Monday, June 28, 2010

Empress crab claws, fresh Maine lobster rolls, & blueberry soda

Luke's Lobster (93 E. 7th St., East Village)

Growing up in the relatively land-locked Midwest, I thought that seafood was simply anything that lived in the water.  Don't get me wrong... Indiana does hot-buttered corn, granny smith apple dumplings with warm cinnamon sauce, apple butter, and pork tenderloin sandwiches better than anywhere else in the country.  It's just that we didn't see much from the ocean hit our menus.  Lake Michigan actually had a beach, and you couldn't see one side of the lake from the other.  So when restaurants posted freshwater favorites such as trout, tilapia, and cornmeal-crusted catfish as the catch of the day, I was never really aware that any other seafood was available.  Scallops were frozen and often dry, although my mom made delicious dijon-crusted shellfish bakes.  Shrimp, lobster, and crab were so ridiculously overpriced that we only really ever ate them when vacationing somewhere near the ocean.  It wasn't until my brother's girlfriend took us to visit her family in Maryland that I'd even heard of lobster rolls... and the minute I tried one, I marched right back up to the counter and ordered a second.  Who knew lobster could taste so delicious when it was fresh?

When I found out that Luke's Lobster had opened in the East Village, I was instantly skeptical.  4 ounces of buttery and sweet lobster knuckle and claw meat for $14 seemed impossible.  I've enjoyed several versions of the lobster roll since moving to the East Coast, but most are hot dog buns loaded with lobster salad, with just as much Miracle Whip and celery bits as actual lobster meat.  Or occasionally, marginal quality lobster meat is masked by a brioche roll or some other gimmick.  Where did Luke's fall on the spectrum of lobster rolls?

Luke Holden, owner, was born off the coast of the Maine, and even started his own lobster company while in high school.  At Luke's Lobster, however, he teams with his father, owner of Portland Shellfish seafood processing company.  With the heaven-divined father-son duo, fresh Maine lobster is delivered daily to Luke's in the East Village (and now the Upper West Side, as well), assuring the finest and freshest lobster meat available.

Because we don't make it to the Village every day, my friend and I had to sample a little bit of everything.  Shrimp, crab, or lobster rolls range from $7 to $14, with half rolls available, as well.  We tackled the Noah's Ark, a feast for two for $38.  $19 per person gets each grubber their own shrimp, crab, and lobster mini rolls, empress crab claws, a bag of potato chips, and a soda.

Everything was mouthwateringly exceptional, and we debated ordering a second round.  The buns are buttered and toasted, then drizzled with a slight slathering of mayo.  The shellfish is brushed with a light glazing of lemon butter to amplify the taste of the sea, then sprinkled with a house blend of sea salt, celery salt, thyme, and oregano... just enough enhancements to bring out the succulent sweetness of the incredibly fresh shellfish.  It was, by far, the best lobster roll I have ever enjoyed.

For beverage options, you won't have to worry if they carry your preferred cola, because they don't.  At Luke's they serve organic, sugar cane extract sweetened, Maine Root sodas.  We enjoyed refreshing bottles of blueberry and mandarin orange sodas, as well as sea salt and cracked black pepper potato chips.

The empress crab claws were tender and exquisite, and for $5, you can add 4 to any meal...  I could probably have stayed and devoured empress claws all night long, if we didn't have more to tackle ahead of us.

Hurricane's soups and chowders is a small Maine business run by four family members.  The clam chowder was full of plump clam medallions and potatoes.  It was creamy and hearty, and exceptionally delicious.  Because of the heat, we shared one cup, but next time, I'll probably order my own.  It would only be better in a bread bowl, but the chowder itself was phenomenal.  Hurricane uses seafood from Luke's father's business, so the soups are sent on the truck with the daily order from Maine.  Never frozen, they use no artificial ingredients, no gluten, no preservatives, or MSG.

For dessert, definitely share a scoop of Gifford's lobster tracks ice cream.  Using vanilla beans from Maine's heartland, the ice cream is swirled with decadent ribbons of fudge, and polka dotted with little red candy spheres filled with buttery caramel that explodes at a bite.  They offer a few other flavors, as well, but the lobster tracks are sinfully delicious.

