>> Wednesday, April 25, 2012

108-22 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 263-1100

Gloria Pizza has been the talk of the Forest Hills blogosphere for a few months now. One would have almost thought that Jean Georges Vongerichten was moving into the area what with all of the frantic postings wondering when, oh when! will Gloria finally open it's gloria-ous doors to us. Now that it's here, there's usually a line. Is the pizza good? Yes it is. I can easily see myself returning here for a slice or ordering a pie on a rainy, windswept night. Is it the pizza worthy of all the heart-pounding anticipation? No. It's pizza. It's good pizza. I'd go so far as to say it's very good pizza. But it's not breaking new ground. Gloria serves good, NY style pizza in a generic NY style pizza parlor space (Gloria's isn't competing with Nicks's or Dee's. Those two are their own animals and whether you love them or hate them, they simply don't serve the same kind of food).

The Plain Cheese slice was exactly what I wanted after my recent review of 2 Bros Pizza in Midtown. 2 Bros Pizza is disgusting and at $1 a slice, overcharges like by a degree I can't fully describe. Gloria, on the other hand follows the time-honored tradition of basically matching the price of a slice to the MTA's bus fare. And the results are night and day. Well made crust, a great sauce, and cheese that actually covers the pie instead of sitting next to it. My only complaint, and this was so for every slice I had, was the grease. Too much of it, and noticeably so.

The Bow-Tie Pasta with Pesto Pizza was okay, and I might get one every now and again to switch things up, but it won't ever make it into my regular rotation. Not so with the Chicken Marsala Pizza, grilled chicken with a creamy cheese sauce, was astounding. The Garlic Tomato slice was also very good. A big slice of tomato and enough garlic to have someone with IBS running down the street in under two minutes. It was everything that a pizza should be.

On the non-pizza front, I tried the Chicken Roll and the Rice Ball. The chicken roll was a chicken roll. No more no less. Roast chicken, cheese, some marinara sauce, all wrapped in dough. It was pretty good, and while I've had worse, I've also had better. The rice ball, a balled and breaded baseball made of rice, peas, and mozzarella with a side of marinara wasn't anything to write home about. It was as heavy as a brick, with none of the fiber. Asian rice balls usually come with some tuna in their core or are at the very least sweet. Without the sauce, this one was bland, dense, and flavorless. The marinara isn't a cute dipping sauce here. It's all of the flavor. 

What impressed me the most about Gloria wasn't the pizza so much as the staff. Every time I've been there, they always seemed pretty happy. Jovial sometimes. They're not dancing a jig at the register or anything, but everyone seems to be smiling, no one's yelling at the delivery guy or grunting at customers rather than using real words. Maybe this is because it's so well lit and the kitchen isn't hidden in some back room. Sunlight does kill depression. 

The Gloria storefront is in what should be a great location, right next to the movie theater. There's no end of folks either too young to drink who need a place to go with their dates before a movie, or people like me who just want to get a bite that's fast and cheap in order to avoid spending a week's salary on a bag of mediocre popcorn. And I'm sure that the timely demise of Ariana only one block away can't hurt. 



>> Friday, April 13, 2012

98-31 Metropolitan Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 268-7860

If you read this blog then you know that I have, with good reason, a pretty low opinion of red sauce Italian restaurants. But you know something? Alberto, the restaurant on Metropolitan, was pretty good if I do say so myself... and I do. Forest Hills has its share of crap Italian, but it's nice to see that there are options available should you want to escape their foul, rank mediocrity. It's too bad that many of the better restaurants in the area are on Metropolitan. There's no be subway access, and parking is often difficult.

The interior of Alberto is large and high ceilinged, with dark, exposed woods, exposed brick, and stained glass. Like a cross between a converted church and a repurposed beer hall. The bar in the front room is large and wood and was probably carved in 1890 out of a single thousand year-old tree. Alberto is every part the classic restaurant. But it doesn't fall into the kitchy trap of Italian restaurants typical of the area. No plastic flowers, no doilies, no happy little figurines in chef's hats holding pizzas over their heads, no red checker tablecloths. There's also Frank Sinatra playing garishly from the sound system, but they did cheapify the atmosphere with Olive Garden style foil-wrapped butter, one of the greatest of my pet peeves.

The average age trends older, but there's a good mix overall, from my early 30s demographic to couples in their 70s. I was surprised at how lively, if not outright loud, the restaurant was. It made me feel less self conscious taking flash photos.

Our waiter arrived and, after he took our order of a couple of glasses of wine, proceeded to rattle off a seemingly endless array of specials. I lost track, stopped listening after he passed the two dozen mark, and we ended up ordering off the standard menu anyway.

Pike's appetizer was the Scampi Alberto, shrimp in a garlic and olive oil red sauce. When it arrived Pike looked at me. His eyes said "you can't have any of this."

Remember last week, when news broke that the General Services Administration had held a huge weekend bash in Vegas where they bought, among other things, a meal that included shrimp at $4 a pop? People made a huge deal out of the $4 shrimp. Bill O'Reilly nearly had a heart attack for Chrissake. Look at the photo below. As it turns out, the Scampi Alberto costs EXACTLY $4 per shrimp. $4.50 once you factor in tax and tip. The lesson here is threefold. First, calm down and don't shit yourself when you watch the news. Second, don't order the shrimp appetizer if you're hungry. Third, Alberto needs to work on presentation. At least make it look like $12 worth. Pike said that the shrimp was good.

