Friday, April 19, 2013

Jack & Coke French Toast is what's for brunch at The Shady Lady

The Shady Lady * 34-19 30th Ave, Astoria * (718) 440-9081

Go ahead and start making your weekend brunch plans now, because you just might want to spend both Saturday and Sunday sampling the outrageously delicious sunrise recipes Chef Billy Pappas has created for The Shady Lady.  Pictured above is the chicken biscuit... a homemade buttermilk biscuit topped with crunchy fried chicken, melted cheddar, crispy bacon, and a blanket of country-style sausage gravy.

Does the syrup above look slightly more mahogany than your classic Jamima?  That's because it's a reduction of Jack & Coke.  A delicious, sweet twist on an exceptional version of the brunch classic.  They even do a version with a croissant and whipped cream.

I flipped over this skillet of appropriately named 'back to bed mac & cheese,' with al dente pasta shells in bechamel with cheddar and bacon, and a soft-centered egg baked into the top layer.  My friend and I nearly sword-fought with our forks for the last few bites.

On the lighter end of the spectrum are a plate of Greek yogurt with a mixed berry compote, falafel wraps, oatmeal with cinnamon and bananas, or this egg white frittata studded with cherry tomatoes, spinach, and goat cheese.

These homemade biscuits are absolutely flawless, and should at least be ordered as a side--or better yet under the corned beef hash benedict with giant savory cubes of corned beef and country potatoes under a generous ladling of creamy, citrusy hollandaise.

The Kentucky Hot Brown is another one to send you crawling home for an afternoon nap, but man oh man, is it delicious!  This open-faced sandwich is piled with roasted turkey, grilled tomatoes, bacon, and a velvety mornay sauce that is toasted to golden-crusted perfection.

One brunch cocktail plus a juice or coffee is included in the price, though $20 can add on a bottomless brunch of bloody mary, mimosa, or house sangria.  Though The Shady Lady eventually plans to serve brunch on Fridays, as well, presently brunch service is only from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

The Shady Lady on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

An entire menu worth ordering at Salt & Fat

It arrives at the table resembling a toddler’s attempt at a sandcastle, absolutely nothing about the appearance screaming mouthwatering. A simple prodding with a fork and a cautious bite later, however, yields revelatory sensations—textures and flavors simultaneously familiar and exotic. Those fluffy grey pieces of down are actually shaved Hudson Valley foie gras, rendered light and feathery, cloaking a heaping mound of cinnamon-dusted mandarin orange segments which explode like sweet, tangy bursts of fresh orange juice. 

The blend of citrus and foie gras is reminiscent of a luxurious creamsicle, given a playful crunch by paper-thin stained-glass tiles of bacon brittle. It is one of the ugliest, most profoundly delicious dishes I have ever tasted. And it is a quintessential introduction to the technique and delicious whimsy of Chef Daniel Yi, owner and chef of Salt & Fat in Sunnyside.

A native of Sunnyside himself, Yi grew up in a Korean American household, which shaped his definition of New American cuisine. “Eating spaghetti or a slice of pizza with kimchi was one of my favorites as a child“, explains the chef. “Because of eating American and Korean food growing up, it is deeply reflected in my cooking.” Salt & Fat’s fluffy BLT bao buns look like Pac-Man savoring a power-up of tender pork belly medallions with shredded lettuce, ruby tomatoes, and spicy mayo. 

Lobster & Citrus
Though Asian influences are undeniably sprinkled throughout the menu, the New American cuisine borrows influences from around the world. The inspiration for the name? “Even though salt and fat are associated with unhealthy eating, they aren't necessarily bad or unhealthy ingredients. They are actually the backbone of anything and everything that is tasty and delicious.”

Dinner begins with a complimentary brown paper sack of warm popcorn popped in bacon fat, an addictive replacement for bread service. The one page menu is comprised of seventeen plates intended for sharing, all ranging from $8 to $23 and accompanied by a carefully edited selection of wine and craft beer.