It's not a huge shop, just a small counter, some lobster traps and gear decorating the wall, and a few stools on the periphery if you are lucky enough to snag one.  Just a few blocks from Tompkins Square Park, it's well worth the wait in line even if you have to take the order to go.  But I guarantee that if you take one bite of the pure, buttery, tender lobster meat that there's no way your meal will make it to the park.

Luke's Lobster on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 25, 2010

Gourmet baked goods rising in Astoria

Astor Bake Shop (12-23 Astoria Blvd., Astoria)

Many a baker have set up shop in the historically Greek & Italian pockets of Astoria.  Few, however, bring with them the impressive credentials of Chef George McKirdy.  His experience has taken him from Robert DeNiro's TriBeCa Grill, to Nobu, Butter, and even pastry chef at Café Boulud (just to name a small few of his previous kitchens).  He has even cooked for the legendary Julia Child.  Astor Bake Shop, however, is his own personal labor of love, and one with which he brings along a team of colleagues and recipes with whom he has baked tirelessly over the past twenty years.

When my dear friend, Hayley, mentioned that she had seen passionate discussions on several Astoria message boards, it took very little twisting of my arm to convince me to give this new kid on the block a try.  Having given it a few days for a soft opening, we finally stopped in yesterday afternoon to enjoy this welcome oasis from the steamy summer heat.

Of course we indulged in a sample of the brownies before finding a table.  Is there anything so wrong with a little dessert before dinner?  As we sank our teeth into soft, buttery, gooey chocolate squares of deliciousness, our eyes rolled back and we simply took in the sugar-filled atmosphere.  It's a pristine, spacious, and charming room with exposed brick walls, an open kitchen, marble countertops, and handcrafted tables made from reclaimed farmhouse wood.

In terms of sweets, do not expect a Willy Wonka cornucopia of cases and cases of baked treats.  There is one main display case, and a large counter confetti'd with the day's selections.  Chef McKirdy's primary focus is on quality of goods, rather than quantity.  He doesn't use artificial whipped creams, hydrogenated fats, or shortenings, so you can rest assured everything on the shelf is fresh, and baked with the most quality ingredients available.  The bake shop opens daily at 6:30 a.m., and serves lunch until 3:00 p.m. until more staff can be trained.  The bakery, however, remains open most days until 7 p.m.  Hours will be extended as soon as ample staffing can be provided.  By the fall, the hope to serve a simple dinner selection with an offering of beer and wine, as well.

Astor Bake Shop offers a To Go Lunch Special for $9.50 including a sandwich, 16 oz. beverage, and a large cookie.  I enjoyed a deliciously refreshing glass of salted lemonade.  Almost like a virgin margarita, it was exactly what I needed to quench my thirst on this particularly scorching afternoon.

One of my favorite things about the Bake Shop is that you can enjoy a full lunch before diving into one of the confectioner's treats.  At $7.75 the Astor Burger can hold it's own against any of the neighboring competitors.  Juicy grilled beef is topped with crisp lettuce, sweet grape tomatoes, cheddar cheese, creamy coleslaw, pickles, and spicy Astor sauce (a garlicky, southwestern, chipotle aioli).

I built my own combination with applewood smoked bacon, white cheddar, and tangy pickled onions for $8.  The menu is rounded out with herbed chicken sandwiches, lentil burgers, garden salads, and even breakfast sandwiches (served daily until 10 a.m.)

For $3 we shared a generous basket of handcut herbed french fries accompanied with packets of ketchup.  While the baked goods are the obvious star of the show, the burger and fries were exceptional, especially washed down with the salted lemonade.

After such a fulfilling lunch, choosing dessert was quite a daunting task.  Custard-filled eclairs blanketed in glistening dark chocolate tug at you from behind chilled glass, not to mention the meringue capped dishes of pineapple tres leches.

Ever since reading about it on the message boards, Hayley had been craving the Maize almond cake, so that was a no-brainer.  Almost like a delicious pound cake textured with cornmeal, almond flour, and a kiss of citrus zest to balance the sweet, it was a fine, moist, and exquisite slice of cake.

