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Posts from the ‘Queens’ Category

Chains of Love: Denny’s Jackson Heights

Though it seemed like it appeared overnight, anyone following Queens chain news knew that this Denny’s has been promised for years. The first rumblings were in spring of 2013, a year and a half before I moved down the street. I assumed upon unpacking I would have Super Birds at my disposal 24 hours a day.

denny's facade

The most surprising thing about the new Jackson Heights’ Denny’s, nestled into the fresh, picture-window building also housing a Chipotle and Dunkin’ Donuts wasn’t that they don’t serve craft cocktails like NYC’s first Denny’s (they don’t serve alcohol at all) or that the host automatically sent my arriving party to the table where I was already seated (guess there’s a dearth of childless, middle-age white ladies in the neighborhood) or that it was nothing like the Denny’s in Japan. No, I was extremely tickled that the check was automatically divvied into three. I’m pretty sure I’ve never encountered that at a restaurant in NYC–or any other Denny’s.

denny's receipt

I did not take any photos of the interior. The restaurant is quite bright and large (the waiting area is the size of most cafes in the area) with lots of burgundy booths, diner seating, and totally nondescript décor. I kept getting distracted by blown-up photos on the wall depicting what looked like a Waffle House, but with Denny’s name on the signs.

The menu is heavy on Grand Slams, skillets, and burgers, as it always was. It’s also pretty trend-averse. There are no flatbreads or kale salads. Jalapeño bacon and salted caramel are about as daring as it gets.

denny's pot roast

Bacon cheddar tots were a new addition, and regular old fries could be upgraded to the little blobs, more fritter than tot, for $1.29, so that had to be done. They would probably be better if they cheese had melted rather than stayed shredded. I had no complaints about the level of American cheese oozing on my pot roast melt, though. With the addition of sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions, held together by toasted 7-grain bread, this was not a bad sandwich. There was an unplanned double pot roast order at my table.

denny's duo

I love leftovers (I always freak when dining with people who leave 25% of their food destined for the trash) so I brought them to work the next day. I reflexively hid my plastic bag from view on the subway, but remembered this was the 7 train, not the F where my Olive Garden remnants elicited scowls.

Denny’s * 8710 Northern Blvd., Jackson Heights, NY

Newborn: 969 NYC Coffee

Tuna, salmon, shrimp, and pork...you're covered.

Tuna, salmon, shrimp, and pork…you’re covered.

A mostly Japanese cafe (deli sandwiches are in the display case) with no seeming awareness of matcha’s trendiness (right up there with ube, one might say) or desire to convey its raison d’être with its name recently appeared off Roosevelt Avenue selling heart-shaped onigiri (only $2.50), tempura, miso soup, and green tea beverages. There is even outdoor seating, an anomaly in the neighborhood shared only by The Arepa Lady.

Ok,  Jackson Heights has never been known for its beauty.

Ok, Jackson Heights has never been known for its al fresco beauty.

The last thing I would expect around these parts is a cafe selling rice balls (take that back–dry-aged burgers or grain bowls would be less expected) and it may have to find its groove.

“Cafe con leche?” said one older woman to her friend as they noticed the new awning, deciding if they should go in. “Japonés?” They kept walking.

Being close to the 82nd Street subway station, I could see it working for a morning coffee or tea and a snack. I wouldn’t mind some sweets like daifuku or even a selection of Pocky and Japanese Kit Kats for beginners (green tea and sweet potato).

969 NYC Coffee * 37-61 80th St., Jackson Heights, NY

pauglina

Bonus newborn: Pauglina, a tasteful and luxurious shop like you’d find along the main strip in Hudson, NY, niche and not for townies, is a surprising entrant. Mostly store, there is a small cafe in the back with counter seating and stools, hence a mention here. They’re selling pastries from Lety’s, a nod to keeping it local. I didn’t try anything, but everyone–owners and customers–was friendly and excited for something new in the neighborhood, G word or not. (I’m not anti-gentrification in non-alienating doses, but don’t even get me started on the use of hipster to describe anything you don’t like, i.e. Facebook comments and message boards about anything new that’s not a 99-cent or mobile phone store. Only in Queens could  Latino couples, well-dressed middle-aged gay dads, and imported incense and artful floral arrangements [triple newborn: Tilde, a floral pop-up showcasing creative bouquets inside a decades-old floral store] be characterized as hipster.)

