Tag Archives: Review

Alobar springs into spring


| editorial@queenscourier.com

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BRADLEY HAWKS

Not many small, privately owned restaurants in New York City can survive all of the changes that come along with the replacement of an executive chef, especially when those changes mean you will have to rebrand your entire restaurant concept, hoping to retain the former regulars, while acquiring new ones.

In a city like New York, after all, no excellent chef would be content stepping into the role merely as a replacement, executing the same dishes as his predecessor with the same finesse, enthusiasm and integrity. That requires nothing more than a well-trained parrot.

This dilemma is precisely what faced Alobar in Long Island City last year, when their previous chef left the space he had built as a snout-to-tail porcine sanctuary. What was left was a menu with loads of bacon, guanciale and pig tails with no leader to cure the pork in the basement any longer. This little piggy had gone to the market, with no plans of returning.

Fortune favors the brave, and Alobar found a new leading man just about four months ago. Astoria’s own Greg Profeta is one of the sweetest, most jovial of souls you would ever meet, and his eyes twinkle when he talks about vegetables for the spring menu. He mentions hearts of palm he has flown in from Hawaii that are the best he has ever tasted — and will be a supporting character in his beet salad. Profeta describes the menu he has been developing as ‘whimsical, fun, and cheeky,’ which are probably the three words anyone would use to describe him, as well. And everyone knows what can happen when a chef with some serious skills puts his own charisma into his dishes. It can be real magic.

On the menu that will be unveiled this month, gnocchi becomes a playground for the flavors of a loaded baked potato. Potpie is stuffed into an alabaster ceramic dish, loaded with braised rabbit and bubbling gruyere over a golden pastry crust, almost like a hunter’s French onion soup.

“And I really like to work around the vegetables… they are so delicate,” said Profeta with a smile as he placed the hearts of palm over a meticulously stacked mound of beets and greens. Jeff Blath leaned in and proudly whispered, “He just knows all the right techniques and takes those things and makes something fun.”

Outside of the menu, Blath has been having some of his own fun, creating the largest selection of whiskey in Queens. He has collected a selection of more than 100 whiskies, which can also be enjoyed in flights. There is even a whiskey made with quinoa.

Cocktails showcase some clever mixology that has been registering high marks with the customers. The Vernon Smash features bourbon with blackberries, mint and ginger beer. A mix called the Chauvinist Pig wuzzles scotch with chartreuse, ramazzotti, and eaux de vie.

With all of the changes, one might wonder if anything stayed the same.  “We kept the maple bacon popcorn,” said Blath with a laugh. Of course. They might be rebranding, but they aren’t dumb.

Alobar
46-42 Vernon Blvd.,  Long Island City
718-752-6000

 

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Supping at Snowdonia


| editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Bradley Hawks

BRADLEY HAWKS

Crisp, effervescent bubbles hastily scurry upward through a blend of vodka and prosecco, deterred only by a few fresh berries hindering their path, before bursting at the surface and gasping for air.  The “Berry Fizz” is simply the perfect way to awaken the palate and put a smile on your face.

Or perhaps you prefer to start with a fresh bloody mary that gently pricks your tongue with the heat of horseradish, or a sweet—yet tart—flute of peach Bellini.  Maybe you will stray from the brunch cocktail offerings altogether, and opt for a spicy rum punch rimmed with Sriracha (called the Angry Fruit Loop) or an icy margarita laced with ginger, jalapeno, and fresh basil.

Whatever you choose, the drinks are all some of the most exciting around, and all coming from Snowdonia, a quaint little trappist-style gastropub slightly hidden at the corner of 32nd Street and 35th Avenue in Astoria.

“A ‘trappist-style gastropub’ follows in the tradition of Trappist monks using local, fresh food and incorporating beer into the recipes,” explains Matthew Callahan, marketing director for one of Astoria’s newer hot spots.  “From the beer batter and the mussels in beer to our Oatmeal Stout Panna Cotta, craft beer is a major ingredient in most of our dishes.”  And there are plenty to choose from, if you just want a pub with a fantastic pint.