The inarguable winner of the day, however, was the blueberry butter tart, a sinfully delicious sugar cookie crust filled with gooey butter filling and whole fresh blueberries.  If you have ever claimed to love fresh berries or creamy toffee, this is an absolute must-try.  It vanished in seconds, and I am certain it is what will bring us back for a return visit quite soon.

We ignored the advice to allow the double chocolate cupcake to sit and warm to room temperature, which would have made it even more delicious, I am certain.  The ganache was decadently creamy, and it took serious restraint not to lick the frosting right off the top.  The balance of bitter and sweet was perfect, resulting in a cupcake surprisingly light and not sickeningly rich.

Although everything we sampled was divine beyond description, we eventually raised our white flags in surrender.  I can guarantee, however, that you will find both of us there many more times in the future.  Be sure to call ahead if you are seeking a particular cake or pastry (the red velvet looked exquisite), as they do sell out almost daily.  But if you find that your favorite treat is unavailable, don't let that stop you from sampling something different.  Chef McKirdy knows his way around a pastry kitchen, and he's every bit as kind and sweet as each of his pastries.  It's a real thrill to welcome him to the neighborhood.

Astor Bake Shop on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Má Pêche brings downtown uptown

má pêche (15 W. 56th St.)

It seems somehow appropriate, if not altogether poetic that David Chang's newest restaurant, Má Pêche, resides only a few blocks away from the Museum of Modern Art, which presently features an exhibition entitled Picasso: Themes & Variations.  Just as Picasso can somehow beautifully depict a bosom using two ordinary circles, Chang combines simple, fresh ingredients to create surprising impressions.  Rice transforms into a french fry and strawberries become pesto.  Not that David Chang needs any more hype or acclaim.  In addition to numerous James Beard Awards, this 32-year-old trailblazing chef was named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world for 2010.

A veteran of Craft, Mercer Kitchen, and Café Boulud, Chang opened his first restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar, in 2003 in the East Village.  In doing so, he took a gigantic sidestep from the more hoity toity kitchens of his training, serving up affordable Asian food juxtaposed with classic European technique.  Three restaurants and seven years later, Má Pêche opened in April of 2010, marking the first departure from the East Village.  And despite scattered reviews to the contrary, I found that Má Pêche brings with it just as much excitement, innovation, and culinary brilliance as any of the predecessors in the Momofuku family of establishments.  Under the guidance of Tien Ho, co-owner and executive chef, this "mother peach" breathes fresh life into midtown, while maintaining a historic tradition of excellence.

Adjacent to the lobby for the Chamber Hotel sits the entrance to Má Pêche, which is actually the Midtown location of Momofuku Milk Bar.  The feel is more Tokyo than Midtown Manhattan, and diners are cleverly forced to whiff the baked treats and flavored milks before descending the stairway into the main dining room (where no desserts are served, incidentally, rendering a departing pause in the Milk Bar necessary for those with an insatiable sweet tooth).

It is probably significant to note that my most recent visit to the Milk Bar was my third visit in just a few months.  Each time I purchase a cookie or pie, I have failed to photograph it before devouring it.  Sadly, this visit was no exception.  Imagine the crack pie, a toasted oat crust with a gooey butter filling (pecan pie sans the pecans, if you will...) or the blueberry cream cookies with dried blueberries and milk chips.  Not to mention the compost cookies (pretzels, potato chips, ground espresso, oats, butterscotch, and chocolate chips).  Because I have no self-control when it comes to these ridiculously delicious treats, you have to simply trust me on this one, even without a photo.  The Milk Bar is reason enough to visit.

As Má Pêche does not take reservations (unless it is for one of the tasting menus), you can easily pass the time at the bar, which is sort of a balcony over the sunken main dining room.  Along with beer, wine, and sake, several unique cocktails are served up in harmony with Chang's eclectic style. Consider a classic, Dark and Stormy, laced here with ginger syrup, lime, & seltzer in lieu of ginger beer.

