Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Five Buck Chuck

One of the most delicious things about living in Western Queens is that eating cheap never has to mean settling for cheap quality.  From individual dishes to lunch specials and even full dining experiences, this month we round up some of the neighborhood’s most affordable edibles, showing how to fill up your tank without breaking the bank.

Here are ten penny-pinching but appetite-quenching bites worth mentioning for five bucks or less.

25¢ wings – Tuesday nights from 8 p.m. to midnight, some of Astoria’s most popular wings can be ordered any way you like ‘em for just twenty-five cents a piece.  Dillinger’s Pub & Grill, 46-19 30th Ave, Astoria, NY 11103; (718) 956-5601

$1 caviar – At Kumo Sushi on Northern Boulevard, all of the a la carte sushi is just one dollar, from salmon roe to sea urchin, over thirty pieces of fresh fish and veggies are available for a single buck. Kumo Sushi & Lounge, 47-11 Northern Blvd., Long Island City, NY 11101; (718) 728-9600; www.kumonyc.com

$1.75 – the tamales at De Mole are deliciously steamed in corn husks, available in three different flavors.  Or try the squash blossom quesadilla for $3.50, or any of the $3 tacos; De Mole, 42-20 30th Ave., Astoria, NY 11103; (718) 777-1655; www.demolenyc.com

$2.75 – Like palm-sized pot pies, coxhina de frango y catupiry are tasty egg-shaped golden croquettes stuffed with shredded chicken and creamy cheese.  NY Pao de Queijo, 31-90 30th St., Astoria, NY 11101; (718) 204-1979; www.newyorkpaodequeijo.com

$3.50 – The Completo at San Antonio Bakery arrives on its own little stand, like a pedestal for this famous frank on a homemade bun, topped with sauerkraut, avocado puree, diced tomato, and a zigzag of mayonnaise.  Ask for pebre sauce, too!  San Antonio Bakery 2, 36-20 Astoria Blvd,, Astoria, NY 11103; (718) 777-8733; http://sanantoniobakery.net/                                                                                                                                                                                       

$3.50 – Queens Comfort serves up a delicious version of Elotes Callejero, Mexican street corn on the cob—which is grilled, slathered with mayo, rolled in parmesan, and then drizzled with sriracha.  Queens Comfort, 40-09 30th Ave, Astoria, NY 11103; (718) 728-2350; www.queenscomfort.com

$3.99 – Woodside’s famed Ottomanelli butcher shop opened a burger and Belgian fry joint just down the street, where $3.99 gets you a single burger with any seasoning folded into the meat (chipotle, caramelized onion, roasted garlic, jalapeno-cheddar, or bacon-cheddar).  If you get the fries ($2.89) add a side of truffle parmesan aioli for 79¢; F. Ottomanelli Burgers & Belgian Frites, 60-15 Woodside Ave., Woodside, NY 11377; (718) 446-7489

$4 – The Bok Choy Blossoms at Seva Indian Cuisine are dipped in a chickpea batter and lightly fried, dusted with mango powder, and served with a citrusy mint dipping sauce.  Seva Indian Cuisine, 30-07 34th St., Astoria, NY 11103; (718) 626-4440; sevaindianrestaurant.com

$4.75 – Euro Delights offers over sixty different crepes ranging from sweet to savory.  There’s something to be said for simplicity, however, like the Hot Feeling crepe for $4.74—a simple paper-thin French pancake draped in sugar, butter, and cinnamon.  Euro Delights, 32-02 Broadway, Astoria, NY 11102; http://eurodelightsastoria.com

$5 – The Long Island City Food Truck Lot is home to many affordable eats loved across the city, like Rickshaw dumplings and Pera Tacos, open weekdays from noon to 3 p.m.  But who can resist a homemade gourmet ice cream sandwich from the Coolhaus truck? Long Island City Food Truck Lot, 43-29 Crescent St, Queens, NY, 11101; check http://www.facebook.com/LICfoodtruckLOT for the weekly schedule of trucks.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Amuse * Bouche is going to Hawaii