Crispy Berkshire Pork Trotter
Must-tries include the oxtail terrine, which looks more like a sinful chocolate brownie, falling apart at the touch and melting on the palate, served with a caramelized onion puree and roasted mushrooms.. Who knew pigs’ feet could evoke such a gleeful response? Here, the pork trotters are tenderly prepared in a torchon, then breaded like a gargantuan crab-cake, and topped with a slow-cooked egg that acts as a rich gravy. The sous vide sweet & sour duck breast with buttered lychee is gorgeous in every way. A salad of succulent lobster claw and tail meat over frisee and citrus segments is jazzed up with an ancho vinaigrette.

Absolutely plan for dessert, like the rice crispie treat with marshmallow ice cream, or a seasonal selection of ice creams and sorbets, which presently include thai iced tea and miso apple. No room for a sweet ending? The check comes with mini Korean cran-yogurt probiotics, the perfect icing on the cake of an eclectic, excellent meal.

Salt & Fat
41-16 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside, NY 11104
(718) 433-3702
Tuesday – Saturday 6 to 11:00 p.m.
Sunday 5 to 10:00 p.m.
Closed Monday

Salt & Fat on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Turn wine into water for a great cause this Wednesday at William Hallet

This Wednesday, you can help turn wine into water. Wine to Water is a non-profit organization committed to bringing clean, sustainable drinking water to thousands of people around the world. During the week of April 8 to the 14th, they will be sponsoring an event called, “Just one Shift,” where bartenders can choose a shift to donate their entire tips from the evening toward the organization, which promises to use 100% of the funds raised to bringing clean water to those who need it most.

Chris Crouch will be donating his tips this Wednesday.
You can help out by stopping by William Hallet (36-10 30th Ave) between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. this Wednesday night, April 10th, as bartender Chris Crouch has committed to donate his tips from the shift toward the cause. “Even if you can’t have a drink, feel free to stop by and contribute,” encourages Crouch, whom patrons might also recognize from Vesta Trattoria, where he works on the weekends. Crouch is the only Astoria bartender registered to contribute to the event (a list of registered bars around the country is available on the website).

The turducken meatloaf sandwich at William Hallet
William Hallet offers a broad selection of wine, beer, specialty cocktails like the guava (vodka) lemonade, and even a selection of ten varieties of absinthe. You can also order dinner at the bar, which features a late night menu that includes their famous turducken meatloaf sandwich (turkey, duck, and chicken) on an onion roll with bourbon ketchup and bacon.

William Hallet | 36-10 30th Ave, Astoria | (718) 269-3443 |

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Baby Jesus Ice Cream at Vesta

A 'Holy Trinity' of ice creams at Vesta

Vesta | 21-02 30th Ave, Astoria | (718) 545-5550 |

The latest 'scoop' seems almost too good to be true.  Many Astorians already praise 'La Torta del Piccolo bambino Gesu Cristo' -- better known as the Little Baby Jesus Cake at Vesta Trattoria & Wine Bar.  One of the most famous desserts this side of the Hudson, it's a warm, gooey, spiced date cake blanketed with sticky toffee sauce and served with a dollop of fresh cream.  It received its name when an early sampler bit into it and exclaimed, "little baby Jesus!"  The name stuck, just like the toffee sauce.

Well, sit down, because Chef Michelle Vido and her talented team at Vesta have received divine inspiration, and created a 'Baby Jesus ice cream,' studded with actual spongey pieces of the cake blended with chilled cream.  The heavenly creation arrives as part of a holy trinity, served with a dollop of cinnamon (which also accompanies the apple crisp), as well as pretzel chocolate chip, all made in-house.  This is the good stuff, too.  Decadent, creamy, rich, and velvety as it melts. Hallelujah!

Vesta Trattoria & Winebar on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 5, 2013

Motorist mistakes new gastropub The Shady Lady as a drive-thru

Just some of the fantastic sharing plates at The Shady Lady
UPDATE: The owners have confirmed they will reopen this coming Sunday

The Shady Lady | 34-19 30th Ave, Astoria | (718) 440-9081 | Open daily for dinner and late night

Opening a new restaurant in New York City can pose countless unforeseen road bumps, but the worst is when someone mistakes your new restaurant for an actual speed bump. Two nights ago, a motorist did precisely that, driving his car directly into The Shady Lady, which recently opened on the corner of 30th Ave and 35th St. The owners have posted a sign on the windows which reads, "Unfortunately someone thought we had a drive-thru. We will absolutely RE-OPEN ASAP and look forward to seeing all of you soon."  Fortunately, no one was injured.

