Friday, September 21, 2012

ShOcKiNg taste test at The Burger Garage: Gluten-Free Burger

Burger A
For an upcoming story with BORO Magazine, I recently had to swing by The Burger Garage in Long Island City... home to one of the most popular burgers in Queens (plus, I love that they serve chili cheese dogs!)

Anyway...  I noticed on the menu chalk board over the ordering counter a note to "ask about gluten free options".  It's nothing for which I personally adjust my diet, but I certainly have several friends who have quite a difficult time finding favorite foods, only gluten free.

In addition to the story I was writing, co-owner Jim Pileski suggested I do a taste test.  I agreed, of course.  He presented me with two double cheeseburgers (no, I did NOT attempt to finish both--it was a taste test, not a binge fest...)  One was housed on their regular bun, the other on a gluten free bun they have custom made from a bakery in Pennsylvania.

I felt pretty confident I could spot the imposter... After all, splenda does not taste like sugar.  Rice pasta resembles not the slightest approximation of regular pasta.  Meatless meatballs taste like something scooped up from the ground and mushed into brown orbs.  And tofurkey puts the foul in fowl.

As you have probably guessed, I actually selected the WRONG burger as gluten-free.  Mr. Pileski just laughed, and said, "yes, we have several customers return it, saying, 'I asked for one with a gluten-free bun...'  They are shocked to find out that it really is."  So there you have it.  I actually thought the gluten-free bun tasted and looked better than the original.

Gluten-phobes rejoice!  Here is a burger you don't have to wrap in romaine.  And beyond the fact it can be ordered gluten free, it is definitely one incredibly delicious burger.  Based on the two images in this post alone, can you guess which burger is gluten-free?  I'll post the answer in the comments tomorrow.

Burger B
The Burger Garage
25-36 Jackson Ave, Long Island City (at 44th Dr.)
(718) 392-0424

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Perhaps New York's Best Thai?

Crispy fried Chinese watercress salad with calamari, chicken, shrimp, crushed peanut, and cashews in chili glaze

64-13 39th Ave, Woodside

Hungry customers spill from the sardine-can-packed entryway onto the sidewalk holding tiny yellow post-it notes with scribbles on each one.  Over the doorway, a light board flashes the winning numbers ready to be seated—groups ranging from Asian families to Manhattanites seeking the “best Thai food in the city”, to camera-toting bloggers and large foodie tour groups.  

Sort of like savory rice crispy treats, mee krob are sticky, sweet and sour vermicelli rice noodles with jumbo shrimp
When SriPraPhai opened fifteen years ago, it could seat about a fifth of its present capacity.  The expanded space now includes a floral-canopied backyard garden with a fountain, as well as a spiral-bound menu of well over a hundred dishes, several of which are also available in a vegetarian variation.  

Thai noodles with coconut ground fish curry and fishballs, egg, and pickled diced green beans
Even despite photographs accompanying each dish listed in both Thai and loose English translations, choosing what to order can be beyond daunting.  One of the most celebrated favorites is the Chinese watercress salad—the greens are battered and deep-fried, and served with a confetti of shrimp, calamari, chicken, crushed peanuts, and cashews tossed in a sweet chili sauce.  Noodle and rice dishes are all delicious, but save room for one of the eclectic pre-made desserts in the display cooler by the entrance.  From jelly filled with rehydrated basil seeds to pinched sugary egg yolks and taro custard, at least grab a treat for the ride home.

sweet, rich, pinched golden egg yolks for dessert
Thai jelly filled with (rehydrated) basil seeds is available in to-go containers for the road
add tapioca pearls to the thai iced milk tea
Sripraphai on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Daily Dish: Imbustata from Ornella Trattoria

One of my favorite dishes on the planet is the imbustata at Ornella Trattoria… it’s a pasta “envelope” stuffed with veal, chicken, fresh mozzarella, mascarpone, wild mushrooms, and spinach, baked under a golden parmesan crust and served in a pool of a light, tangy, tomato cream sauce. Ornella Trattoria Italiana * 29-17 23rd Ave *

