>> Thursday, October 25, 2018

69-12 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 265-8388

As I was writing this review, it dawned on me that I was treating Bamboo Ya, the new Japanese spot in the Austin Street dead zone, as though it was a regular restaurant, and I was holding it to that standard, which is inaccurate and unfair. It's not a restaurant, it's a diner. A diner that serves Japanese comfort food instead of American comfort food. To compare Bamboo Ya with Katsuno or even Narita would be as useful as comparing T-Bone to Jack & Nellie's. Bamboo Ya is a diner.

The first thing Bamboo Ya did upon taking over the location was a complete and utter gut-job. Nothing of the old floor-plan remains. In fact, the new space seems to be twice the size, stretching so far beyond the old walls of Bann Thai that one could think it tunnels under the LIRR tracks. The interior is clean and bright and modern and new and has six seating options: bar, sushi bar, window area, dining room, booths, and Japanese booths. Lutsy and I chose the booths. Then I noticed that they were right on top of the bathroom. Oh well.

Did I mention that the restaurant is bright? It's bright. Very bright. Clearly, fifty ceiling lamps weren't enough to ward off the vampires, so every table gets its own pendant. You could dine in sunglasses, I kid you not. This might be great for families with kids, but it's about as romantic as an airhorn. Speaking of noise, there's no music. Luckily, the other patrons (if you don't count the bar areas, Bamboo Ya was a little less that half full on a Saturday) were talking loudly enough to create some privacy, but once they go home, your conversation will be the only thing breaking the silence.

If there was ever a cover by which to judge the book of a restaurant, that cover is the menu. Is the menu fifteen pages long? Are there photos? Is it laminated? Do they prop it up against the wall behind the salt shaker? Bamboo Ya hits all but the last one, but give it time. Like most diners, the menu is a phone book overflowing with meal sections, from ramens to ceviches. Photos help kids point at what they want, and the plastic pages are easily cleaned with a little spritz of 409.

Lutsy and I decided that there are plenty of other places to get sushi within a fifteen minute walk, so we stuck with the hot food options. Every entree comes with a Miso Soup or salad and we got miso soup. I'll say this right away, it was good, easily the best miso soup in the neighborhood. Very rich, almost heavy with plenty of little bits of greens and tofu. For our appetizers, Lutsy ordered something that looked pretty unique, Duck Nachos, while I went with Barbecued Squid. The duck nachos were actually pretty good, with rice chips and relatively lean duckmeat. The one downside is that it's mostly a salad and once you get past the goodies on top, it's all lettuce. My squid was decent, but I've had better. The portion, as you can see, was a good size, but the meat was a little tougher than it should have been and the glazing was a little too thin. As a result, it was a little bland. In a very un-diner-like fashion, it was beautifully plated, and I threw a pic of it up on my Instagram feed (which you should follow here).

For her entree, Lutsy got the Chicken Teriyaki, which she enjoyed more than I did. It comes on a sizzling cast iron plate over some broccoli and with a little bit of corn. Chicken teriyaki is generally hard to mess up, and this was perfectly fine by diner standards, but the chicken was way too dry for my liking. I ordered the Saki-Miso Glazed Salmon, which was both good and terrible. Although the salmon could have used a little more glazing. it was moist and flaky, and it was not a small portion. They didn't skimp on the filet. However, while the salmon was hot to the point of being scalding, the vegetables that you see pictured underneath it ranged from lukewarm to refrigerator-cold. It was very clear that this dish was not prepared from scratch at the same time, but pieced together from whatever had already been cooked earlier. Not cool, Bamboo Ya. Not cool. Unless we're talking about that potato, which was, in fact, quite cool.

This kind of sloppiness was a consistent theme of the evening, as not a single dish arrived with any of the others. The entrees were served about seven or eight minutes apart from each other and the appetizers were served five or six minutes apart. Even the miso soup wasn't delivered together, with the waiter dropping off one, then running to the kitchen to get the next. Lest you think that this was just our table, I was watching other patrons and everybody got their meals served one dish at a time. When we asked for the check, the waiter wandered off never to be seen again and we had to ask another someone else, who literally provided it within ten seconds.

We didn't drink anything and the whole meal cost about $60, plus tip. I might come back one day to see how the sushi stacks up against the competition, but I wasn't terribly impressed overall, and the fact they've had a location in Rego Park makes this all the more surprising, as this isn't their first rodeo.



>> Thursday, September 13, 2018

117-18  Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 263-9754

Once upon a time, back in the Gilded Age, beer gardens were a big thing here in New York City. They dwindled away over the decades but suddenly, now that we're in a new Gilded Age, they're back! Seemingly, they've sprouted up everywhere, even as pop-ups in unused summertime parking lot. The closest that Forest Hills has had to one would be the Finback Brewery tasting room. Failing that, denizens of our fair hamlet would have to trek out to middle-of-nowhere backwaters like Brooklyn and Astoria. Thankfully, the fine folks at Cobblestones, the Queens Boulevard pub about three-quarters of the way between Continental Avenue and Union Turnpike, decided to right this particular wrong.

The Forest Hills Biergarten isn't the biggest beer garden in the city, but it's hardly the smallest, and it's a right proper one. There are murals and greenery. Long tables dominate the seating. There's a waterfall wall made from beer taps. Along with the food menu, the bulk of the beer is German or Oktoberfest themed. There's a bean bag toss, a six-foot tall Jenga block set, and a bunch of table games for people to play with. Forest Hills is a demographic melting pot and the customers that I saw were of every race and age. The beer garden was loud and lively without ever getting loud and obnoxious. You could have a conversation. Lutsy and I showed up around 9pm and got a seat right away, though there were precious few left.

