>> Monday, May 8, 2017

112-04 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 880-1478

When I first reviewed Keuka Kafe, back in 2013, they had just opened up as the neighborhood's latest, and only, wine bar. Danny Brown (now on the Upper East Side of Manhattan... no comment) and Jack & Nellie's had long since decided to eschew the wine bar schtick and go full-on restaurant, leaving quasi-snobs like me with basically no options to tipple in style. Following suit, Keuka has, too, become a restaurant, adding a whole menu with entrees and everything. That said, their size makes is a bit more acceptable to grab a table, order a cheese plate and a glass of something other than Chardonnay, and chill. 

Like I said, Keuka's small and seating is limited, though they do take reservations... but not on OpenTable yet. Occasionally, there's a wine tasting and they'll close for a few hours to do that (you can follow them online or get on their email list for that info). But more often than not, it's a place where simple yuppies can stroll in and grab a seat, and enjoy a nice bowl of mussels. Though perhaps not on a Friday.

Initially, Keuka Kafe was all about New York State wine, hence the name referencing one of the Finger Lakes. Over the years however, they've dropped that focus. There's still a heavy New York State wine presence on the wine list, but it's no longer an exclusive thing. There's also a small selection of craft beer for your friends who aren't wine people. No cocktails.

For my most recent couple of trips to Keuka, I've gone with either Lutsy or Bro. Lutsy and I both tend to start our meals with something light so on one such excursion, I ordered the Arugula Salad, which is a simple arugula salad with Parmesan shavings and a lemon vinaigrette. It's a thoroughly pleasant, thoroughly forgettable dish that I'd get again and recommend, because it made me feel healthy. Not everything has to win a James Beard award, after all. Lutsy ordered the Fresh Burrata, a mozzarella ball stuffed with ricotta surrounded by basil and cherry tomato and under a rich balsamic glaze. Actually, this was also a pretty light dish, despite it being cheese stuffed with more cheese. 
The most recent time that Bro came, he ordered the Richmond Hill Waffle, a gluten-free chick pea waffle covered in Chicken Tikka Masala. This is a skippable dish. The chicken tikka was fine without being better than fine and the waffle was tasteless unless it was under the sauce, whereupon it was soggy to the point of being like biting into a wet paper towel that had just been used to clean up spilled chicken tikka masala.

Mussels are where Keuka really shines the brightest. They have a small variety - Spicy Garlic Tomato, Red Thai Curry, and Chorizo White Wine - and I've tried a all of them and all are recommended, though personally, the curry ones are the standout winner. The spicy ones are a bit spicy, I won't lie, so bring a tissue. Truth be told, I look forward to the Keuka Mussels the same way I look forward to the Dirty Pierre ones and I'm a near regular for Dirty Pierre's mussel night. Keuka also does well on the Pizza front. While I wouldn't order one of their pies to take home to watch Simpsons reruns, there's something I thoroughly enjoy about slowly eating a small pizza with a glass of red. Pictured below is the simple Master & Margarita.

Keuka also has a collection of sandwiches, many of which are named after local streets like the Ascan & Burns, the Jewel Avenue, and the Slocum Crescent. But I went with a more alliterative Fig 'n' Pig, a baguette sandwich with prosciutto, fig jam, brie cheese, and arugula. If there was ever a more wine bar appropriate sandwich (cheese, bread, charcuterie, figs!) I haven't found it.

My thoughts on Keuka's expanded menu are generally positive, though I do think that there's room for edits and reductions. Or maybe they could do a separate menu for the meats and cheeses to keep the page from feeling so crowded. That said, I can't recommend the place enough. It's always pleasant, the music isn't loud and obnoxious, and the staff is super friendly. It's laid back, classy without being snobby, and not to hard on the wallet.

Wine will run you an average of about $12 per glass and food will run you an average of $14 per non-entree, non cheese board dish.



>> Friday, December 16, 2016

110-70 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 575-0983

Just ten minutes earlier, I had been nursing a beer at a nearby bar and told the bartender that I was about to meet a friend dinner at Nine Thai and asked her if she'd ever been there. She made a good-luck-with-that-face before saying "I don't like to speak ill of other businesses." Oh geez. This does not bode well.  I left and walked over, finding Pike standing just inside an all-but-empty room. They didn't seem to know what to do with us. "I don't think they get many visitors," Pike deduced. 

