Friday, March 30, 2012

Ready... Set... SLURP!

HinoMaru Ramen, 33-18 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria; (718) 777-0228
Closed Mondays

Astorians may finally slurp away, as HinoMaru Ramen (from the group that brought Spot Dessert Bar to the East Village) officially opened on Ditmars Blvd. (near 35th St.) this week, just a few doors down from the currently expanding Watawa (one of Astoria's most celebrated sushi joints, presently under renovation).  Filling in a void that has been hitting the city by storm, the residents of Western Queens can now choose from over 8 different regional bowls of ramen, plus an entire side menu of add-ins.  Check out my article today on for the abridged version.

Gyoza, made fresh in the restaurant, are what I regard as the most delicious I have tasted in a long time.   They are steamed to a juicy tenderness, and then beautifully seared to add crunch.

The Niku man (pork belly bun) are pretty straightforward and delicious... a definite must-order at $5.  The pork belly is remarkably tender, balanced with the sweetness of hoisin and the crunch of sprouts, lettuce, and scallions--all served on the most angelically fluffy steamed bun imaginable.

They also offer a handful of vegetable sides, like this refreshing $4 watermelon salad with tomato, yuzu vinaigrette, and scallions.

The soup broth simmers with the pork bones for nearly twelve hours.  Ramen variations include Hakata, Hokkaido, and Tokyo (pictured above) styles along with a selection of donburi (rice bowls).  The kitchen is led by Chef Koji Miyamoto, and will be continually evolving to offer new flavors and dishes for customers.

It's not available for ordering (yes, I tried), but boxes of chocolate ramen are even on display on the counter... intended to show that ramen is available in endless variations.

The 60-seat space is comfortably open, with two large rooms separated by a long noodle bar, where guests can watch the chef at work in the large open kitchen.  Masks of Tengu adorn the walls (the Japanese spirit of mischief).  Service is dine-in only, and they are closed on Mondays.  Dinner service this week starts at 5:00 p.m., but lunch is anticipated to begin next week.

The chorus of staff chiming "Domo arigato gozaimashita" as guests exit the restaurant may be unfamiliar to the neighborhood, but it's music to the ears.  The staff is extremely friendly, the food delicious, and the space perfect for an intimate Lady & the Tramp noodle dinner, or a communal meal at one of the large tables in the back.

Welcome to Astoria, HinoMaru... and domo arigato gozaimashita!

HinoMaru Ramen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mediterranean Morsels at Morso

View of the Queensboro Bridge from a park in Sutton Place, just down the street from Morso

Morso, 420 E. 59th St., NYC; (212) 759-2706 

After nine years living in New York City, it wasn't until I was invited to dinner at Morso that I realized what an unofficial and somewhat unfortunate meridian Second Avenue serves, especially at the mouth of the Queensboro Bridge.  Other than the sky tram to Roosevelt Island or taking the lower level to Long Island City, I have never really ventured east of Second.  Arriving a few minutes early for dinner, I took advantage of the time to explore the street that to the north becomes York, and Avenue A farther south.  Neither York nor Alphabet City, this small stretch of street known as Sutton Place is one of the most affluent in Manhattan, having served as home to Kenneth Cole, Sigourney Weaver, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson, and even Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller.  The townhouses are beautiful--even more so, the views of the East River, the bridge, and Long Island City in Queens.  If planning a visit to Morso, I would absolutely recommend a stroll along Sutton Place to visit one of the small parks along the river.

Despite the rather exclusive surrounding neighborhood, Morso is extremely inviting.  Vibrant poster art commissioned specifically for the restaurant livens the border of the dining room, and an extremely friendly, accessible menu, features Italian and mediterranean dishes available either in large (tutto) or small (morso) portions, ideal for sharing a variety of plates.  It's the inspiration for the name, after all.

From the "Egg & Cheese" portion of the menu (a rotating daily egg dish is available at dinner), the gorgonzola fritters are a delicious harmony of temperatures, textures, and flavors, with crunchy crusted creamy gorgonzola on a bed of frisee with roasted pears, spiced walnuts, and a tangy apple cider vinaigrette.

