>> 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.



>> Tuesday, June 21, 2016

1 Station Square
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 520-7714

Jade Eatery & Lounge (referred to from this point forth as simply Jade) was one of the very first restaurants that I reviewed on my illustrious journey into bloggerdom. It was one of the first "trendy" spots to hit Forest Hills, back when Thai food in general and Asian fusion in particular was the peak of what defined trendy dining. Jade took an empty shell that had sat vacant and literally rotting for years and made it a comfy, almost sexy place to go on a nice summer day. Not only did they add outdoor seats, a cocktail lounge, and a Buddha statue to the neighborhood, they were one of the few outer borough OpenTable restaurants. So, given how long it had been since last I gave them a word, it seemed appropriate to revisit the place and see how it's held up over the past eight years.

This particular Tuesday night, Jade was surprisingly crowded. I arrived with Dudeman and Shrink at 8pm. All but a couple of tables outside were taken and the interior was half full. Our waitress was very nice, but overwhelmed by the volume of customers and it showed in the very slow service and incorrectly placed order (note to all wait staff: please buy memo pads. They're cheap and very useful. Staples sells them 3 for $5.). The kitchen was slow too. Appetizers did not all arrive together and the time between ordering and course one, and between course one and course two was significant. "Did they forget about us?" was uttered more than once.

Sitting outside by the brick streets and manicured flora and stoic traditionalism of Station Square is an inherently relaxing experience and far removed from the energy of the interior. Quotes line the walls, the lighting is purple, pop music is playing, and fish swim in the wading pool at Buddha's feet. In the rear is a sexyish lounge that should never have been given a television and a hallway lined with Asian artwork and paintings that are available to purchase. If Jade was in Tribeca, it would be packed to the gills. But it's in Forest Hills, and the family friendly nature of the neighborhood meant that there was a steady stream of elementary school-aged kids running around and gawking at the fish.

Banish from your mind the menu of old. Jade is no longer a Thai restaurant that hints at Asian Fusion, the way is was when they opened. Now they are full on Asian Fusion with only the barest hint of Thai. Sushi rolls take up more than a page of the menu and the entrees are primarily better-plated variants of what you would get from your average Chinese take out spot. Is the food bad? No. Not at all. But is the food great? No. Not at all. It's food for when you're hanging out with friends and want to chill, or food for when you're with people who are hesitant to have anything too ethnic. Think of Jade as a PF Chang's with one location.

We split three appetizers. First, the Chicken Satay, a staple of every Thai restaurant. These were better than most. Usually, the chicken comes out beaten to a pancake, leaving it dried out and fused to the wooden kabob stick. Jade's was moist, hearty, and with a nice charring. The peanut dipping sauce was rich but not overwhelming. We also ordered the Curried Crab Dumplings which were pretty weak. Had someone told me that they were from the frozen food aisle of Stop & Shop, I wouldn't have argued with them. They were fried to a crisp, and while they were far from inedible, they were also far from remarkable. Lastly, we ordered the dish that is a requirement on every Asian fusion menu, the Sushi Pizza. Who doesn't love sushi pizza? Made with tuna, salmon, spicy mayo, tobiko, scallion, and the sauce used on eel rolls, you can't go wrong with this six-inch pie. It's light, tasty, and well worth getting.

For her entree, Shrink ordered the Bulgogi Beef, Jade's take on the popular Korean dish. In it's place, she was given Mongolian Beef, Jade's take on the popular Chinese dish. Again, I reiterate, memo pads are useful. The beef, served with onion and a veritable mountain of scallion, was thinly sliced, tender and heavily coated in a sweet sauce similar to what you would get from Red House. It was good. Everyone liked it and I'd certainly recommend it. It wasn't bulgogi though. Dudeman's entree was easily the weakest of the three. He ordered the Crispy Thai Beef, which came with loads of red and green bell pepper. Yes it tasted good, but they went overboard with the batter. As a result, the "crispy" was emphasized over the "beef". Certainly, I don't know where the Thai part came from. My entree was the Massaman Curry Snapper, two fish fillets over a mix of tofu, eggplant, onion and cabbage in a thick peanut sauce (soup). It was very good and I'd easily easily easily get this again. They went a bit nuts on the volume of sauce, which concealed all of the goodies down below, but throw in some rice and you'll be fine. Every part of the entree was filled with flavor. I highly recommend it.

In the end, Jade gets a thumbs up, but not an enthusiastic thumbs up. The location is great, the space is great, and the service is friendly. The service is also slow and the food is tepid. If you show up expecting anything more than a fun place to hang out in while eating glorified takeout food, then you're kidding yourself.

However, it's a great place to go with friends for big wacky sushi rolls and fruity cocktails (if you're into that kind of thing). It's great if your friends aren't adventurous eaters or if you have kids and have had it just about up to here with going to Friday's. The rear lounge area could be a great place for cocktails if anyone knew that the lounge existed and the cocktail menu was better. The sidewalk seating under the trees is great on a summer day and God knows that this neighborhood needs as much outdoor seating as it can get. If you can appreciate these things, can overlook the slow service, and aren't expecting your tongue to relive its trip to Phuket, you'll enjoy yourself. 

