(DiWine's brick oven Bianca pizza with ricotta, mozzarella, & roasted peppers)
One of the greatest things about Why Leave Astoria, in my opinion, is the fact that a significant amount of the featured articles are actually written by members. I became a featured writer because I was initially a member who posted to my personal WLA page, which soon led to my posts being featured on the main page. A website devoted to Astoria with articles and headlines by its readers guarantees that the content is always relevant to its readership. You wanna see something different? Post it, and chances are if it gets enough interest, you'll find yourself on the homepage as well. No shady politics determining which stories make the headlines... No loyalty assumed or demanded from financial backers. It's a free and honest forum to post news, events, photos, your thoughts, start discussions, network, organize groups with members of a common interest, and even find some killer discounts at local establishments. So although many of us who contribute would love to see WLA grow big enough to invite us on as paid full-time staff, the simple truth is that we do what we do simply because we love sharing our passions with the community through such a unique forum.
As an unexpected, but pretty spectacular holiday gift, some of the most active writers gathered last night for a holiday party, so very generously hosted by Why Leave Astoria founder, Ran Craycraft, at one of our favorite places, DiWine. And I am convinced that if the neighborhood truly knew what a sparkling gem this place is, there would undoubtedly be a line around the corner every single night. It was a simply perfect evening of mouthwatering brick oven pizzas and small plates served by Arman and his impeccable staff, accompanied by some of the most exquisite cocktails in Astoria, shaken up by the uber-talented mixologist, Josh. I couldn't have asked for better company, as I was finally allowed to put faces to some of the writers I have so genuinely enjoyed reading this past year: WLA founder Ran Craycraft, food and beverage writer (and real-life chef) Evan LeRoy, effervescent brew guru the Beer Wench, the prolific and eclectic Grace Bello, and fascinating feature writer Brooke Carey. A special thank you to Ran for organizing, and for everyone else involved for such a memorable evening.
If you have yet to check out DiWine, make it a New Year's resolution to visit frequently in 2011. But with the knock-out holiday cocktail list, don't wait until then to get started.
The eggnog martini was Christmas in a cup. Eventually, almost everyone at the table tried one for themselves. Spiced rum, bourbon, fresh eggnog, and a dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg make the quintessential holiday drink. Though we were so graciously hosted by WLA for the evening, when on my own dime DiWine also offers one of WLA's hottest discounts: with a WLA card every second round is free! Check out the other great concoctions currently available here.
Though their dinner and brunch entrees are equally delicious, my favorite way to enjoy DiWine is with a small group of friends and an assortment of sharing plates. Pan seared golden sea scallops arrive in a bed of a rich and savory asparagus cream, with a decadent dollop of black truffle puree.
And when it comes to truffles, DiWine serves up a simply fantastic version of truffled mac-n-cheese, with al dente pasta shells tossed in a velvety blend of bechamel and gruyere, with wild mushrooms, truffle oil, and a crown of crispy toasted bread crumbs.
A caper-studded tuna tartare arrives with a light whipped avocado mousse and toast points, the fresh tuna luxuriously sliced in large cubes.
Three large, crispy golden seared crab cakes are loaded with tender seafood, served on a bed mixed field greens with cannellini beans, olives, and a lemon vinaigrette.
Pizza at DiWine is one of the most overlooked versions in Queens, with a pie that rivals most others. The crust has a beautifully charred, crisp outer crunch that gives way to a wonderfully warm and chewy inner bread. The capriciossa is garnished with mushrooms, pepperoncini, mozzarella, and a fried quail egg in the center. This is one of my favorite pizzas, not just in Queens, but anywhere.
Another one of my favorites was the Newtown, with toasted walnuts, whole roasted garlic cloves, spinach, and olive oil infused ricotta.
With a gourmet list of several unique toppings, you can even build your own creation with any three ingredients for just $12.
Ironically, we somewhat neglected one of the greatest features of DiWine... their wine list. Give a group of thirsty writers an open bar, and I guess sipping on wine doesn't always take priority. But a carefully edited wine list features glasses for $8 and bottles for $32, so that you can strictly focus on choosing a wine that suits your taste rather than worrying about which bottle is pricier.
With large tables up front and in back that accommodate groups of friends, and intimate booths with sheer curtains giving privacy from the dining room, it truly is a wonderful bar, kitchen, and all around deliciously sexy environment to celebrate with an ensemble or just a special someone.
On behalf of WLA, thanks to the entire DiWine team for the perfect setting for a holiday celebration. And on behalf of the WLA writers, thank you to Ran and the Why Leave Astoria readers for such a wonderful forum to share our thoughts and musings, and come together as a true community. We absolutely love reading your comments, and look forward to sharing more in the new year. Hopefully next year, we'll have to add an extra table at the holiday party to accommodate new members ready to contribute their own voice as featured writers.