The farro salad is a surprisingly hearty garden-inspired dish with tender farro grains, colorfully tart apricots, and earthy, meaty portobello and grilled eggplant.

Homemade pastas range from cannelloni florentine stuffed pasta rolls, to pappardelle blanketed with brisket-porcini ragout, as well as a classic take on spaghetti carbonara with savory bits of guanciale, onions, pecorino, and creamy egg yolk (pictured).

One of the most memorable bites of the evening was the capesante, sautéed scallops on a bed of black rice with piquant cubes of chorizo and roasted pepper, similar to what a south american risotto.  But the element that drew together the buttery shellfish with spicy sausage was a drizzle of a sweet and citrusy limoncello reduction.

The lamb chops, though flawlessly grilled and quite perfect, were only a secondary character to a side component that stole my favor from the entire evening--the chef's creative take on moussaka--a crispy crusted eggplant rollatini stuffed with minced merquez (lamb sausage) and feta, on a bed of white beans with a creamy mint sauce.  Rather than merely a side garnish, it was equally, if not more outstanding, than the chops.

A small, yett satisfying selection of desserts range from the Torta Napolitana (pictured), a decadently smooth neapolitan cheesecake studded with marsala-soaked dried fruit with a fresh strawberry puree, to an espresso hazelnut cake roll, as well as a selection of sorbet, gelato, and petit fours which change daily.

Morso on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

4 Irish menus that (sham)ROCK!

Grilled Pullman Loaf with Dublin Cheddar & Irish Bacon at Sweet Afton

In honor of St. Patrick, the Irish saint for whom March 17th was declared a feast day, consider the following kitchens which serve up Irish culinary renditions every day of the year... The following post is a version of my article published in the March 2012 issue of BORO Magazine.

Irish Soda Bread is served with each meal

Cronin & Phelan’s; 38-14 Broadway, Astoria, NY 11103; (718) 545-8999

It’s 5 o’clock on a Friday afternoon, and the entire length of the bar is packed with patrons sipping from frothy pilsner glasses.  The skylight-kissed row of booths and tables across the room are beginning to fill as well; most order without a menu.  The space has been serving Astoria clientele since 1902, though the Irish pub & restaurant wasn’t named Cronin & Phelan’s until 1960 (after its former owners).  A speakeasy during Prohibition with a brothel upstairs, guests can still enjoy Irish whiskeys rarely found elsewhere, like Powers and Paddy, all served amidst the same décor maintained since 1924.  Though the eclectic kitchen cranks out everything from sliders to chicken marsala, crab cakes to pork chops, the heart of the offerings are the classic Irish dishes—boasting exponentially more than any nearby Irish pub.

A spread of delicious offerings from the Emerald Isle at Cronin & Phelan's... Bangers and mash are served with the casing snipped like the end of a cigar, allowing the fat sausages to expand with crispy seared ends, plated with a trio of meticulously piped towers of mashed potatoes.

A soft-spoken but spirited, silver-haired, unmistakably Irish gentleman, Mike Peacock (owner and executive chef) butchers all of the meat daily, and preps the entrees.  Recipes inspired by his mother, including a standout egg-studded potato salad and creamy whipped turnips, draw regulars from both Astoria and beyond.  The Guinness pie is mind-blowingly delicious.  Meals commence with baskets of Irish soda bread, and sweet endings include homemade rhubarb pie with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.  Though easy to see why regulars abound, visitors are warmly welcomed.

Cronin & Phelan's Bar and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

* * * * *

Sweet Afton's Irish Breakfast Roll (country white bread roll with Irish bacon, Irish sausage, black pudding, & organic fried egg)

Sweet Afton; 30-09 34th St., Astoria, NY 11103; (718) 777-2570

Sweet Afton is an Irish-styled American gastropub tucked just off a primarily Greek stretch of 30th Avenue, named after a famous poem (that later became a song)  about a river in Scotland,  which is also an English cigarette brand formerly owned by an Irish company (the location once housed a New York tobacconist).  The craft beer selection is just as eclectic as the pub’s history, but the appeal is seemingly universal, drawing a steady stream of regulars from Astoria and beyond.  Burger connoisseurs regard Sweet Afton’s version one of the city’s best.  The mere mention of the bar is synonymous with fanatical ranting about fried pickles.  

