>> Monday, May 18, 2009

89-05 Metropolitan Avenue
Rego Park, NY 11374
no listed phone

I would normally not write about that which lies beyond the borders of our wee hamlet, but I'm gonna cheat just a tiny bit. Just over Woodhaven Boulevard is Esparks Coffee, a Queens-only (so far) Starbucks competitor. Maybe a more accurate statement is that it's a Queens-only Starbucks clone.

The coffees cost just a little bit less than what you'd get from the green mermaid, the pastries (pound cakes, croissants, muffins, cookies, etc.) are very similar, and there are lots of syrups to flavor up your joe. Esparks also has fancy-schmancy-looking cakes and frozen yogurt. There are tables and plenty of outlets, bar stools by the window, cushy chairs, and some seats outside for nice days.

Where Esparks differs from Starbucks, in any substantive way, is with it's customers. There are almost none. Of course, this means that there are always tables. If you've ever been to the Austin Street Starbucks, you know that it's a mob scene. It's crowded, there are never enough tables, and you often have to share the one you luck out getting with someone else. I won't even talk about the occasional bag lady who comes in and starts a scene. So it's nice to be able to go someplace and actually be able to sit down.

There are some negatives here though. One: location. Though it's just down the block from Trader Joe's, it's inconveniently placed on the wrong side of Woodhaven (and let's not forget that, from a Forest Hills perspective, Trader Joe's is already inconveniently placed... unless you happen to really love Metropolitan traffic). Two, their non-working wi-fi. For many months, it's been down and no one here has any idea when it will be repaired. As a result, anyone who wants to work on anything online will have to do it elsewhere. Third: the lack of many customers means that the employees wander around in the back often and customers who get here stand around wondering if they walked into a closed shop. More than once, I have seen someone come in, peer over the counter, shrug, and then leave.

Oh, yeah. I almost forgot about the coffee. Is it any good? Well, it's a tiny bit thin for my taste and a little dark. Reviews that I've read online are either negative or mediocre, complaining that they over-roast. Personally, I don't think that it's terrible, but there's certainly room for improvement. I've never had the espresso drinks, but the froyo is pretty good and the pastries that I've eaten, while not blowing me away, have been perfectly what I would have expected them to be.

UPDATE 6/1/09:
The WiFi is back!

UPDATE 3/16/10:
What is Esparks obsession with this one Christian rock band? In the last few months, they've played the same album over and over and over. This is a coffee shop, not an Mississippi gas station. One of the things Jesus was most passionate about was jazz music with his coffee, not religious bubblegum pop.



>> Monday, May 4, 2009

They're filming Kitchen Nightmares at PJs Steakhouse this week. I've never been there, but it will be interesting to see what it's like post-op.

(my thanks to Kew Gardens Blog for explaining the fim crew trucks I've been driving past).

Update: 5/7/09:
PJ's Steakhouse is now PJ's Grill. While the restaurant is still named after sleepwear, a trendy brushed-steel logo replaces the staid old-fashioned lettering. Will this overhaul work? I think a lot will be riding on the demographic of the post-show clientele. If it can avoid the temptation of the Val-Pack coupons, can grab young Forest Hillians who want more than the same tired Italian food, and can pull people from afar by building a real inter-borough reputation the way Rose Water did, then yes.



>> Friday, May 1, 2009

108-02 72nd Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 263-5700

Damn. Network has such amazing potential. For starters, it has the hottest staff of all time. How hot? This is me: "Dontlookatthewaitress dontlookatthewaitress dontlookatthewaitress." The upstairs dining room is a mishmash of tables and decorations (lights, candles, ivy, drapery, like a gypsy tent) that works and feels light and fun and unpretentious. There's this aura that like you could be, should be, a regular here. The bar, which is what most of what network is about, is not for the beer connoisseur. No taps, only bottles. You drink here not to find a new micro-brew, but to bullshit with friends.

Downstairs is a could-be-totally-awesome lounge. Toss in some hookahs and some martinis and you've got this perfectly chill lounge. Throw on some bassy jazz and a a few rounds of tequila aphrodisiacs and it's a get-in-the-mood-for-panties-flyin'-luv party zone. But it goes mostly unused, draped in sheets like Ms. Havesham's den.

The thing is, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Network is a totally half-assed effort. Not having a beer tap is one thing, but at least replace it with a sweet cocktail menu or thick wine list. The food is both mediocre and all over the map. And by map, I mean the kind Mercator used to make. The appetizers are both standard bar food (mozzarella sticks) and Mediterranean (Baba Ganoush). Wraps and burgers and pitas and salads are available if you want something small and cheap. But when we get to the main dishes, it becomes Italian pasta (Rigatone Florentina), with a random assortment of American (Cajun Chicken) and Mediterranean entrees (Pasulsj Ne Tave). I call this a Mediterranean restaurant simply out of plurality. Service was slow. It took way too long to unscrew the cap of a beer bottle and our dinners arrived before our utensils did. We got one glass of water. They don't have business cards and when we asked for one, we got a note...

Bro and I ventured here on a Friday night and they were about half full. We were greeted and seated by the aforementioned ultra-hot waitress. Some attractive, young couples peppered the tables along with a bunch of women in their low 30s pounding back wine, having a girls' night out. More than one sketchy loner sat silently staring into space. The bar was entirely middle aged, all laughing loudly and having a ball yakking it up with another hottie behind the bar. Network is definitely a place where anyone, regardless of age, can feel welcome. There are a precious few venues that are all-encompassing and I'm about to make fun of it. The downstairs lounge was a ghost town, save another pretty and pretty lonely bartender.

We ordered a few beers and an entree each. Both were... food. I ordered the Lemon Chicken, a breast of chicken in a lemon and white wine sauce. Not bad. Pretty tender and not too sour, but it was served with generic yellow rice and generic mixed vegetables. It was decent and, at $14, I didn't feel like I was ripped off. Bro ordered the Shish Kebab, chunks of skewered beef with a small salad and side of the same rice. Dry as a bone, he commented that the best part was the rice. I don't think he finished it.

It's like this. I would really like Network to be more than just decent. We have enough of those places here already. I think that Network should be awesome. Focusing on their Mediterranean menu and getting rid of the bar food would be a good start. Putiing together a real cocktail list (preferably one where every drink does not end in "tini") and a real wine list (Kendall-Jackson and Yellow Tail need not apply). This is not to say that I think Network should become pretentious, but God damn, if Park Slope and Carroll Gardens can have great little nook-and-cranny type places where you can get a great drink and a great meal and not blow your week's pay doing so then Forest Hills sure as hell can, too. I want to go here with my friends and have them craving to return. I want to go downstairs and find people there. I want a staff where I don't have to fire off a flare to get their attention. I want the sketchy loner guys to find a friend or two. I want to get here and not want to leave. At the very least, it would be nice to have a fork.

Come on Network. I believe in you.

Entrees (including the pasta) start at $10 and go up to $20. Budweiser is $5 per bottle.

(ha ha. seriously?)



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