Monday, October 31, 2011

Lunching at Lounge 47

(Buffalo Chicken, Southwestern Burger, & Pulled Pork Slider with fries for $12)

Lounge 47 (47-10 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City)

It's one of those places I have obliviously strolled right past on numerous occasions.  The front window doesn't scream anything in particular.  The name doesn't suggest anything drool-worthy.  The interior is as laid back and comfortable as its title.  But hidden behind this very chill, retro lounge is a surprisingly versatile and all-around delicious menu.  One that actually beats many of the more well-known heavy hitters on this street.  Where else in LIC can you mix-and-match your sliders with fries, grab a fragrant bowl of coconut-ginger chicken soup, or savor a mole, falafel, or a traditional shepherd's pie?   "I just wanted to create a menu that has a good, delicious variety, but is simple, and accessible to everone," explains Min Chen, the brains behind the menu.  And she has done just that.  It's a quirky and fun little assortment of tapas, sandwiches, and entrees--each one so surprisingly tasty that it makes you want to come back again and again to see what other little gems you can discover.

I have tried my fair share of frickles, and these win the award for the tastiest I have ever had in NYC--without any competition.  These pickles are sliced thin, breaded, and fried to golden, crispy perfection, accompanied with sauces of your choosing (BBQ, chipotle, and roasted garlic pictured above).  Most frickles are cut so thick that the batter is crispy and the insides still raw, rendering the inner coating soggy.  These are the perfect marriage of crunch and tenderness.

Wasabi deviled eggs add a playful little kick to what are already flawless southern classics, the yolk whipped to velvety perfection.

At just $4, a cup of the cilantro-kissed and rice-studded Asian chicken soup is the perfect Thai remedy for the winter months--surprisingly simple but wonderful.

The white bean soup is loaded with hearty vegetables and wilted watercress, yet harbors a luxurious creaminess created by the addition of a parmesan rind to the basic stock, which is all topped with buttery, crunchy, homemade croutons, creating a hearty playground of flavor and texture alike.

The grown-up macaroni & cheese is a creamy 3-cheese rendition with just a whisper of mustard powder giving it a wonderful extra dimension, capped with a crunchy rosemary crumb topping.  It's a generous portion, perfect for sharing.

Small plates (still generously portioned) range from $4-$10, with the larger items and sandwiches ranging from $9-$14.

A full bar menu offers everything from a glass of Argentine Malbec to a spirited cocktail list, employing ingredients like wild blueberry juice or Jamaican ginger beer.  With seating ranging from couches and coffee tables for lounging in the front, to full banquettes and tables for dinner service in back, Lounge 47 is the ideal lunch spot, after dinner cocktail perch, or the perfect solution for friends who can't agree on one cuisine in particular--there's something here for everyone.

Lounge 47 on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sunday Morning Mimosa's Hallo-Weekend to benefit The Trevor Project

Astoria's award-winning comedy and singing collaborative, Sunday Morning Mimosa, will be performing three very special performances over the Halloween weekend in an effort to raise money for The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.

Friday, October 28th -- Haus of Mimosa Costume Contest at Mix Cafe + Lounge (40-17 30th Ave)

$20.00 gets you open bar for 2 hours and the chance to win Katy Perry concert tickets, an iPad2, or an iPod!

PROCEEDS BENEFIT THE TREVOR PROJECT. Additional Raffle tickets are $1 and will be sold all weekend... prizes will be drawn November 3rd.

Throw on your shortest pink Tutu, tightest Zebra Dress, highest heels! Install your biggest Bumpits, tease your blonde curls, plump those lips, rouge those cheeks!  
Come dressed as Anita, Gina Marie, Tina Marie, Pam, or Vinny! (Automatic points to anyone that comes dressed inspired by one of the other characters from our podcast, Sunday Morning Mimosa. Subscribe for free on iTunes!)

Saturday, October 29th  at 9:00PM -- Vampires & Zombies Dance Party at the Holiday Inn 

Tickets benefit the Trevor Project ($25 at the door/$20 in advance) plus guests receive a swag bag and an open bar from 9-10PM.  DJ Juicy Fruit will spin dance tunes throughout the evening.

