offers a mind-blowing selection of over 60 varieties, including speck & brie, gorgonzola and pear, or asparagus and egg. One of the most popular—the pizzucca— is topped with a baked pumpkin- walnut puree with salty pancetta and creamy fior di latte.

A recent expansion of the dining room naturally led to a menu expansion, which now boasts several full entrees inspired by Barbos’s home region of Piemonte. A radicchio and speck risotto in parmesan crisped bowl is velvety, bold, and uniquely delicious. Green lasagna frequents as a special, layered with spinach noodles, basil pesto, sliced potatoes and blankets of golden-crisped melted cheeses. Salmon is crowned with eggplant, pancetta, and breadcrumbs. Calamari rings arrive laced with ribbons of fried zucchini and carrots with a side of piquant fra diavolo dipping sauce.

The pana cotta, polka-dotted with vanilla bean specks, is exceptional, skirted in juicy fresh sliced pear with dollops of whipped cream and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. Barbos handdips each ladyfinger in espresso and whips the sweet mascarpone filling just before lunch service each day, resulting in a rather addictive, gargantuan slice of tiramisu.

When Basil held its grand reopening last fall, patrons enjoyed a newlyexpanded dining room that nearly quadrupled the original seating capacity, along with a front cafe featuring a gelato counter. But that was merely a small taste of what the team at Basil Brick Oven aspired to offer.

As the summer months approach, a glimpse out the back window reveals a rapidly developing three-tiered outdoor dining area, complete with fire pit, scheduled to open later this summer. The new dining room is an immaculate parlor of dark wood and hanging lanterns, ideal for a rustic pie or a full Italian meal, complete with wine and espresso.

Basil Brick Oven Pizza
28-17 Astoria Boulevard, Astoria
718-204-1205
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday
Closed 4-5 p.m. daily
Closed Wednesdays

 

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A new generation of Greek at Thymari


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

IMG_8596

BY BRADLEY HAWKS

A love affair with Astoria’s food scene would be incomplete without an appreciation of the neighborhood’s rich Greek tradition. Bringing that tradition into a contemporary light comes Thymari.

The menu at Thymari, which means thyme, is peppered with the standard glossary of Greek cuisine: dolmades, feta, saganaki, spanakopita, and kalamata. But the chef carefully applies subtle nuances to the seemingly familiar recipes.

The shrimp saganaki appears as a clay dish lavishly arranged with jumbo prawns in a robust vine-ripened tomato sauce with sequins of scallion and snowdrops of feta. The hint of anise comes from masticha, an oil drawn from raisin-like berries found in Northern Greece.

An entirely different saganaki—this time as expected, with cheese—encrusts a delicately mild Arahova feta with sesame seeds, which is pan-fried, then ribboned with a sash of wild berry compote.

Owner Konstantinos Batalamas designed the restaurant with one of his childhood friends from Greece. It spans from a sunny open-front café and bar to an expansive, dramatically lit dining room which also doubles as a photography gallery.

A few flavorsome newcomers pop up, like a bouquet of mussels in a golden broth of krokos (Greek saffron). The Thalassinon orzo is studded with thyme-kissed medallions of shrimp and mussels in a rich tomato reduction. A Greek spin on chicken pot pie, kotopita, layers flaky country-style phyllo stuffed with spiced chicken and peppers in a creamy béchamel. Whole branzino (Mediterranean sea bass) is butterflied, seared, and served on a pedestal of roasted new potatoes, arugula, cherry tomatoes, capers, shallots, and olives shimmering in olive oil and lemon zest.

Weekend brunch is heightened with a gorgeous strapatsada omelet, as well as traditional Greek sweet bread nuanced into French toast, served with a whipped dollop of homemade chocolate hazelnut Greek yogurt. Try a bellini with pressed sour cherry juice for a refreshing brunch bubbly.

Desserts shine with a stemless martini glass of Greek custard made from homemade, strained, and whipped yogurt draped with a luxurious walnut amaretto caramel.  And the classic baklava is practically unrivaled, even in this neighborhood.

