SAHARA HALAL

>> Friday, October 30, 2009

SAHARA HALAL
Continental Avenue East
Forest Hills, NY 11375
Phone? This is a cart.


When the Halal cart appeared on Continental a couple years back, there was a mixed bag of emotions. Occupying the pro-cart side were those who felt that the availability of a five dollar lunch was a.) about time and b.) simply FH taking its place as a part of the city, a sign that we weren't some forgotten quasi-suburb. On the anti-cart side were those who felt that it cheapened the neighborhood. I remember people pressuring (or talking about pressuring) the city counsel to get rid of the carts, the Nuts4Nuts guys, the fruit stands. This wasn't midtown Manhattan, some argued. The sidewalks are too narrow, came others. I don't like smelling the food when I walk by, was another complaint.



I stood then, as I stand now, squarely on the "pro-carts" side of the debate. The sidewalk argument just isn't accurate, as it's plenty wide (see photo); the we're-not-midtown argument is irrelevant, neither is Roosevelt Avenue and one of the cart guys there wins awards for his food; the smell argument is just plain grasping at straws. I like warm peanuts and can't complain about getting produce for less with no line. As for the cart, given the economy, I'll never complain about lunch or dinner for $5 ($6 with a Diet Coke).



So how is the food? First, this is cart food. I won't lie and say it looks appetizing. It's like getting fast food takeout only way faster and looks like slop. But if you're looking for gourmet from a cart, you really need to get out more (or try Bistro Truck). The cart offers gyros and platters of chicken or lamb with rice and a "salad" of lettuce and tomato. They stopped selling falafel and french fries. I'm not sure why, but my guess is a broken fryer. Most recently, I went for the lamb platter. Lamb with rice and the salad I mentioned. Hot sauce and white sauce, please, and don't skimp on the hot. The lamb was far less greasy than some of the carts that I've tried in Manhattan (and I've tried a lot of them) and came with onion, which is an important addition from my culinary point of view. It alters the flavor profile dramatically and in a good way.

Long story short. For a quick, cheap bite at any time of the day or night, our local version of the Halal cart does its job pretty damn well.


...actually, this should read "the only 1 in Town"... don'tcha' think?

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BANGKOK CUISINE

>> Tuesday, October 27, 2009

107-18 70th Road
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 261-4005


Bangkok Cuisine, a laid-back and hip-esque restaurant with a decidedly un-hip name, occupies the far end of Forest Hills' restaurant lane on 70th Road, right next to the new, trendy-to-a-fault MoCA. There are so many Thai restaurants in the neighborhood that they seem to blend into each other to the point that it's hard to pick one real winner, and such is the case here. Bangkok Cuisine is just as good as the others, maybe slightly better. So because the food of Thai restaurant X is pretty much on par with Thai restaurant Y, I usually decide where to go based on what kind of mood I'm in at the time.



Bangkok Cuisine has a modern interior, like a wannabe Spice but without the budget, so I tend to go there with newcomers to the area. I like the vibe and so do they. Plus, the chef, who sometimes delivers the food to your table, is dressed like he used to be a member of the Hell's Angels, chain and all, which is just plain awesome.



Let's talk about Bangkok Cuisine's cons and then work our way into the food. Bangkok Cuisine is more expensive than most of its competition, and sodas are in those cutesy mini-Coke bottles, so you don't get much and can't get a free refill. The name is laughable. No one calls their restaurant "French Restaurant". If they named it "Thai Food Here" it would at least have attitude. The dragon logo is awful. Awful, awful, awful. The modern theme of the physical space should be carried out across the whole of the business, not forgotten when the time came to printing business cards and menus and napkins (which even has a typo!). And turn off the bubblegum pop music. It's hideous and distracting. Play technopop or something other than the Pussycat Dolls and the entire Michael Jackson library.

But at the end of the day, most of the food is in fact good. And I'll be honest, I eat here more than any of the other Thai restaurants put together.



