Midori Matsu

I was in the mood for hibachi. Recently, I was looking at Google Maps and found Benihana in midtown and thought, “Wow, I haven’t been there in a long time, let’s go.” Then, I learned there would be crowds. Then, I learned there would be no reservations available. So, I began a quest to find decent hibachi somewhere else. And I certainly found it.

las vegas roll

las vegas roll

Located in Forest Hills near the 75th Avenue subway stop, Midori Matsu is hard to miss. A huge sign that reads “HIBACHI” hangs overhead as you walk into the establishment. Upon entering, you find a room with hardly anyone in it except for someone who’s making sushi. Then, you’re asked if you want hibachi. At that point, you’re escorted into a larger room with approximately six hibachi set-ups. And you’re delighted to be there.

MDP and I were quite hungry, as I hadn’t eaten much for breakfast that day, so we went whole hog and got dumplings, sushi and hibachi for each of us.

The gyoza, or vegetable dumplings, were very green and filled with vegetables such as edamame. I scarfed down three of them within a few minutes and felt pretty sated. MDP liked them also.

We ordered the Las Vegas roll sushi, which was salmon with avocado, cream cheese, jalapeno and some kind of sauce on top. I enjoyed it, but MDP especially liked it. The jalapeno really added a certain kick to the end of the eating experience.

hibachi entertainment

hibachi entertainment

Now, for the hibachi. I ordered the steak and chicken hibachi, while MDP got teriyaki chicken. We were served an onion soup and a salad with that delicious orange dressing on it, alongside our hibachi.

The hibachi chef came out and immediately put on a show. He threw his utensils around and made clanging noises, so loud that the child sitting at our table began to cry. He began by making shrimp for all of us, and put a bunch of rice on the hot surface to later make fried rice. He also put a medley of vegetables on the cooking surface that would later accompany our foods.

A delight to watch, the hibachi chef created an onion “volcano” by lighting on fire a few rings of an onion. This terrified the young girl at our table. She put her hands over her ears and started to cry. He said, “That’s okay. The volcano won’t hurt you.” But she persisted.

more hibachi

more hibachi

My steak turned out perfect and the chicken was quite good also. The chef gave us some dipping sauces, which were, I think, mustard and ginger, respectively. They were a nice accent to the food.

MDP’s teriyaki chicken was quite good, as well. It was thickly flavorful.

All and all, Midori Matsu is well worth the hike. And it’s great for groups if you get there early on a Saturday night, like we did. The hibachi chefs all seemed quite entertaining, so you’re certain to have a good show whenever you decide to go.

Midori Matsu

111-16 Queens Boulevard

Forest Hills, New York

Take the E/F to 75th Avenue. It’s a few steps away from the subway entrance on the south side of Queens Boulevard.

Advertisements

Sanfords

On Saturday morning, I had an appointment in Astoria, so we decided to try some place in the neighborhood for brunch. We scoured Yelp, looking for a suitable restaurant to serve our needs. Sanfords received rave reviews about their brunch, so we decided to give it a go. The moral of this story will be: Do not trust Yelp. (How many times do I have to say this?)

Located on Broadway by the subway station, Sanfords is essentially a glorified diner. They may have nicer menus and better furniture than diners typically have, but don’t be fooled by the aesthetics. The sprawling menu lists dishes such as croque madame, frittatas, omelettes, peanut butter pancakes and a handful of lunch items, including wraps and a burger. (Their menu is not on their website, which ticked me off before we even got to the place.)

They offer a prix fixe brunch deal for $14, which includes an alcoholic beverage (i.e. a bellini) and a coffee or tea, as well as a brunch entree. MDP and I both ordered mimosas and coffees, and MDP had a strong, negative reaction to the coffee. I thought it was okay, but it could have been the Splenda masking the poor quality of the coffee itself.

Our entrees arrived soon after we placed the order, and MDP was dismayed to find his croque madame sitting singularly on the plate. No fries, no salad. Nothing to accompany it. The sandwich also lacked the signature bechemel sauce, which is something even I know belongs on the croque madame, and my personal specialty is Italian food. He finished it, but he didn’t look happy.