 

Shovel Time: Tito Rad’s

threeshovelMuch like the real world, the food world can be a confusing place. A quick skim through Twitter (well, my Twitter feed) will often mention the same subject framed multiple ways, interpreting ingredients or dishes as a new trend or old hat depending on the source. And this really only stands out to me when the disparity involves a pet interest of mine, like, say, Filipino food (I’ve always been a champion of this chronic underdog cuisine and swore it was going to blow up in NYC around 2012 when Maharlika, Talde, and Pig & Khao were fresh on the scene) which intersects with my blue/purple food mania, and then I get antsy. 

titoradsIn the same few weeks, I attended a Queens Dinner Club event at Tito Rad’s (awesome name and logo) where ube ice cream seemed like a novelty for people who love trying new food enough to come from all parts of NYC and beyond to Sunnyside  on a weeknight and Mic, one of countless millennial-focused sites that seems no different from any other site, posted an article titled LOL “Everything you need to know about ube — the purple yam that’s more than a hipster trend.” (In the past few months, other headlines, blessedly hipster-free, read like: “What You Need to Know About Ube, the Filipino Ingredient Invading the Dessert World,” “Is Ube Filipino America’s Breakout Food?” “Why ube is our new yam.” )

So, is the Filipino purple yam hot shit Instagram-bait or an exotic tuber that you’ve never heard of?

Tell me it doesn’t matter. It’s ok. I was going to “Barely Blog” this but now I’ve gone on too long to lump Tito Rad’s in with anyone else.

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Newborn: Sac’s Place

sacs-facade

So, Jackson Heights finally got good pizza. Not a Motorino or even a Milktooth. No brussels sprouts or negronis–are you insane? Believe me, I’m good with grandma slices, garlic knots, and meatball heroes, the sort of classics you take for granted in many New York neighborhoods. This is Sac’s, a new branch of a popular Astoria Italian restaurant that recently opened a block from my apartment, which is to say in the Latino section of Jackson Heights sitting among two of the best Uruguayan bakeries. The world needs empanadas and calzones, though. 

sacs-counter

It feels more like a takeout counter operation, though there are eight tables configured in twos and fours, and more substantial entree specials, like the lasagna (cheese or meat) and wild mushroom ravioli announced out front on one of my visits.

sacs-slices

So far, I’ve tried a few slices, a pepperoni roll that was nearly hefty as a calzone, and a whole pie. The “mama,” simple with full moons of fresh mozzarella and basil atop what read as a zippy sauce, chunky with San Marzano tomatoes, and tart. (I say “read as” because lately tomatoes, even roasted grape tomatoes which barely qualify as tomatoes, taste acidic to me and I’m not sure if that’s accurate or something I’ve done to my palate with new prescription drugs.) and a white slice, creamier and milder, obviously, which I liked well enough to order as a whole pie with sweet Italian sausage (ground up and blobby not firm and sliced, a surprise) another time.

Unsurprisingly, the Jackson Heights doesn’t have a coal oven that lends that trademark char to the thin crust. Here, it’s a little floppier. No complaints. Ok, just one–with Sac’s now on the scene, I can no longer justify ordering Hawaiian pizzas in the neighborhood. It would be a shame.

