>> Wednesday, June 16, 2010

107-02 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375

The other night, I dined at Positano, the large Italian restaurant on Queens Boulevard by the post office, reaffirming my opinion that, so far, Il Poeta is the only Italian restaurant in Forest Hills worth anything. The. Only. One. Admittedly, the neighborhood is awash in Italian, and I still have 75 more to go, give or take. Quite literally, Positano was a laugh riot. Of course, other than laugh, what else is there to do when you’ve just spent good money on food you’d be embarrassed to serve at home?

I won't lie. I had absolutely no expectations that Positano would be a good meal. None. It bore every mark of mediocrity. It's a large Italian restaurant with a tacky Italian flag logo (if that's not like a buzzing neon sign blinking "eat somewhere else" then I don't know what what is.). It’s always mostly empty. It’s been changing ownership like underwear. Quite frankly, this new alleged partnership with the old Piu Bello people does not make me think that much change is in the air (at least they seem to have their own area in the greenhouse out back; the restaurant part remains unchanged). If anything, it seems like just another gimmick. And boy oh boy does Positano love trying out new gimmicks to drum up new business.

A couple of weeks ago, Positano put a postcard flyer under the windshield wiper of my car calling itself the “Positano Bar and Lounge” and featuring bikini girls advertising happy hour, ladies night, complimentary bottles of vodka, half priced drinks, and hookahs. “Ladies 18 to party, 21 to let loose.” Guys, 21 and up only. Shit, if I knew Positano was a club packed with stacked drunk hoochies, I'd have gone there a long time ago.

And how, you’re bound to ask, does the above ad square with the reality of that which Positano actually is? Hmmm...

Bro and I walked in only to find Positano virtually deserted. A musty odor of decrepitude permeating the restaurant that made it smell like a hospital waiting room. We nearly left. Sitting down by the window, I looked through the menu, but it was hard to pay attention. “My God, this muzak is blasting.” “Dude,” Bro replied. “That ain’t muzak” and he raised an eyebrow and cocked his head to the far wall. My eyes roamed past the two other occupied tables. There, in the dark bopped a guy in his late forties with a big microphone and bigger hair crooning karaoke machine versions of old pop songs, complete with a disco ball and fake backup singers. As Elvis's Can't Help Falling In Love transitioned to Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive I couldn’t imagine that this could possibly be attracting more people than it was repelling.

Positano’s appetizer menu is a joke. Mozzarella sticks, fried calamari, Buffalo wings. This is what they serve at bars and pizza places. We skipped them.

What’s so amazing is that they dare to charge as much as they do for their entrees. $17 to $26. Entrees that average $22 demand a certain level of quality that Positano simply doesn't even try to live up to. We decided what to get as we noshed on supermarket squishy Italian bread coated in butter from a gold-foil packet a la some diner. Bro ordered the Pollo Positano, thin cuts of chicken breast with potato, red pepper and mushrooms in a white wine sauce. It came with a side of sad-looking steamed broccoli. Before I say it was "bad", let me say that it wasn’t. But as Bro put it “this won’t win any awards.” If you’ve familiar with Chicken Tonight, the chicken-dinner-in-a-jar popular back when I was in school, then you’ve probably already eaten this meal hundred times from when mom got home late and wasn't interested in making a complicated meal. Bland, wine sauce-esque, cheap, seemingly canned vegetables, somewhat dry chicken. Not only won’t it win any awards, I don’t think the judges will even remember that it was in the contest.

My dinner? The Lamb Chops served with mashed sweet potatoes, mixed greens and a garlic crouton in a ruby port sauce. First, when asked how I wanted my chops cooked, I said medium. I got well-to-the-point-of-no-return. I did not get a “garlic crouton”, something I can only assume to be the equivalent of a piece of toasted garlic bread. The mixed greens were essentially a small side salad soaking in vinegar. The mashed sweet potatoes were straight out of a Gerber baby food jar. I shit you not, I could have eaten them with a straw. They drained through the cracks of my fork. The ruby port sauce was pretty good though.

This was $24 and I didn't even get my garlic crouton... :(

Surprise, surprise, we also skipped dessert. I mean really, what would've been the point?

Here’s the real kicker. This meal: two entrees and three beers, with tax and tip, cost us SEVENTY SEVEN DOLLARS! That's the equivalent of 25 gallons of gas.

If Positano wants to be anything more than a joke we can all laugh about, if it wants to be anything other than just another bad Italian restaurant in a neighborhood drowning in bad Italian, if it wants to have more than three tables occupied at 8pm, then I recommend dropping the bullshit gimmicks. Drop the karaoke singers and the Latin Night, and the ladies night “must be over 18 to party” dance club crap. Drop the Tex Mex brunch (yeah, you read right, an Italian restaurant with a Tex Mex brunch) and drop the tacky signage. Focus on the food. Hire a chef. A real one with a culinary degree. They should design a menu from scratch with five appetizers, ten entrees, three desserts and one special and start making meals that people talk about for days later because they're so good, not because they're so embarrassing.

Alternatively, they could close, which would be fine, too.


R.I.Piu Bello

>> Thursday, June 10, 2010

R.I.Piu Bello

Piu Bello is gone. At least the American one. The Forest Hills one.

I, for one, will miss it. It was a nice go-to place for ice cream and outside lounging in the summer. While the rest of the neighborhood was shuttered like a ghost town at midnight, Piu Bello still had a crowd.


Of course, it had its detractors. The food was admittedly mediocre diner stuff. The service was somewhat lazy. But it was a relaxing place to be and it was the only place in the vicinity that had lots of outdoor seating where you could just hang out for hours without spending money on more than a coffee. Try doing that at any of the 70th restaurant row places. And enjoy your forty minute hike to Metropolitan to sit at Theater Cafe.


Ooh, maybe L'arte de Gelato will open there and carry on the tradition of summer ice creamerying? Nah, who am I kidding? Remind me to get an unlimited MetroCard. I have a feeling that I'll spending a lot of time this summer in Manhattan and Brooklyn again.

Ciao Bello

UPDATE: 6/12/10
According to the Queens Central Forums rumor mill, Piu Bello will be co-running Positano. Positano, the Italian restaurant on Queens Boulevard that sticks bikini-girl flyers under your windshield wiper blades, will apparently not keep the Piu Bello name and there are even questions about whether or not the Piu Bello gelato will even be served there.

I guess we'll see in a few months, but as for now, it would seem that reports of Piu Bello's death are not quite yet greatly exaggerated.



>> Wednesday, June 9, 2010

63-98 Woodhaven Boulevard
Rego Park, NY
(718) 894-5400

Woodhaven House on the boulevard of Woodhaven, is a shmanced out pub that I wish was closer to home. Although the cuisine wasn't inspired or especially unique, it was very good. The old-style exterior, interior and vibe take one to a time when dining was less about art and more about taste. I happen to think that the two do (and should) go hand in hand, but sometimes it nice to just get food and enjoy yourself.

Read the full review HERE.




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