Such an unexpected hiccup could be a huge setback for any new business, but the team at The Shady Lady seems determined to reopen for business. A message from the chef anticipates the reopening as early as this Sunday or Monday. If you have yet to stop by, this would be a perfect time to welcome them to the neighborhood and show some Astoria support. I was fortunate enough to meet the team and sample the food on a few occasions during their soft opening. It seems to me that this place has got something pretty special going on. Not your typical bar food, this gastropub is cranking out some impressive plates.

First cousins Louie Sparagis and Billy Pappas have been inseparable best friends since the age of two, so when Sparagis decided to open a new restaurant—Crave—in Astoria with business partner Marinos Argyros (the two opened Nikitas Place in White Plains in 2001), it only seemed natural to team up with Pappas, who had graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1997 and built his career in such kitchens as the Waldorf-Astoria and Rainbow Room.

Now just 2½ years after the successful introduction of Crave, it seemed the right time to open a restaurant that could showcase the full range of the team’s abilities. This time bringing along high school buddy, Chris Prilook, as a partner and General Manager, The Shady Lady was built by hand, using no outside contractors, including all of the tables, beams, and the bar, using reclaimed wood.

Only one television screen, above the bar, plays silent films, the entire concept intended to foster socializing and interaction amongst friends, with a global menu focused on plates intending for sharing.

Pork Wellington
Juicy, tender, pork tenderloin medallions are encrusted in mushrooms and dijon, then baked in a flaky pastry crust.  Served two to an order, this is one of the most delicious dishes on the menu and a must-try.  

Meatloaf meatballs are served on a pedestal of chive whipped potatoes.  

Foie gras terrine (made in house by Pappas) is paired with cashew butter and port wine gelee for a sophisticated PB&J.  Rock salt crystals cut the richness, and spread on toasted buttery brioche, it's a remarkable blend of textures, flavors, and colors. 

Mini sandwiches for sharing include these lobster tacos with lime aioli, sriracha, and pico de gallo
Mac and cheese carbonara and lobster pot pie are highlights, as well as several sliders, and oysters on the half shell. 

This French Onion Pizzette is bubbling with fontina and gruyere blanketing rich caramelized onions, served with roasted bone marrow.

Thai chili glazed buffalo wings sprinkled with sesame seeds are available spicy or even 'diablo style'.

Crab cakes are made with jumbo lump meat in a spirited brandy remoulade, served with nuggets of actual roasted corn on the cob.

Brunch service is anticipated to open very soon, but this plate of biscuits and gravy is available all night  for $6.  Pappas makes the most exquisitely flaky, moist, delicious buttermilk biscuits which are then topped with a sausage and bacon country gravy.  Breakfast for dinner never tasted so good!

It would be well worth your while to place an order for this classic chocolate soufflĂ© with vanilla bean ice cream and fresh strawberries about twenty minutes before you are ready to devour it, as this favorite always demands a little extra love in the oven.

While the sharing plates are unparalleled, the cocktail list is worth a strong look, with concoctions like a basil julep or a ginger habanero margarita. Check out the whiskey carafes available, as well as a notable beer selection (including Single Cut on draft, of course).  There is even a weekday shady hour from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. where guests can enjoy unlimited half price well drinks, beer, and wine with any food purchase.