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Fall Preview: 20 mouthwatering new dishes from 5 Astoria restaurants

Coca-Cola BBQ pulled pork po' boy at Sugar Freak
For a neighborhood that so often feels cozy and intimate in contrast with the frantic pace of Manhattan, it never ceases to amaze me just how rapidly and consistently things keep changing on the Astoria food scene.  Overwhelmed by where to focus for a post, I've instead narrowed it down to twenty new dishes I have tried during the past month from five different restaurants--including two newcomers.  In no particular order, here's a rundown of some of the best new bites definitely worth giving a try... As an added bonus, you'll also find Bear's new fall menu attached at the end.

The Queens Kickshaw
40-17 Broadway (half block east of Steinway M-R Station)

I am absolutely an omnivore in the literal sense that I will try (and have) almost anything at least once; so when you constrict my options, I can feel claustrophobic.  That said, the vegetarian cuisine at The Queens Kickshaw is just so delicious, inventive, and lovingly conceived and prepared that I always forget the absence of meat on the menu.  Owners Ben and Jen are two of the kindest hosts you could ever hope to meet, and along with the talents of Chef Evan, they've recently expanded their menu with some superb new additions perfect for the upcoming months.

Basket of warm, golden, flaky mini knishes with celery root and blue cheese, served with beer mustard
Crunchy-coated tender cabbage croquettes, topped with melted asiago and roasted tomatoes in a cilantro-pepper sauce
Fantastically hearty wild mushroom shepherds pie, with red wine braised root vegetables and a cap of golden-peaked cauliflower mash
Crispy roasted ravioli with cheddar and fresh horseradish, cloaked in a tangy tomato and zucchini ragout
A whimsical ice cream beer-wich with a Coffee Labs macaron stuffed with Imperial Stout ice cream
Sugar Freak
36-18 30th Ave (five blocks east of the N-Q 30th Ave station)

Michelle Addeo is so passionate about bringing the foods of her childhood to Astoria, that she even had her mom stop in from Louisiana to make sure the kitchen was getting her recipes just right.  The new changes are drool-inducing, and unlike anything else in the neighborhood.  If you think you knew the menu at Sugar Freak before, I reckon you're due for a fresh gander.  They've even added popcorn alligator to the menu.  Word has it that their new sister bakery will be opening up soon (hopefully within the month) just down the street, featuring Addeo's boozy baked treats.  In the meanwhile, she'll be previewing some of the upcoming sweets as dessert specials at Sugar Freak.

Pulled pork po' boy with coca-cola BBQ and battered fried onion straws--grab a side of the pork and beef rice dressing
Gooey skillets of breadcrumb-crusted mac 'n cheese are now available mixed with jambalaya or succulent crawfish (pictured)
New starters included popcorn okra (pictured), hush puppies, and popcorn alligator
Buttermilk chicken is now served in 4 varieties: classic, spicy, zesty cherry pepper, or sweet & savory brown sugar-cinnamon (pictured), all of which can be drizzled with cheese sauce -- and hallelujah yes, that's deep-fried corn on the cob as a side!
A N'Awlins classic pastry treat: fried to-order beignets, served with a bananas foster rum sauce for dipping
Queens Comfort
40-09 30th Ave (between Steinway & 41st St)

It has admittedly become an addiction.  Each morning, before checking even e-mail or Facebook, there's an uncontrollable urge to visit the Queens Comfort website to see what crazy new dish they are serving up.  Chicken fingers coated in cereal with bacon caramel for dipping?  A gourmet take on a McDonald's classic breakfast sandwich?  Grape Kool-Aid ice cream?  They've tried all of that.  The menu rotates almost daily, and there's always a blend of down home comfort with good old-fashioned delicious creativity.  So if you like what you see below, go there soon.  Chances are some of these dishes won't be around next week.

