>> 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.



>> 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.



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