Sac’s Place * 86-14 37th Ave., Jackson Heights, NY

Eaten, Barely Blogged: French Schmaltz, Thai Soup, Mexican Sandwiches

sauvage quad

Sauvage is one of those curiosities where you remember looks more than taste even if your photos don’t convey it. And by you, it’s quite possible I mean just me. Light and airy. Windows open to the street. (My first thought was just because everyone speaks French and Spanish on Bedford Avenue, doesn’t mean we’re in Europe. Some of us enjoy A/C.) Where high-waisted jeans in pale washes and Keds look pretty. (Or maybe that’s just how everyone under 30 looks now–the young women working at Pye Boat Noodle, below, had a similar aesthetic plus straw hats encircled by a fat black ribbon). Service was gracious (even though I was given a time-limit on my table for arriving early but reservation-less). How could this pretty (and those coasters) crushed ice cocktail topped with purple petals not be delicious? Ok, with Macvin du Jura, Aveze gentian, and pear, it was, and hard spirit-free refreshing. This delicate quality was also present in the food to lesser effect. Sunchokes with green garlic, sunflower sprouts, and ‘nduja vinaigrette managed to make something with an oily, spicy component neither luscious nor hot and more like the crunchy tubers they were. Pike with so-called mountain vegetables (morels, asparagus, mystery green), and sour beer sabayon was chosen because it was described as the heartier of the two seafood dishes (oh, there was also a fish special that our server seemed very disappointed we didn’t go for), a word I would use more for the pot au feu chicken with skin schmaltz toast, despite chicken fat on bread translating as, yes, delicate. Maybe I’m just losing interest in full meals. I would totally return for cocktails and snacks at the bar if anyone suggested it (though I’m not sure they would).

cemitas el tigre tinga

Cemitas el Tigre I’m kind of jealous that Sunnyside and Woodside gets modern restaurants like Dawa’s and this former Smorgasburg sanwichery now with seats, subway tiles, wood arranged into chevron patterns, and a bar with bottles of Negro Modelo and gose on tap. Jackson Heights never changes no matter how much people who don’t live here seem to think it’s gentrifying. Rent and co-op prices continue creeping-up, and it’s still impenetrably pollo a la brasa, momos, and sports bars. What’s the difference between a Mexican cemita and one meant for a broader clientele? About $1, papalo, and a seeded roll. The thing is, I didn’t really miss that traditional herb’s almost menthol obtrusiveness on this chicken tinga sandwich, hollowed-out roll stuffed with avocado, saucey chipotles, and Oaxacan string cheese. I’m half-ashamed to admit that I pulled 60% of the herb off the last cemita I had a few months ago from El Rico Tinto Bakery. (This might all be moot because Cemitas El Tigre’s menu claims to use papalo and sesame seed rolls. Maybe sometimes they do?)

pye boat noodles

Pye Boat Noodle Ok, it might seem lame to bemoan the loss of nam tok soup a.k.a. boat noodles when there’s a restaurant with the dish in its name a few neighborhoods over. I’m not intrepid as I used to be. Luckily, I had an afternoon to take advantage of the quiet backyard and happy hour beer special in that murky zone between lunch and dinner. (I’ll have to double-check and see if I was charged lunch or dinner prices on the soup–there’s a dollar difference.) A condiment caddy is always a good sign, the cracklings were a nice touch, and the soup itself was rich, complex, just a little livery, yet still buoyant enough for the steamy weather. Astoria, which I’m slowly getting to know, is a small town because the same loud millennial who was making fun of his 40something aunt for getting breast implants the first time I went to Mar’s, also showed up here and I recognized his attention-getting voice before even looking up from my bowl of noodles. Eerily, while typing this District Saigon liked a bunch of my Instagram photos (maybe you should follow me–I’m friendly) which reminded me that’s where I had intended to go this particular afternoon, but it’s one of those closed between lunch and dinner places.