Rye Shandy (cocktail with rye whiskey, ginger beer, & Smuttynose IPA)

Though the minimalist menu is focused on locally-sourced products, a few Irish classics stand out, particularly on the weekend brunch menu.  Traditional Irish breakfast is transformed into a deliciously monstrous brunch sub, stacking bangers (Irish sausages), rasher (Irish bacon), black pudding (blood sausage), and an organic fried egg, all on a country-white hoagie with a side of Irish beans.  Even American comfort plates like grilled cheese on Pullman loaf or cast iron skillets bubbling with macaroni and cheese are available with Dublin cheddar and Irish bacon.  A version of the UK-popular shandy is served with whiskey, ginger beer, and India Pale Ale over rocks.  There are no reservations, no formal waiting list, and no televisions, making Sweet Afton the perfect place to congregate with old friends, or share a pint with new ones.

* * * * *

The traditional Irish breakfast in all its glory at Molly Blooms

Molly Blooms; 43-12 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside, NY 11104; (718) 433-1916

This year, March 17th marks not only St. Patrick’s Day, but the first anniversary of one of Sunnyside’s newest Irish bars.  At Molly Blooms, the Victorian-styled main room gives way to a chandelier-strewn, lamp-heated tent sheltering a year round outdoor space.  The menu features just a handful of breakfast and dinner items.  The Irish breakfast, however, is served all day, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.  Presented in its traditional form, the platter is loaded with two sunnyside (no pun intended) up eggs, a lean seared rasher (Irish bacon is more like a savory, griddled slice of ham), black and white pudding (white pudding is essentially black pudding without the blood), bangers, a juicy grilled tomato, Irish beans, and buttered toast.  

That’s not quacamole!  The battered cod is traditionally served with tartar sauce and “mushy peas”

Battered cod is prepared to wondrously classic effect, the chubby fish planks atop a mound of chips, garnished with ramekins of homemade tartar sauce and mushy peas—like a thicker, saltier, and heartier version than the old Gerber standby.  Everything can be washed down with a wide selection of craft beers and a Sunday night set list of live, traditional Irish music played by renowned Irish musicians.  Monday evening is trivia night, where a battle of the brains can win free shots and gift certificates.

Molly Blooms on Urbanspoon

* * * * *

Butcher Block; 43-46-41st St, Sunnyside (at Queens Blvd); (718) 784-1078

For the home cook who craves Irish cuisine, Butcher Block in Sunnyside is a neighborhood cornerstone, selling imported teas, biscuits, and cookies, with a full butcher counter offering blood sausages, rashers, and boiling bacon.  At lunch hour, customers line up the length of the grocery to buy store-made renditions of Irish sausage rolls, beef stew, and corned beef and cabbage.  Construction works sit in a circle on the sidewalk out front Noel Gaynor, co-owner of Butcher Block, shares with BORO the recipe for a Traditional Irish Dinner, the meal he says he will be enjoying on St. Patty’s Day.  “Most people might look at this recipe and think, ‘who would eat that?’  But in Ireland, we might eat this supper four or five times a week.”  It’s the salt and flavor from the bacon that makes this one of Gaynor’s absolute favorites.

Traditional Irish Dinner (serves 4)


4 lbs. of boiling bacon (different from other bacon, this is made from pork shoulder)
1 head of cabbage
1 turnip, peeled
2 potatoes, peeled


Bring a large pot of water to a steady boil.
Add the bacon, and boil for 3 hours.
Add the turnip and potatoes after 2 hours
Add the cabbage after 2 ½ hours
Drain the water
Potatoes and turnips may be seasoned and mashed, pureed, or whipped.
Plate, and serve immediately.

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