I ordered the Carpaccio Originale, beef carpaccio with cracked pepper, Parmesan cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil. This appetizer was great and it even made me feel like I got my money's worth. I would certainly order it again.

For an entree I chose the Gnocchi. I love gnocchi and Alberto's little potato dumplings in a meat sauce were quite pleasant. It didn't break any boundaries of what gnocchi is. It was comfort food, plain and simple, and again, Alberto isn't going to win any awards for originality or presentation (actually, now that Forest Hills is on the Michelin map, it might actually lose them), but you certainly won't be disappointed with this dish. And the meat sauce was perfect. It was slightly sweet, wasn't swamped in meat, nor was it meat sauce in name only, and the chef didn't drown the dumplings in it. There was enough to enhance rather than mask any flavors. Pike ordered the Risotto with Seafood, risotto with clams, calamari, mussels and shrimp, which he liked, but which I didn't really think much of. This is mostly because mixed seafood dishes tend to turn me off (paella being the only exception I can think of), not necessarily because Alberto did anything wrong.

Dessert-wise, Alberto was hit-or-miss. We ordered two cakes. The Napoleon was fantastic. Light, creamy, a flaky crust, enhanced with just the right amount of raspberry drizzle on the plate. But the Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse (we think it was called this. The server had an accent you'd need an axe to cut through) was at best weak. Dense and bitter and while it looked fine on the plate, had about as much flavor as a styrofoam cusion.

Two appetizers, three drinks, a soda, two entrees, two desserts, two coffees, tax and tip totaled $139. Alberto is pricey, for sure, but better than expected and entirely pleasant. While it will probably never become a destination spot the way Astoria's Trattoria L'incontro has, I'd certainly return.


Brunch Report - JUST LIKE MOTHER'S

>> Thursday, April 5, 2012

Brunch Report 
110-60 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 544-3294

Just Like Mother's (JLM) has a reputation for being one of the neighborhood's go-to brunch spots, in no small part because Time Out Magazine profiled it once upon a time and said so. It's been around for seemingly forever and I decided that it was finally time to go there for this famous brunch. Pike, who'd been there many a time, was hesitant. "They don't serve mimosa's". Mimosa's be damned, we went.

JLM, this past Sunday, was packed with a fifteen minute wait for a table (meanwhile, over at Old Vienna Cafe, there were plenty of open tables). "I've never seen them this crowded" said someone else waiting for a table. The waitresses scrambled, frantically cleaning tables and bringing out dishes. We were soon seated and coffees were ordered. I'll reserve my description of the interior for the full dinner review that I'll do later. Long story short, I'd upgrade.

In any event, the waitresses were so overburdened by what must have been an unexpected crowd that coffee took about fifteen minutes (once it did come, though, someone kept refilling my cup with lightning efficiency) and the toast that was supposed to come with my meal arrived after I had finished more than half of it. So service was on the weak side, but I'm happy to give them a pass this time.

As Pike warned, brunch comes without mimosas or bloody Mary's or anything to calm your Saturday hangover. And, really, brunch at JLM almost doesn't come with brunch. There's a breakfast menu of diner breakfast standards like omelets and pancakes, but not much else. Most of the menu is lunch stuff. Burgers and sandwiches and, of course, Polish food like blintzes and pirogi, which I wasn't going to order (I'll save those for the dinner review).

As for the brunch, Pike ordered the Pancakes, with a side of scrambled eggs and a huge dollop of jelly. Honestly, I wasn't impressed. They were dense and overcooked. They weren't inedibly bad or anything like that. They were just forgettable. The product of a rushed kitchen? Perhaps. I can't rule that out. Certainly the presentation needed work.

My choice was the only unique brunch dish on the menu. Polish Style Poached Eggs, two eggs over sliced ham with a creamy dill sauce, served with toast and a choice of side. I chose the home fries. It was good. The eggs were nice and runny, the sauce was tangy and sharp. The home fries were nothing to write home about, but home fries never are. If they found a few more brunchy dishes in the cookbook like this one, I can see myself going back. But if not...

Basically, JLM is a diner and brunch in a diner is something I try to avoid. Brunch, as I've said countless times (if not to you readers, then to my imaginary friends) is all about atmosphere. It should be bright and happy and colorful and there should be fruit and berries and make you feel like a WASPy chiche from a Caddyshack movie. That's not JLM. It's dark, it's super hot, it's stuffy and at one point during our brunch, the table next to ours starts packing up to leave. So one of their party decides to sit and wait at our table. And while she's there, starts picking up my camera and looking it over. No "hey, do you mind if I take a peek at this new-fangled piece of equipment?" Then she starts chiming into our conversation. This sort of casual discourtesy was infuriating, but somehow it was very difficult to scold an 80 year old. "Stop touching my shit and mind your own business" is easier felt than said.

Two coffees, two large juices, two breakfasts, tax and tip came to $35.



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