Hand decorated custom nut-free kosher cookies at Eleni's in Chelsea Market

It still seems like a dream, but your votes have won me a trip to Hawaii as a guest blogger for Urbanspoon. The trip (dates to be announced soon) includes roundtrip first class airfare from JFK to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines' new direct flight linking the Big Apple to the Big Island (yes, the flight is now just under ten hours!), connecting island hopper flights between four islands, four star hotel accommodations on each island, a rental car on each island, and dinner at a restaurant on each island.  In exchange, I get to guest blog for Urbanspoon about the food and culture of the fiftieth state!

So when the Social Media Team from Hawaiian Airlines hopped on the June 4th inaugural flight to JFK, they asked me to guide them for a mini food crawl for a few hours to show a small slice of NYC's diversity.

The best piece of advice I can give any visitor to New York is do a few things really well, rather than a lot of things really quickly.  I have lived in the city for almost ten years, and still haven't seen all I want to see.  Avoid exhaustion and frustration by designing your day around just a few carefully chosen things.  Because there was a slight chance of a thunderstorm, and we only had a few hours, I decided that the Meatpacking District would be an ideal destination.  Two of them had been even lived in New York for awhile, but hadn't visited in a few years.  I knew the High Line would offer something new for them to enjoy.

I met my new friends, Jeremy, Asiana, and Lesa at Chelsea Market--an ideal destination if the weather threatens to make the Big Apple soggy.  This urban market is housed in the former National Biscuit Company factory (Nabisco), which dates back to 1890... and the very site where Oreo cookies were first invented and produced.  The megacomplex has now been transformed into an endless thoroughfare of restaurants, food stands, and markets to tempt every type of taste bud.  The spaces on the upper levels are now home to The Food Network, Oxygen Network, MLB.com, Google, and the studios where Iron Chef America and Emeril Live are filmed.

The group unanimously decided that nothing is more classic New England than a classic lobster roll, so we headed directly to The Lobster Place.  Our buttery New England style roll was toasted, and then loaded with sweet fresh claw and tail meat lightly tossed in a zesty lemon pepper mayo with celery and scallion medallions and a bibb lettuce skirt, served with chips and creamy cole slaw.

Two diners beside has had taken advantage of the wide array of fresh seafood, and were scooping forkfuls of fresh uni straight from the shell.

Eleni's Cookies

Next, Lesa led us to the chocolate shop of Jacques Torres, who is known as "Mr. Chocolate".  The gang sampled chocolates filled with a rum-kissed liquid caramel, triggering instantaneous ear-to-ear smiles.  We also made stops at Eleni's cookies, the Fat Witch Bakery (where Jeremy picked up some treats for his wife of thirteen years--this very day was their anniversary--congrats!), gawked as golden twists, loaves, and infinite trays of rolls came piping from the ovens at Amy's Bread.  Senses stimulated to the point of delirium, we decided to head across the street to Colicchio & Sons, one of my favorite restaurants in America, and namesake of Bravo's Top Chef Head Chef, Tom Colicchio.

While we awaited our table, we saddled up at the gorgeous bar, backed by a remarkable two-level glass wine tower.  The bartender mixed us up this classic vodka martini, and a non-alcoholic blend of foraged ginger tea, ginger beer, honey, and lemon which tickled my nose and awakened my palate.

Though we struggled to narrow down just a few plates to share before heading to our next destination, our good intentions proved in vain.  The team at Colicchio & Sons must have known our weaknesses (though quite literally everything on the menu tempted at least someone at our table).  A chorus of servers arrived at our table in a synchronized sweep, and before each of us were placed chilled bowls of mint-infused cucumber gazpacho, as if someone had placed into a bowl a delicate, cool cloud of spring garden and chilled breeze.  Glistening butsu cubes of a wonderfully subtle salmon tartare arrived in a shimmery pool of miso vinaigrette, scarfed with sweet and crunchy julienned jicama.

