>> Thursday, March 8, 2018

72-38 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 520-5199

A late lunch brought Lutsy and I to Xin Taste a few days ago. We wanted cheap, good, fast, and not burgers. Neither of us had been to Xin Taste, the pulled noodle spot on Austin Street. Pulled noodles have become quite the trend in the last year, with restaurants popping up across the city; Chinese cuisine's answer to ramen. It makes sense. I won't get into politics, but life ain't cheap. Hence, the rise in demand for dining options that are. Enter Xin Taste. Huge portions and not a burger in sight.

Xin taste is small. It has just a few tables and one long counter. If you're like me, your inner nerd emerged began and you immediately thought of Blade Runner. If only it was pouring rain, pitch black out, and the cars flew. Definitely grab a seat along the wall, watch the chef through the window make the noodles from scratch and whip them like jump-rope stretching them out, and enjoy the coziness of eating at the only noodle bar in the area.

Lutsy and I both ordered soups with thin noodles. She ordered Roast Pork La Mein Soup, and I ordered the House Special La Mein Soup. All of the soups come with your choice of beef broth or clear broth. "The clear broth is pretty tasteless, but the vegans like it" said the girl taking our order with a no-accounting-for-taste look on her face. "Sometimes, they even just ask for plain hot water." I told her we'd go with the beef broth.

The soups both came loaded with cilantro and scallion and with a hard-boiled egg and some additional veggies. Throw in some hot pepper or vinegar and let your sinuses open up while you smell that deliciousness. The bowls are big. I'd say you get a solid quart's worth for your money. The main difference, if not the only difference, between our choices was the meat. The House Special comes with a variety: spare ribs, roast pork, roast beef, and sausage. I was most surprised by how good the sausage was. And if anyone ever asks you if you should throw your spare ribs into a soup, you now know that the answer was yes. The one downside was that the cuts are cheap and by the time the soup was done there was a little collection of fat or bone or cartilage to throw away on the side of the tray. All the same, this was a great bowl of soup. I couldn't wait to return.

So I did. I came back a few days later by myself to try a stir fry. I chose the Roast Pork Dao Xiao Mein (the wide noodle). Again, the amount you get is massive. The couple next to me, as they were leaving, remarked how full they were and probably won't need anything else for the rest of the day. This is clearly a common response. The wide noodles are thick and doughy and they stick together into delicious globs. The meal is essentially a stew. It's thick and syrupy. There were mushrooms, tomato, bok choi, and sprouts along with my roast pork, but not nearly as many as I would have liked. More vegetables are always a plus in my book, especially with a dish as starch-heavy as this. That doesn't mean it wasn't good. Even though I preferred the soup, and will likely stick to soup at Xin Taste from now on, I all but licked my plate clean.

"So how is this soup different from ramen?" Lutsy asked as we left. Well, I told her, it's hard to explain but you'll see for yourself when Tamashii opens up down the block.

Each bowl of soup or stir fry dish ranges from $10 to $13.



>> Thursday, January 11, 2018

110-60 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 487-4500

"Arrivederci Ovo Sodo," was what I thought to myself as I stepped into Tuscan Hills' new location. Ovo Sodo, Tuscan Hills' more casual sister, was my favorite Italian restaurant in the zip code that didn't have "Tazzina" in its name and I was sad to see it go. It was bright and airy and relaxed, had a great brunch, and, most importantly, made the "OvoSodo" Pizza. But a lack of packing in customers meant that Ovo Sodo was not long for this world. Meanwhile, Tuscan Hills wanted a better location. As it turns out, being smack halfway between Continental and Union Turnpike was less than ideal.

I had hoped that the new Tuscan Hills would absorb some of the Ovo Sodo elements (both design-wise and menu-wise), but that was not the case. It's all but a carbon copy of the original location; its decor is darker and subdued. More romantic and has that more traditionally Mediterranean look. If Ovo Sodo was where you would meet your girlfriends to split appetizers and gossip, then Tuscan Hills was where you would take your girlfriend on her birthday.

So I took my girlfriend there on her birthday.

Lutsy and I were led to a seat by the window where I patiently waited until the table in the middle of the photograph above this paragraph emptied and was reset so I could take a decent shot. As we drank our wine and poured over the menu, I found myself straining to find something to order that seemed unique to Tuscan Hills. Prosciutto wrapped asparagus doesn't make that list and Lutsy and I have learned that fried calamari should be reserved for New England bars, covered in jalapeƱos, and served alongside a hoppy IPA. So, in skipping the old standbys, she chose the Rustico Bruschetta, a mushroom bruschetta with mozzarella and truffle oil, and I ordered the Fagioli All Uccelleto, a braised and crusted spicy sausage over cannellini beans and cherry tomatoes.