Eventually, someone we assumed was a waiter gave us some menus and showed us to a very wobbly, mildly sticky table. After pointing out that the menus were for lunch, our waiter, an affable guy who seemed genuinely out of his depth even at this particular point in the kiddie pool, laughed at the error and gave us a pair of, let's call them well-loved dinner menus. As we thought about what to order for our meal, the waiter asked us if we'd like something to drink. Pike asked for a Diet Coke. They didn't have any. "It can be Diet Pepsi, I don't really care." Sweatpants explained that the only soda that they have is regular Sprite. "Sprite it is."

Winter is finally in upon us and the soup cravings have begun, so we knew that we had to order a couple bowls of piping hot soup. What could be better? Pike ordered the Tom Yum Soup, a spicy tomato-based soup with lemongrass and vegetables, while I chose the Tom Kha Soup. Pike said that his Tom Yum was decent, if a little bit spicier than he was expecting. He's had better, he's had worse, but it was not bad for what it was. After his tasting sip, Pike put the spoon down. "I'll wait until yours comes." And we waited. Eventually, I told him he didn't have to be polite anymore. "Maybe they only have one pot and have to make every bowl individually."

Before the Tom Yum soup was finished but not before it started to cool, Pike's second course came. He didn't really want an entree in the classical sense, and instead ordered the Thai Boulevard Combo plate. Just to take a step back, when the waiter initially took our order, Pike asked for the combo plate to be his main course and to please bring it out when the entree that I ordered comes to the table. "Oh yeah sure" said our waiter with a tone of voice that implied with certainty that he had absolutely no idea what was just asked of him and, no surprise, the request fell on deaf ears.

The Thai Boulevard Combo is basically an assortment of various items from the appetizer menu. Shrimp rolls, spring rolls, dumplings, and fried wontons along with three dipping sauces. Plum sauce, peanut sauce, and a black vinaigrette - whatever that is, with a hand full of carrot shreds haphazardly tossed on top for what I can only assume is an attempt at a garnish. The combo plate, as one might expect, did not come with any Tom Kha soup. Pike looked at the plate in front of him like this was somehow his fault, hesitant to accept his meal. I told him to eat. "I want to see how this plays out." 

Without beating to death each deep fried gem in the combo, one can sum up the totality of it as forgettable and generic. Pike wasn't impressed with any of them, either. Attempting to tart up an utterly tasteless spring roll up with a little bit of the black vinaigrette goop was a mistake and I nearly gagged.

Eventually, I was brought the appetizer I ordered, the Chicken Curry Puffs (still no soup). Some people order Pad Thai as a litmus test for how good a Thai restaurant is, but I prefer curry puffs. As for these, I've had better. Yeah they were okay, but they were far too greasy, far too bland, and presenting them on a bed of sad wilted lettuce didn't do them any favors in the image department. The menu said that the dish would come with a cucumber sauce (as most curry puffs do), but instead it came with some kind of sweet and sour sauce that was the consistency of ultra thick honey. These mediocre puffs were the best part of the meal.

Still no soup. But hold on, here comes the waiter. Time for some soup! Wait. No... he's putting on his coat and grabbing some bags... and now he's getting on his bicycle and pedaling away. Our waiter was also the delivery guy. "You know," Pike began as our waiter faded off to the horizon, "you might have gotten your food faster if you were still at home."

The waiter was replaced with a very apologetic woman who said "sorry" between every third word. She was far more attentive and even brought me my soup. "Would you like anything to drink?" Do you have any Diet Coke? "Sure, I'll go get some." And, credit where credit is due, she put on her coat and was about to run over to 7-Eleven to score us a six pack before Pike stopped her. As for the soup? Skip it.

Tom Kha Soup is a coconut milk soup with, in my case chicken and vegetables and normally I love it. Normally. This simply wasn't good. The broth was so sweet that it was hard to take down. It was almost a syrup. Meanwhile, the chicken was extremely tough and rubbery and the number of vegetables were a pittance. It was all but a bowl of ultra-sweet milk.

I wasn't looking forward to my entree anymore. The poor Beef Pad Kee Mow, aka drunken noodles, was following an unbroken stream of disappointment and, like its brethren, maintained that tradition to the best of its ability. The dish was gloppy and gelatinous and verged on slimy. I love spicy food, but here, it was almost as though hot peppers were the surrogates for flavor. I'm the kind of guy who gets extra hot sauce at the halal truck and this was hot even for me. The beef was practically inedible. The pieces that I had were like chewing into a Pink Pearl eraser; the chunk Pike got was literally just sinew and had to be spat out. I didn't get more than a few bites out of this.