Bone marrow rendered helplessly creamy like a savory butterscotch dueted with a salty contrasting boquerones and piquant salsa verde.  Though none of us had enjoyed bone marrow with sardines, it now seems lackluster to enjoy it any other way.

A quartet of four types of crisp peas snapped gorgeously under tooth, adorned with citrus yogurt and a snowcap of ricotta salata.

No sooner had the first round of plates been gracefully removed from the table in unison, then a new kaleidoscope of colors and flavors replaced them.  Prince Edward Island mussels that had been gently coaxed into smiling arrived swimming in a broth of sweet fennel, tangy tomatoes, and mildly spiced chorizo, like little fire-kissed treasures of the ocean.  These plump gems were the most exquisite I have ever tasted.

One of my favorite aspects of Colicchio & Sons is that the aforementioned wine cellar and bar beautifully partitions the room into two unique dining experiences, intended to cater to two very different dining needs.  The back dining room is where I might sit if the meal was intended to be the evening in and of itself.  The menu features several tasting options that have been ornamented with delightful amuse bouches and mignardises, and a meal with great converation and award-winning food can easily span hours.  The front room, called the Tap Room, features a broader array of individual plates, more rustic in nature, often slow-roasted, and prepared in the stone hearth near the entryway... allowing diners the same delicious caliber of ingredients, but in a setting more conducive to a craft beer or cocktail, with plates shared by the table.  And though the Main Dining Room has provided me one of the most fantastic dinners I will remember for a lifetime, one major drawing card for the Tap Room is its carefully editing selection of brick oven pizzas.  The one I shared with my Hawaiian comrades was blanketed with buttery, nutty taleggio, salty crumbles of prosciutto, tender ribbons of baby leeks, and garlicky dollops of sofrito, all on a fire-kissed thin crust with an outer crunch that yields to a soft center.

The boudin noir appeared like a red velvet angel food cake benedict, the tender sausage feeling similar to a light, smoky mousse, in a decadently velvety potato puree with roasted apples, capped with an egg whose soft center served as a luxurious sauce, unifying all of the rich flavors.  This is a dish unlike any I have had, and one that I will most certainly recall for years.

Thick medallions of crispy coated pork belly gave way to a most surprisingly tender bacon center, all fanned on a pedestal of woodland mushrooms, plump gnochhi, and a sweet maple jus, almost like a pastoral breakfast pasta for dinner.

And though ordering items from the next room's menu is not encouraged, our server won my heart when he brought us my very favorite dish from the dining room, this stinging nettle fettuccini with roasted tomato, briny castelvetrano olives, and confit duck.  The perfectly al dente pasta ribbons sing of a lush forest, woven with the olives and tomatoes to almost resemble a vibrant duck puttanesca.  It's one of the very special, ephemeral dishes that will soon disappear with the season, and I will genuinely miss it.

Thank you to the whole Colicchio & Sons team for creating a very special memory for us the way only you can.  My new friends commented that the service was just as delicious as the food, and how refreshing it was to see a diversity of personalities working beautifully together to make us feel very welcomed.  Lesa even stopped our server, Thanh, and asked, "you really love working here, don't you?  I can tell..."  A very special thank you to Thanh, as well as the managers Cyndra and Pedro who both stopped by the table and made my new friends feel extremely welcomed and taken care of.  But also, thanks to the impressive team of runners and attendants who somehow choreographed everything to create what was definitely the most memorable stop in our journey.

The High Line, NYC's elevated city park...

To walk off the feast, we took a very leisurely stroll along the High Line... amazed at how dramatically different the city looks from just a few stories about street level...

View from the High Line

Though we ended our evening at the 50,000 square foot Italian culinary wonderland known as Eataly, we were still far too full to indulge in any of its delicious offerings.

Well, except for a cup of Venchi's Gianduja drinking chocolate, of course... (it pours directly from a brass sink faucet!)

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