>> Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sushi Yasu has moved to 70-11 Austin Street. 
I don't think it's BYOB anymore.
71-45 Yellowstone Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 544-0942

Along with Italian and Thai, there is no shortage of places in Forest Hills for sushi. Off hand, not having done any recent polling, there are at least eight different restaurants to get raw fish and rice. Of these eight, Sushi Yasu might be the closest. It also might be the smallest. It also might have the best service of any of them. Oh yeah, and the sushi was pretty good too.

Sushi Yasu used to be a fish store before the owners decided to become a restaurant. But you can still get sushi-grade fish here too. Bro and I got sushi grade fish, but we had it sculpted... so to speak. Most of Sushi Yasu is the sushi bar, but there are three or four tables, which is where Bro and I sat, next to a low-rent koi pond. When we arrived, just one couple was there, drinking the wine that they brought with them. Steadily, more people arrived.

As you can see from the spread below, Bro and I went a little nuts with the menu, but we were determined to get our Omega-3s. First up, the a la cart pieces. Most run between $3 and $4. I ordered a piece each of Octopus and Sea Urchin. The octopus was great, but most people unaccustomed to octopus will have to get past the slight rubber texture. That said, this was some very tender, non-rubbery octopus. The sea urchin was something I've never had before and I think I'll make it a more regular staple of my sushi diet. It's hard to describe so I'll leave any description aside and just recommend that everyone try it for themselves.

The large specialty roll we ordered was the Marilyn Monroe Roll. Imitation (sigh...) crab meat, cucumber and scallops in a "special sauce". You have to love these nameless, descriptionless special sauces these places have. Normally, I hate scallops. No, that's inaccurate. I always hate scallops. But apparently, now I have to throw a caveat into the mix. I hate scallops unless they're raw and on top of rice and crab with a dab of wasabi. Given this seafood roll was fishless, it was extremely different from any other roll I've had (and I plan to order it again). But speaking of fishless, we also ordered two vegetarian rolls. The first up was the Kampyo Roll, which is rice around cooked gourd. Think of it as a Thanksgiving roll. I did not particularly care for it however. Too bitter. I had the same reaction from the very different taste of the Umeshiso Roll. This roll uses pickled plum and mint. Very sweet, almost like what sushi would be if it was a dessert. But again, I couldn't get into it and don't plan to order it again anytime soon. That doesn't mean that I wish they weren't on the menu. It's nice to find a place that has more than the usual rolls you see time and again everywhere.

We also ordered the Alaskan Roll, with salmon and avocado (very good), the Spicy Salmon Roll, with salmon, roe, and avocado under a spicy, creamy sauce (even better), and the Negitoro Roll, fatty tuna with scallion (also great). Sushi is one of those love it or hate it foods that everyone who loves it can't get enough of and everyone who hates it should learn to love. You'll develop your own tastes and preferences. Fatty tuna is on everyone's A-list. It's sweet and supple and not fishy. The service at Sushi Yasu was great. Both owners (who also make the sushi) were more than attentive and kept the green tea flowing. There was a constant concern that we were enjoying ourselves. And we were. It would be nice if they had beer or sake, but you can bring your own. The personal attention shown by the chefs here is far more akin to the way Sushi bars are traditionally supposed to be, rather than having them made by someone you never interact with. In fact, I almost felt guilty sitting at a table.

Our meal of two a la carte sushi pieces, one specialty roll and five standard rolls, plus tax and tip, came to $56.



>> Friday, February 13, 2009

Yogomonster and OKO have closed.
70-19 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 261-0661

71-50 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 268-6010

In the summertime, when the weather is high, and you can reach right up and touch the sky, and you've got women on your mind, the odds are that plenty of these women are trying to find frozen yogurt and someone to eat it with.

Frozen yogurt. FroYo. In New York City, the words are synonymous with Tasti-D-Lite. Tasti-D. In the past couple of years, the Tasti-D's stranglehold on the froyo market has been undermined by the trendy Pinkberry chain. Pinkberry is more hip, more fun, more upscale. Think of Pinkberry as the Starbucks to Tasti-D-Lite's Dunkin Donuts.

Here in Forest Hills, we have our own froyo competition a-brewin'. Yes, there's a Tasti-D-Lite, but it's hidden in the Forest Hills Mini Mall* on Continental. Here in Forest Hills (and in Park Slope, too, so Park Slopers may find relevance with this post) we have YogoMonster dueling with Oko Yogurt & Tea. Two new and hip yogurterias. It's chilly out, so they tend to be less populated these days than I know that they'll be come the Spring and the Summertime when the weather is high. But that just means standing in line for less time. And I hate standing on lines.


There's no avoiding noticing the effort put into the style of YogoMonster. It's clean lines, bright colors, and bleached white interior feels young and energetic and hip. I foresee overflow on hot summer nights. Especially given their location right around the corner from the restaurants on 70th and literally across the street from the UA Brandon movie theater.