Descending from the lounge into the main dining room, the cruciform communal table commands attention.  Is it a cross?  A paring knife?  A seaweed pole?  The simplicity of the room is refreshing, and as you escape into this elysian sanctuary, the midtown melee is quickly forgotten.  Though simplistically elegant with soaring ceilings, there is no pretense here.  A stack of dentist bibs serve as napkins, and cups full of disposable chopsticks serve as cutlery.

While we contemplate the menu, my friend has ordered the "côtelletes de porc" (and I instantly wonder, did the chef mean to spell it wrong on this menu of a made-up blend of French and Korean, or is it an intentional jab at the clientele?)  "I have been fantasizing about these pork ribs since I had them a month ago.  I'm sorry, but I need an order now."  She is practically trembling in withdrawal, and I can see that she's quite serious.

When the ribs ($16) arrive, I, too, become instantly addicted.  More like lollipops of juicy pork, they have been cooked to a tender perfection, with just a hint of outer crispness, the meat sliding effortlessly from the bone into my mouth.  And the flavor, oh my god, the flavor.  Like some Thai candied apple, these little chops have been glazed in lemongrass caramel, the salty meat dancing with a citrus-ginger butterscotch.  I've never tasted anything quite like this before, and I cannot fathom ever enjoying pork ribs to this degree of sublime delight ever again.  Traumatized by the now-empty plate of bones and caramel, we place a second order.  This place is magical. 

The fried cauliflower ($12) is extremely similar to a dish I recently enjoyed at Momofuku Ssam Bar, the florets here having replaced the brussels sprouts and crisped rice.  The gently crisped cauliflower has been tossed with curry, mint, and a fish vinaigrette.  What is oftentimes a boring and relatively bland vegetable has been whimsically morphed into an unfathomably savory seasonal special plate.  Check out the recipe as posted in Time.  If Tien Ho can render pork into a dessert and cauliflower as a main dish, what else can he do?

Even the spring rolls become an experiment in texture.  Delicate rice paper gift wraps sweet prawns, lettuce, and daikon.  As I dip it into the ramekin of smoky and sweet hoisin peanut sauce, I expect the cool, crisp snap of the vegetables and the succulent shrimp.  But the gentle explosive crunch of cracker I do not expect, even though I now notice it waving at me from the end of the roll.  Somehow in Chang's world, even common dishes become playful with just the slight crackle of texture from a cracker.

Next came a salad that I would gladly nosh on every single day of the year.  Who knew you could garnish a salad with crispy golden potato chips?!  French chefs use these fingerling crisps as faux scales for the presentation of fish.  Here they simply crown a dish of hearty stalks of white and green asparagus, which has been sort of Lincoln logged over a nest of egg yolk and luscious lump crabmeat, adorned with a lavender snowfall of chive stems and blossoms. The bitterness of the greens with the rich buttery shellfish, and the crunch of the chips, all dusted with chives...  again, I've never had anything that tastes like this before.  It's almost like a deconstructed crab cake benedict, and I'm in love.

On one side of the room sits a crudo bar, and we just can't help but watching the sparkly dishes flying from the window.  Poached shrimp with kaffir ketchup, squid salad with scallions and peanuts.  Even though we've opted for the $25 prix fixe (the best way to enjoy two plates and a small sampling from the upstairs Milk Bar without blowing the bank) it seems a shame that we don't try at least one of these gems from the ocean.

The cá fluke cru (from upstate NY) is absolutely transcendent.  This delicate, white fish is buttery, smooth, and melt-on-your-tongue tender, crowned with ruby spears of strawberries.  But that's not it.  Inside each fluke rollatini is a goosebump-inducingly sweet, tart, nutty and salty mini salad.  I ask the waiter, and he smiles.  Oh, you know, it's just your typical strawberry, arugula, and pistachio pesto.

