>> Monday, April 28, 2014

UPDATE :  Today, I returned to Reef and it was way better than then I initially reviewed. See update for the, uh, update...
108-02 72nd Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 487-4564

Typically, when I get a hankerin' for seafood, my default destination is London Lennies on Woodhaven Boulevard. But, sadly, it's too far to walk and parking in the area is the pits. I recommend green-cabbing it. As a second choice, there's Agora Taverna, the Greek seafood restaurant on Austin by the NYSC, but since their cooking is decidedly Mediterranean, it fits the niche of an altogether different craving. Now, that we have Reef, I was anxious to see how their fare fares against the competition. Pike and Myna were soon in tow.


Reef occupies the location once occupied by Network Cafe. Network, it goes without saying, was laughably awful. That one could take a restaurant space so perfect and ruin it so completely borders on criminal. Eventually, Network changed its name to "Status Quo". Alas, it passed on to the big takeout menu in the sky before I was able to visit it and crack wise. "Status Quo? So, I guess that's their way of saying that they're still terrible? Fear not, patrons! The ratty sofas downstairs still smell like we covered the stench of the hobo that died there with a few gallons of undiluted bleach."

Sigh. A missed opportunity.

Reef, for its part, did a spectacular job on the interior but it's not done, as the power tools on the tables, cardboard boxes, and barrel walls can attest. Other than the name, there's nothing inside that screams "seafood", though I suppose that it's a better fit than Network's pitch black faux-jazz club aesthetic (which by the way, was the one thing I actually did like about them). The stairwell to the downstairs was completely replaced. The exposed brick is a nice touch, as is the very nice bar area. The bright lighting, is far from romantic but better for talking loudly, which we were doing. The staff was all very nice, but with four different waitresses and servers working with our table, there was confusion about everything from the food to the bill and kinks in the machine are still noticeable.

It's hard to see a raw bar offering on a menu and not order oysters, so we did. A half dozen Oysters on the Half Shell. I'm not sure what kind of oysters they were, but they didn't tell us and we didn't ask. They were huge though. And they were good. It would be nice if there was some more variety but honestly, most restaurants that have oysters only have one type. We also tried the Eggplant Dip, eggplant, garlic, olive oil, and walnuts. It came with some bread, but not enough, and in retrospect, I'd order something else next time. It just didn't wow me.

Pike's starter was the Baked Clams, clams with garlic, Parmesan, and bread crumbs, which he thought were good. I've never been the world's biggest baked clam fan, but these were good. Often, baked clams can come out burned or gritty, like the chef tossed in some gravel to save on breadcrumbs before forgetting about them in the oven. These were much smoother. Still, I much preferred my choice, the Striped Bass Crudo, raw striped bass with lemon, pepper, and olive oil. Tangy and tender and peppery and cool and fresh. If you like ceviche and sushi, you'll like this. Myna's appetizer was the Country Salad, a standard Greek salad which she enjoyed and which I picked at some; olives, feta, cucumber, onion, and tomato. So far, other than a the disappointing eggplant dip, things were going well enough that I didn't need the bottle of wine we were splitting to enjoy myself.

We ordered a second bottle when the entrees came. But we didn't need the wine to enjoy these either. I ordered the Swordfish Steak and requested my side to be broccoli rabe. As you can see, I got asparagus. It was good asparagus, but it wasn't broccoli rabe. Like I said earlier, there were some hiccups. The swordfish was quite good. Not dried out, not overcooked, and the portion that came was a decent size. Pike got the Filet of Sole Stuffed with Crabmeat and a side of mashed potatoes. The mashed potatoes were very smooth but I wasn't terribly enamored by the rest of it. I mean, it's not like it was at all bad or anything. But it's sole. It's not exactly the kind of fish you go to sleep thinking about and pureed crab, while loved by some, is not quite loved by me. Myna's entree was actually another appetizer, the Grilled Octopus in a caper sauce. I love grilled octopus and this was a good one. If they made an entree sized version, I'd have taken it.

There is a small turf menu with steak and chicken should you go in that direction, but there's no reason you should. Overall we enjoyed our dinner at Reef, but we weren't blown away. There's no lobster, no crab, no bisque. The fish, while there is quite a variety, is, as you can see in the photos, all cooked very basically and without flair. There is no seared sea scallops in a raspberry port butter sauce or grilled ahi tuna under over wasabi fennel mashed potatoes or... well, you get the point. The addition of a seafood restaurant to the neighborhood is a welcome one, but Reef lacks the artistry that I was hoping for. Compared directly to London Lennie's, I'm still choosing Lennie's. Lennie's has the pomp and gravitas of a steakhouse that happens to sell seafood. It has a more refined atmosphere and a more interesting menu. A better comparison would be to put it up against Agora Taverna, a few blocks away, as they are very similar. Indeed, there's clearly a bit of a Mediterranean flair to the otherwise American menu. And between the two, I don't know which one I'd pick.

As we all walked away, the first question that was asked was the expected one. "So. What'dja think?" And everyone had the same answer. "It was pretty good, but not better than pretty good." Reef is not a destination restaurant, much to my chagrin; it's a stopgap restaurant. It's perfect for when you have relatives visiting and want someplace simple and pleasant to go or if you want something other than Asian and better than pub food within walking distance or if you want an alternative to Agora.

If I were Reef, I'd make the place feel more seafoody. More art. More theme, but avoid kitch. Dim the lights a bit. Add some inspired dishes to the menu that feel unique to their restaurant, as opposed to only having grilled fish X or Y.