Sadly, the bruschetta was a miss. Serving it on a small cutting board was cute and certainly "rustic", but serving it on a few leaves of lettuce was somewhat pathetic and sucked all of that rustic cuteness right out the door. "You gonna eat your salad?" I said after the dish was finished. Lutsy did not reply. Still, we didn't come here to gripe about poor garnish choices, we came to eat, and this particular bruschetta made us wish that we had eaten something else. I can't beat it up and claim that it was inedible, because that's far from the case, but it was dry and bland. The dish needed something else, like a cream sauce between the mushrooms and the cheese. Something to moisten it up. On the other hand, the sausage was very good and much larger than I was expecting. If all you want for dinner is an appetizer, this is the one to get. The sausage, as expected, had a little bit of bite to it, and it paired very well with the almost creamy beans and tomato. Add in the lack of unnecessary lettuce leaves and it's win win win!

For the main course, Lutsy was debating between the lasagna and the Pici Alla Fondelli, fettuccine with olives in a wild boar meat sauce. The bold font might have given it away but she opted to try the lasagna another time and chose the pici alla fondelli. This was the better of our chosen two entrees. The fettuccine was phone-book-thick; they say it's fresh-made). The meat sauce was delicious, and I think there should have been more of it. Wild boar in general is a bit like a gamey cross between pork and beef, and this was no exception. So if you're a meat sauce fan, enjoy wild boar, and like having every third bite explode with the bitter tartness of an olive, then I highly recommend this dish.

Initially, I was planning to get the wild boar as well, but in order to sample more of the menu, I went for the non-pasta option of the Pollo Al Peperoni, a massive, pounded flat chicken breast with mashed potatoes in an onion pepper cream sauce with balsamic drizzled on top. When one flattens a piece of meat like chicken breast, because it's so lean, it's hard to keep it from drying out when it cooks. As a result, the chicken was not as moist as I would have liked. But the sauce, which was rich and thick and filled to bursting with flavor, more than made up for it. Add that heavy sauce to the very thick mashed potatoes and you have leftovers coming home with you. The portions at Tuscan Hills are not small.

We thought about dessert, then decided on going to Martha's instead, possibly meeting up with some friends who had basically been locked out of their apartment and were holed up waiting with some cake. But the friends left before our meal finished and, stepping outsidem we remembered just how cold 14-degrees actually is. So we went home, as dessertless as an Atkins diet plan.

If you liked the old Tuscan Hills, then you'll like the new one. It's a total fold-over from the original location, but this spot is less cramped. I hope that they bring back the build-own-pasta that they used to have (unless I just made that up, in which case they should add it to the menu), and I hope that they resurrect the pizza menu from Ovo Sodo, especially the  OvoSodo pizza, because that pie was perfection. In the end, Lutsy and I had a good time. The staff was very friendly, the wine pours were large, and the service was pretty good. The food was good, though I regret to say not amazing. There's an intimacy to Tuscan Hills that very few restaurants in walking distance have, save Jack & Nellie's and Reef and I'm sure that we will be back at some time in the near future. There were more hits than misses, and the prices (while not low) are decent. As a neighborhood Italian restaurant goes, it's a good spot.

Appetizers overall average $12, pastas average $18, entrees average $24. Three glasses of wine, two appetizers and two entrees, plus tax and tip came to $105.



>> Wednesday, October 18, 2017

113-30 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(728) 520-8600

Queens Bully, the Southern-inspired gastropub on Queens Boulevard that opened this Summer, is literally around the corner from where my girlfriend lives, so walks to her place are often filled with the sweet smell of barbecue smoke. Once upon a time, the location was home to the oft-derided Baluchi's Indian restaurant and, indeed, Queens Bully is owned by that same family.

I've been to Queens Bully about a half dozen times, allowing me to get acquainted with the place and see how it's ironed out its opening day kinks. Facebook at the time was alight with people complaining about waits of two-plus hours, turnover in the kitchen, and of course a cold bathroom. These grumbles have mostly subsided, except on Yelp, which is all but expected.

I happen to like Queens Bully, but I don't love it. So this review is going to be chockablock with criticism not out of negativity, but because I want it to succeed. I will try not to be petty, though I will probably fail. 

To start off, I like the interior. A lot. It's big and airy and dimly lit without being dark. It feels just right for a gastropub that does barbecue. That said there are two aspects of said interior that I hate. The bar stools are awful. They're uncomfortable, hard to move, difficult to get in and out of, and their height relative to the bartop is too low. Maybe the bar is too high? Whatever the reason, as someone who almost always prefers to eat at the bar instead of at a table, these stools are a huge negative. And speaking of sitting at the tables, many of them have four legs instead of one in the center. So you can't move. You can't cross your legs or shift. I've twice asked to move to the large communal tables where at least I don't bang my knee every two minutes.