As I've said, I've been to Bangkok Cuisine numerous times, and most of the time, I don't bother bringing a camera or notepad. Thank goodness for paper napkins. The Golden Curry Puffs, a potato, chicken, curry pastry served with a sweet cucumber dipping sauce is flat-out incredible. They might be the best I've ever had. Certainly, they're the best I've had in the past few months. Likewise was the Rom Yum Koong, a hot and sour soup with lemongrass, galaga, lime leaves, and mushroom. Delicious, especially if you like it when your soup clears your sinuses. The Thai Spring Rolls, a deep fried cabbage cigar, served with a plum sauce was a very good, standard dish. Crisp, but not burned or greasy.

Bangkok Cuisine's entrees, while good, are a bit more spotty than their appetizers. On the one hand there is the Beef Pad Se Ew, a stir fry of flat noodles with egg, vegetables and beef. The egg was overly pungent, the beef too chewy, and the dish overall too oily. The Beef with Cashews were okay, but not great. It was also a stir fry of pineapple, carrots, peppers, zucchini, onion, but they skimped on the cashews in favor of loading the dish up with veggies. I suppose that this is healthier, but the cashews lend the dish a ton of flavor and, given that they're in the name of the entree, you'd figure there'd be more of them.



On the other hand, the Pad Ke Maow, Bangkok Cuisine's drunken noodle dish of stir fried onion, pepper, basil and roast Peking duck, is possibly the best drunken noodle I've ever had. It's hard for me to order other things when I'm here. The Masaman Beef Curry is also excellent. Chic peas, sweet onion, zucchini, peppers, potato. It is a little bit liquidy, so don't pass on dumping that rice in to sponge up the sauce.



Appetizers average $8, entrees average $15, lunch averages $10.

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it's wine bar time people...

>> Saturday, October 17, 2009

it's wine bar time, people....

It's fall, and fall is wine season. This begs the question: Why don't we have any wine bars in Forest Hills?

Let me repeat that, because it may have been confusing. WHY DON'T WE HAVE ANY WINE BARS IN FOREST HILLS?



Feel free to fill the comments section with your speculations and postulations. But don't be confused. While technically Q and Danny Brown (and the nearby Uvarara) call themselves "wine bars", they are, in reality, restaurants with good wine lists. Don't get me wrong, a good wine list is a damn sure step in the right direction, but it's not the same thing. A wine bar survives by selling you wine. Having a kitchen is a perk. A restaurant survives by having a menu. Having a part of that menu devoted to wine is its perk.



So why would Forest Hills lack a wine bar? Park Slope has them, Williamsburg has them, Astoria has them. What do they have that we don't? And so I wake in the morning and I step outside and I take a deep breath and I get real high and I scream from the top of my lungs, "What's going on?!?"

The Wine Bars Ain't Cheap Argument: Good wine bars will sell good wine (cough, not Yellow Tail, cough, not Berenger, cough) and good wine typically gets sold for $30 and up per bottle. Maybe wine bars are just too expensive for our poor 'hood? Wait a sec. I saw a Bentley, a Ferrari and a Maserati all on the same day here last week, and those things ain't free. Plus, with the Gardens mansions, the Windsor luxocondos, and the disgusting, gargantuan "homes" north of QB that are so horrendously ugly that I can't decide whether to laugh at them or cry at their existence (seriously, those things are basically architectural litter. Someone should do something about them.), this argument doesn't seem to hold water.

The Wine Bars Are Too Young And Trendy Argument: Wine bars are, apparently, for cool people. Specifically young cool people. Forest Hills, while inching younger, is no Williamsburg or Astoria. There just isn't a customer base. The old would rather eat bad Italian food and the middle aged don't want to hang around with the 20/30-somethings that would make up the bulk of the soon-to-be-tipsy. This makes some sense, but we have two (2!) hookah lounges here. I sure didn't see that coming, but there they are. Someone has to be supporting them and what better atmosphere is there than having a bottle of Cabernet followed up with a little apple smoke?