Behind the kitchen are the talents of Will Lubold, a former chef of ‘inoteca.  His dishes are another reason Snowdonia is poised to be a cornerstone in the neighborhood.  A roll arrives at the table slathered with caper mayo, tangy beer pickles, along with crunchy-coated beer-battered skate—which is a steaky, flavorsome catch. A stacked double patty ½ pound burger arrives next, cloaked in melted smoked gouda, topped with pickled onions, and caper mayo.  These are some sandwiches that make lasting impressions.  Some of the very best I have enjoyed in the past year, in fact.

Desserts are the stuff of which dreams are made, like a mason jar filled with stout panna cotta and oatmeal clusters, a caramel sticky toffee bread pudding, and a bourbon brownie that blows your childhood babysitter’s to smithereens.  I am completely leaving out several winners, like the beer-steamed mussels kissed with citrus and cilantro, or the scored, grilled sausages and redskin mashed potatoes and pickled mustard seeds.

Owned collectively by two couples, the family of one of the owners is from Wales. “There’s a beautiful national park there called Snowdonia that’s home to the highest mountain in Wales— Mount Snowdon,” explains Callahan. “The mountain and ski decor in the bar reflects this heritage.”

The bar was started, in part, by a Kickstarter campaign.  Bar stools are etched with different names—the Kickstarter backers who chose that as their perk. The result is a neighborhood bar built for the community, by the community.

Snowdonia
34-55 32nd St., Astoria
347-730-5783
Open seven days a week, 4p.m.-4a.m.
Dinner is 6p.m.- midnight
Late night menu is midnight – 2 a.m.
Brunch is Sat, Sun, and industry brunch Mondays from noon-4 p.m.

 

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Good Greek grub at Aegea


| editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Victor G. Mimoni

Aegea, located at the “Douglaston Corner” serves up a surprisingly good array of apps, wraps, pasta, pizza, salads, Greek specialties and some of the best burgers in town.

Owner Mike Sackos commands the counter, moving at light-speed to ensure that, even when the place is packed (which is often), the dishes are not only delicious, but also well-presented and a treat to the eye as well as the palate.

Sackos’ forebears hail from the isle of Chios, just off the coast of Turkey – hence his motto, “where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean.” This may also explain the tasty falafel and Turkish gyro listed alongside the fantastic baby lamb chops, moussaka and other Greek specialties.

Aegea features a wide selection of salads for the health conscious, including seasonal selections. The winter salad is red and green for the season – tender spinach leaves, cucumber, red onion, beets, chick peas and crumbled feta, with a creamy vinaigrette dressing.

Other salad selections include Acropolis (with walnuts and goat cheese),  Aegea (with stuffed grape leaves, feta and grilled chicken),  Douglaston (with shredded mozzarella, fried chicken strips and honey mustard dressing) and of course, Greek salads, all well-dressed and beautifully presented.

Having started in the restaurant business at the tender age of 16 and formerly the owner of  Pete’s Pizza on Bell Boulevard, Sackos’ pie bona fides are impeccable, as are his Sicilian round pies, offered with a good selection of toppings. Those too hungry for a just a slice can also opt for the nine-inch “Pita Pizza,” in plain cheese, Greek (lots of olives and feta), Buffalo or pesto chicken varieties.

Pasta lovers can choose from several varieties of spaghetti, baked ziti, penne (whole wheat penne also available) or stuffed shells. The red sauce is piquant and fresh and dishes with red or white clam sauce, or oil and garlic also satisfy.

More than a dozen wraps will satisfy any taste, from vegetarian to tuna, turkey or Angus burger, plus the expected Mediterranean flavors, including shrimp with spinach, souvlaki or gyro filled. For those with no Hellenic inspiration, there’s even a Philly cheesesteak wrap.

Speaking of burgers, the variety of seven-ounce Angus burgers for less than $7 (deluxe for a few dollars more) is an outstanding value. The Aegea burger features American cheese with grilled onions, peppers and mushrooms is juicy and delicious. Soups and sides are also first rate.