The Shady Lady on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Oficina Latina: a progressive dinner along the Pan-Am Highway

Paella de Mariscos at Oficina Latina
Oficina Latina  (24 Prince Street, NYC; (646) 381-2555;

Oficina Latina is anything but your typical biker or NASCAR bar, tucked inconspicuously on a more introverted stretch of Prince Street in Nolita.  But just beyond the garage door (which opens to the street in warm weather) sits an unofficial museum to the Pan American Highway during the 1950s, colorfully adorned with racing helmets, old black-and-white photos, mechanic 'trouble lights' dangling from cords coiled around exposed pipes, and a whole gallery's worth of vintage memorabilia evoking the spirit of the elusive highway during its heyday.  By sunset each day, the entire space is rip-roaring with a crowd of fans of a different sort.  These are fanatics of some particularly innovative cocktails, a killer tapas menu, and a versatile casual environment suited for intimate couples and groups alike.                                                                                      

Beyond the bar and communal tables sits is a more intimate dining area near the back
Just as the decor evokes a nostalgia for the spirited raceway, Executive Chef Eric Gaitan's menu reads like the itinerary for a progressive dinner running the full span of highway between Central and South America. Contemporary tapas from the nations along the highway are denoted with abbreviations on the menu,  with culinary roots from Monterrey in Mexico all the way to Buenos Aires.

Begin with a Peruvian ceviche of fresh tilapia with pink grapefruit segments served with crisp yucca chips, ideal for sharing.  Must-trys are the Venezuelan arepas, available with chimichurri short ribs, vegetables with white bean spread, or these salmon arepas--grilled spinach masa pockets stuffed with tender pink Scottish salmon crudo with buttery avocado, tangy pickled tomato skin, and sharp green onions.

The flavors at Oficina Latina are strikingly familiar, just executed to delicious perfection.  The camarones al ajillo are larger than life whole shrimp that arrive on a sprig of rosemary atop a wooden carving board.  The piquant spices and garlic gently glaze the outside of the sweet and succulent shrimp.  And if seafood is up your alley, the calamari is remarkably tender--jazzed up in a surprisingly subtle chile de arbol marinade, and then grilled.

A bartender muddles fresh lime for a caipirihna
But the tapas is by no means the only arena where the use of peppers is prominent.  Co-owner Paolo Votano, a notably charming Italian (who one particular evening roamed the floor in a denim mechanics suit with multiple pocket chains and a distressed ponytail like a tattooed Formula One playboy), has developed a seasonally-evolving cocktail list that loves to tease the balance between sweet, sour, and spicy by combining several fruits and peppers.

Weekday happy hour from 4-7 can be quite lively at the front bar, featuring buy one get one drinks.  But the drinks, even at full price, are some of the best Latin-inspired cocktails around.  Consider a mango peppercorn caipirihna or a prickly-pear-serrano-ginger mojito made with tequila.  Or purists may keep it simple, choosing from over 100 tequilas and mezcals, or over 100 rums, piscos, and cachacas.

After a few of the specialty cocktails and a starter or two, consider some of the larger plates, still excellent for sharing.  Warm, fresh mini tortillas are piled with daily roasted suckling pig, slivers of avocado, and a dollop of creamy garlic-serrano dressing.  These tacos should be award-winning, with crispy caramelized skin coating rosy, juicy, lean shreds of pork.  They are excellent.  Other delicious meats are served Argentine churrasco-style, like chimichurri skirt steak, a rich and crispy coated morcilla Colombian fried blood sausage, to a simple buy juicy, jalapeno-cilantro marinaded slow-roasted chicken.  Be sure to ask for extra tomatillo compote on the side, like a sweet, tangy green tomato marmalade that is fantastic judiciously slathered over any or all of the grilled meats.

For a sweet finale, desserts are drawn from the same pool of inspiration as many of the mixed coktails, with highlights such as a dulce de leche cheesecake with prickly pear and blackberries, or a playful lychee-serrano panna cotta with coconut ice cream and a drizzle of guava sauce.  Or for a slightly more sinful cap to the evening, try the irreverently plated 'Passion & Love' (Votano has it tattooed on his arm), the house signature shot of Venezuelan rum presented with three cut lines of cocoa powder, cinnamon, and brown sugar for dusting the orange wedges.

Whether for a cocktail, snack, a date, or a large gathering of friends, Oficina Latina holds the rare ability to captivate and satisfy almost any mood or palate.  So the next time you find yourself traveling downtown, it's definitely worth a pit stop at the very least.      

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