The Wine Bars Are Kinda Gay Argument: There are, naturally, those who associate wine bars with being gay (apparently gay people like wine more than straight people... and this whole time I would have gone with cosmos ). "Shit, a wine bar? How girly is that? Give me a dive bar with cheerleader posters, an MGD neon sign and a condom machine in the bathroom." While dive bars have their place (rarely) and while I'm the last guy to badmouth a hot cheerleader, I'm way too secure in being straight to concern myself with whether or not some guy who thinks $3 silver bullets are a great way to spend a Friday night thinks I'm gay. Aside from that fact that I happen to think that silver bullets are pretty girly, the "What am I, a homo?" argument is probably coming from the mouth a someone who fantasizes about getting a happy ending from a tranny hooker in Queensbridge. So let's all join hands and disregard this phobic crap. Kumbaya.

The Forest Hills Loves Beer Instead Argument: Maybe Forest Hillians are beer people. Maybe we love pints over pinots, kegs over legs, stouts over syrahs. But wait. Queens used to be famous for beer gardens. But do we have a single one? Shit, there isn't even one bar with an impressive micro-brews or craft-brew menu (and I don't count Bud Light Lime). What we have are a half dozen bars with the same ten mega-breweries on tap and maybe a special here or there. I've been to bars with fifty or sixty beers available, none of which you've ever heard of but where the bartenders can explain the nuances of each one. Belgian, French, German, Czech, British. Upstate NY, Michigan, Washington, Oregon. Chocolate, Cherry, Honey, Blueberry. We seem to have a dearth of places that will serve us what we could get at the supermarket, and that ain't love in my book.

So... why?



Okay, reasons why aside, where would it go? Sure, there are about half a dozen empty storefronts of varying sizes along Austin Street, and they're fine, but if you're gonna rant like me, you should try to think outside of the box. So here are three locations that I think would work:

One: Station Square. It's got the perfect atmosphere for what a wine bar should be. The cobblestone, the trees, the proximity to the subway, the proximity to shopping., the proximity to my apartment. If only the Christian Science Reading Room would move... I mean, I've never seen anyone actually inside. A prime location that's one step away from being abandoned is enough to make me tear up.

Two: Burns Street. There used to be a convenience store called Bobby O's Stadium Market, run by a chronic-talker and who scared away most of his customers. He'd lurk outside the store and stop people as they walked by. God help you if you had a dog or a stroller. Babies and dogs were like catnip to this guy. If you ever went inside, he wouldn't let you leave. I know. I tried to buy milk once. It took twenty-five minutes and I was the only guy in the store. But anyway, Burns is a quiet street with trees and limited traffic. It's convenient to Austin Street, but being on the other side of the country club, it's somewhat invisible. It would be a perfect spot for a local, hidden gem wine bar. And since wine bars are quiet places, more about talking and jazz than about hooking up and dancing, I don't predict problems with the locals. Plus, it's just a few blocks from The Wine Room of Forest Hills, so delivery would be a snap. Note. This would also be a great coffee shop location...

Three: A renovated Metro Cafe: Metro Cafe, on Metropolitan Avenue, recently changed ownership so I won't review them for a little while. They could turn themselves into a wine bar with minimal effort. Already there are the exposed brick walls, the cushioned chairs, the small tables, the candles, the cutesy wall sconces, the bar. They have a large outdoor seating area that reminds me of the places I've been to in Cobble Hill. Finally, they have a menu that, having eaten there recently, can be easily thrown away. I mean, it's all diner food and bulk wine. If they can talk to a wine store about getting real wine, revamp the menu (ahem, no fried food), throw away the big-screen TV sitting in the corner (wine bars don't host Superbowl parties), and hire a real chef (not a cook) to come up with some small plates dishes, they could be very impressive. But I won't kid myself, this isn't likely to happen. Metro has a ton of loyal folks who go there and hang out for hours smoking and drinking and eating chicken fingers. They spend money there and I'll bet won't like to see their clubhouse shift gears. Let's be honest, I don't blame them. This is a risk, for sure. Will the owner want to take a risk when he's already making money with the status quo?