My zucchini, tomato, ricotta and pesto frittata was served to me in a mini cast iron pan with cold home fries and toast on the side. The frittata was dry and had way too many competing flavors in it to be enjoyable. The pesto vied for my taste buds’ attention, while the smooth ricotta dollops dominated my sensory experience. The best thing about the meal was the toast, I swear.

I wouldn’t recommend Sanfords. MDP said, “If this place was in our neighborhood, maybe we’d go here.” And I stopped him. No, we wouldn’t. We have far better “diners” in Sunnyside.

Don’t listen to Yelp. Sanfords is not good. I wouldn’t even suggest going there and getting something that we didn’t order, just to see if it’s up to snuff. Try the Neptune Diner instead. At least Neptune owns up to its diner status.

And I don’t have any pictures of the crappy food because they sat us in the middle of the restaurant where there wasn’t much natural or ambient light.

Sanfords

30-13 Broadway

Astoria, New York

Take the N/Q to Broadway.

Wild Turkey Smokehouse

When My Dining Partner (MDP) received an email about a Groupon for Wild Turkey Smokehouse in Sunnyside, I was skeptical. What exactly is this smokehouse? I wondered. Their website isn’t exactly glamorous. But, I told MDP to get the Groupon anyway–on a whim–and we tried it tonight.

wild turkey smokehouse truffle macaroni and cheese

truffle macaroni and cheese

Situated on a quiet street south of Queens Boulevard, Wild Turkey Smokehouse is easy to miss. Its door is decorated with Seamless and Grub Hub stickers–their website is hooked directly into Grub Hub–and just inside is a long bar  with a handful of tables spread around a pool table in the rear.

Our waitress was also the bartender, and so, was extremely busy with various patrons. She did her best to accommodate everyone, but, truth be told, Wild Turkey needs to hire some waitstaff, especially if they expect to generate a returning-customer crowd.

Their 8.5 x 11 stapled menu expresses the level of sophistication exuded by the restaurant itself, but that’s not a bad thing. I appreciated Wild Turkey’s simple decor and flavor. Comfort favorites like onion rings and beer-battered mozzarella sticks figure prominently on the first page of the menu, and a lengthy list of sandwiches and burgers makes an impression on the second page. On the final page, there’s a short drinks list, that, for some reason, doesn’t include alcoholic drinks (which they have aplenty), but features a San Pellegrino beverage (that they didn’t have) and ginger ale, a crowd favorite according to their website.

We opted for the onion rings and truffle macaroni and cheese to start. While the onion rings were fairly standard, the macaroni and cheese tasted extraordinary. Made with gruyere and a bechemel sauce, the mac and cheese was extremely creamy and delicious.

wild turkey smokehouse mushroom and gruyere burger

mushroom and gruyere burger

For entrees, we ordered the pulled pork sandwich and the mushroom and gruyere (I know, more gruyere) burger, which both came with our choice of fried potato (waffle fries, steak fries or sweet potato fries). Topped with coleslaw–an interesting choice–the pulled pork sandwich featured large, succulent shards of pork that made for a supremely delectable sandwich. I enjoyed my burger, whose char was so strong, I could barely detect the toppings. My steak fries tasted like they were straight out of a bowling alley of my youth, and the sweet potato fries were incredible.

I was so full by the end of the meal that we didn’t get dessert. It’s probably for the better, considering it took us about 15 minutes for the waitress to notice we were finished with our dinners.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Wild Turkey Smokehouse, and will probably order food from there sometime. They are, after all, just a few blocks away from my apartment. But, overall, the experience wasn’t stupendous, not that it should have been. But one can always hope.

Wild Turkey Smokehouse

3935 47th Avenue (between 40th Street and 39th Place)

Sunnyside, Queens

Take the 7 to 40th Street and walk south on 40th Street to 47th Avenue. Turn right.

 

Mario’s

Hidden from the main thoroughfare, Mario’s sits on a quiet corner just south of Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside. Its simple blue awning belies the sophistication of the cuisine found within.

mario's mozzarella and roasted red peppers

mozzarella and roasted red peppers

My Dining Partner (MDP) and I decided to try Mario’s about a week ago, when we were on a brief run to donate school supplies to the local library. We realized Mario’s was one of the few restaurants we hadn’t tried in our neighborhood. Italian food is sparsely found in Sunnyside, so Mario’s was a must-try.