If you have room for dessert, the Greek pastry offerings are large, authentic and wonderful.

Mike added a mirror-image double-G to the logo, “Because ‘Aegea’ is a palindrome,” a word that spells correctly forward or backward. Any way you look at it, it’s a place for good food at a great price. Yiasou!

Aegea Gyros and Pizza
242-05 Northern Blvd., Douglaston
718-423-4429
Open 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. every day
Closed Christmas, Thanksgiving Day
Cards accepted for dine in, take out
Free local delivery, cash orders only
Extended delivery for catering orders
Limited on street parking
Q-12 bus, LIRR Douglaston station

VICTOR G. MIMONI

 

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‘Cloud Atlas’: A beautiful and optimistic message told throughout time


| editorial@queenscourier.com

PHOTOS VIA FACEBOOK

BY ALEX DIBLASI

In what may be the most expensive art-house film ever made, “Cloud Atlas” brings together six seemingly disparate stories from six very different points in time, using every beat of its 160-minute running time to reveal and display their inherent similarities. A masterful collaboration between Lana and Andy Wachowski (the siblings who brought us “The Matrix” trilogy) and Tom Tykwer (director of the super-stylized “Run Lola Run”), each segment explores themes of oppression, fear, and escape, ultimately positing that freedom is the greatest goal of all, whatever the cost. Editor Alexander Berner deserves mention as well, as the intercutting of these six tales alternates throughout the film between the intellectual and the visceral.

The first segment takes place in 1849, with Jim Sturgess playing a young man on a sea voyage from East Asia back to the United States, ailing from a tropical fever and under the care of a kindly doctor played by Tom Hanks; Sturgess befriends an escaped slave stowaway (David Gyasi) who wishes to join the ship’s crew. Throughout, Sturgess keeps a journal of his travels, which play out like a seafaring film perfectly capturing that era, complete with a treasure chest full of gold coins.

In the second segment, taking place in 1936, Ben Whishaw is a young composer in a relationship with university student James D’Arcy, maintained long-distance through letters while Whishaw aids an elderly composer, played by Jim Broadbent. Matters take a turn for the worse when Whishaw’s Robert mistakes Broadbent praising the young composer’s Cloud Atlas Sextet, played on the piano, as being something more than kind words.

Halle Berry stars in the film’s third segment, playing a journalist investigating a conspiracy surrounding a corrupt nuclear power company in 1973 San Francisco. James D’Arcy reprises his character from the 1936 segment (albeit much older) as a whistleblower, while Hanks cameos as a scientist who confirms the truth. Berry and Hanks share an intimate conversation about what force has brought them together, feeling that their paths have previously crossed.

The fourth segment, easily the most humorous and heartwarming, features Broadbent as a down-on-his-luck book publisher who haplessly ends up in a retirement home against his will. Paced and written like a British farce, this present-day story showed the elderly engaged in a struggle for respect and dignity that is entirely in step with the rest of the film, despite its hilarity. Hanks has a delightful cameo as a thuggish ex-con, complete with cockney accent and a cauliflower ear, whose book is published by Broadbent’s character.

It is the fifth segment that seems the most like what audiences have come to expect from the Wachowskis, a stylized science-fiction tale set in mid-22nd century South Korea. In New Seoul (Old Seoul is mostly underwater – a subtle jab at global warming and rising sea levels), a human clone (played wonderfully by Doona Bae) lives a strict life of order and routine. Disobedience and rebellion is quickly punished with death. Jim Sturgess (made up to look Korean-American) liberates Bae and introduces her to an underground political movement that represents all resistance movements throughout civilized history. Arguably the longest segment, with high-concept chase sequences and a stunning allegory for consumerism near its very end, it also offers the most direct message into the core of the film, ruminating on how the past inspires the present which in turn influences the future, the oneness of civilization, and the inevitable victory of the oppressed over their oppressors.