olive garden spaghetti pie

Olive Garden You might think you want pasta formed into a pie (and there are plenty of reputable examples online that I’m not going to link to) but you probably don’t need Olive Garden’s new spaghetti novelty, either Alfredo’d-up with chicken or with tomato sauce and meatballs. No one needs that level of pasta density, unless we’re discussing kugel. Then again, the ramen burger was a runaway hit. I wouldn’t eat that either.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Birds, Blood, Chile Oil

paet rio nam tok soup

Paet Rio take two. I didn’t do a very good job of selling someone who wanted Japanese noodles for lunch and isn’t into Thai food because he thinks it’s all sweetness and coconut milk. I said no pad thai because I’m controlling, then eased up and didn’t provide enough guidance and he ended up ordering rad na, which is the weirdest, blandest, gravy-drenched Chinese-Thai noodle dish that I’m convinced only means something to people who grew up with it. So much so that I passed on a photo. I went looking for a nam tok soup replacement post-Plant Love House (Pata Paplean succeeds, but that’s not a weekday affair) and received an ok rendition. It was a little wan when I was seeking something more powerful and dank.

ivan ramen trio

Ivan Ramen came through on the Japanese noodle front, though accidentally, while weaving from the East Village to Chinatown, not all that hungry after green tea bun at Panya and afternoon beers and a shot at 7B.  The spicy broth slicked with chile oil was softened by finely minced pork and a yolky egg fluffed into an almost-scramble. The tangle of noodles light and springy. I wouldn’t consider $22 a bargain lunch special but with a can of Japanese beer and a chosen side (cucumber pickles in my case) it’s as good a way as any to spend a leisurely afternoon.

le coq rico trio

Le Coq Rico is where you’d expect a prix-fixe lunch to be $38 (though I had a $27 deal because I’m a grandma, see above). The Parisian import is all about aged birds of many breeds, some more than $100 a pop. This particular week, and maybe always, the featured non-whole chicken was a 110-day aged Brune Landaise, roasted with riesling and other aromatics, ideal for the dark meat types (I’ll never understand white meat-lovers), plated simply with jus and a side salad, but not necessarily revelatory. It’s chicken. I’d need to taste more varieties in quick succession to better suss out this particular breed’s attributes. First course was chicken livers with another salad. There is a lot of liver lurking under those leaves, plus some unexpected smears of hummus for added creaminess and richness. That île flottante, though (baked Alaska is next on my list of classics). The meringue mound surrounded a crème anglaise moat and slivered toasted almonds was the breakout star. It was practically a sext when I sent a pic of myself cradling the dish–and now, I’ve firmly entered middle-aged Better than Sex Cake (Better than Robert Redford Cake, if you’re even more aged) territory. Wow. 

duck soup

And speaking of poultry offal, the shop with a three duck logo and name I can’t recall because I don’t think it was in English, is where to go in the New World Mall food court if you want a bowl of mild, cloudy broth full of clear bean thread noodles and bobbing slices of fried crueller and hidden cubes of duck blood, gizzards, and other, livery bits instead of the more popular hand-shaved noodle soups. It lacks the luxuriousness of fatty roast duck and the herbs to read as medicinal. I’d say the soup is restorative. When in doubt, add chile oil. It’s Probably good for a hangover.

white bear wontons

White Bear is hardly an unknown. All non-Chinese order the 12 for $5.50 #6, and I’m not one to buck that wontons with chile oil trend.

Newborn: Oceanic Boil

If there’s anything Jackson Heights residents might agree on, it would be that we don’t need any more chicken restaurants or sports bars or sports bars run by chicken restaurants that end up changing their name so people don’t wonder why there are two Pollos Mario on the same block. It’s a sad state of affairs when a new, nondescript teriyaki takeout joint rouses interest because at least it’s something different.