Our grand feast, after tax and tip, cost $60. Don't ask me how. As we headed out the door, the waiter returned. Round trip delivery time: 36 minutes. 

Perhaps one could chalk up this comedy of errors to growing pains, but since this is the new location and new name of the old Thai Boulevard, that doesn't hold water. Forest Hills has a goodly sum of decent Thai restaurants to both eat at and order from and I don't predict returning in either case.



>> Tuesday, October 18, 2016

72-24 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(347) 960-8517

Let's get something straight right off the bat. New Yorkers stand on line. We often stand on line while listening to our Pandora playlist online. We do not stand in line. Standing in line is what people from other states do. Being "in line" is defeat and subordination. "So and so is falling in line with what their party leadership wants" etc. If you are in line then you have lost and you have succumbed. We do not succumb. We are at this place, wherever that place is, because we have chosen to be, not because we were told to be. This single-file row of humanity is the very representation of our willingness as New Yorkers to act in a polite and orderly manner; our dismissal of the the scrum. Should the urge hit us, should the line be too long relative to our desire to acquire the goods we seek and/or the penalty for not having them, we could choose to go take our business elsewhere. This happens at Trader Joe's more often than I care to admit, and it was in that vein of taking my business elsewhere that I wound up never going to Snowdays until recently. The line was too long and I, dear readers, refused to get on it.

However, once the novelty did wear off and summer did not, I decided to go. I mean, what better time to go for ice cream than in the summer month of mid-October?

Snowdays is a mini-chain of "shaved cream" ice cream shops with about a half dozen locations, mostly in Manhattan. Shaving cream, they say, is an adaptation of the the Asian shaved ice dessert but this time using cream, leaving us with an ice cream-like dessert. Snowdays offers a variety of flavors like green tea, sesame, coconut, and cheesecake; not flavors you might be more used to like coffee, butter pecan, chocolate, or strawberry. Then you can toss on a variety of toppings and syrups. 

Ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt. These are all very similar. Yes, there's bound to be some schnook who bangs their fists on the table and screams "NO!" before launching into a five minute long speech about how different they are that no one is actually paying attention to, but they are. To prove my point, the following exchange has never happened: "Honey, I feel like getting some ice cream before heading home." "That sounds fun! There's a great gelato place around the corner." "Oh. Nevermind." Shaved cream, on the other hand, is quite different, at least from a texture point of view. Shaved cream is so much lighter, has so much air in it, that it feels sharper. The texture isn't creamy until you have a spoonful of it in your mouth and you've let it melt. You aren't going to be repulsed. You'll just notice that it's different for about three seconds until it becomes the same.

The interior of Snowdays is small, but trendy the way a Greenpoint coffee bar would be (if they replaced the cartoon character with local art). All of the tables seat two people, but the wall is one huge bench, so coming with a handful of cohorts shouldn't be a problem so long as there's a table available to crowd around.

When I walked in I spent most of the time staring at the menu trying to figure out exactly what to do. Given the variety of toppings, you have thousands of possible end results. Add to it the obscure shaved cream flavors and you can understand my dilemma. In the end, I tried two of their own combinations: The Original (first pic) and The New Yorka (second pic). The Original is a sweet milk shaved cream with Cap'n Crunch cereal, blueberries, and a peanut butter sauce. I'll be honest, this did not look appetizing in the slightest. But hey, I didn't come to give points on plating. In the end, it was very good. Sweet cream is a mild flavor and does a great job of highlighting the flavors it's joined by. So if you like blueberries and peanut butter (and who doesn't) and enjoy having a little crunchy texture in there, too then I recommend getting this. The New Yorka uses a cheesecake-flavored shaved cream with vanilla wafer, strawberry slices, and whipped cream. Much like the sweet milk, cheesecake was extremely mild. There was a hint of cheesecake, to be sure, but only a hint. The strongest flavor was the strawberry and the whipped cream. In the end, I doubt I'd get this one again because while I like strawberries and whipped cream, that wasn't really what I was ordering. Next time I'll get something with sesame shaved cream.

If getting a soft-serve cone at McDonald's for a buck is your budget, then consider Snowdays well beyond your price range. My two "small" cups were just a hair under $8 each.



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