In addition to froyo, the menu, which is otherwise pretty simple, has waffles and smoothies. I love waffles.

My excursion to YogoMonster led me to try two of their yogurts. First, the Vanilla. Perfect. Very smooth, almost like a light ice cream, but without any lack of flavor that one might think would accompany such a description. This is probably the best vanilla frozen yogurt I've ever had. And when I say smooth, I mean "Tasti-D-Lite should be taking notes". Their froyo, in my opinion, has the consistency of clumpy sand most of the time... though some would argue that they make up for it in numerous unique flavors, each more wacky than the last. Not to skip ahead, but YogMonster frozen yogurts were also smoother than Oko's.

Next up, coffee fiend that I am, Cappuccino. Very good. Very much like what a cappuccino would taste like if it were frozen into a soft paste, but a bit more gritty than the vanilla. I'm not saying don't get it. I'm merely saying that the oldies but goodies stay goodies even though they're oldies for a reason.


As of this writing, Oko is polling far ahead of YogoMonster, according to the blog Forest Hills 72, though that could simply be from people having voted for the only one that they've been to thus far. Still, Oko is much smaller and can't possibly compete on a trendy level with YogoMonster. Oko's hook is in its environmental consciousness. From little "think about your carbon footprint"-type sayings on the wall to it's biodegradable plastic utensils, Oko is all about making you feel rewarded for having chosen them over their evil competitors. Additionally, while YogoMonster is clearly more fun to go to, Oko is more intimate. There's a more neighborhoody feel to the place. Something that was confirmed when regular after regular showed up to place orders.

Where YokoMonster is all about the froyo, Oko offers a wider menu. Teas, coffees, sandwiches, and desserts (other than frozen yogurt) are available. This makes its small size all the more regrettable. On the plus side, free wi-fi is offered at all five (5) of it's tables, making it just slightly easier to get a table there than at the Starbucks on Continental.

Here at Oko, I again ordered two small-sized froyos. The first up to the plate: Original. I don't exactly know what original means and when I asked, the woman at the counter just said "it's the original flavor." Oh. Well, okay then. If I were to try to describe it, I'd say that it's like plai with a light hint of lychee berry. It's certainly something that I'd say you'll either like or dislike, but while I sat there, most people who came in were ordering it.

The second flavor I took a try of was Wildberry, which tasted literally like fresh wild berries turned into a cold dessert (seeds and all). It was tart though. More so than a berry ice cream would be, but less than a berry sorbet. This was the second most popular froyo people ordered while I sat in the corner. I guess that I either lucked out, or am part of the statistical mean.

The small-sized Yogurts, sans toppings, are $4.25 at both YogoMonster and Oko. The staff at both places were comparably great and both had scads of topping to offer their patrons.

Who wins? I think that they tie.

*(side note, why is a cool Tudor-style, brick, tree-lined shopping space filled with a vitamin store and cheap barbershop instead of nice bistro restaurants and a cocktail lounge a la Little Branch? Total waste.)

I thought that Tasti-D-Lite moved into the Forest Hills Mini Mall, but I was wrong. Instead, a Tasti-D-Lite clone using the exact same color scheme did. It's called The Lite Choice.



>> Wednesday, February 4, 2009

107-48 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 261 7744

The T-Bone Diner on Queens Boulevard is known for two things: it's glowing, timeless neon sign and truly horrible food. Eating In Translation's article on the T-Bone hamburger is most telling because of it's photo showing what are obviously limp, canned mushrooms. But let's not forget that Newsday's review was downright damning, basically describing the T-Bone dining experience as a failure in every possible way. T-Bone has been positively reviewed in the Queens Gazette (proudly displayed in the entrance alongside fading photos of celebrities who ate here once upon a time). But a quick read of that "review" and you instantly realize that it's an ad, probably written, if not by the manager of the restaurant, then with him sitting right next to the author.

T-Bone is clearly popular with some regulars who don't eat anything, as evidenced by the constant stream of guys drinking coffee in a corner booth yakking on their cell phones. Whether it should be popular with anyone else is open to debate. I've been to T-Bone a bunch of times, the first time because I wanted to go; since then out of sheer desperation for anything open at 4am. But I guess that everyone deserves a chance, from scratch, to prove that they don't completely suck. So I returned to sample their fare. Twice. The first time just for standard diner food; the second time for “real” entrees.

Bro and I got a booth right away and were amazed at how many people were here by themselves. I guess a diner is the most comfortable place to do that. But self conscious person that I am, I’d probably have just ordered in. Humorously, as we sat down, a woman at a booth near us flagged over a waiter to complain. Through the time-tested method of shutting up and eavesdropping, we learned that she was eating a Shell Steak. “I can’t eat this. It’s all fat. This isn’t what I ordered. There’s no meat here.” Another steak arrived, only to be sent back. Again, a fat problem. She ended up with chicken. This was not a good start.