Sunday Morning Mimosa will preview some of their special numbers from the GaGa tribute premiering in their upcoming show at the Triad Theater.  Guest performances by the ridiculously talented Brianna Davis (karaoke hostess at Mix), Melissa Driscoll (USO performer famous for her shows at the Stonewall Inn), and Jen Brooks (singer and Bette Midler impersonator).

Monday, October 31st at 9:30PM -- An Evening of Divine Madness

Sunday Morning Mimosa's benefit show for The Trevor Project, a Tribute to Bette Midler & Lady GaGa at the Triad Theater. (Click flyer to enlarge)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Burger-Club now in soft opening

The Burger Club (32-02 30th Avenue, Astoria, NY 11102)

After much anticipation, the newest hamburger joint in the hood, The Burger Club, officially opened its doors last week, serving lunch and dinner.  With a high bar set by Bareburger, 5 Napkin Burger, and a few other pretty incredible burgers in the area, The Burger Club has a lot of competition.  Not to mention that on the ten-block stretch along 30th Ave. between the train and Steinway, recent and future openings include Sugar Freak, William Hallet, Antika Brick Oven Pizza, Via Trenta (formerly Greco), and Butcher Bar (official opening Nov. 1st), all of which join MexiQ and the Grand Ave. Greek standards, like Ovelia, Grand Cafe, Avenue Cafe, and Athens Cafe.  Don't forget Seva and Sweet Afton.  And just one block away, Pachanga Patterson, Brick, Il Bambino, Aroma 31 (formerly Eco Table), and Bareburger--a pocket of some pretty popular heavy-hitters.

People have criticized the resemblance to Bareburger because of the garage door openings, modern vibe, and menu.  But quite honestly, Ovelia was the first in the neighborhood to own such a contemporary feel (and the first for the garage door).  And while both places sell burgers, salads, sandwiches, and shakes, aren't these pretty standard for any burger joint?

Chef Robbie Cohen (formerly of City Crab) leads the kitchen.  "We have a team of four-star cooks back there with me," he boasts, "with a few guys from great restaurants like Esca."  And while the menu does offer pretty straightforward burger fare, there are a few jazzed up offerings, like the foie gras burger, or the mozzarella fritters with prosciutto and peppers.

My favorite thing I tried today was the braised short rib appetizer, although it is erroneously described on the menu as having poutine.  Poutine are fresh cheese curds--not shredded cheddar.  Ever since M. Wells, I have been dying to try poutine, so my face fell when I saw shredded orange cheese.  But the braised short ribs and gravy are deliciously tender.  The french fries are the size of chubby fingers, and pretty fantastic.  So after a few bites, I let go of my disappointment.

The mac and cheese came in a large skillet, filled with cavatappi--sadly extremely overcooked--in a mind-boggling bland bechamel... again topped with that same shredded orange cheese.  I took several bites to make sure, but I genuinely believe the flacid noodles are tossed in milk and flour.  I couldn't detect even a pinch of salt or pepper (which I judiciously applied, before retiring my fork from this dish in pretty major disappointment).

I opted for the Burger Club Classic.  They offer burgers topped with pulled pork, egg, or foie gras, and even veggie, turkey, and salmon burgers... but if you can't nail a classic, the other decorations can only mask so much...  The burgers here are made with a blend of naturally fed meat by Pat LaFrieda (which is misspelled at the top of the menu).  And the burger was really very good, although pretty pricey at $7.75 (the foie gras burger peaks at $11.75).  Fries are $4.75, so a regular cheeseburger and fries are $12.50 (falling between the original Bareburger with fries at $11.60 and the 5 Napkin Burger with fries at $13.95).  The menu reads that each burger also comes with "our homemade spreads"--which seemed to confuse my server when I inquired as to their whereabouts... though a chipotle ketchup and chipotle mayo arrived a few minutes later.  The burgers are well-seasoned.  I was not asked for a temperature, and it arrived very well-done, unfortunately denying it much juiciness.  Definitely quality meat and fresh toppings, and a toasted buttery brioche that housed the package perfectly.

