Brunch Report - BONFIRE GRILL

>> Sunday, January 24, 2010

Brunch Report
72-27 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 268-0707

Unlike dinner, I don't mind eating brunch by myself. It gives me a chance to go through my stack of GQs and work on the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. It does force me, unfortunately, to eavesdrop. Sure, we're all voyeurs. But can't we peek in on lives a bit more interesting? Luckily Megan Fox kept me company.

I arrived at Bonfire this past Sunday for what was my second solo brunch here and was seated at the exact same table as I sat the first time. Bonfire at brunch is loud and lively. Music plays and people enjoy themselves (even the boring ones). The first time I was here, I ordered the Salmon Benedict, an eggs Benedict with salmon instead of bacon, served with sauteed potatoes and onions. Not bad. Not at the same level as the eggs Benedict with filet mignon I got at Q, but pretty good. I ordered a coffee and the meal came with a complimentary screwdriver, which I needed to calm my stomach after nearly drowning myself in Ri 1 at a Brooklyn whiskey bar the night before. On visit two, I ordered the Uptown Pancakes with Chocolate Chips, three or four wide pancakes, dusted with sugar and served with berries. I also asked for a (complimentary) grapefruit juice and a coffee. These, while not bad, were somewhat disappointing. They were chewier than they were fluffy. It would be an exaggeration to describe it as somewhat like cutting into a rubbery yoga mat, but you get the idea. Next time, I'm sticking with Bonfire's Benedict options.

Both of my visits cost the same, with tax and tip: $19.


eateryROW: flickr

>> Thursday, January 21, 2010

Unless I have no choice, I always use my own photos here on eateryROW. So I've literally taken thousands of photos over the years just thanks to eating out. I use very few of them. Just ask Mr. Dogz, who constantly picks at me for me for being too picky with the pics. But recently, in a fit of bored pretension, I decided that I'd put the ones I like the best in their very own flickr gallery. Some of the photos have never made it into the blog, though most have. Some of the restaurants have yet to be reviewed; some of them no longer even exist.

They were fun to take, so I hope you like 'em. And if you don't, feel free to curse me out.

Though if you do like 'em, friend me or something on flickr and Facebook and Twitter. The more the merrier.



>> Sunday, January 17, 2010

73-11 Yellowstone Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 544-2400

Forest Hills may not have a beer garden the likes of which Astoria does, but with the arrival of Manor Oktoberfest, we're slightly closer. Manor Oktoberfest easily has the most unique beer selection in the neighborhood and, with the available sizes ranging from your everyday bottle to a 2-liter "boot", you can get happily sauced.

Manor Oktoberfest originally began as a small bar/cafe at the Atlas Park shopping complex. I asked the manager there if they were planning to close that one now that the larger Yellowstone site has opened. He told me that the small space will remain despite the expansion.

Despite Manor Oktoberfest trying to make its mark as a beer hall, and despite being one of the few bars in the neighborhood without a giant Bud Light logo glowing in the window, you should read this more as a review of the restaurant than of the bar. I'll merely mention that, from my point of view, I'd prefer going here to hang out and have a beer than almost anywhere else in the neighborhood.

Bro and I showed up at 10pm on a hungry Friday night. It was admittedly late for dinner, but the kitchen doesn't close until 11, thank goodness. Manor Oktoberfest is not small. The bar area, which has its own little loungey section by the windows, was fairly crowded, but the dining area, with its exposed brick walls and countless beer steins on display, was relatively quiet. In keeping with its attempt to be a beer hall, the booths are huge. Bro and I were led to one that could easily seat 8 people. Manor Oktoberfest, unlike almost any other bar (or even restaurant) in recent memory, is inordinately bright. It's not as bright as a fast food restaurant, but it's brighter than my apartment. Anyway, I ordered a liter of an unpronounceable (to me) dark ale and we proceeded to figure out our dinner.