In the meantime, we will all just have to wait until someone comes along to start something that, if done right, would have, quite literally, no competition whatsoever. But I think it would be successful. Look at Martha's Country Bakery. They have no meaningful competition and are packed late even in the middle of the week.

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DIRTY PIERRE'S

>> Thursday, October 8, 2009

UPDATE: Sadly, Dirty Pierre's no longer does the AYCE mussel Tuesdays.
DIRTY PIERRE'S
15 Continental Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 830-9698


Dirty Pierre's has... changed. It's a lot less dirty these days.

I used to be unable to qualify it. What was it? Was it a dive bar or a bistro? Was it cute and quaint, or a pit?



It used to be that, sitting on the cobblestones of Station Square, amongst the trees, and often with a Porsche or Corvette or Ferrari parked out front, it was the perfect place for the upscale Gardens residents and their accessory-dogs to go sit outside for all-you-can-eat mussels and a glass of white. But if they went inside, they might melt. The bar was one of the dankest and darkest available in the zip code with tables so sticky that they might have held your plate steady in an earthquake. And that stickiness might have been the only thing holding them together, as each one looked to be in worse condition than the one next to it. It was a dive bar that made other dive bars feel clean.

But now it's clean. And there are tablecloths (or at least that white paper that pretends to be a tablecloth) and there are even little tea lamps. God help me, it's gone from dive to faux-dive. Luckily, there's still no beer available on tap and you can still be served horrible, paper thin Bud Light by an aging biker in a leather vest and a beard that would make ZZ Top proud.

Dirty Pierre's is locals heavy, so folks with thick Queens accents and smoking cigarettes while cursing like sailors during discussions about sports and construction equipment are common. At the same time, Dirty Pierre's is also locals heavy, so little old ladies and thirty-somethings with strollers talking about where in the Hamptons this year's timeshare will be are common as well.



What Dirty Pierre's is famous for, around here anyway, is their hamburger, and with good reason. It's a burger would give JG Melon a run for his money and punch him in the face if he tried to skip on the bill. When Seth needed a place to crash while he was in town for a day, and said he wanted to grab a burger, the DP Bistro Burger was the first thing on my mind. A burger, a beer, and some BSing. What more could you want at dinner? He ordered his with cheddar, I got mine with bacon and pepper jack. It comes with fries. Served on an oversized English muffin and topped with arugula instead of lettuce, weighing about a six pounds and with almost no grease, it's the one of the only hamburgers I actually have found myself missing when I go too long without one. Still with the cheese and the bacon as extra toppings, will wind up running you about $15. Dirty Pierre's is clearly not some cheap dive bar that wealthy people go to to slum it up. It's an expensive dive bar that wealthy people go to slum it up.



Prior to this meal, I'd tried their French Steak Sandwich (medium rare, thank you), which was so heavy that I could barely breath by the time I got halfway through it. It could have been better, but the bun was very thick and over-toasted, so the roof of my mouth got good and sliced up. Dirty Pierre's has all-you-can-eat Mussels (which they're also quasi-famous for) every Tuesday (no sharing) and if this was a Tuesday, I'd have ordered more than just one round. But it wasn't so I didn't. As the only location in the entire neighborhood that serves mussels so far as I know, I'm glad they're so good. If you can only have one option, at least let that option be the one you'd have chosen anyway. The Thai Wings I've had, while good, were overcooked. They should have been great. I could tell they would have been had they been taken out earlier. But they were in for too long and showed up on the table dried out.



So what's the final deal here? The burgers are great. Period. As are the mussels. Other things on the menu are more hit or miss. If it makes anyone feel any better, plan to return and check out some more items for an update later.