Bro went on the cheap and only ordered a main course. But I’m a determined soul. Determined, in this case, to sample more than just one thing and then call it quits. So I started with a cup of Matzo Ball Soup (also available in bowl form). Bro hated it and predicts that a group of guys wearing black suits will soon picket in protest. I was no great fan of the soup, but it wasn’t quite as revolting as Bro made it out to be. Sure, the matzo ball was dense and hard, the broth was salty and cheap, and there were noodles in it implying that they just took the pre-existing chicken noodle soup and plopped a matzo ball in it. But again, revolting is such a strong word. Next up came the Mozzarella Sticks. As fate would have it, Bro and I swapped positions. I thought that they were terrible and he thought that they were pretty standard. They were too salty, the breading was just this side of burned, and the mozzarella was tasteless. Add to it that at $8, they translated to $1.00 per stick and I left feeling like I just got mugged.

So the starters were... weak. Happily, the main dishes weren’t bad. Bro ordered the Cheeseburger Deluxe. As with most diners, if you want lettuce and tomato and fries, you pay more. And it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great and T-Bone won’t be pulling any customers away from the Johnny Rockets around the corner, but it wasn’t bad. It was a cheeseburger. Nothing less, nothing more. And the fries were decent. Likewise, my sandwich, the Roast Beef Deluxe wasn’t anything to complain about. It had tomato, onion and Swiss cheese with the beef on a toasted roll. Bro even said that it was better than a similar sandwich that he had at a diner in midtown… not that that means anything. I ordered Onion Rings instead of fries for $1.50 more (again with the highway robbery). These were just okay. Not worth paying extra for. And beware the onion ring garnishes, which I swear were made the day before. Cold and soggy, I seriously don't recommend nibbling on them.

Also, I suggest avoiding the coleslaw, which was… vile.

A recent trip to Virginia found me sitting near I-95 one evening by myself with no place to eat dinner except this no-name, totally deserted, ultra-cheap Mexican place. Or a Shoney's. I decided to try their T-Bone. It just might have been the worst T-Bone I ever had. Thin and dry and fatty, most of it's flavor came from having been bathed in peppers and onions. And so was born the test. Can T-Bone's t-bone beat no-name highway Mexican t-bone? I had to know.

Bro and I arrived one recent midweek night and began our journey into the unknown. My meal was, of course, the Broiled Large T-Bone Steak, served with mushrooms and onion rings. Interestingly enough, the onion rings were noticeably absent. Though perhaps that would be asking a bit much. I mean, when the waiter says... and I quote, "The steak is already cooked, would you like it medium well or well?" you just nod and smile and understand how it got on the table so soon after eating your small cup of soup. My well-done steak was fatty, tough, served with canned mushrooms, canned roast red peppers (served in a little plastic cup), grey canned string beans (grey beans?), and french fries. The fries were pretty good.

Bro ordered the Roast Half Spring Chicken with Dressing. Bro liked the chicken and doggy bagged that which he didn't eat. I thought that it was Sahara dry. But we could both agree on the sides: awful. The chicken was served with a stuffing that was pasty, gelatinous and bitter. The mashed potatoes were so bad that Bro flat out refused to have more than one bite of them. There were mixed canned vegetables, which were pretty... you know... canned. And canned cranberry sauce (can ridges and all). Now first, I don't mind good canned cranberry sauce. Ocean Spray anyone? This was not good canned cranberry sauce.

Our dinner was laughably bad. Literally, we were laughing.

Entrees come with a choice of soup or salad. Bro and I both chose soup. I had the Chicken with Rice Soup, and Bro went with the Matzo Ball Soup. We all remember what Bro thought of the matzo ball soup from last time, so I was just as surprised as you are. So what about the chicken with rice soup? I think it was made from a freeze fried package. It had that salty, MRE quality that restaurants rarely try to match. I mean, when do you get rice the exact same shade of yellow as the broth itself?

Oh. I almost forgot... terrible Mexican steak for $10 or terrible T-Bone Diner steak for $22? The Mexican place wins.

Okay. The humor of it all aside, T-Bone is an immense disappointment. Right by the subway, it should be more than just where people coming back from Manhattan at 3am and cabbies go for a quick snack merely because they have no other choice. I'm not asking that it be some gourmet haven. But how about being merely decent? Instead it's overpriced and tacky (one need only note that they sell T-Bone Diner memorabilia mugs for... FIFTEEN DOLLARS!?!). The rickety tables and boothes, the broken neon lamps, the fading art. These all expose a distinct need for renovation. An old diner that's kitchy is one thing. An old diner that's decrepit is something else. At it's best, I opine that the food was mediocre, and at worst...

Here's the thing. Our service was fine. Our waiters were very nice, very fast, and always smiling. My finger of shame points squarely at the owners and managers and the utter cheapness by which they run this establishment. Or maybe they just don't care. Frankly, I am now officially embarrassed to bring anyone to eat here, no matter how hungry we might be. And I won't return.

T-Bone is not handicapped accessible... lucky them.



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