The menu is a decent size, but there isn't any focus. Queens Bully likes to call itself a barbecue restaurant, but that's not really true. There's barbecue, but it's not close to majority of the menu. It's more Southern than anything else, but there are also empanadas, tacos, naan pizzas, a Mediterranean mezze plate, ceviche, Korean wings, a Bavarian pretzle, fish & chips... No. NO NO NO! This is supposed to be barbecue! If one goes to the website, the first thing that pops up on the screen is BBQ CULTURE... in all caps! Barbecue and fish & chips do not go together. Barbecue and a mezze plate do not go together and the result is the menu having little to no flow. The last time that I went (last week), Lutsy (girlfriend) stared at the menu for, I shit you not, a solid twenty minutes trying to decide what to order. If Queens Bully wants to be a barbecue place, great. They need to shitcan half the menu.

Look at that Instagram-worthy shot! You should probably follow me on Instagram.
Take those critiques how you will. What about the food itself? 

The Avocado Fries, served with a light breading and a side of both BBQ and chipotle aiolis are crazy good. There's only four, so savor them. Chew slowly. They are amazing. I went in thinking "this'll be meh" and could not have been more wrong. Order them. I order you. The Truffle Mac & Cheese is okay. Honestly, when I went with a buddy of mine the servers brought everything out to the table at once (which we told them to do; it wasn't a fuckup) and by the time I got to the mac & cheese I was so full and so half plastered that I couldn't have finished it if my life depended on it. That said, I give it a B and think it should lose the breadcrumbs. Meanwhile the Ill Bully BBQ Poutine - french fries with bacon, a beer gravy, and a blue cheese crema, was pretty good, but not poutine. I like poutine. Nay, I love poutine. I traveled to Montreal just to eat poutine. This was more like glorified cheese fries, which is fine, but it doesn't look so good on a menu when you put it that way. I liked it and would get it again, but the dish would be improved 1000% by using fat steak fries instead of thin fries. Thin fries and gravy turn to mushy potato slop.

One day, I ventured over all by my lonesome, attempted to be healthy, and ordered the Kale & Beet Salad, a plate of kale, quinoa, beets, and bacon thinking "kale, beets, quinoa? Sure there's bacon, but that's three superfoods against one super-villainfood." Learn from my failure. This was less a salad than a veritable mountain of ultra-diced fried kale with enough quinoa to fill a hippie's breakfast bowl. It literally crunched like it was granola. The whole thing was a disappointment. But I ate it because A) I paid for it and B) I'm sure that there was a vitamin in there somewhere.

Most recently, my trip with Lutsy was win win, the Chicken & Waffle was fantastic. Fried chicken atop a waffle, with a chipotle aioli and syrup. While the menu says it comes with "upstate maple syrup", do not let that lie fool you. As someone who only buys the real thing, I know fake when I get it. Menu bullshitting aside, it was delicious. Lutsy got the Fried Chicken BLT, a buttermilk fried chicken breast with bacon, pepperjack cheese, and a chipotle aioli. She gave it a thumbs up but I give it three thumbs up. When I went with Seth about a month ago, we ordered Bully Burgers, a chuck and short rib blend of meat with a "secret sauce" (McOohlala), cheddar and pork belly. "Yup, it's a burger" Seth said. And he was right. It was a burger. Yum, but not oh my God yum.

On the barbecue side, I was personally less impressed, though Lutsy disagrees. I ordered a half rack of Off The Bully Baby Back Ribs, which came with fries, slaw, and a cube of cornbread. The cornbread was good and it was nice to have that little layer of honey on top for added sweetness. But the ribs, while certainly better than anything I could have made at home, were far too dry. There is no comparison between this and Dinosaur BBQ, though this is within walking distance. Maybe I got a dry batch, but I was let down (BBQ CULTURE should mean fall off the bone tender). However, Lutsy got a half pound of the Chopped Pork Shoulder, served with the same sides, and she was enamored. She liked it more than the fried chicken sandwich, which I did not see coming, and still talks about how she wants to go back and get it again.

In conclusion, Queens Bully has some edits to make and some misses to swap for hits. But I like the joint overall and while I don't see myself as a hardcore regular, I so see myself there again soon. The beer list is decent, the service is very good, the lines are shorter. But I'll be at the bar, cursing the stools.

Appetizers average $13, sandwiches average $15, naan pizzas are $13, cocktails are $12. The most expensive single-person thing on the menu is $25.



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