Jade's closest direct competition is MoCA. I would say that MoCA's wins on food, but not by a whole helluva lot.  Jade, however, wins on physical space. Glowing tables and a mirrored ceiling do not beat a koi pond and Station Square view.

Appetizers range average $10, entrees average $18, large rolls average $17.



>> Friday, June 3, 2016

71-49 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 275-2273

71-26 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 928-3234

72-06 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 261-4527

Hamburgers. Like pizza, they're easy to find and it's rare that they stand out. So it is with great joy that we now have three acclaimed hamburger spots here on Austin Street. Bareburger, Shake Shack, and Twist & Smash'd. They've all had great press, they're all delicious, and they're all within a block of one another. For science, I went to all three in three days and ordered their regular, no-frills cheeseburger, and compared the differences between the three restaurants. Which one is right for you? Read on. 

FYI: I ordered cheeseburgers because a hamburger without cheese is just ridiculous.


Cost of burger: $9.95
Time to arrive: 7 minutes.
Size of burger: Large.
Bareburger is the most mature of the three. It's a sit down restaurant with a full liquor menu. In keeping with its organic, grass fed, wild game burger menu (elk, bison, etc) the interior is designed to be reminiscent of an Oregon log cabin. Bareburger sells cocktails, wine, craft beer, shakes, salads, serves brunch, has a kids menu, and they cook the meat to order. Because they have table service, you don't place your order and then go hunting for a table while your food gets cold. I ordered the Standard Burger, which comes with pickles, onion, and a tangy sauce, but no lettuce and tomato. My diet root beer came with free refills. At $10 for the burger, this was the priciest of the three places, and once you factor in tax and tip, it's $13. On the upside, despite what the Metrocard comparison implies, the Bareburger burger is about double the size of the others. They use a full sized brioche bun and the patty is a solid inch thick. The Bareburger burger is a meal, not a snack.

Shake Shack

Cost of burger: $5.29
Time to arrive: 10 minutes.
Size of burger: Medium.
Shake Shack is the most recent addition to the block, and the most famous, being started by restaurant mogul, Danny Meyer. (I guess we lose Danny Brown, and get Danny Meyer?) The interior is modern, sleek, and minimalist, but heavy on reclaimed wood. Utilizing the old Strawberries store space, there is a lot of indoor seating in the back and on the second floor. This was still nowhere near enough however, with lines opening weekend stretching out the door and down the block. I was told that 45 minutes to an hour was the norm. Then you can seat hunt. Shake Shack is fast food for grown ups. Hormone-free meat, hot dogs, shakes, chicken sandwiches, the typical fast food menu. But they also serve beer and wine. Still, you order from the board and seat yourself. And not for nothing, the ten minute wait, which was when they were not full to bursting, was slower than Bareburger.

Twist & Smash'd

Cost of burger: $6
Time to arrive: 10 minutes.
Size of Burger: Small.
Twist & Smash'd started here in Forest Hills, got good press, and expanded into Astoria. While this location is (very) small and has a limited menu, the Astoria one is massive, is a sports bar with bocce,  beer pong tournaments, beer for drinking, an expanded menu, and brunch. The burgers at Twist & Smash'd, made from Angus beef and served on a potato roll, are fantastic with a but. But: they're a bit greasy, they're very small, and they fall apart. From a construction perspective, the rib of the lettuce and the cap of the tomato should never be used. The Twist & Smash'd physical space is, as I mentioned, small but it does have a rear patio area that is nice in good weather and has some games if you have little kids who want to play. I wish that the interior was brighter and had better air conditioning. The vibrant orange paint is light-absorbing and oppressive. If it was a nice light blue or light grey and bright, the orange tables would be a happy contrast, and it wouldn't feel like the ceiling was caving in on you. Twist & Smash'd is the least crowded of the three despite its amazing burgers, and I'm willing to bet that this is why. Having nothing to drink other than iced tea and lemonade doesn't help much, either.

The biggest shock was that Shake Shack wasn't the clear winner. I mean, a year ago when I did my Fast Food Burger Smackdown, Shake Shack got the gold. Having tried all three within hours of each other, the Shack was actually the least flavorful. Perhaps this was a one time thing, perhaps we've succumbed to the hype, or perhaps when you compare it to Wendy's and Checkers it's not really a contest. This isn't to say it wasn't delicious. It was. I ate two of them and I'll eat more if the wait time isn't 45 minutes. I imagine that this will subside as the novelty becomes the norm.

Twist & Smash'd was the clear loser for interior design. Forget their lack of having a soda fountain. It's almost like they don't want anyone sitting and spending time there. Unlike Shake Shack, which has vast windows and tons of light, Twist & Smash'd is dark and uncomfortable. But the burger was amazing. In fact, the burger would have maybe even won if only it didn't dissolve into mush like a sugar cube in the rain and wasn't so small. It's basically an oversized slider. 

Bareburger gets the win. The burger is pricey, but it's big, you're guaranteed to have a seat while you eat it, the space is inviting, the meat is cooked to order, you can have a beer or a cocktail, it's kid friendly, and the burger is, of course, delicious (or it would have joined Cheeburger... not in this article). The downside is of course that you need to commit real time to eat here. Even though the time to get the food was actually shorter than either Shake Shack or Twist & Smash'd, given that it's a full-on restaurant, you can't just rush in and rush out.

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