>> Friday, April 24, 2009

Wafa's has moved to 105-03 Metropolitan Avenue.
96-08 72nd Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 263-2757

I was out with a friend for dinner on Metropolitan Avenue, looking for one of those rare parking spots when I first saw Wafa's, tucked around the corner from the main drag. Whatever my friend was saying at the time disintegrated into a blur as my mind went into "hmmm, something new and different" mode.

Metropolitan Avenue is a shopping desert. There are few things worth buying there and fewer places to buy them in... unless you count nail salons as shopping. Yet despite this, and despite the fact that it's a generally depressing place to be, the number of restaurants there keep growing. Let us all pray that this trend continues. Wafa's is the latest addition, created for those of us who get shawerma cravings on Friday nights and require finding a non-kosher, homier alternative to Pahal Zan. Or maybe you just want to be able sit down with your pita bread.

Wafa's is teeny, with just two tables and three seats by the window. Painted like it looks at the sea from atop a Mediterranean cliff, there's at least the illusion of escaping the grind of your day. Add to it that the woman who runs Wafa's (perhaps Wafa herself?) is a kind and pleasant patron, always offering you (or me anyway) free samples of her fare and you can't help but like the place. In fact, each time I've been there, happy people were always coming in and out.

Pita sandwiches are not a photogenic food and, wrapped in foil like the head of a lunatic panhandler, they won't be anytime soon. This is not to say that they don't taste great. This is just one of those rare times when you really can't judge a book by it's cover. During my visits to Wafa's, I've tried a handful of items on the menu. The Grape Leaves were excellent. I've never met anyone who hasn't liked a good grape leaf, and these won't disappoint. Just slightly sour, as they should be, with that sweet carb-rich aftertaste. Wafa's Hummus, served with pita bread, was good, but didn't have quite the oomph that Pahal Zan's does. It was however, probably the smoothest hummus of all time.

Wafa's Falafel Sandwich, stacked to the brim with onion and lettuce and tomato, was very very good. I asked for it to be made authentically spicy, instead of watered down for a more timid tongue and sure enough, it was good 'n' hot. My only real complaint was that the falafel got somewhat lost amid the pita and fixings. When you got a chunk of it, you noticed, but if you didn't, then you were eating a salad. I also had both shawermas. The Spiced Chicken Shwarema and the Lamb Shwarema with lettuce, tomato, tahini sauce, pickle, onion, and . Again, I didn't want her to hold back on the hot sauce, so I had a nice little runny nose by the time I got halfway through them. Good stuff. The lamb was the better of the two, but that's not to say that you'd go wrong with the chicken.

The Baklava was better than many I've had in the past, but won't win the award for best. Tender and neither too flaky nor too chewy, but somewhat on the dry side. I'd get it again, but I'd like more honey.

Wafa's is cash only and is closed on Tuesdays. Appetizers run $2-$5, sandwiches run $5-$8. There are occasionally specials.



>> Saturday, April 11, 2009

68-60 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 997-1601

Next to the police station on Austin Street is an alleyway. Down this alley is tiny Tokyo Teriyaki. And when I say tiny, I mean tiny. This is a mom and pop shop if ever one existed. Literally. Mom makes the hot food and pop makes the sushi rolls. The two tables are used less for eating than for waiting. I wouldn't sit inside if you can help it, but in nice weather I'm pretty sure that there are tables outside.

Though they're open during dinner hours, this is mostly a lunch place similar in scope to the Teriyaki Boy mini-chain. Chicken, Beef, Tofu and Salmon Teriyaki, rolls, soups, sodas.

I decided to try a handful of things here in one quick go and take leftovers home (and there were leftovers, believe me). First, an Eel Cucumber Roll. I like eel. I like cucumber. I was not terribly impressed with this, however. It wasn't bad, but if I didn't watch it being made, I'd assume that it was the pre-made stuff from the supermarket. Then, the Hot Dog Roll. Very unique. This is pretty much a hot dog wrapped in rice instead of a bun. This was perhaps too different for me to praise very much. But if I may offer some advice: eat it with mustard and ketchup.