Oceanic Boil is quite possibly the best name ever for a new restaurant. #jacksonheights #newborn

A photo posted by Krista Garcia (@goodiesfirst) on

Oceanic Boil is different. It kind of wins just on name alone. Poetic yet direct, if you get the restaurant’s M.O. It’s been a long time coming–I was kind of shocked to see it had been 76 weeks since I first got wind of it (only 1.5 months into this apartment, I was still easily excited). What might not be apparent at first glance is that what’s being served is New Orleans-style shellfish, boiled in Old Bay and custom levels of cayenne heat. Plain and simple peel-and-eat bar food minus the bar. Tables are wrapped in brown kraft paper, plastic gloves provided by default, paper plates handed out if asked for. 

oceanic boil crawfish & shrimp

This is the crawfish and shrimp combo that comes with corn and potatoes. Diners can choose between thick garlic butter and lemon pepper sauces for dipping. Traditionalists won’t need any at all.

oceanic boil menu

Wisely–not everyone will want to work for their meal–there are also fried seafood baskets (I was given a light crab cake to sample) and extras like lobster rolls and clams casino. And possibly a first for the neighborhood, there will also be a raw bar selection (oysters haven’t been sourced yet). This is still a soft open. 

oceanic boil interior

The overall feeling is vaguely Asian (maybe I’m just reacting to the good luck bamboo trees since the red and green color palette, forged metal seats, and prancing stags gracing the entryway don’t signal any particular heritage) and that’s because it kind of is; the owner is Chinese, the gentleman who appeared to be running things was Indonesian. There are Japanese beers and sake (as well as wine, both plum and Coppola). Oceanic Boil falls between Crazy Crab (r.i.p.) and Claw Daddy’s on the NYC boiled seafood spectrum (the menu is very similar to The Boil’s in actuality) which I hope can resonate considering this is the epicenter of Colombian Jackson Heights. 

Oceanic Boil * 84-20 37th Ave., Jackson Heights, NY

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Elmhurst Thai Two-Fer

paet rio trio

Paet Rio To date, I’ve only ordered delivery (and still can’t figure out if the 8 is part of its name or not) and usually rely on Kitchen 79 and Arunee because they are in my neighborhood officially despite not being any closer than this part of Elmhurst. In-person is just right, though, small like the best Queens Thai restaurants of yore but with that modern rough wood, exposed-brick-and-ductwork style that signals a younger person is probably involved somehow. The collection of salads and appetizers were right on, from the duck with cashews, pineapple and matchsticks of green apple to the puffy fish maw and crispy anchovy to the grilled sausage and never-had-before crispy greens-stuffed pancake, more bubbly like a fried spring roll wrapper than crepe. Only the steamed mussels (not my idea but trying to prove I’m not a food boss!) were kind of bland and lackluster. Unlike many of the latest wave of Elmhurst Thai that are more narrowly focused (khao mun gai, sweet things on toast, noodle soups, over-rice dishes), Paet Rio is a little more general purpose. 

sugar club roti

Sugar Club Despite having been for sweets like the banana roti (above) before, I’m pretty sure I’ve never mentioned this cafe/shop that has blossomed into a fun grocery source. They may not have everything (like plain old dried shrimp paste, oddly) but what they do stock isn’t completely duplicating what you’d find in the the Thai section of the typical NYC Pan-Asian-but-mostly-Chinese supermarket. That’s to say toiletries and packaged goods like Lay’s in flavors like namtok hotpot (meatball blood soup, more or less) but also a lot of prepared food that is sometimes sold bazaar-style from set-up tables on weekends, and my personal favorite, nam priks galore stacked in the fridge. I’m always warned when trying to buy them, and if they only knew that some like the pork-catfish I picked up on Sunday is already almost gone today (Tuesday). On the other hand, a wet, deeply funky shrimp paste I bought months ago to sub for the dried stuff, went in my freezer barely touched. If there should be any warning, it’s that sauces involving catfish are filled with deadly little bones that will stab your tonsils no matter how carefully you chew. 

cottage cheeses nam prik

This particular chile paste has a real dirty-hot quality while still retaining a candied flavor, and I want to eat it with everything (in my poorly stocked kitchen) which means old carrots, leftover pita chips from Easter, and on cottage cheese. Tonight I’ll toss it with some gai lan and some pork strips a.k.a. moo dad, also picked up at Sugar Club.

butterfly pea flower

But really, I’m burying the lede because they also sell what look like packets of potpourri but are dried butterfly pea flowers, source of my natural blue dye obsession. I’m going to have to do something good with these.