We began with a hearty helping of carbohydrates. Bro ordered Pierogies. For those of you who don't know what they are, first, for shame. Go order some. They're a fried dough stuffed with mashed potatoes and served with sour cream (I like mine with both sour cream and apple sauce). These were smaller than the ones I'm used to having, but they were very good nonetheless. My appetizer was Potato Pancakes, served with apple sauce. Watch the roof of your mouth. These things, while tasty (of course), will scald you.

They make no pretense about this being a fancy place, as the pics of the food can attest. There is no art here, just German comfort food. Bro ordered the Jaegerschnitzel, a breaded pork cutlet that's been pounded as flat as a pancake, fried, and then served under a mushroom sauce over fried potatoes. I liked this a lot, and so did he. But it's heavy and half of it was taken home to be eaten the next day. My choice was the Sauerbraten, thin strips of beef, covered in gravy and served on a bed of spaetzle with a small side of pickled cabbage. Not a bad dish per se, but I preferred Bro's dinner over mine. It was also unfinishable.

Bro and I had been to Manor Oktoberfest one weekend recently for lunch and grabbed some sausages. Bro tried the Kielbasa, serve on a bun with sauerkraut and potato salad. I tried the Oktoberfest Bratwurst, also on a jumbo hot dog bun and with a small side of potato salad. Both were great, though I preferred the Bratwurst. Similar in shape to a giant hot dog but with a smooth spiciness that hotdogs don't have. Hot dogs are boring by comparison.

Entrees ran us somewhere in the upper teens, but there's also a large sandwich, hamburger and salad menu to choose from that's slightly less pricey. Appetizers are between $6 and $10. We stumbled out of Manor Oktoberfest so full that dessert didn't even cross our minds.

Manor Oktoberfest is closed Mondays.



>> Thursday, January 7, 2010

70-11 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 575-0560

Forest Hills has a new ethnicity of cuisine for the first time in a long time. Italian, Japanese and Thai restaurants seem to breed like mice. Every time we turn around, there's another one. Suddenly along comes Green Sky, a small Korean restaurant in the subterranean level of the black, evil-looking sovietesque office/retail plaza on Austin Street.

Green Sky operates heavily, if not almost exclusively, on takeout. This is rammed home by the fact that even as an eat-in customer, I was served in takeout containers, just without the lid. Each time I've been there, I've been the only diner. But there isn't that much seating anyway. Save for a few tables at the front and one large one in the back, most of the chairs are face-the-wall bar-style. Thus, unlike most restaurants, and certainly unlike most restaurants in this particular neighborhood, Green Sky is a good place to dine alone.

Green Sky's menu is matched in size to its physical space. They don't play around trying to fill a hundred tastes and instead focus on about ten dishes. So the four dishes I tried cover a huge chunk of the menu. From the top photo to the bottom, I've tried the following: The Bibimbap, a rice dish with beef, bamboo shoots, carrots, egg, lettuce, cucumber and a hoisin-style sauce that you can add for a little tang. It's more sweet than hot and I'd recommend it. It came with a thin but good miso soup. If you like your dishes with the contrasts of hots and colds, then you will like the bibimbap. Next, I tried the Bulgogi Burrito, a Korean homage to Tex-Mex. Beef with Asian veggies and cheese, wrapped in a burrito shell. I was impressed. It might have been the best dish of the ones I tried.

In contrast, the Mandu Dumplings were the worst. The ground chicken inside them was grainy and powdery-dry, the vegetables weren't too plentiful, and the shell was too fragile to pick up without shredding. I squeezed plain-old soy sauce from a disposable packet over them, but it didn't help and I tossed them before I finished. Finally, the Bulgogi Deopbap, a beef and vegetable stir-fry with a side of rice and a miso soup. The beef was sweet and quite good with the very sticky rice, but there could have been a bit more sauce. By the end, it was getting dry. Still, it was filling and worth all of its seven or eight bucks.

The prices range from about $5 to $12. Sodas cost $1.25. Green Sky offers free ($0) coffee and free green tea to its customers, which is a nice perk. They also have a computer available so you can browse the web or check your email. I know that this kind of thing is popular in Europe and Asia, but here and in the age of smartphones, it just seems gimmicky. There are, unfortunately, no Korean desserts, and no one should confuse Green Sky with a full-on, regular Korean restaurant. But if you want a cheap, decent meal or perhaps haven't ever had Korean food before, Green Sky should definitely be on your list of places to hit up.