When we arrived, it looked like there weren’t many people inside, but, as we ate, more diners strolled in. We sat by the window at a small table for two and the waitress quickly came over to take our drink order (a half carafe of red sangria). Another waitress brought us some bread and our appetizer, which was a delicious plate of mozzarella and roasted red peppers. The mozzarella and peppers were drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

For our entrees, I ordered a special chicken dish with melted mozzarella and roasted asparagus with a sherry sauce, while MDP got a tortellini dish with mushrooms, peas and a cream sauce. My chicken was flavorful and perfectly cooked. The asparagus was crisp and the sherry sauce was slightly sweet. MDP’s tortellini were large rings filled with ricotta cheese, and the sauce was creamy and decadent.

So satisfied with our entrees, we opted for dessert, a warm brownie with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Chocolatey and dense, the brownie delighted our taste buds.

If you’re in the neighborhood, try Mario’s. Dazie’s, the other prominent Italian restaurant in Sunnyside, is pricier and satisfactory, but Mario’s definitely has a special edge.

Pink Icing Bakery

The wait is finally over. Pink Icing Bakery has opened.

pink icing cupcakes

pink icing cupcakes

The long-awaited bakery has been teasing Sunnyside residents for more than two months now. First, Sunnyside Post said it would open the first week of March. Then, Pink Icing’s sign went up some time in April. Then, I saw a “we’re hiring” sign a few weeks later. As of yesterday, Pink Icing is in business.

Nestled between a fish market and Mr. Wonton Chinese food eatery, Pink Icing (which took over a failed Indian restaurant’s space) is just a few doors down from The Sugar Room baking supply store, which is owned by Juan Arache, the man at the helm of the much-anticipated bakery.

So, what exactly does Pink Icing offer?

Well, tons of stuff.

Today, when I visited, they had mini and full-size key lime pies for a few bucks. There was also a pecan pie and what looked like an apple crumb pie (both in mini and full-size form). But the real attraction here is the cupcakes.

Available in big and small portions, the beautifully decorated cupcakes–at a fair $2 price point–are delicious. Without a thick slather of icing (who can bear that?) but rather a delicate application of it, the small cupcake has the ideal balance of frosting and cake. Moist and not-too-sweet, the vanilla cake was just right. I can’t speak for the larger cupcake, but, based on what I saw, I believe it mirrors the perfection of the smaller cake–just more of it.

In addition to the decorated, vanilla cupcakes, Pink Icing serves up red velvet cupcakes, in both large and small sizes. The woman ahead of me ordered a red velvet small, and I envied her. I’ll have to go back and try it. But, then again, I want to try everything at Pink Icing.

pink icing cupcakeThough the space is cozy, there’s room for a handful of tables and a countertop with stools. Several customers milled around the bakery, talking over coffee and cupcakes and enjoying the morning. It seems as though Pink Icing has already become a hallmark of the neighborhood in the mere two days it’s been open.

I sincerely hope Sunnyside residents partake in the wonder that is Pink Icing. After all this time–the waiting, the hand-wringing at the closed door–Pink Icing has finally arrived. Hopefully, to stay for a long time.

Do I think Pink Icing is a destination bakery? We’ll have to see. The cupcake trend in New York has certainly died down (is it fried pizza that everyone’s fascinated with now?), but the cupcakes are so good–and so cheap!–that it just might attract the non-Sunnysiders. Pink Icing is open until 8 p.m., which gives the Manhattanites who frequent Salt and Fat just enough time to grab dessert (before a late dinner, perhaps?) prior to heading back to the city.

If you’re in the neighborhood, try Pink Icing. It’s the kind of cupcake that wholly satisfies the body and soul. You don’t want to miss out.

Pink Icing

44-12 Queens Blvd.

Sunnyside, Queens

Take the 7 to 46th Street and walk west for two blocks on the north side of Queens Boulevard. Do check out The Sugar Room, too!