Thymari also boasts the largest selection of Greek wines anywhere in the area, with over fifty bottles, as well as a playful mix of cocktails, including a baklava martini.

Acoustic pop and rock on Thursdays and Fridays turns the scene into a destination. Check the website for a schedule of upcoming artists.

 

THYMARI
32-07 34th Ave, Astoria
718- 204-2880
Hours:
Tuesday-Friday, 5 p.m. to close
Saturday, Sunday, 11 a.m. to close

 

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Cap’n Crunch and Fritos get gourmet treatment at Queens Comfort


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Bradley Hawks

BY BRADLEY HAWKS

On any given Sunday in Astoria, upwards of 50 guests huddle in the entryway to Queens Comfort near the Big Chief smoker, or perch on swivel stools at the former diner counter. They’re waiting to jigsaw their party into the long communal table, reminiscing while Hulk Hogan battles on WWF reruns, gawking at a young loin-clothed Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Conan the Destroyer,” or quoting the dialogue to “Weird Science”… all projected onto a screen at the back of the dining room.

But far more than just memory-evoking TV and tchotchkes (and morsels), some serious love goes into the cooking and service; it is the sort of place where the whole family pitches in on the recipes and operations.

Owner and cook Donnie D’Alessio opened Queens Comfort almost two years ago, and the menu has been perpetually evolving. “Our style is contrast,” he said. “We like to layer, and we take a lot of care into how people register flavors.”

Recent additions have featured a touch of lighter fare, including the Boomer Burger—a crunchy parmesan-crusted vegetarian mushroom patty with herbed aioli. A crispy fried tofu sandwich arrives glistening with siu hau sauce and a haystack of Asian slaw, next to a roasted beet and goat cheese terrine over mixed greens and white raisins.

The most popular mouthwatering layering of flavors are the signature Cap’n Crunch chicken fingers—substantially plump and juicy tenders dusted with the crushed sweet peanut butter cereal, accompanied by a ramekin of thick caramel sauce studded with bits of smoked bacon and red pepper flakes. The red peppers are home-dried by D’Alessio’s father, a tradition passed down from his grandmother—which are used as a seasoning in several of the dishes and soups.

A rotating “Burger Stand” showcases a stellar take on In-N-Out’s Animal Burger with a dead-ringer of the special sauce and caramelized onions, only on a much thicker and juicier patty; a PB&J Burger with a slab of smoked bacon; and a behemoth Ring of Fire Burger stacked with a fiery inferno of battered bell pepper rings stuffed with fried jalapenos, melted cheddar, and sriracha mayo. Another comes blanketed in dijonnaise, cheddar, and crunchy fried pickle coins. Daily specials range from ancho-chili loaded Frito pies to exotic hot dogs, smoked BBQ and beer cheese soups.

In a neighborhood where brunch is the busiest meal of the week, the BYOB policy creates a vibe of communal party, with store-bought bottles of bubbly and pitchers of orange juice on nearly every table, accompanying the menu offerings of Stumptown coffee, Harney & Sons teas, and seasonal pressed juices, ciders, and berry lemonades.  Benedicts abound in every ingredient combination, and omelettes come laced with confits and vintage cheeses.  Fried chicken sandwiched between homemade waffles gets doused in hot sauce, syrup, and butter.

Desserts are often the handiwork of D’Alessio’s mom and sister, with sweet concoctions like red velvet bread pudding or double-glazed Trix donuts. So be sure to arrive with a hearty appetite, and perhaps be willing to wait a few minutes for that table, especially on the weekend. Because when it does come, the food is hug-your-ribs comforting, and the kind of stuff worth bragging about to friends for weeks to come.