Next comes a gorgeously marbled 12 oz. juliet steak from Creekstone Farms. While it's a delicious-enough piece of meat, I'm going to be quite honest that the star of this steak frîtes were the the frîtes themselves.  I will probably always remember my initial reaction.  As I bit into the oversized fry, a golden crunch almost splashed flavor into my mouth.  Was that bacon?  Movie theater popcorn butter? Oh wait, now the inside is warm and soft, almost like a hearty potato puree.  It can't be potato... there's no way. But it tastes like the best potato fry on earth.  Salty, buttery, and sinful.

Truth be told, it's merely a brilliantly conceived rice fry.  There's no butter, no bacon.  They're simply pan-roasted in canola oil, accompanied with a creamy Thai chili aioli with just the right amount of kick.  By now, I feel like a broken record, but we sit giggling at the table.  Nothing has ever tasted like this before.

Rice has been transformed, yet again, this time into noodles.  Broad, thin, flat rice noodles have been coiled into delicious pasta straws with a crisp outer crunch succumbing to a tender and chewy al dente middle.  Tossed with spicy pork sausage and sawleaf herb (almost like a very strong cousin to cilantro), it's a beautiful dish that marries earth, air, and fire with simple ingredients that combine for a different flavor profile in almost every bite.

Though we were extremely sad that such a playfully delicious meal was drawing to an end, we now sat eagerly anticipated a sweet nibble, vividly recalling the aromas of baked deliciousness hovering in sugary clouds above us at the Milk Bar.  Our server offered us double espressos, and had to check to see if they carried Sambucca black, and alas, our dream became a little fuzzy.  Even though Má Pêche may be intended as a more laid back, spunky and funky alternative, if we're dropping a hearty price tag for lunch, it would be nice for the server to know the liquor selection.  And then the check arrived.

My dining companion and I exchanged confused looks across the table at one another.  The menu had said "Milk Bar" for the third course.  Did we need to show a receipt upstairs for dessert?  I could have sworn our server had promised a few petite fours at the conclusion of the meal.  We waited nearly ten minutes for another server to appear, and then we asked if we could see ours.  "Oh, he's stepped away for a little bit..."  When he finally reappeared from his break, we asked about the aforementioned desserts, to which he merely laughed and vigorously patted me on the back as if to say "oops!" as though we were childhood best friends.

If I don't know your name, I don't want you to touch me... especially if you are denying me something for which I have already paid...

The bites, though small, were infinitely delicious, and I soon forgot the minor snafu at the end of the meal.  The cereal milk pana cotta tasted like a delicate custard had formed at the bottom of a bowl of Fruity Pebbles.  It was gorgeously dusted with the powder of corn flakes.  And the mini crack pies lived up to their name.  Gooey buttery filling in an oat cookie crust sprinkled with confectioner's sugar.

Though we were content and full, and all smiles again as we left, you had better believe we stopped for a moment in the Milk Bar to purchase some treats to take home.  Anything possible to extend the memory of such a uniquely delicious meal that even occasionally subpar service couldn't possibly tarnish.

Ma Peche on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Totale Pizza: for the Budget Gourmet

Totale Pizza (36 St. Mark's Place, East Village)
(212) 254-0180

It's moments like this that I know just how very dearly my closest friends must love me and support my food adventures to a degree far beyond which I could ever have asked.  For the blog, I have just dragged Kieran down to the East Village to try a lobster roll over which I have been obsessing for months.  We try lobster, crab, shrimp, crab claws, even two types of homemade ice cream and organic sodas all in the name of the blog.  With satisfied stomachs, we head back toward Astor Place to catch the subway uptown.

That's when I freeze right in my tracks.  

"Is that?" I whisper, as if I've just seen a ghost.  "No... it can't be... But... I thought that..."

Kieran looks at my face as if he has read my mind precisely, releases a small moan, and inhales deeply as if employing some internal compactor to make room for just a few more morsels on this steamy June afternoon.

We both rub our eyes, and the mirage doesn't disappear.  It most certainly seems as if some doppelganger  for the late Una Pizza Napoletana has just manifested itself smack dab in the middle of the skateboard shops, tattoo parlors, record stores, and psychics.  There is no sign visible anywhere, other than a chalkboard advertising neapolitan pies.  Inside, the chef and server are sipping iced colas at a table, the dining room otherwise entirely barren.

