>> Friday, January 22, 2016

115-20 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 487-4500

At a certain point, out of both fairness and utility, I'm going to have to start returning to restaurants that haven't been reviewed in a while. Tuscan Hills is as good a place as any to start. It'd been years since going here, largely because it's a little out of the way for me and its sister restaurant, Ovo Sodo, which I happen to like a lot, is much closer. My first visit to Tuscan Hills was years ago, when I was dating Operagirl. I was sick at the time and going out to dinner was, looking back, a bad idea. Long story short, on the walk home I regifted what I'd eaten to some poor guy's lawn. Subsequent visits were more comfortable.

This time, I went with Pike. Tuscan Hills was about two-thirds full and we had no trouble getting a table. As you can see, the decor is more rustic Italian bistro than the John's Of 12th Street-esque traditional red sauce places where the staff wears that tuxedo-like uniform. It's upscale casual (though frankly, the jerkoff in the photo could have at least taken off his baseball cap. If you so desperately need to wear a Yankees cap at the table and dress like a bum, go to Buffalo Wild Wings... (God, I sound like an old man. Still, seriously, take off the fucking hat).

My appetizer was the Insalata Di Polpo, an octopus salad with olives, carrots, capers, and lemon. If you don't like tart, cold Mediterranean salads, I'd skip it. But in my opinion, the salad was very good, and I'm glad I tried it. That said, the octopus was a wee bit tougher than I would have liked. I know nothing about cooking octopus, but I know I've had it more tender before. Pike ordered the Cozze Marinara, steamed mussels in a tomato garlic broth. We both liked it. The mussels weren't very large, but they also weren't gritty and the sauce had some bite to it. Maybe I wouldn't order it every day, but it was a refreshing change of pace from the more ubiquitous white wine broth one usually finds their mussels made with. 

For his entree, Pike opted for the Ravioli Con Gamberi, a cheese ravioli dish with mushrooms, shrimp, and tomato in a light tomato sauce. He enjoyed it and I recall it being a very flavorful, light dish. I ordered the Pici Alla Fondelli, fettuccine in a wild boar and black olive ragout. The pasta was perfect and the sauce was almost perfect. The olives added a little too much sourness. If they used half as much, I'd have been enthralled. Much like my octopus, the wild boar was a little on the tough, dry side, but I'll chalk that up to wild boar being a decidedly gamey meat. I wanted to love the dish and I would have, but for the overabundance of olives.

This was one of those rare occasions where we ordered dessert and the reasons completely escape me. Pike ordered the Panna Cotta, a vanilla cream pudding that was perfectly fine. I ordered the Cannoli Alla Siciliana, which left a little to be desired. Maybe it's having grown up a short walk from Veniero's that leaves me nonplussed by most Italian pastry that isn't Veniero's but this particular cannoli, with a little chocolate shell was brittle, didn't have much filling (basically it just drained onto the plate), and desperately needed to be dunked into my coffee like a doughnut.

We did not order drinks, so I can't speak to the wine list, but expect to pay an average of $12 for an appetizer, $15 for a 13-inch pizza, $17 for a pasta, and $24 for an entree. On the whole, I enjoyed my experience. The staff was pleasant and neither ignored you nor was in your face every five minutes. The lights seemed a bit bright for dinner, but the atmosphere was relaxed. That said, neither Pike nor I were completely blown away by any particular part of the meal enough to make the hike something that we would do with any regularity and on the walk back to our neck of the woods agreed that between Ovo Sodo and Tuscan Hills, we preferred Ovo Sodo. Although if looking in the window at the empty tables is any indication, we may well be the only people in the borough with that opinion.



>> Monday, January 4, 2016

71-51 Yellowstone Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 674-6298

Once upon a time, there was an Italian restaurant that had existed since the dawn of time. Dawn turned to dusk and it closed, becoming a kosher restaurant called Pomegranate. Dusk turned to 7pm and Pomegranate folded. At 7:01, Pomegranate, the kosher restaurant turned into... Pomegranate the Indian restaurant? No. Wait. Hold on. It's actually Aaheli. Aaheli the Indian restaurant. Better known as:
Aaheli Indian Restaurant, formerly known as POMEGRANATE. This is actually their second location, the first being near Columbus Circle.

Okay, so they refuse to replace the huge, glowing, color-changing sign for reasons that I can only assume have to do with hiding themselves from their bookie. "Hey Vinnie, where's that Aaheli place the boss wants us to 'visit'? All I see is a nail salon and a dry cleaner." What about the interior? Uh, fairly awful. Whoever painted the inside did such a half-assed job that they should be sued, and the white tables with pink tablecloths make you feel like you're dining at a bat-mitzvah-to-be. Okay, how about service? I give service a 2 out of 5. Our waiter looked haggard, everything took forever, we were upsold constantly, and flagging him down just for a water refill required an effort just shy of firing up a rescue flare.

And yet despite this laughable shittyness, I forgive them. Because the food is very good. At the end of the day, even if the decor is embarrassing and the service not up to par, they can crank out a quite tasty dish. And they're BYOB, which will save you a few bucks. 

Soups are Aaheli's weak spot. I typically love Mulligatawny Soup, a spicy split pea soup, and who wouldn't like a bowl of Coconut Soup, made with curry seeds and cumin? But man were they thin. Mulligatawny broth might be a better description. Ditto for the coconut soup. The same cannot be said for Bro's choice, the Sambar Soup, a much thicker, heartier lentil soup, which was quite good.

If the soups were a letdown, then it was all uphill from there. I won't beat every dish to death with an adjective-laden paragraph. The menu is pretty big, and there are only so many ways to say "the chickpea-based sauce was delicious." So take my word for it that every appetizer and main dish I had tasted very good. The Tawa Shrimp, shrimp sauteed with curry leaves, onion, and bell pepper was delicious. So much flavor, but so small a portion. You could inhale the whole plate in ten seconds. The Lamb Madras, boneless chunks of lamb cooked in a coconut curry sauce, was heaven. The lamb was tender enough that one could cut it with a spoon if need be. Bro, having been dating a vegetarian for a couple of years, has learned to shun the shunning of vegetarian entrees, and he ordered the Bhartha, an eggplant dish that was similarly rich and flavorful. Deciding to go carb-heavy after an upstate bike trip, I ordered the Chicken Biryani, chicken cooked and served buried in a spiced, herbal rice. The chicken was a little dry, I won't lie, but it was still fantastic and guilt-inducing.

I did not get tandoori chicken or any curries, and not for any real reason other that to try something different.

We were upsold on getting the Garlic Naan, which was fine, since who doesn't like garlic naan, but looking back, once you smother the bread in thick sauces, it probably isn't necessary. 

Indian food has this image as being inexpensive. I don't know where this comes from, since it never is (maybe the buffets are, but I don't eat food from a trough). When Bro and I ate at Aaheli, sans any drinks, we ponied up almost $80. Entrees average about $15, which isn't expensive by any measure, but it's also not "cheap", although you will have leftovers the next day, and Aaheli is BYOB. So, you'll definitely save a nickle or two bringing a bottle from home.

Aaheli, being on Yellowstone, might be a bit of a schlep for some of you (though it's perfect for me), but it'll be a rewarding schlep and you can burn off the calories on the walk.

One complaint: I asked for every dish to be served "very spicy". Not mild. Not medium. Very. Not once were we given dishes that were anything but mild.



>> 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.




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