Queens Comfort
40-09 30th Ave (one-half block east of Steinway), Astoria
718-728-2350

Daily menu posted at queenscomfort.blogspot.com
BYOB

Hours:
Closed Mondays
Tue-Fri Lunch 12-4
Tues-Fri Dinner 6-9:30
Sat & Sun Brunch 10-4
Saturday Dinner 6-10
Closed Sunday Dinner

 

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More Biang! for your buck


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Biang

BY BRADLEY HAWKS

Culinary and cultural explorers have fallen head over heels for the legendary hand-stretched noodles and tangy cumin lamb sandwiches at stall #36 — that is the Xi’an Famous Foods counter tucked deep within the subterranean labyrinth of the Flushing Food Court beneath Main Street.

Recently, David Shi and Jason Wang — the Xi’an father-son creators of the other locations — have collaborated to open Biang! offering many of the same regional dishes alongside a few new creations, this time in a sleek, narrow dining room with full table service.

The name Biang! may be intended to mimic the sound of the hand-stretched noodles slapping the tabletop as they are made, but “Biang!” should also appear like a cartoon dialog box over your head as the spices hit your palate like a superhero’s punch.

“How spicy would you like your food — it can be very hot,” warns one server. To these warnings genuine caution should be taken. The flavors and textures are intense, but ultimately quite rewarding.

Biang’s namesake noodles can be served with or without broth. The now legendary pasta ribbons are handstretched throughout the day, like thick edible skipping ropes that smack upon the counter top. They are then adorned with several potential toppings, from tender stewed pork belly to oxtail, hot chili oil, and even slices of seitan. These ribbons are playful, delicious, chewy, and the hand-torn edges grab bits of sauce like tiny pockets of intense flavor.

Adventurous diners will enjoy the Spicy & Tingly Lamb Face Salad, a spicy mélange of cooked lamb cheeks, tongue, eyeballs, and palate meat served chilled with bean sprouts, cilantro, celery, scallion and cucumber. The textures and flavors gradually unfold like a fiery bouquet. And yes, that marblesized orb is an actually eyeball.

On the less exotic end of the spectrum comes a trio of what could be considered open-faced breakfast sandwiches, with toasted mantou (steamed buns) stacked with peppery pork sausage and sunny-side-up quail eggs.

Traditional desserts (like chilled steamed rice cakes with red dates and floral-infused honey) are delicately sweet, just enough to balance the heat from the meal. The famous cumin lamb burgers are best washed down with a bottle of soju (like a sweet Korean vodka) served in a watermelon half, or even a simple glass of tart haw berry iced tea. Guests can even bring their own soju or beer for a minimal corkage fee.

For an ideal meal at Biang!, bring a small group of friends to sample a broad selection. Other popular dishes include the fiddlehead fern salad, spicy lamb dumplings, and various skewers of meat (the cumin-dusted chicken hearts are delightfully tender). Noodle dishes average around $7, with a bite-sized bowl available for $2. Salads and starters range from $2 to $10 with meat skewers mostly in the $3 range. Finally those who enjoyed the affordable yet delicious X’ian stalls in the Flushing food court and newcomers alike can savor a more comfortable dining experience with the same excellent food.

Biang!
41-10 Main Street, Flushing
Hours:
Sun — Thur 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Fri, Sat 11:30 a.m. to 11:59 p.m.
Casual Beer and wine BYOB with corkage fee (no liquor allowed)
Reservations for five or more only

 

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Christos Steak House: It’s all about the flavor


| editorial1@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Christos Steakhouse

Christos Steak House in Astoria is the essence of traditional American cuisine, complemented by an assortment of Mediterranean influences. Prime aged steaks, succulent lobster, an impressive wine list and surplus of inventive sides make this eatery a “must try.”

Begin your meal with the octopus – charred, served with sweet roasted red peppers and capers. The dish is tender, textured, flavorful – a beautiful rendition of a classic appetizer. If you’re looking for something light, order the arugula salad. The greens are accompanied by roasted figs, crispy shallots, smoked feta – all drizzled in a balsamic black pepper vinaigrette. It’s an excellent combination of flavor, proving to be the perfect way to start your meal.

Christos offers a raw bar, complete with East Coast oysters, littleneck clams, shrimp cocktail and spicy scallops. If you prefer your seafood cooked, you’re in luck. The extensive seafood menu includes grilled jumbo shrimp, charbroiled wild salmon, broiled whole bronzini and fresh lobster. Customers rave about the lobster, served with an assortment of savory sauces.

