>> Saturday, September 18, 2010

113 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 520-8600

My experiences at Baluchi's in the past have been, in a word, zero. My only knowledge of Baluchi's has been through the experiences of others or the occasional message board commentary. Simply put, this particular NYC mini-chain has scored below average. Friends have called it forgettable and some message board comments have been less diplomatic. As a result, I've tended to avoid the place. This was a silly thing to do.

For the record, do I think that it's amazing Indian food? No. It's Indian food for the mild of palate. Nothing I tried was strong and even the spiciest dish was timid. That said nothing I ate was bad. Also for the record, I'm somewhat shocked that Forest Hills has so many Thai places to eat and only one Indian one. For a neighborhood whose residents seem (at least the ones who write to me) to be clamoring for new and different cuisines, it seems anachronistic for it to lack something as obvious as an Indian restaurant. But I digress.

I arrived with Dudeman and Shrink at about 9pm. It was later than we had wanted to eat, but scheduling was what it was and it was nice to find a place that still had customers in it (though by the time we got the check, they were shutting down). The music when we came in was like a death chant. Not exactly something that encourages lively banter at the table. But, the smells of curry and cumin were pleasant and we were led to a nice corner table (with a good camera angle, heh heh). The biggest downside to dinner here was the waiting. I waited quite a while for the Rents to figure out what to eat, and then once we ordered, we waited a looong time for anything to arrive.

Baluchi's has an impressively large vegetarian menu. Anyone who knows me or reads any of my blogs knows that I'm hardly a vegetarian. Nonetheless, it's good to know that the vegetarians out there have options, especially the eschew dining at Italian restaurants that serve veal (all of them).

My appetizer was the Chicken Malai Kabab, four pieces of charred chicken in a cream cheese and ginger sauce. It was super tender and everyone at the table thought it was great. The cream cheese sauce (is cream cheese an authentic Indian ingredient?) wasn't too thick or overpowering and the char added a little bit of extra flavor. Shrink chose the Aloo Tiki, a potato pancake in a chutney sauce. Ever culture, culinary evidence has shown, has some sort of potato pancake dish. The aloo tiki is the Indian one. It's very thick, like a hockey puck, but tastes basically just like any other potato pancake. Get rid of the chutney and replace it with apple sauce and you're eating Ukranian food. Dudeman rounded the appetizers out with Kachori, a cold lentil dumpling buried in chic peas and a cream sauce. Calling it a dumpling is somewhat disingenuous. The kachori is more like a dense pancake. It was good, albeit not amazing, and should be eaten with a spoon. If all of these appetizers can be summed up with one word, that word would be "mild". Indian without any real spice. Without any real kick. They were all good (especially the chicken), but I've had ramen soup with more muscle.

The entrees came out almost as soon as the table was cleared. Digestion be damned. Dudeman and Shrink went with lamb dishes. Dudeman got the Keema Matar, a ground lamb dish with spices and peas. It was the spiciest meal of the night, and that doesn't say much. Still, it was spicy enough for Shrink to put as her least favorite entree that we ordered. Maybe Baluchi's became successful because their audience prefers their Indian food muted. I liked it a lot, possibly because it had teeth. But it did have flavor, something that Dudeman's appetizer was in dire need of. Shrink ordered the Lamb Pasanda, cubes of lamb in a spiced yogurt sauce. Again, don't confuse spiced with spicy. It wasn't. The lamb was so tender that knives are overkill. Just looking at it could have cut it in half. It was my least favorite entree largely because it was somewhat bitter. My dinner choice was the vegetarian Navrattan Korma and was, in my opinion, and without a doubt, the best of the lot. The variety of vegetables and spices in the sauce made it the most complex of the dinners on the table.

All along, each of these dishes was being eaten off of our respective plates with Kashmiri Pulao, a saffron rice with almonds and raisins and Indian bread. We ordered the Bread Basket, a large basket with what we were told was a variety of bread, but which I think was actually just Naan and Poori. The basket was overkill. We only used a third of it and had to pack up the rest to go.