The chicken and waffle has been a standard at QC for awhile, but it recently got an upgrade.  Formerly served with an Eggo waffle for the sake of nostalgia, they now make their own Belgian waffles, the bird glazed with Tabasco and maple syrup, then dusted with confectioner's sugar.
Atomic Fire Balls: take Queens Comfort's award-winning mac and cheese, rolls it in cayenne breadcrumbs, fry those puppies, drizzle with sriracha, and dip 'em in ranch dressing, and you've got a major hit.
The new billionaire bacon salad is topped with brown sugar candied bacon, blue cheese crumbles, a poached egg, and maple shallot vinaigrette. 
The bacon and chicken enchilada topped with bubbling browned cheddar, a fried egg, crema, and pico de gallo
Antika Family Style Pizzeria
36-08 30th Ave

Antika Family Style Pizzeria finally opened on 30th Ave, serving classic Italian-American dishes (try the provolone-stuffed meatballs!) in Individual & Family portions, as well as several varieties of pizza (yessir, they have brunch pizzas with fried eggs.)  Toppings range from classics like pepperoni, to broccoli rabe, grilled tiger shrimp, and even a drizzle of truffle oil.  The kitchen is open 'til 11PM, but the bar and pizza oven stay open 'til 2AM. Lunch specials Monday through Thursday include a personal round pie for $9.  The white tile floored dining room is pristine, and the service just as warm as the steaming pies.  Welcome to the neighborhood, Antika!

“Old Fashioned Grandma Style Square Pizza” with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, grana padano, pecorino, extra virgin olive oil, and oregano
These aren't just any meatballs... they are stuffed with gooey provolone cheese, blanketed in a bright, tangy marinara
Tobiko Asian Fusion Lounge
30-27 Steinway St (half block south of 30th Ave)

Opening the doors to the place formerly known as Yamashiro Sake Lounge & Restaurant, this spot may not look much different to the untrained eye, but open the menu and it's a whole new ballgame.  To promote their opening as a completely new restaurant with a new chef and brand new menu, all sushi items are 50% off, and dishes from the kitchen are 30%.  Sound too good to be true?  The deal won't last forever--maybe just a "few months" according to management.  So run, don't walk while standard sushi rolls now range from $2.50 to $4.00.  Don't feel like running?  Order for delivery--the discount still applies!

Sushi Pizza -- a crisp scallion pancake spread with spicy tuna, then topped with tempura flakes, tobiko, avocado, sliced mango, and drizzled with eel sauce, mango sauce, and strawberry sauce.
This tuna dumpling, the size of a large grapefruit, is actually a thinly pounded slice of tuna carpaccio wrapped around spicy king crab, topped with avocado and bonito flakes, resting in an olive cilantro puree.
Just one of several varieties (try the dim sum sampler) these dumplings are stuffed with duck confit, and served with a thick hoisin sauce for dipping
Lunch specials are $6.99 and served with miso soup and salad, including this "Asian Grilled Chicken Pancake Sandwich", essentially a fantastic chicken teriyaki scallion pancake wrap
Bear Bar & Restaurant
12-14 31st Ave (a few blocks west of 21st St.)

A decadent chocolate cake truffle drizzled with raspberry port wine reduction, flagged with strips of candied bacon
Chef Natasha Pogrebinsky is turning out some of the most exquisite, meticulously plated, intricate dishes that Long Island City has ever seen.  But given her expertise and free-spirited culinary creativity, she recently decided to do away with a traditional menu, daily sourcing ingredients she has foraged from local green markets.  While the Bear website will display the final updated selections for each meal service, below are the sample menus she released today, offering a glimpse into what can be expected at brunch and dinner.  If you have yet to check out this true neighborhood gem, definitely schedule it into your dining plans soon.

click menu to enlarge
click menu to enlarge
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