The Chicken Teriyaki was the middle dish. It's big and cheap. And it tastes just fine. But it's too simple. The salad is just lettuce with ginger dressing, the rice is rice, the vegetables few and the teriyaki sauce doesn't have that thick, syrupy glaze I like. Instead it just kinda soaked in. So while it was certainly worth six dollars, next time I'll try the beef.

Finally, the best dish of the day, the Chicken Karaage Udon Soup. A large, piping hot bowl with thick noodles and fried chicken can hardly ever be considered a poor choice, flavor-wise, and this was no exception. And like I said, leftovers. There's no way a normal stomach can fit this much in.

As you can see from the inside photo, the menu on the board over the counter is pretty extensive and I barely scratched the surface. Reading some reviews online suggest that I should have ordered their more exotic stuff, rather than that which did, which were admittedly pretty generic.

Tokyo Teriyaki is cash only and they don't deliver. The dishes range in price between $6 and $9. The rolls average $4. Soda's a buck.



>> Wednesday, April 1, 2009

96-01 69th Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 520-8749

Probably Forest Hills' best kept secret (at least for pizza) is Lillian. All tucked away on 69th between the Gardens and Yellowstone, its resides just a few steps away from Forest Hills' other best kept secret (at least for vino), the Wine Room. Lillian is a somewhat small, traditional pizza place, with it's 1980s chairs and long-faded press clippings, catering primarily to Arbor Close, the west Gardens, and the school kids from across the street. Oh, and apparently to Ray Romano.

It's great pizza. I mean, really great pizza. See, I'm usually content with whatever red sauce slice is nearby when I'm hungry, but there are times when I just want a Lillian Slice. The sauce is sweet, the cheese is perfect, and oil the temperature of molten lava doesn't pour down the back of my hand when I do that quintessential New York pizza thing, the fold-and-walk. You can't really describe great pizza to a New Yorker. We've had too much of it and the pies out there are so very similar that words are just meaningless vibrations. We need to experience that little pause, that simple raised eyebrow after you bite in where, for a split second, you realize that this is just better than the other guys.

Besides pizza, Lillian has other menu options. Garlic knots, broccoli pinwheels coated in huge chunks of garlic, eggplant rolls, and chicken rolls. Most recently, I stopped in and grabbed a Chicken Roll and a Broccoli Pinwheel. Both were excellent. A little crust, but not too much, soft cheese, sauce on the inside, the chicken not drowned out by the dough. I also tried the Lasagna, which was decent. I wasn't expecting much, and was pleasantly surprised. Way too much sauce though. It was practically swimming in it.

Lillian has its downsides, and I'm not about the avoid pointing them out just because I love their end product. First, convenience. It's not near anything. As with the Wine Room, you make the active choice to go there because it's just that good. Second, if Lillian's physical space is small, then their selection is smaller still. While Ariana and Mike's might have a dozen or so varieties of pie, Lillian has maybe three, varying by the day. Plain cheese, random 1, and random 2. On my most recent trip, random 1 was broccoli and random 2 was tomato and garlic. Large cuts of tomato, big huge chunks of garlic. But that was it. Very limited options.

The employees, I'm willing to put money on, are the same ones from when Lillian opened in 1971, from the three guys who work the front and cook the pizza (They might want to hire and apprentice soon), to the temperamental woman who runs the place. Although there's one guy who basically grunts when you order a pie like he's doing you a favor, she's the one to worry about. One minute, sweet as pie. The next... let's say that at least twice, she's barked at me for sitting at a table that she had just cleaned.

Still, is it fair to say that little Lillian, known by almost no one, is one of the best pizza places in New York City? Yes. It's very fair to say such a thing.




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