F. Ottomanelli Burgers and Belgian Fries

My mom always says, “A simple menu is a recipe for success.” She’s right, and that couldn’t be closer to the truth at F. Ottomanelli Burgers and Belgian Fries, where, as owner Frank Ottomanelli puts it, “we have a small menu so we can bring the freshest ingredients to our customers.” Surely, they’ve succeeded.

And it’s not just the fresh ingredients that will keep customers coming back for more. It’s the gracious hospitality with which customers are met. While we were enjoying our burgers, Frank came over to my dining partner and I and asked if we had tried the special sauces for the fries (I’ll get to them later). We hadn’t, so he decided to bring them over to us … with an order of freshly prepared fries. You simply don’t get that kind of service at most places.

As part of a butcher dynasty, F. Ottomanelli is practically neighbors with its meat supplier, S. Ottomanelli and Sons, a Woodside institution. “The meat is always fresh. We grind it at the butcher store,” Frank says. “Our goal is to sell all the ingredients by the end of the day so that we can start fresh the next day,” he continues. At this rate, they’re bound to do just that.

I’ll break down the burgers and fries for you, part by part, so that you can have the best idea possible of what to expect from F. Ottomanelli.

F. Ottomanelli Burger

f. ottomanelli burger

The meat: It was nothing less than completely juicy and delectable. I wouldn’t say it’s the most flavorful hamburger I’ve had (Shake Shack is the gold standard in this category), but it’s a burger I’ll likely crave at some point. And, as one of the only true burger joints in the area, it’s inevitable that I’ll return for that juicy patty.

The bun: Big and puffy, as my dining partner said, but definitely delicious, the bun adds something to the burger; it isn’t an afterthought. My only concern is that the bun might seem like too much bread to those ordering the “junior” (or single patty) burger. Am I wrong? Tell me, if so.

The toppings: Here’s where I have a gripe. I ordered mustard, mayo and grilled onions to top my burger. (The burgers come standardized with lettuce, tomato, and ketchup.) I felt that there could have been more toppings to go around. What the Shake Shack and Burger Garage seem to do best is they distribute a large amount of toppings for the double burgers. I felt that Ottomanelli’s double burger received as much toppings as a single might have. Lay it on, I say! I’d rather use a knife to remove some of the toppings than feel I have a dry burger.

In other news, if you order, say, a caramelized onion burger, apparently, Ottomanelli will mix in the caramelized onion with your beef and serve up a patty with the onions embedded in it. I’ll definitely try this next time I go.

F. Ottomanelli Belgian Fries

f. ottomanelli belgian fries

The Belgian fries: Cubic and beam-like, the Belgian fries are certainly a notable part of the menu. The quality of the potatoes shows through, and their freshness is definitely an enjoyable element of the fries experience.

The fries sauces: The ones I liked best were the creamy and cheesy Rosemary Parmesan, the flavor-that’s-hard-to-place European Mayo, and spicy Chipotle. There was also Malt Vinegar, Buffalo Sauce, and Hot Sauce, which I don’t care for, but MDP enjoyed the MV.

I highly recommend the sauces, so be sure to ask for them when you go.

The service: Excellent. I think I rankled the nerves of the woman who was taking my order, but ultimately, the service was fantastic. Frank came over to our table, beaming as he talked about the new restaurant and all the press it’s already getting (Time Out New York is going to feature F. Ottomanelli in an upcoming issue!). I appreciated his time and his words.

So, even if you’re not from Queens, you definitely want to check out F. Ottomanelli Burgers and Belgian Fries. They’re top-of-the-notch and possibly the best in the borough. (For you Donovan’s fans, this place gives D a run for its money. And triumphs, in my opinion.)

To Ottomanelli: Please put up a website soon. Don’t let your customers rely on the totally unreliable Yelp to find and enjoy your place!

 

Bliss 46, Sunnyside

When was the last time you had French food in New York? A long time ago. if ever, perhaps. Well, don’t waste another minute–go to Bliss 46, a new French bistro, to satisfy your craving for escargots.

Located on 46th Street, just around the corner from Queens Boulevard, Bliss 46 offers an elegant ambiance and traditional French cuisine.