Appetizers average about $12. Entrees average in the mid-$20s. Dessert, if we got it, would be $7. Our meal: six appetizers, two entrees, two bottles of wine, and two coffees. $216 with tax and tip.

UPDATE: 3/26/15:
Just a few minutes ago I returned from dinner at Reef. I had the Blackened Salmon. Pike had the Sole Stuffed with Crab. We split two appetizers. The Grilled Calamari and the Grilled Octopus

Long story short. Much better. The service was excellent. Our grilled apps were delicious. Charred the way they should be without being burnt. Our entrees were extremely good. Pike's sole was tender and the crab stuffing was bread-free. My salmon was served medium and was delicious. I don't much care for salmon, to be honest, but they did a good job with the seasonings. Did Reef do anything experimental or nuveaux? No. But the food was cooked the way it was supposed to be. The blandness from my previous meal was gone. At some point I will have to return and do a new Reef review. Clearly they have overcome their Year One issues. The main issue is now the cost. Seafood, unless it's deep fried garbage, is never cheap. So the cost of the meal will either be par for the course or not. My dinner of one appetizer, one entree, one soda, and one coffee (no dessert, no alcohol) came to $45, not including tip.


Anonymous,  May 31, 2014 at 8:19 AM  

Went to Reef a few weeks ago and although their Mediterranean appetizers were good, I can get better fish at a diner. Reef is NOT a seafood restaurant, it is a Mediterranean restaurant that serves poor quality fish.

Anonymous,  July 4, 2014 at 4:09 PM  

We had rubbery fish and the service was slow.

Susan September 26, 2015 at 10:46 AM  

I've now eaten at Reef three times, so feel now is the right time to share my impressions.

First meal I had was about 3 months ago. Friend and I went for a weekday lunch, arriving just as Reef was opening. It was a beautiful day. We had a table right by the open windows, and as the only customers, service was quite attentive.

I started my lunch with raw Oysters (delicious), followed by a Tuna Carpacio (equally delicious). A glass of wine rounded out the meal. Friend had the Burrata starter, followed by the Tuna Tartare. They too thoroughly enjoyed their meal, and we both wondered why it took us so long to try Reef!

Second meal was more of a snack. About 2 weeks after my delicious lunch, I dragged one of my friends out to Forest Hills. Mid-afternoon on a Saturday we decided to head over to Reef for a glass of wine and a snack. This time we sat at the bar, which had a pretty decent crowd for around 2 pm on a Saturday.

Ordered a dozen Oysters for us to split, and the Tuna Carpacio. Again, the Tuna was delicious. As for the Oysters, they too were good, but there was a piece of hair on one Oyster. When I pointed it out to the bartender, they eradicated it and that single Oyster was replaced. As good as the food was, it took me a while to overcome the hair-Oyster incident.

Last night, decided to go back to Reef for dinner, with the same friend I had that first lunch with. Arrived around 7 pm and let me tell you - the place was HOPPING! We didn't have a reservation, but there was a table for 2, so we were seated promptly. However, it probably would be a good idea to make a reservation on a Friday or Saturday night.

Rolls quickly arrived, with some un-identifiable spread, which friend believed to be some minced garlic. It didn't look very appetizing, so I passed. The rolls stale. I usually pass on the bread, but I was starved, so ...... Turns out, I should have passed.

For appetizers friend ordered the Burrata again, since they loved it so much the first time. I went with the Tuna Tartare. I would have preferred the Tuna Carpacio, but that appears to have been taken off the menu. With that said, I liked the Tartare. The tomatoes that came with the Burrata looked horrible, and friend just left them aside, and ate the cheese. Good tomatoes are still to be found, even though it's getting a little late in the season. The tomatoes that appeared look to be the generic Beefstakes you can get in any grocery store.

Main course, I ordered the Lobster Ravioli, friend ordered Lobster and Linguine. This is where the meal started to really fall apart. I ate my Ravioli, but I really would not recommend it. It comes in a pink sauce that was way too thick and gluey. The portion size was fine, but there was virtually no Lobster, and it just wasn't particularly good.

In all the years (and it's MANY) that I've eaten out with this friend, I've NEVER seen them return a meal. Their lobster tail was inedible.

We were able to flag down a gentleman who we believe was the Manager. He courteously and promptly took care of it. Friend placed a new order for the Fresh Salmon Filet.

The waitress also brought over a glass of wine on the house, which was of course the right thing to do (not that everyone does it -- so I wanted to point out this courtesy).

As for the Salmon, friend shrugged, but I think that may have been more of the overall experience versus the actual fish. Hard to tell -- I didn't want to press it.

Service was eh. We were never asked if we wanted more water, and I was never asked if I wanted more coffee (I only ordered a cup because I was done with my meal while friend was just starting their Salmon).

So, the bottom line - will I go back? Perhaps, but it will be a while. I'd also probably stick to the Raw Bar selections since those have been more or less spot-on, except for that unfortunate Oyster incident.

Susan September 26, 2015 at 10:46 AM  

Reef: Summary (see next posting for actual details!)

Reef really has a lovely vibe, and it appears they're drawing in a crowd. Like Red Pipe (feel free to read my comments on that establishment!), it seems to me that the folks are Forest Hills are just so eager to have some "hip" places to go to that they'll settle for mediocrity.

What makes this all the more unsettling is that we're losing an excellent establishment in Danny Brown's.

Fingers crossed that some of the better establishment owners in L.I.C. start to view Forset Hills as a destination.

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