Lutsy ordered a wine cocktail; some kind of frozen margarita type thing that was sweet and fruity. Very girlie. I ordered a liter of Hofbrau Oktoberfest that was the size of my head. Very manly. She did her nails and I beat my chest while we went over the menu deciding dinner. The food, as I stated, was very beer-garden-y. Bavarian pretzels and bratwurst and so forth. Having never eaten at Cobblestones before, I can't speak to whether this was their regular menu. Feel free to leave a comment if you know. In the end, I chose the Chicken Schnitzle Club Sandwich, which came with pickles and German potato salad. Neither Lutsy nor I expected the potato salad to be warm, but no biggie. It was pretty good. As was the sandwich, and I inhaled it much faster than I expected.  Lutsy chose the more pub food traditional Buffalo Chicken Wrap. Not exactly currywurst with spaetzle... but whatcha gonna do? She liked it and the fries that it came with, and would get it again. Her one nit to pick, the one stick in her craw, was that it was too small, and looking at the photo anew, yeah. It's small.

The Forest Hills Biergarten is a great addition to the neighborhood. The beer list doesn't pay much, if any, attention to the craft microbrews that have taken over the scene in recent years and the food is basically bar food, but that's the point. This is a beer garden. You go to have fun, drink, eat, play. There are games and TVs and pretty much anyone can go and feel at home. Go for a not-romantic date night or with your buddies or with the kids. I can say very honestly that the Forest Hills Biergarten might have the most social atmosphere of any place in walking distance. And I walk long distances.

Just about everything on the menu, from the food to the drinks ranged in the $10-$15 zone.

Just an FYI. the entrance is not through Cobblestones Pub, but around the corner and down the side street.



>> Thursday, June 7, 2018

104-02 Metropolitan Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 674-6503

Where once sat Queen's only Michelin-starred restaurant, Danny Brown, now sits Rimtin, an upscale but casual Mediterranean spot. Open for about a year, Rimtin is long past the point of finding and ironing out any opening-day wrinkles and sculpting the most appropriate menu. Lutsy and I have had it on our shortlist for quite some time, and we finally got around to going. And I wish they had hired me on as a consultant first. 

The interior of Rimtin is a decidedly nice one and on the surface, they would appear to have done everything right. But there are all of these tiny mistakes that add up and are especially odd given how this isn't the owner's first restaurant. Rimtin only just got a liquor license, so there's no wine list. They just ask you what varietal you'd like a glass of. That's fine, but it's been a year and the central design element is a big fancy bar area. There's no website, which would be fine fifteen years ago, but is just bizarre these days. There isn't any music playing, so unless the whole place is busy, your conversation is projected for all to hear. The bathroom is clean, but once you pay attention, you see that it's been painted very sloppily. In the dining area, the left side of the room has bright lighting while the right side is shrouded in darkness, which is completely nonsensical. For some reason there's a television on the back wall, which I suppose could be for... I dunno, ESPN?

Once we placed our order the waitress, who was extremely nice, brought out a warm basket of delicious bread and some olive oil, which was promptly devoured. We ordered two appetizers to share, Stuffed Grape Leaves and Zucchini Pancakes. The grape leaves were a must-order. Once I saw them on the menu there wasn't even a conversation to be had. And they were good. Very good. Sweet and light, with a little tartness from the lemon juice, I can safely say that they were a good choice. Far and away better than anything you'd get at a supermarket. The zucchini pancakes were also good, but not at the same level. They were a little too charred for my taste and relied too heavily on the yogurt sauce to have much flavor. But for a fried dish, they didn't feel fatty and I enjoyed the illusion of eating something healthy.

We both opted for lamb entrees, as lamb tends to be a bit more rare on restaurant menus. I really don't understand this, as Americans love beef, and lamb is quite beefy, but such is life. Lutsy got the Adana Kebab, a pair of ground lamb cylinders served with a scoop of rice pilaf, a small side salad, a grilled pepper, and half of a grilled tomato.  The other half of that grilled tomato found its way onto my plate, the Lamb Shish, which is quite literally the exact same dish but with cubed lamb instead of ground lamb. The adana kebab was too dry, which resulted in a rather flat taste, so I don't really recommend that one. The lamb shish (kebab) was, on the other hand, quite good. Tender, medium rare, flavorful.

Both dishes had an optional side of yogurt, which we both went for. I shit you not, Rimtin gives you what appears to be two cups of yogurt. Therefore, our meal included four cups of yogurt. Unless you plan on taking it home to throw granola in come morning, I highly discourage ordering this particular supplement.

We both enjoyed our experience at Rimtin, and I fully plan to return and try the chicken and other dishes offered here, but this leads me to my final critique. I know that when I do so, I'll get a small side salad, a tomato, a pepper, and some rice pilaf. And that's fine. But it's not better than fine and it will never be better than fine. Because it's lazy. Am I asking too much because this is Queens, not Manhattan? No, and fuck you for saying that and fuck you for giving outer-borough restaurateurs reasons to go to Brooklyn instead. 

In the end, I like Rimtin and they can expect to see more of my money in the future. They're a comfortable spot with lovely staff, a decent kitchen, and they are relatively inexpensive. But I'd like to see some imagination on the menu, to be handed a decent wine list, to hear some music on the speakers, and maybe one day they can get around to fixing the lighting.

Expect to pay around $10 for an appetizer and $20 for an entree, on average.Rimtin is not on OpenTable.



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