Steak is the staple item at Christos. Cuts include skirt steak, porterhouse, filet mignon, ribeye and New York strip – the list goes on for pages. The quality of meat is critical at Christos, as all beef is carefully aged for 21 days in a temperature controlled room. This process is used to achieve “peak flavor and supreme tenderness.” Charbroiled meats are cooked at 1,200 degrees, finished with coarse sea salt and dried mountain oregano.

I ordered the skirt steak, while my guest opted for the New York strip. The skirt steak was an optimal combination of tender, marinated meat and minced garlic – excellent quality. My guest’s strip steak arrived on a simple white platter, garnished with some greens. We were pleased with the flavor and tenderness.

Christos offers an assortment of sauces for the steaks including Roquefort cheese, wild mushroom, and lump crabmeat served with a tarragon béarnaise. Our waiter, Erik, was the prime source of information regarding the surplus of sides, suggesting the wild mushrooms or grilled asparagus. If you’re a meat and potatoes eater, opt for the mashed potatoes, available in more than 10 varieties including basil pesto and goat cheese basil balsamic.

To end your meal on a sweet note, we had the chocolate crème brulee. Sweet, textured, with exquisite flavor, it is the perfect way to finish your meal at this memorable Mediterranean-American eatery.

Christos Steak House
4108 23rd Ave, Astoria
718-777-8400
Free Parking, Outdoor Dining Available

 

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New book offers guide to diverse Queens dining scene


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Globe Pequot Press

Chinese in Flushing, Greek in Astoria, Indian in Jackson Heights — these are just a few of the cultures and cuisines representing Queens’ diversity.

Those that live in and around the borough are lucky enough to have access to an international menu that is not only varied, but also delicious. But with all those choices, navigating the Queens restaurant scene can be daunting. A new book, Food Lovers’ Guide to Queens: The Best Restaurants, Markets & Culinary Offerings, makes it easier.

Its publisher, Globe Pequot Press, has put out dozens of other “Food Lovers” guides to cities and areas across the country, including Brooklyn and Long Island. For each one, they seek a local food expert to research and write it, and selected blogger Meg Cotner for the Queens guide.

Cotner has her own food website, HarmoniousBelly.com. She is cofounder of the blog We Heart Astoria and editor of QueensNYC.com. She has been living in Astoria since 2005.

When she moved to the borough, she brought her passion for good food, and was able to expand her palate with Queens’ diverse dining.

“Growing up I didn’t eat the most elaborate stuff,” said Cotner. “But I always liked food and I liked talking about.”

In addition to writing for the previously mentioned sites, she also wrote about Queens for About.com. Through that job, her editor connected her to the publisher of the Food Lovers’ Guide books.

The book allowed Cotner to indulge in her passion for Queens and its food. “It was exciting to get to know parts of Queens I hadn’t gone to before,” she said.

“It was a lot of fun to discover these hidden spots.” But it was difficult narrowing down what to include in the guide. “I feel like I just scratched the surface of Queens. I feel like there’s so much out there,” said Cotner.

Food Lovers’ Guide to Queens is organized by neighborhood and subdivided into local foodie faves, landmarks (restaurants with a multigenerational following that have been around a long time), specialty stores, markets and producers and street food.

There are also additional sections with recipes from local chefs and food artisans, a list of Queens food festivals and events, information about community supported agriculture and local food-related websites.

Cotner hopes the guide, which is aimed at both locals and tourists, will bring more people to Queens.

“[The borough] offers the opportunity to have an amazing meal for a small amount of cash,” she said. “Almost any ethnicity you can imagine is represented by food. You can have incredibly authentic food here.”