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TAKEOUT SMACKDOWN!!! - CHINESE

>> Thursday, October 1, 2009

TAKEOUT SMACKDOWN!!! - CHINESE
Feng's Garden
Great Wall
Hang Shing Kitchen
King Wok
Oriental Palace
Panda
Red House Kitchen
Wing Wah


Forest Hills doesn't get SeamlessWeb, and Takeout Connection is a limited resource. Luckily (maybe?) what we do have are takeout menus a-plenty.

Nary a day has passed where the Golden Orb of Ra has descended beneath the horizon without my return home to be greeted, like an enthusiastic puppy, by a new menu; hardly a week has evolved from caffeinated weekstart to sauced weekend without finding my lobby carpeted by free delivery (minimum $15) options. So many menus. Who's to know which ones to trust over the others? Who's good, who's bad? Who's slow, who's fast? These are the necessary questions that need answering for game nights, poker nights, Blockbuster nights, hangovers, double-shifts, PMS, Dr. Who marathons, sheer laziness or any other time when you and cooking don't mix.



And thus have I decided to take the closest Chinese takeout places to my abode in a no-holds-barred cage match to the death. Each takeoutery will be graded (A to F, like in school) by the taste of their dishes. Delivery time, cost, and snarkiness on the phone will be noted. None of them are more than a five minute moped ride away. The food will all be generic and popular dishes and I will attempt to order the exact same thing from each restaurant. Nothing fancy, so don't go asking about the pan seared octopus dumplings or the whole red bass fillets grilled Cantonese style.
FENG'S GARDEN
110-54 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 268-5536
Visa/MC


Delivery Time: 54 minutes... don't be hungry when ordering.
Attitude: Sleepy. I'm almost positive that the girl answering the phone passed out from boredom while taking my order.
Cost: $20.05 plus tip.

Wonton Soup: B (6)
Egg Roll: B+ (7)
Sesame Chicken: A (9)
Beef with String Beans: B (6)
Pork Fried Rice: A (9)
Chicken Lo Mein: B+ (7)

Score: 44/60
Overall Thoughts: I've never ordered from Feng's Garden before this experiment and was pleasantly surprised. The soup was too salty and the wontons were too doughy, but I liked the smokeyness of the lo mein and the fried rice was incredible. The beef was... meh.
***

GREAT WALL
104-37 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 275-2255
Visa/MC


Delivery Time: 32 minutes.
Attitude: Snappy. Every second that I was on the phone was a potential other customer who would hear a busy signal.
Cost: $19.55 plus tip.

Wonton Soup: D (1)
Egg Roll: B (6)
Sesame Chicken: A- (8)
Chicken with Snow Peas: B+ (7)... But I ordered beef (-5).
Pork Fried Rice: B (6)
Chicken Lo Mein: B (6)

Score: 29/60
Overall Thoughts: The soup was just awful. I forced it down because I paid for it. They screwed up my order, so they're losing points there. Beyond that, most of the dishes were pretty mediocre. The wonton soup, especially, which tasted like it was in a beef broth. The sesame chicken was good though. The chicken with snow peas was also not bad, I just didn't order it. They take credit cards, which is nice.
***

HANG SHING KITCHEN
104-09 Metropolitan Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 793-1550
cash only


Delivery Time: 19 minutes... for when you need your food before you knew you were hungry for it.
Attitude: Pleasant woman, but she had very bad English.
Cost: $17.80 plus tip.

Wonton Soup: C+ (4)
Egg Roll: C+ (4)
Sesame Chicken: B (6)
Beef with String Beans: B (6)
Pork Fried Rice: B (6)
Chicken Lo Mein: C- (2)

Score: 28/60
Overall Thoughts: Is it HANG Shing, or HING Shing? The signage says one thing, the menu another. They're damn fast, so if you've got your 420 on and need some food to arrive yesterday, this place should be on your short list. Hang/Hing is also among the cheapest of the bunch and have the best special: any $15 order gets you dumplings or General Tso's Chicken or... I got the dumplings, which weren't bad. Too bad I can' t say the same for the rest of the meal. The entire meal tasted like it was burned to a degree, like it was picking up the char from meals past. I swear I tasted fish in the lo mein.
***

KING WOK
108-29 Ascan Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 263-3900
Cash Only


Delivery Time:
40 minutes on a rainy night.
Attitude: Not bad.
Cost: $19.44 plus tip.