For dessert, I asked if anything was made in-house.  My server explained the "ice cream burger" as an ice cream sandwich with two different cookies, but said I should forget that and definitely get the "Mud Cake" because it was from the Cheesecake Factory... she thought.  While I was looking for something homemade, she wouldn't take no for an answer.  Now I do occasionally love me some Cheesecake Factory, but their black-out cake is a little different (and usually has crushed walnuts on the edges, as well).  Though a bite or two hit the sweet spot, I was again a little disappointed that nothing uniquely "Burger Club" was offered.

Service was extremely friendly at the table.  Management is very lax, however.  As I waited for my meal, I counted 8 staff members at one time sitting on cell phones and eating at guest tables throughout the restaurant, eating burgers or fries.  I got to hear the tale of one of the girls passing takeout menus who had been hit on earlier in the day, the gripes about uniform requirements at another server's "other" job, along with general shop talk about "that one jerk" who was in earlier.  It felt a little more like an employee cafeteria or locker room than a new restaurant trying to impress the neighborhood and build repeat clientele.

I'll be very curious to see what happens during this preview period... the place has a lot of potential, and a seemingly qualified team.  Execution is still lacking, especially in a neighborhood exploding with great burgers.  Right now it kind of feels like a young burger shop playing dress-up.  As if they watched all the grown-ups around, observed what to wear, but just aren't quite sure or ready yet just how to pull it off with the same (or at least a different) finesse.

The Burger Club on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 10, 2011

Seasonal Savorings: Awakening Your Autumn Appetite

(Sauvignon Blanc Jelly at Rèst-âü-Ránt)

(This article was originally published in edited form the Oct '11 issue of Boro Magazine)

As New Yorkers begin to pack away their sandals, shorts, and swimsuits in exchange for denim, wool, and a warmer wardrobe, so also do the city’s eateries hibernate their summer fare in exchange for autumn menus of more comforting cuisine that no longer threatens to compromise bikini curves.  Here is a rundown of some of the seasonal stars now showcased on the menus of four of the neighborhood’s favorite restaurants.

* * * * *

Few menus in the neighborhood evolve as frequently as Ornella Trattoria, where chef-owner Giuseppe Viterale daily scours the local markets for inspiration to reinvent his favorite regional Italian dishes.  While the weekly specials remain the same (Monday $14.95 Steak Night, Tuesday 1½  lb lobster over seafood pasta for $21, Wednesday any chicken dish for $13, and Thursday any pasta special for $10), Ornella introduces three exceptional new brunch items for the fall.

Hangover Pasta will shatter any notions you had that noodles cannot satiate a brunch craving.  Homemade pappardelle is boiled in milk, adding a unique texture and sweetness to the broad pasta ribbons which are then tossed with savory bits of bacon, a drizzle of truffle oil, and topped with a fried egg—sort of like a carbonara gone crazy.

Classic Italian Lard Bread laced with tender slices of shredded peppered bacon arrives at Ornella via Williamsburg, where it is then transformed into a luxurious pedestal for eggs benedict, a delicious upgrade from the standard muffin.

The Roman Fried Cheese Sandwich could overtake any competitor grilled cheese in a cage fight.  Ornella’s spin on a classic spiedini alla romana, homemade foccacia is generously stuffed with fresh mozzarella, fried, and then blanketed with a creamy reduction of brandy, anchovies, shallots, and capers.

In college, Giuseppe Viterale perfected his personal espresso, and if you coax him, he just might do it tableside for you.  Granulated sugar receives the first few drops of the percolated brew, which he then vigorously whips by hand into an espresso marshmallow, which dissolves into a sweet cap of foam floating atop the Italian coffee.

* * * * *

The menu at El Ay Si has been described as eclectic and global, but regardless of labels, it’s universally comforting and tasty—also generously portioned and reasonably priced.  Happy Hour extends Wednesday through Sunday from 4-7PM with $5 well drinks, $4 pints, $6 wines, and $8 specialty cocktails, and Bingo on Sundays. Mark your calendar for an old-school Prohibition & Flapper Halloween Party on Sunday, October 30th.