The following recipe, created by the author, Meg Cotner, appears in Food Lovers’ Guide to Queens:

Mexican Panzanella

Serves 6-8

1 small loaf of crusty yeast bread (Italian-style is good), preferably stale
4-5 large tomatoes, cut into large dice
2 ears of corn, kernels removed
1 red pepper, seeded, cut into medium dice
1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded, cut into small dice
1/2 red onion, cut into small dice
2 cloves garlic, pressed
Salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Cotija cheese, crumbled (to taste)
1 avocado, chopped (optional)

Vinaigrette

1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons apple cider or sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon crushed Mexican oregano
1/4 red pepper flakes
1/4 smoked paprika
Juice from 1/2 small lemon
Salt and pepper
Honey, to taste

Chop the bread into 1-inch cubes. If you are using fresh bread, toast the cubes in the oven or toaster oven for 5-10 minutes.

Combine the tomato, corn, red pepper, cucumber, onions, and garlic in a large bowl. Add a little salt to draw out the vegetable juices. Let rest for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the cilantro. Add that to the vegetables when they are done resting.

Add the bread cubes and lightly toss. Let rest while you make the vinaigrette.

For the vinaigrette, whisk together everything except the honey. When everything has come together, add a little bit of honey. Taste the vinaigrette adjust seasoning as needed.

Add half the vinaigrette to the bread and vegetables and lightly toss. Wait a minute. See how much vinaigrette is absorbed by everything, then add enough to achieve your preferred texture. Let rest for a few minutes. Add the cotija cheese and toss lightly. Taste the mixture and season with salt and pepper to your preference. Top with avocado, if using.

 

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Vesuvio Ristorante: A taste of Italy in Queens


| brennison@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Billy Rennison

In a borough with hundreds of Italian restaurants, it is difficult to separate yourself from the pack. If you want penne alla vodka or eggplant Parmigiana, just head to any main road and you will likely find a plethora of options.

But if you are looking for a menu that offers more than just the basics, a restaurant that treats each patron as though you are a guest in their home back in Italy, the list quickly dwindles until you are left with Vesuvio Ristorante of Whitestone.

To set themselves apart in a crowded field, brothers and owners Nick and Max Marmo refuse to sacrifice quality and freshness. Much of the food is made from scratch in-house daily, and only a few days’ worth of ingredients is ordered to ensure the food is always fresh.

Born and raised in Italy, the brothers value the idea that a meal is meant to be savored and enjoyed, not consumed solely to be turned into energy.

Nothing in the restaurant is pre-prepared; when a customer orders chicken Parmigiana, it is breaded, fried and cooked at that moment.

The same time and effort used on each dish is also taken on the menu that often undergoes changes to keep it current. Veusvio offers all the Italian staples, but specializes in items unseen at most neighborhood restaurants, including wild boar stew and duck served in an espresso-hazelnut sauce.

Appetizers feature Mozzarella in Carrozza (pan-fried bread with buffalo mozzarella, pesto and tomato sauce), ostriche (fried oysters served in a lemon, butter sauce) and an assortment of salads the pair’s mother used to serve when they were children.

The pasta, which includes lobster ravioli, gnocchi, linguini and fusilli made at the restaurant, is highlighted by pappardelle with duck ragout and gnocchi alla Sorrentina. The duck ragout will warm the soul and fill the stomach on cold, winter nights. The meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender, and goes splendidly with the texture and taste of the homemade pappardelle. Any remaining sauce is begging to be soaked up with the homemade bread on the table.

If you are seeking a fish dish, the branzino al forno stands out for its simplicity. Cooking the fish whole, on the bone with just a touch of garlic and rosemary allows the natural flavor of the fish to shine.

The limoncello cake — a recipe crafted by the pair’s father — is a perfect finishing item for a meal. It is light, moist and not too sweet.

Next time you think you have to travel into the city for diverse Italian dining experience, remember there is a Manhattan menu, with Queens prices, sitting right there in Whitestone.

Vesuvio Ristorante
12-02 149th Street Whitestone, NY 11357
Open Wednesday to Monday Lunch, dinner Hosts parties, caters
718-767-4730
www.vesuviowhitestone.com
All major credit cards accepted

Brothers Nick and Max Marmo elevate traditional Italian fare.