Wonton Soup: A- (8)
Egg Roll: B (6) Sesame Chicken: B (6)
Beef with Snow Peas: A- (8)
Pork Fried Rice: B (6)
Chicken Lo Mein: B+ (7)

Score: 41/60
Overall Thoughts: A solid contender. No individual dish stands out as great or awful. Everything was thoroughly pleasant to eat, but nothing wowed me.
***

ORIENTAL PALACE
103-35 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 275-2288
Cash Only


Delivery Time: 25 minutes... very quick
Attitude: Pissy. Seriously, this woman was not in a good mood.
Cost: $16.93 plus tip

Wonton Soup: A (9)
Egg Roll: B- (5)
Sesame Chicken: A (9)
Beef with Snow Peas: B- (5)
Pork Fried Rice: C- (2)
Chicken Lo Mein: B+ (7)

Score: 37/60
Overall Thoughts: Oriental Palace is hit-or-miss. The soup was very good, but the egg roll was a waste of food. The sesame chicken was excellent, but I almost didn't even bother keeping the fried rice that it came with for leftovers. Ordering from these guys will be a crapshoot. Maybe you'll like it, maybe you won't.
***

PANDA
73-03 Yellowstone Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 268-8899/8998
cash only


Delivery Time: 38 minutes.
Attitude: Very nice guy on phone.
Cost: $18.34 plus tip.

Wonton Soup: B (6)
Egg Roll: B+ (7)
Sesame Chicken: B+ (7)
Beef with String Beans: B- (5)
Pork Fried Rice: B- (5)
Chicken Lo Mein: B+ (7)

Score: 37/60
Overall Thoughts: Well, nothing stood out as being great, but at least nothing stood out as being bad either. Bland seemed to be the theme of the meal, from the thin soup to the thin sauce in the beef, to the needs-more-taste fried rice. You won't go wrong ordering from Panda, but you won't be craving it either.
***

RED HOUSE KITCHEN
71-47 Yellowstone Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 261-5601/2497
Visa/MC


Delivery Time: 33 minutes
Attitude: Pleasant and chipper.
Cost: $19.10 plus tip

Wonton Soup: B (6) Broth meh, wontons good
Egg Roll: A (9)
Sesame Chicken: A (9)
Beef with Snow Peas: B- (5)
Pork Fried Rice: A (9)
Chicken Lo Mein: A (9)

Score: 47/60
Overall Thoughts: Red House did just about everything right except the beef, which was nothing to write home about. Had they scored better there, they would have flat-out owned this competition, because there are a lot of As on that list.
***

WING WAH
98-12 Metropolitan Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 261-5154/5319
cash only


Delivery Time: 41 minutes.
Attitude: Deaf. Can you hear me now?!?
Cost: $18.40 plus tip.

Wonton Soup: A (9)
Egg Roll: B (6)
Sesame Chicken: A (9)
Beef with Snow Peas: A (9)
Pork Fried Rice: B (6)
Chicken Lo Mein: B (6)

Score: 45/60
Overall Thoughts: Terrible phone connection, so I'm yelling into the handset, and they wouldn't come into the building, which is a first. I'd never ordered from Wing Wah before and they were a definite surprise. The soup was everything a wonton soup should be, though the egg rolls were a disappointment. The rice was rice, but the sesame chicken was excellent. I spent enough money to get free fried wontons, which I did not grade. Good thing, too.
***

So there it is! Eight of the closest Chinese takeout establishments. Red House Kitchen WINS by a short margin that could have been much larger. Wing Wah took the silver after a vicious and bloody bout with Feng's Garden, who came in a very thin hair behind in third.



See my map for a better idea of each takeout place's location.

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CONTACT ME

eateryrow@gmail.com

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