Related, when did Chao Thai Too close? That, plus the shuttering of Plant Love House and supposedly Zabb Elee too, at least in its current form (though the only mention I’ve seen of this is in a print Jackson Heights gardening newsletter my neighbor gave me). What’s going on, local Thai?

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Pizza, Pizza, Sushi, Himalayan and Not

pizzeria sirenetta arugula & prosciutto pizza

Pizzeria Sirenetta This is type of place–pizzas, pastas, snacks, all under $20–just taken for granted in so many neighborhoods. (A little less so in this more-desolate-than-you’d-think pocket of the Upper West Side.) I mean, it’s kind of boring. Also, I would kill for one. There just isn’t anywhere to get skinny linguine creamy with meyer lemon-spiked ricotta and sprinkled with micro-croutons or what I’ve decided is my favorite pizza, the perfect bitter/rich/salty combo of arugula and prosciutto. Instead of the little chocolate pudding freebie offered at the end of the other Mermaid restaurant meals, you will receive a tiny panna cotta with a droplet of balsamic vinegar.

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Eaten, Barely Blogged: More Ramen, Bhutanese Queso, Boat Noodles

ramen by mew

Ramen by MEW Maybe at a certain point even ramen obsessives (which I am not) give up on keeping tabs on every new option’s appearance. To me, they just blur together and I’m never going to click on the whichever best-of round-up emerges weekly. I know Ramen-Ya is the more lauded newish West Village shop but at Ramen by MEW you can just walk in and be slurping within seconds. The karamiso tonkotsu, melding earthy miso and chile heat with pork broth into an opaque orange brew, is seriously hefty. There’s no way that tuft of spinach can balance out that lovely slab of of fatty chasu porking-up the bowl even further.

Not terribly related, there was an unusually long reported piece in Tasting Table today about Japanese chains opening in the US, mostly in NYC with some focus on Portland, Oregon. The ramen’ed-out like me have udon-focused Tsurutontanto and standing-only Ikinari Steak to look forward to. Yes. 

A little related to the above, Portland’s Original Pancake House is opening in Hakata, its third Japan location.

ema datsi bhutan

Bhutanese Ema Datsi  Controversial blanket statement: I’m kind of indifferent to most Himalayan food, which is shameful since I live steps from  its New York epicenter. (Ok, I almost ordered delivery from Phayul the other night, but they have Sichuan leanings so it’s not all bland beef and starch.) But I got caught up in the spirit of neighborhood adventure–this unusual restaurant at the nexus of Woodside, Jackson Heights, and Elmhurst is the only place in the city serving Bhutanese food, after all–after some back and forth with someone who might turn out to be my last-ever NYC Tinder date (a development having nothing to do with this benign individual). I was fond of the namesake dish, ema datsi, in that it was like eating chili-studded queso with nutty red rice instead of chips. The confusing aspect was being warned about heat, specifically the soup that came with the sekam thali, akin to a milky seaweed-heavy miso broth, was baby palate mild. Maybe I’d just revved up my taste receptors too high, having come straight from Plant House Love (r.i.p. Queens location). Sekam, by the way, is practically Bhutanese chasu; thin, still-fatty, jerky-like strips of pork belly interspersed with daikon and rehydrated red chiles.

lots of memories but it’s time to move on

A photo posted by บ้านปลูกรัก/ ร้านลูก (@plantlovehouse) on

More unrelated-ness: with the recent defection of Biang! (and humble kin Xi’an long before) and Plant Love House to Prospect Heights, plus Bun-Ker’s expansion to Bushwick, there must be a Queens is the New (Old?) Something or Another trend piece to unpack. 

pata paplean nam tok

By the way, it’s not like you can’t still get petite servings of blood-enriched nam tok in Elmhurst. If you can work out Pata Paplean’s quirky hours, there will be a nice bowl of boat noodles in your future.