An iron skillet of rotini spirals swimming in béchamel, studded with applewood smoked bacon, and crowned with golden-baked cheese, this comfort classic is addictively straightforward and soothing.

Both nostalgic and scrumptious, heaping piles of crunchy tater tots are a must-have addition to any meal for just five bucks.  And if you’re up for a splurge, they can arrive “disco style” with white gravy and cheddar, or even loaded with three-bean veggie chili and cheese.

When it comes to nachos, this gargantuan platter isn’t playing around; there’s a reason this monster appears under “Mains” rather than “Small Bites”.  Homemade tortilla chips remain miraculously crunchy, even when partnered with any of the eight topping options—or better yet, “the works” (pictured), with everything from skirt steak and grilled chicken to chili and avocado.

No, you didn’t misread the menu.  That dish is called Chicken Fried Chicken.  It’s a traditional name for country fried chicken, referring to the manner in which it is prepared.  Even steak can be “chicken fried.”  But the country chicken platter at El Ay Si would have a challenge finding a rival.  Juicy chicken coated in crispy batter arrives on a pillow of smashed potatoes, all with a peppered white gravy, and a side of buttery green beans.

You haven’t tasted a hush puppy until you’ve enjoyed one of these jalapeno sweet corn fritters.  Packing the perfect punch of spice, these golden breaded orbs are dipped in a ramekin of pure honey for the ultimate harmony of savory and sweet.

El Ay Si Restaurant on Urbanspoon

* * * * *

Whether sharing Cavo's small plates like the veal meatballs stuffed with sheep’s milk cheese in the outdoor sunken garden, or settling down for an intimate meal in Astoria’s most glamorous dining room with cathedral ceilings and contemporary chandeliers soaring what seems like miles overhead, it doesn’t take long to see the artwork on the plate is just as spectacular as the surroundings.  Fall specials include a free bottle of wine with the purchase of two entrees on Mondays, 1/2 price on all entrees on Tuesdays, 50% off the manager’s wine list on Wednesdays, Thursdays Ladies Night Speciqaals, and $20 sangria pitchers each Sunday.

Black angus short ribs are slowly braised for four hours to fall-apart-at-the-touch tenderness, showcased on a dollop of creamy polenta, and then draped with an exquisite red wine reduction with fall vegetables, and a kiss of microgreens.  This mastepiece pairs beautifully with a bottle of Amethystos, a full-bodied charismatic “wine of drama” from the vineyards of Greece.

Striped pasta pockets are stuffed with four Greek cheeses, then served in a creamy feta sauce with a drizzle of truffle oil.  One of the area’s most unique ravioli dishes, it is an absolute must for any pasta-lover.

Cavo on Urbanspoon

* * * * *

It may seem slightly hidden off-the-beaten path, but Rèst-âü-Ránt is just a block away from the 36th Ave N/Q line, and worth every step.  Featuring an extensive selection of wine, beer, and cocktails, this cozy corner kitchen is the ideal place to share a snack with friends.  Local comedians take the spotlight on Tuesdays at 10PM, music showcases at 9PM on Thursdays, and plans are underway for a Halloween costume party.  The diverse menu ranges from dumplings to fondue, but the fall specials are inspired by the grape harvest season.

A flatbread of homemade focaccia is spread with fresh goat cheese, halved red grapes, and sprigs of rosemary, toasted in the oven.

A trio of Organic North Shore Long Island Sliders are basted in a shallot-merlot reduction, topped with velvety melted gorgonzola, tomato, and a frisee salad, all sandwiched on Turkish somun bread from local Pain D’Avignon Bakery.

Proof that dessert can be light and refreshing, this gorgeously inventive jelly is made from sauvignon blanc and jeweled with whole white grapes, served with a mint sprig and a dollop of fresh cream—reason enough alone to make a visit.

Rest-au-Rant on Urbanspoon
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