Bear Russian food, whether the time capsule Brighton Beach version or of the flashy Mari Vanna and Onegin persuasion, has never been in my wheelhouse. Of course, I didn’t say no to Queens’ answer to this genre on a chilly night practically crying out for dill martinis and substantial brown bread. The pickles, herring and potato salad, and salvo, described as lardo but much thicker and tougher to bite through, were fine drinking snacks, but portions are little overly precious. A lamb dumpling special (not pictured) that I’m remembering as priced in the high teens came three to a plate, more appropriate for dim sum than an entree. The layer cake, smetannik, was strangely gritty, which I’m now guessing was due to buckwheat, an intentional addition. There’s something off-kilter about the operation, and that may stem from Bear not knowing exactly what it wants to be. It’s a cozy place in a non-prime corner of Astoria that also happens to serve a $175 tasting menu, possibly a Queens record.
End of the Century I’m not sold on Forest Hills’ stretch of Metropolitan Avenue being touted as “Michelin Road” (I mean, it is home to the one and only East Coast Sizzler, which has strong Michelin-negating powers). Forest Hills is a very different kind of Queens, though, still on the subway but more suburban and upscale than most of the western half that non-residents associate with the borough. You will see lawn jockeys on the meandering walk from Queens Boulevard and definitely no other pedestrians. Some new bar openings are hyped. Others are not. End of the Century, tiki in mission but still looking a little like the pub that preceded it, has owners with pedigrees including PKNY, Maison Premiere and Dutch Kills, but on my visit its first week open the crowds were not there yet. The drinks like the above Dr. Funk and super gingery, honeyed and multi-rummed Kon-Tiki Mai Tai are crafted with purpose and well-priced at $10 (and may not stay that low indefinitely). I’m not convinced the concept is in line with the sleepier part of Forest Hills’ needs or expectations. I would be happy to see them succeed, however, especially since I need to try the scorpion bowl, the bar is only one express stop from me, and my neighborhood won’t be seeing any falernum or absinthe-filled atomizers any time soon.
For inexplicable reasons that hopefully will become apparent to me soon, I’ve not only walked past Forest Hills’ Buffalo Wild Wings twice in less than a week, I’ve also photographed it.
Simit Sarayi is the latest foreign import in Manhattan, by way of Turkey. Simits are more or less sesame bagels with much larger holes, and they are going to be totally hot in 2015. Ok, probably not, but I had to get in one pseudo-end-of-year prediction. Clearly, I will need to sample more than just a cheese and tomato filled version to fully assess the situation. As far as authenticity, all I had to go on was the staff and clientele, who with the exception of my first and maybe my last (I say defeated-ly, not optimistically) Tinder date, appeared to be Turkish. Good riddance, 2014.