>> Friday, January 1, 2010

104-20 Metropolitan Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 544-NICK

For quite some time, I'd been hoping that a new restaurant would venture forth into the neighborhood which would impress me enough to want to leave and start bragging. Nick's Bistro is pretty new and it's in the neighborhood, but I don't think the brags are gonna commence any time soon. The truth is, it's a downright disappointment.

In case you fail to notice the signage as you wander by (or as you sit in a traffic jam), Nick's is the Greek restaurant on Metropolitan Avenue with the multicolor lamps fading from white to green to purple to yellow, shooting up the facade of the building. Seemingly a fun and trendy place, Bro and I were determined to check out the fare here and so, just after the plows managed to clear enough snow to permit egress from our toasty warm apartments, we slogged south and ambled in, pleasantly surprised at how many people were already there. Other diners is a welcome sign, but lest I not remember my lesson from the Portofino fiasco, I kept an open mind. Nick's is well-lit, but not oppressively so. There's an overall feeling that, if they played their cards right, the restaurant could be a great go-to place for just about any occasion (dates, hanging with friends, etc.).

But, and I'm not trying to be mean here, they did a lot wrong.

First, our waitress, while otherwise nice, spent more time flirting with the people at the bar than almost anything else. Trying to get her attention to pay the check, I was literally waving my arms at her for a few minutes. And she was facing me. The HDTV playing ESPN or whatever over the bar is fine for a TGIFriday's, but it sucks class out of the room like a vacuum. Danny Brown isn't losing any sleep. Of course, TV or no TV, it wasn't the ritziest move of all time to send a guy around with a broom to sweep the floors and under the tables while everyone was eating. Sure, I know Nick's isn't trying to be Le Cirque, and it's better than him wandering around with a mop and one of those wheeled buckets, but having someone do the cleanup up while you're eating makes you feel like they want to close ASAP and can't wait to kick you out.

The menu is burger, bar snacks, and salad heavy. But there are real Greek appetizers and entrees. In fact, I liked that the menu was relatively small. Large menus are always a bad sign. When a restaurant has to cover fifty dishes, it's a good bet that none of them will be very good. But then Nick's fooled me by having almost as many specials as they did regular items on the menu. It was flabbergasting. So, true to form, the volume of dishes translated into relative mediocrity across the board.

Bro and I started with the Grilled Octopus and the Greek Vegetable Chips appetizers. The grilled octopus was extremely tender with no rubberiness whatsoever. I was impressed with the texture, but the aftertaste was decidedly too fishy. The vegetable chips were essentially batter-fried zucchini with a tzatziki sauce to dip them in. They tasted fine, but there isn't much else to say about them beyond their being a more healthy version of french fries.

For dinner, Bro ordered the Lobster Ravioli, not the most Greek thing on the menu, but I wasn't about to argue with him. Especially since I ordered the Grilled Swordfish. The ravioli was okay. Nothing special, really. He found them somewhat bland, but didn't complain about them beyond that. I tried it and also found it lacking, but it wasn't bad. My dinner was somewhat less awe-inspiring. Look at the picture below. Does that look like $24? For that kind of money, I'd like something more impressive than a virtually flavorless slab of fish with some asparagus and a lemon wedge. I chose the asparagus over a potato or rice and viewed this as another bad sign. If the restaurant offers you a choice of sides, it's because the chef doesn't know which one should go with it. This is a typical chain restaurant move, but I don't usually spend $24 on an entree at a chain restaurant. I expected more.

By this point, Bro was pretty much done spending his money, but I'm a sucker. I wanted to try the desserts. There's no menu, just a verbal list. I ordered the Baklava. And I was pleasantly surprised! So was Bro. Dessert was easily the best part of the meal.

Two appetizers, two entrees, one beer, one soda, one dessert, one coffee, one tea, tax and tip totaled $88.



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