Although we can both still taste lemon butter and oregano from the lobster rolls, it's a flavor that won't likely clash with pizza, so why not?  Kieran, having been my number one dining partner at Una Pizza Napoletana (before its transformation into Motorino when the former proprietor moved to San Francisco), smiles, grabs my hand, and guides me in.  "Let's do this..."  He knows how rare it is for a blogger to stumble upon a restaurant that hasn't been buzzed yet.  He also knows that if we don't go today, I'll just make him accompany me tomorrow.

Previously a smoothie shop, the setup inside is remarkably similar to Motorino (the former home of Una Pizza Napoletana).  Other than a single vase of sunflowers, there is no decor beyond the black and white tiled floors and walls.

The menu, a single glossy card, even has a similar look to it, as well as the list of offerings.  But I quickly notice one dramatically significant difference.  A whole pie here is only $7, which seems absurdly low to me, considering the pies at Una Pizza Napoletana soared upwards of $20.

It just so turns out that at the helm of Totale are Eli Halali of 2 Bros. pizza (where you can get a plain slice for $1 or a large pie for $8) and Greg Ryzhkov, former right-hand-man to Anthony Mangieri, legendary tattooed pizzaiolo of Una Pizza Napoletana.

A refreshing marriage of budget pizza and neapolitan tradition, Totale offers gourmet artisan pies at a fraction of the price of its competitors.  The same $7 margherita 12-inch pie costs $12 at Kesté, $14 at Motorino, and $17 at Luzzo's, just to name three of the current NYC Neapolitan hotspots.  Totale doesn't claim to import ingredients from Italy.  They source it from local purveyors, available at a much lower price point.  But how does the actual pizza stack up?  Is there a clear difference when the toppings aren't sourced from the base of Mt. Vesuvius?  Will my palate reject the fraud?

Though I cannot claim to be a cognoscenti of pizza, I have rather enthusiastically tasted more than my fair share.  Totale's pie can certainly hold its own against the rest.  The sauce is sweet and tangy, drizzled with olive oil, and dotted with creamy dollops of fior di latte mozzarella and a few sprigs of fresh basil.  The crust has deliciously charred bits with tiny crunches of salt, and unlike Motorino, remains crispy all the way to the middle of the pie, the crunchy outer crust succumbing to a light and doughy center.

In the artisan tradition, the wood-fired oven holds steady at around 850 degrees.  Each pie bakes for around a mere 90 seconds, just enough time for the dough to inhale and warm to life, and the toppings to harmonize into a delicious stained glass of flavors.

GM and pizzaiolo Greg Ryzhkov also features a few oven-roasted appetizers, including an asparagus salad with ricotta and dates.  Neapolitan purists will be relieved to know that he also offers a pie with imported mozzarella di bufala for $13 (the highest price on the menu).  Ten bucks will get you the signature Totale pie, adorned with pecorino romano, red onions, pine nuts, and rosemary.

A liquor license is in the works, but meanwhile, they offer an array of soft drinks, waters, and espresso, so be sure to BYOB if you want to add spirit to the meal.  And while Totale may not receive the official stamp from Naples because it sources American ingredients, what's so wrong a with a little patriotism in your pie?  Especially when it tastes this delicious, and comes in at nearly half the price.  I would highly recommend visiting Totale during its preview run, before word spreads and lines inevitably form around the block.

Totale Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Five Napkin (at least) Burger

The namesake burger at Five Napkin is a 10 oz. patty of fresh ground chuck blanketed with gruyere cheese, caramelized onions, and rosemary aioli on a toasted brioche bun.

Five Napkin Burger (35-01 36th St.)
(718) 433-2727

Despite a name that implies German roots, ever since it first appeared on an American menu in 1826 at Delmonico's in New York, very few edibles are heralded to be quite so iconically All-American as a good old-fashioned hamburger.  Joining the trend that has locals whispering that Astoria just might be the new burger capital of NYC comes one of Manhattan's most successful versions, Five Napkin Burger.