I thought we could do a dessert, but we were stuffed. Plus they were thirty seconds away from putting the chairs on top of the table.

Baluchi's gets a bad rap I think. It's good food, albeit not necessarily the most authentic. They would be far improved if they added some bite to their dishes. As a side note, I would very much like to see the area get another Indian restaurant or two so that when I crave nose-wateringly real Indian, I don't have to hoof it to the crazy mess of Jackson Heights.

Three appetizers, three entrees, a large bread order, a side of rice, two large beers, tax and tip totaled $130 even.



>> Monday, September 13, 2010

72-07 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 997-0500

Along the busy Austin Street corridor, next to busy 5 Burros, is The Tap House. If you can't find it, it's the place with all the people smoking out in front. Before The Tap House came along, the space was occupied by Modus. Interestingly, before Modus came along, there was Modus. In fact, before that Modus was another Modus. The businesses died, but the name lived on through numerous incarnations. First, Modus was an upscale tea house that served lattes and cakes similar to Edgar's on the Upper West Side. It was the cutest spot in the neighborhood by miles; my girlfriend and I would spend hours there (though that has as much lot to do with its laughably slow service as with anything else). Then it became a half-coffee-shop-half-cocktail-lounge. Then a sushi bar. Or was it the other way around? Anyway, it couldn't seem to get its formula right, so now it's gone. In its place is The Tap House and I have a feeling that, barring either gross mismanagement or arson, they won't be going anywhere any time soon.

See, Tap House fills a hole in the Forest Hills going-out scene that, when you think about it, is shocking that it exists at all. It's... a bar.

Yup, a bar. A plain old bar. A place where normal can drink normal beer and eat normal bar food under the warm glow of a normal Coors Light neon sign. Other than Tap House, there are no other bars within walking distance of the subway. You have to head all the way towards either Rego Park or Kew Gardens, or go all the way to Metropolitan Avenue, which is hardly a short schlep. Sure there's always Dirty Pierre's and Irish Cottage. I like both, but Dirty Pierre's serves all-you-can-eat mussels and doesn't have a single beer on tap. Irish Cottage is closer, but not quite what I'm talking about. It's more of a pub than a bar. It has actual food. The difference is admittedly subtle on paper, but one step inside and you'll understand what I mean. You're probably never gonna hear Boom Boom Pow playing at Irish Cottage.

The Tap House calls itself a sports bar, but really that's because they only play sports on the TVs over the bar and because they want an excuse to have posters with cheerleaders on them. Really, Tap House is just your average gimme-a-Bud-bar. That's it. They serve wings by the ton and their burgers are decent. Other that... uh... their PBR in a can was delectable...? Yeah, this isn't a review about the food.

Tap House before 7pm.

If you miss a somewhat fratty, somewhat local, somewhat cheap-o, standard watering hole populated with a good mix of blue and white collar groups of twenty/thirty somethings packed three deep at the bar yelling conversations at each other over the thundering top-40 music, then this is where you want to be after seven (if you prefer your bars populated by extremely polite tattooed construction worker types, then this is where you want to be before seven). You can flirt and it won't feel like you're interrupting someone's dinner (they probably couldn't hear you anyway). The Tap House took me back to the kind of bars I'd play at in college where the Red Bulls and vodkas flow, ironically, like the wine they barely serve. Shit, Tap House has Jaegermeister on tap. And nobody over 20 drinks Jaegermeister.

There's no dress code. Come in after work wearing a tie or show up after your late afternoon nap in a t-shirt and pajama bottoms. No one'll care if they notice, but it's usually so crowded after dark (in front, the dining area is evacuated) that the odds are that no one will.

Tap House is, therefore, a love it or hate it place. Either you love the boisterous, fratty atmosphere or the "hey buddy what's happening?" regulars before the boisterous fratty types show up, or you hate it and its loud energy, in which case I suggest the far more mature bar scene down the block at Bonfire or around the corner at Network. I, for one, am glad that Tap House exists and I would enjoy some healthy competition. Preferably one with a large, microbrew-centric beer list, free popcorn to snack on, and a pool table.



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