My dining partner and I thought we’d try Bliss 46 since it just opened on Thanksgiving Day. The chef, Esteban Rojas, once worked at Bliss Bistro, a now defunct French restaurant on Skillman Avenue. Though Bliss Bistro was an unsuccessful venture, Mr. Rojas believes there’s a place for French food in Sunnyside. I hope he’s right.

To start, we ordered the gratinee French onion soup and a small plate of mushroom ravioli. The gratinee was stellar, its gruyere ceiling oozing over the sides of the bowl. The mushroom ravioli were equally impressive, accompanied by a rich sauce and chopped mushrooms in the center of the dish.

For my entree, I ordered the traditional Coq Au Vin, which was fantastic. A stew made with red wine, the chicken was so tender it literally fell off the bones. This dish came with mashed potatoes, which were largely bland, but the texture was right.

My dining partner ordered a duck dish that came with a side of a mixture of potatoes, corn, and bacon. He offered me a sliver of the duck, and I was blown away.

For dessert, we opted for the apple tart, which arrived with delicious vanilla ice cream. Using thinly sliced scalloped apples, the tart featured a thick crust that nicely complemented the real-apple-tasting innards.

I highly recommend Bliss 46. The servers are prompt and accommodating. The only disadvantage Bliss 46 may have is its location off Queens Boulevard. While we dined, I noticed a number of people stopping to look at Bliss 46’s menu. I hope they return.

Bliss 46

43-46 46th Street

Sunnyside, NY

Take the 7 to 46th Street.

 

Bonfire Grill, Forest Hills

As soon as you walk up the steps at Forest Hills subway stop, you realize you’ve arrived to a new world. Could this really be part of Queens? you might wonder. Forest Hills boasts an adorable, quaint village with high-end retail shops on Austin Street and a bevy of decent restaurants reaching every corner of the neighborhood.

Last night, we tried to get into 5 Burro, a Mexican joint. The place was packed and seemingly uncomfortable so we ditched 5 Burro and went a few doors down to the Bonfire Grill, an American food restaurant that touts its friendliness in its motto written on the website: “Enter a stranger, leave as a friend.” I didn’t make any friends at Bonfire Grill, and, despite my lack of social acumen, I thought the food was pretty good.

Outside, I skimmed the menu, which is packed with salads, appetizers, entrees, and sandwiches. I peered inside to see if there were available tables; there were tables and a bustling bar so we entered.

According to its website, Bonfire Grill  “strives for the perfect balance between intimate and fun, casual and upscale.” The ambiance encouraged warm feelings and the staff members were helpful and accommodating. I’m not sure I’d term the restaurant “fun” or “upscale,” but it’s definitely relaxing.

We began our meal with Bonfire Tapas. Served with three small pieces of French bread, the tapas featured fried goat cheese (yum!) and caramelized onions (even better!).

I ordered the grilled chicken sandwich, chock full of avocado, swiss cheese, and chipotle mayonnaise on a huge hoagie roll. For a grilled chicken sandwich, it was definitely delectable, but was too big so I only ate half of it. French fries accompanied the sandwich. My pictures didn’t turn out well, so, sorry to just have boring text.

My dining partner ordered the short rib sandwich, which was “slow cooked” and delivered on a multigrain roll. It tasted great.

If you’re in Forest Hills on a Saturday night and seeking decent food, try Bonfire Grill. Don’t trust Yelp to guide you to a “better” restaurant in the area. As an aside, I can’t tell you how wrong Yelp was in helping us find a GOOD Mexican restaurant in San Diego. Of all places, you’d think we’d be inundated with delicious fajitas and tacos. We weren’t, thanks to Yelp.

John Brown Smokehouse, Astoria

“Let’s go, it’s going to be really crowded. This place is popular.”

“Alright, already.”

john brown smokehouse burnt ends

burnt ends with macaroni and cheese

So we left for the John Brown Smokehouse, a barbecue place, at 5:30 pm. It took us about a half hour to walk there, and the farther we went, the more we realized that John Brown Smokehouse is in the middle of nowhere and that the chances of a crowd were slim. It turns out, we arrived at the right time–when we were the only customers in the joint. Five minutes after receiving our food, other hungry people trickled in and crowded the Smokehouse, a small establishment with about six tables that each seat around six people.

