>> Thursday, November 12, 2015

72-27 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 233-3183

When I learned that the guys behind Jack & Nellie's were opening a new restaurant, Rove, in the spot where Bonfire Grill used to be, my first thought was "I love Jack & Nellie's! This is great!" My second thought was "Couldn't they have named their restaurant after a different political consultant?" Titular commentary notwithstanding, Rove is, for all intents and purposes, at least thus far, Bonfire 2.

When I started writing this blog, in 2008, there were precious few decent, full restaurants in the neighborhood outside of Q (which, by the way, is now Jack & Nellie's) on Ascan Avenue. Going on a date or getting brunch meant schlepping out to Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Astoria. So when Bonfire Grill opened, it was a breath of fresh air. Finally, a decent brunch. Finally, a place with a decent drink list. Finally, a restaurant designed to attract people like me, the upper 20s-low 30s, demographic. The food at Bonfire was always decent and, even if it would never be the kind of place that people would get on the subway to go to, it was a great standby place to go when you didn't want to travel.

This is basically my thoughts on Rove. It only just opened, so the menu currently very small and will almost certainly double in size, but unless it changes dramatically, it will be upscale bar food appetizers and comfort food entrees. In essence, Rove will be using the Bonfire playbook. This is good news for people who felt that Bonfire filled a certain niche in the neighborhood and bad news for those who were hoping for something a bit more culinarily artsy.

When I arrived with Pike at 7 on a Thursday, the place was deserted; by 7:30 almost every table was taken. This was actually Pike's second time at Rove, having been there a few days earlier with his girlfriend. The interior set up, as you can see, is basically unchanged, but the decor, with it's rougher wood accents and exposed brick, is more industrial. While Rove retains the televisions over the bar, and has buffalo wings on the menu, at least it doesn't try to imply that it's a fancy place. That said, if you show up wearing a sports jersey, I will still want to kill you.

Maybe Rove will one day offer deviled eggs and French onion soup, but for now, the limited appetizer menu was clearly showcasing that they were aiming for the upper echelon of bar food. Tempted by the filet mignon bruschetta, I instead chose the Boneless Sriracha Chicken Thighs, also known as boneless dark meat buffalo wings. Pike thought that they were too spicy, I didn't, but I like hot. I can recommend them, and I would get them again, but the name implies a wee bit more than they are. Pike chose the Pork Buns, a trio of pulled pork bao-style sandwiches which were delicious. Tangy, sweet, soft, crunchy, hot, cold. It basically hits every part of your mouth in sequence.

Pike ordered the New York Sirloin Steak. Last week, he and I went to Aged and the steak was... pretty bad (note to self, re-review Aged from scratch). So when he started eating, I asked him if this was any better. "It's like night and day. Though they could have trimmed off this piece of fat right here." He cut me off a piece and it was pretty good. It won't be putting Spark's out of business any time soon, but compared to what we had last week down the block, there isn't really any competition. The steak comes served with two classic steakhouse sides, creamed spinach and home fries, neither of which were anything to write home about. My entree was the Crusted Chicken, a roasted 1/4 chicken (breast and wing) with a breadcrumb crust under a jalapeno cream sauce. The chicken was tender and the jalapeno cream sauce was anything but hot. The jalapeno was there for taste only. It was quite good, but because it was bone-in, I felt like I was fighting the food. This came served with grilled zucchini and carrot mashed potatoes. Both were pleasant, though if no one told me that there were carrots in the mashed potatoes, I'd never have known.

So, so far so good. Bonfire in its latter days was starting to go downhill and it's nice to see that Rove has taken the space and improved on it. I'll for certain be returning and I hope that the expanded menu is a good one. By the way, all of the staff that we interacted with were very very nice.

Appetizers average $12, sandwiches average $14, entrees average $22.



>> Sunday, September 27, 2015

Brunch Report
113-09 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 268-1668

Dim sum brunch, the Chinese tradition of eating various forms of filled dough churrascaria style, was something that I had, until just now, never before tried. Shameful, I admit. Now that I have, I'm all but certain to do it again.

For the uninitiated, the dim sum brunch is nothing at all like the Euro/American brunch you're used to. There are no mimosas, no eggs benedict, no reading the Sunday Times while slowly nursing your sixth coffee. Instead you sip tea as an endless stream of carts are wheeled to your table, their pushers offering you random buns, dumplings, chicken feet, and rice bowls. The place was packed when we arrived around 11:30. We waited about fifteen to twenty minutes for our number to be called. By the time we left, the line to get in had people waiting on the sidewalk. My guess would be that by 1pm, you should expect a wait of forty-five minutes or more.

My ex-girlfriend used to say "I want all of the food! Because food!" That pretty much encapsulates the experience. The sheer quantity and variety of what got wheeled up to our table was astounding. No sooner would a cart lady give us a dish than another one would show up. There's no menu. What are these things? Who knows? You don't speak Chinese and they don't speak English. Just point and take. Also, loosen your belt a notch (you'll thank me later).