The final segment offers no date other than being nearly a century after “the fall,” which sees a post-apocalyptic world where mankind lives a survivalist existence in the wild. Tom Hanks plays a family man constantly warding off a taunting demon after watching his friend get savagely murdered by a tribe of cannibals. Halle Berry, a technically advanced space explorer, arrives in need of help to reach the summit of a dangerous mountain. Suspicious of this outsider, Hanks finds himself seeking liberation not from slavery, blackmail, deception, abusive orderlies, or an oppressive society – all external factors that affected the protagonists of the other segments – but from his own fears, internal factors. It is the end of this segment that provides the film’s elegant coda.

Each segment presents different forms of struggle against morally unjust powers. The stories are masterfully interwoven, not just in concept but in imagery and even in actions; a knob turned in 1973 then cuts to a door opening in 2144. The varied tones of each segment keeps the viewer engaged – I generally get quite fidgety when any film not directed by Scorsese runs longer than two hours, and yet with “Cloud Atlas” my eyes were glued to the screen the entire time. “Cloud” Atlas combines a Proustian emphasis on memory with a cyclical perspective of life and death, society, and the universe itself that seem to come straight out of Hindu thought. The result is a stunningly epic film with a beautiful and optimistic message at its center.

Water’s Edge: Stunning setting, fabulous food


| vschneps@queenscourier.com

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Water's Edge on Urbanspoon
Offering the most spectacular views of Manhattan is part of what makes Water’s Edge Restaurant so special. The other part is that the food matches the setting.

After a recent renovation by new owner Singh Hospitality Group, operators of nine restaurants and catering facilities on Long Island, the cherished and respected restaurant has been brought back to its former glamour and quality. It doesn’t have to be a special occasion to dine there for lunch or dinner. The menu has been carefully designed by their master chef.

We began our meal with a crunchy crab cake loaded with fish and light bread crumbs served on a bed of corn spuma. The roasted baby beet tower was beautiful to look at and tasty, too. The goat cheese Mousse Brûlée was piled between the beets in a balsamic reduction. Another winner is also the braised short rib timbale served on braised endive with chanterelles in a red wine reduction. Of course there is the perfectly-prepared classic Caesar Salad served with shaved Reggiano cheese, a nice touch. We also sampled the char-broiled baby octopus. The large portion was served with fingerling potatoes, capers and yellow peppers sprinkled with a jalapeno oil.

For our main courses we were impressed with the two steak dishes. Perfectly prepared to our order, both the filet mignon and the grilled New York strip steak are not to be missed. As a salmon lover the Waters Edge’s offering impressed me. It was a baby artichoke crusted salmon served with spaghetti squash, baby turnips – all in a saffron broth and done to my medium rare order.

For vegetarians, one of our party appreciated the stuffed vegetable trio – mushroom cannelloni, a stuffed tomato and squash. It was a delight to the eye and palate.

There is an extensive and impressive wine list that goes from moderate to expensive and the staff can advise you on your selection.

We couldn’t miss the desserts and Water’s Edge has outstanding choices. My husband had his favorite, a warmed apple crisp topped by vanilla ice cream. My friend loved the banana bread pudding served with a caramel sauce. For me, my decadent side was satisfied by the chocolate molten lava cake served with vanilla ice cream. I tried to leave some over out of respect to my figure but this one was irresistible.

Of course, if you are having a party the second floor is perfect with its floor-to-ceiling windows and marvelous food that we sampled in the dining room. They can accommodate up to 350 people.

The attentive staff and superb food make Water’s Edge in Long Island City a destination location wherever you live. There is even a weekend ferry boat that brings guests from Manhattan to their deck on the East River.

Try it, you’ll love it!

Water’s Edge Restaurant

The East River at 44th Drive

Long Island City, N.Y. 11101

Phone 718-482-0033

Fax 718-937-8817

www.watersedgenyc.com

Dinner Monday through Saturday

5:30 to 11 p.m.

Lunch Monday through Friday

noon to 3 p.m.

Free and valet parking on-site.