The Astoria location marks the third Five Napkin Burger for Andy D'Amico and Simon Oren since the original 2008 opening on the outskirts of Manhattan's theater district.  But even before that in 2003, the Five Napkin Burger was a sandwich at older sister restaurant Nice Matin on the Upper West Side that became so wildly popular, the owners decided it needed it's own stage.

The Astoria location will open its doors to the public in just a few hours (only serving dinner this first week starting at 5pm with lunches starting next week), but last night I was offered a coveted invitation to the opening preview party.  It's a rough job, but we sampled nearly twenty of the menu offerings that will soon be devoured on a daily basis at the new Studio Square location.  And yes, I mean devoured.  Five Napkin Burger is quite honestly phenomenal.

One of the shiny facets of this new Astoria gem that will set it apart from other burger joints is the gorgeous bar, which features several specialty cocktails, nearly 80 beers, almost 100 different wines, and close to 50 different bourbons.  Whether burger novice or connoisseur, there's something to wash  it down for any level of diner.

The apricot fizz was a refreshing spin on a bellini, with fresh pureed apricots and sparkling wine.

The room is very similar to its older sister in Midtown, with white tiled walls and light bulbs dangling from giant meat hooks.  It runs the gamut from butcher locker to French bistro to upscale diner.  The waitstaff and host stand handled the event as if they'd been taking care of guests here for years.  It was an impressive evening, but the real star was the food.  The following is just a sample of what we tried, all of which is available on the menu.

Hands down, my favorite appetizer at 5NB is the deep-fried pickles and pastrami served with sauerkraut and mustard oil.  If you thought you liked fried pickles, wait until you try this golden mini-feast.

The handcrafted sushi is quite simply delicious.  Above is the California Rainbow roll with king crab, mango, and cucumber, topped with avocado and either tuna, salmon, or in this case, yellowtail,

The shrimp tempura roll is garnished with cucumber, radish sprout, and avocado.

Adding a unique depth of texture, the spicy salmon roll is polka dotted with crunchy puffed rice.

For only $4.75, you really need to order the tater tots.  The Five Napkin "tot" is actually one of the most delicious mini-croquettes I've ever enjoyed, the crispy coating breaking way to smooth and creamy herbed whipped potatoes.

Cornmeal dusted onion rings are actually stacked in a tower like a Christmas tree.

Another particularly savory and delicious starter is the beer-braised pulled pork taquitos with queso fresco and pico di gallo.

Hot spinach & Artichoke dip is served with spears of endive and French bread crostini.

The Vietnamese shrimp & salad roll is lighter starter, and a refreshing take on a summer spring roll.

The Italian Turkey Burger wins my award for best turkey burger around, crowned with melted mozzarella, spicy tomato sauce, and vinegar peppers on a sesame roll.  Though all of the burgers range from around $11 to $20 (the burger for two is a full pound!) remember that these monster sandwiches are accompanied with french fries, and topped with unique gourmet fixins that make them a real standout from the competition.

Lobster roll sliders come three to a dish, piled with tender Maine Lobster tossed in 5N mayo, scallions, and cucumber on toasted brioche.

The lamb kofta burger is certain to be an Astoria favorite, dressed with a Mediterranean salad of chopped tomato, cucumber, pepper, and onions with a drizzle of tahini sauce on a fluffy white roll.

I have finally found a veggie burger I may actually order from time to time.  This tangy patty is laced with herbs and sundried tomatoes, all topped with b&b pickles and 5N sauce (quite similar to thousand island dressing).

5NB also offers an impressive array of several other dishes (their 5N footlong kobe beef dog has been my favorite frank in the city for years), from entree salads to fish 'n chips, from steak frites to a S'Mores milkshake.  Sharing the same city block as the beer garden, and just two minutes from the Astoria-Kaufman movie theater, Five Napkin Burger has surely found a recipe for success.  Although I'm still quite full from last night's feast, you may even see me there later today.  This place is exceptionally delicious.

PLEASE NOTE: This week for the opening, they will only be serving dinner.  Lunch begins next week... so if you go before the full opening, they open at 5pm.

Five Napkin Burger on Urbanspoon
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