How’s the food? Excellent. This place is well worth the walk and would likely be a great destination on a warm summer day. There was a draft in the restaurant while we were there, which forced me to consider wearing my coat as I dined.

John Brown Smokehouse boasts a simple menu with reasonable prices. I ordered the burnt ends with macaroni and cheese for about $11. Often referred to as “nuggets of barbecue gold,” burnt ends are flavorful pieces of meat cut from the point half of a smoked brisket (yeah, I got that from Wikipedia). They’re fatty and salty and chewy and just plain delicious. According to reviews on yelp, John Brown sometimes sells out of their burnt ends by 4 pm, but I was lucky enough to catch them on a slow day. Mimicking my dining partner, I wrapped the burnt ends in the thick slices of country white bread that accompanied my meal. What a sandwich, I tell ya. I’d say the portion was adequate. The mac and cheese tasted greasy and cheesy, and was quite good.

john brown smokehouse apple cobbler

apple cobbler

My dining partner opted for the two meat platter for around $13: pulled pork and brisket with baked beans. The pulled pork was flavorful, but the brisket was on the dry side. I wouldn’t recommend it. I enjoyed the baked beans, which were flecked with pieces of pork/bacon.

For dessert, John Brown Smokehouse offers apple cobbler, apple pie, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and bread pudding. “What’s bread pudding?” my dining partner asked. “Not something I want to try,” I replied. So we went with the apple cobbler that closely resembled apple pie. Did they serve the apple pie on a plate but the “cobbler” in a bowl? we wondered. Nothing special to report on here. A pretty standard apple pie/cobbler.

Even though its far from the train, John Brown Smokehouse is well worth the walk. If you live nearby, good for you for having such a delectable take-out spot in your ‘hood.

John Brown Smokehouse

25-08 37th Avenue

Astoria, Queens

Take the N/Q to 36th Avenue. Walk to 37th Avenue and turn right. Walk a few blocks. 

Curry Point, Sunnyside

What is there to say about yet another Indian restaurant in Queens? When it comes to Curry Point, it’s simple: fast, delicious, cheap, and Halal.

Curry Point is situated on Greenpoint Avenue near 41st Street in Sunnyside. I know, very clever – Curry Point, Greenpoint. A cutting-edge marketing team must make up some of Curry Point’s staff.

Most importantly, the food is good, but how does it measure up to other Indian fare in Sunnyside? My dining partner says Saffron Garden and Curry Point must be compared dish-by-dish. So here we go.

curry point chicken tikka masala

chicken tikka masala

Samosa: Curry Point’s samosa are very-fried triangles of vegetable goodness. A cooling cucumber-flavored sauce contrasts the spicy interior of the samosa. So what about Saffron Garden? Their samosa are, as stated in an earlier review, not-fried tasting, which is nice.

Chicken tikka masala: Saffron Garden has a sweeter, thinner tikka masala sauce than that of Curry Point, but I think I prefer Curry Point’s when compared. I appreciate the sauce’s thickness–it’s almost like a gravy (a distinction we Italian-Americans know how to make)–and the number of chicken pieces was many. Saffron Garden’s portions are, in general, smaller than Curry Point’s.

Chana masala: My dining partner enjoys chana masala. It was less spicy at Saffron Garden, and, consequently, he prefers Curry Point’s rendition.

curry point garlic naan

garlic naan

Naan: This time around, we tried the garlic naan at Curry Point. A giant circular piece of naan was wrapped tightly in aluminum foil. The worker at Curry Point folded it in half so that it’d fit more comfortably in the take-out bag. The garlic-flavored naan featured pieces of garlic embedded in the dough and had a full garlic punch. Very delicious. At Saffron Garden, they present the naan cut into quadrants, which is fine, but I like tearing naan apart (as is the expectation at Curry Point).

I haven’t tried Curry Point’s mango lassi, but I’m sure it measures up to those of Saffron Garden (and Tangra).

If you’re looking for a bang for your buck, Curry Point is it.

Curry Point

41-02 Greenpoint Avenue

Sunnyside, Queens

Take the 7 to 40th Street and walk south then east.