I'm not going to even attempt to tell you what the names of any of this stuff is, and the photos are not 100% of what we ordered. Suffice it to say, there's a lot of pork, a lot of shrimp, and more carbs than you can imagine. Kosher celiacs on Atkins, this place ain't for you. On the whole, it was delicious. There were a few misses (Pike liked the sticky fried rice and the shrimp wrapped in egg and I didn't. I liked the fried tofu; he took one bite and pushed it aside), but in the end, we ate so much that those few little kerfuffles barely mattered.

There's pork in there.

Dough soaked in chicken broth. Like a matzo ball. Kinda.
(I've been told that this was a fish broth. Maybe everything really does taste like chicken)

Fried dough, wrapped in a noodle, buried under a sweet sesame and peanut sauce. Get this.

A soft bun stuffed with guess what? Did you guess pork?

Another kind of pork bun, this one with a glossy sweet glaze.
Plus fried tofu and steamed shrimp wrapped in fried egg.

Custard filled. There's the one with a pink dot and one with a yellow dot. The pink dot was better.

We ate so much. It just kept coming and we just kept saying "yeah okay, we'll get that too." Pike's girlfriend, who joined us, pointed at one final dish and as soon as it hit the table said, "I don't know why I did that. I'm on autopilot." Still, the whole thing only cost $22 per person with tip. That's less than just about anywhere. 

On the whole, this was awesome. On days when you want a lazy, traditional brunch with bacon, coffee, and a strong bloody mary to kill last night's hangover, this would be a poor choice. But if you want a diversion from the norm, you don't have to get on the subway for it.



>> Friday, September 18, 2015

110-72 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 880-1602

Not too long ago, this quaint little corner on bucolic Queens Boulevard was home to a sushi place.  I forget the name, or if it even had one, but we all knew it as the 50% Off Sushi sushi spot. "FIFTY PERCENT OFF???" Samantha asked herself before spending the next six hours on her knees hunched over her toilet. "How can I go wrong?" Yes, it was amazing food, but its time, apparently, had come. Replacing it is Matiz, a Latin restaurant whose direct competitor would be the ever popular, ever crowded Cabana on 70th Road. If you've been craving Latin, trendy, and good, and the wait at Cabana is too long, or the prices too high, you won't be kicking yourself heading a little off the beaten path and coming here.

I went here with Pike on a midweek evening and sat at one of the window seats. It gets pretty dark in the back. Not good for photos. Initially, we were the only of a handful of diners, but it started filling up eventually. Service was very polite, if a tad slow. We barely noticed. There is a liquor license, but, at the moment, it's only for beer and wine, so no cutesy parasol-laden cocktails are on the menu just yet. (The bartender at Keuka Kafe says that the sangria is supposed to be very good)

Pike and I, wanting the same appetizers, split them. They arrived on a convenient common plate. The Arepitas, small open faced corn cake sandwiches, came as a trio of flavors: chicken, beef, and pork (although the menu only mentions beef and chicken) all richly spiced and delicious. The only downside was that there weren't more. I'd love for them to start selling these full sized. Likewise, our other appetizer, the Patacones, a tostone dish, came with three options for piling onto your fried plantain slice: chicken, beef, and hogao, a vegetarian salsa-like dish.

For an entrée, Pike ordered the Paella Matiz. Paella is, for all intents and purposes, a seafood risotto. They're typically rich and creamy and loaded with various sea creatures. If you're lucky, someone puts a lobster on top of it. There was no lobster, but there were mussels, clams, shrimp, calamari, and scallops. "Don't forget to tell people that they put an ice cold salad on this." There was a cold salad, which Matiz calls their "summer vegetable hash" and it was, in our opinions, a big mistake. The hash didn't work. Underneath, however, the paella was delicious. Take our advice and ask for the paella without the hash. I chose the Churrasco, a grilled skirt steak that came with sautéed spinach and a cheese papa rellena (a mashed potato ball with a cheese center). The steak was delicious. This was definitely a win. The papa rellena was fine for being a mashed potato ball, but you couldn't taste the cheese at all. There was also an olive oil and pesto sauce on the side that one could ladle over the meat, but it didn't add anything. Indeed, with the steak already perfectly seasoned, it was actually a detraction from the taste.

I, for one was pleased overall. The seating is a bit tight, but that's a function more of space than poor design. As an alternative to Cabana, Matiz did pretty well. If you live nearby, or don't mind the walk, or just don't want to wait on a long line, you now don't have to. I actually prefer the more subdued atmosphere of Matiz to the more crazy and loud party atmosphere that Cabana sometimes has.

The whole meal, two appetizers, two entrees, two sodas, tax, and tip with no dessert and no liquor was about $110. Appetizers average $11 and entrées average $22.




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