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Posts from the ‘Long Island City’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Labor Day Weekend Edition

sake bar by zabb full spread

Sake Bar by Zabb. A basement izakaya/sushi den popping up in many neighborhoods might be no big thing, but Japanese food is scarce in Jackson Heights and a drinking (and snacking) place open until 4am that isn’t geared toward carousing Latino men is huge. I was excited. There’s nothing wildly esoteric being served in the slight space, but you’ll do just fine with grilled mackerel, fried baby octopus and chicken gizzards, takoyaki, as well as some of those cross-cultural pastas that are practically Italian if it weren’t for flourishes like seaweed or roe, plus a sushi bar and specialty rolls like the one I’m just noticing now that combines shrimp tempura with pineapple and mozzarella that should’ve been calling my name if I’d been paying attention to the other side of the menu. Sake Bar is affiliated with upstairs Zabb Elee (and the naming convention couldn’t be more Thai) the restaurant with the distinction of being the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Jackson Heights. Next door Playground Thai, which I’d never heard of, was completely packed on a Sunday night and made me wonder who goes to Playground when Zabb is right there? If it hasn’t already been done, this is crying out for an article. Who goes to the lesser restaurant when competitors are in close proximity?

smorgasburg bacon jam sticky bun

Smorgasburg Queens. The very definition of barely blogged is stopping by a food fair and only trying one thing. I was hot and uninspired (eating and sweating outdoors isn’t really my thing unless I’m in Southeast Asia) sorry.  RAR Bar is perhaps better known for its Elvis croissant, but I wanted something more, er, delicate and less sweet, you know, like a bacon jam sticky bun. The less sweet thing was too true. In fact, the dense and lardy pastry was fully savory despite what looked like candied bits of bacon and what they’d call pork floss if sold at one of those Singaporean or Malaysian hawker stalls. I love pork floss and I’m still not sure if I liked this or not.

lobster joint lobster roll

Lobster Joint. And once again being a hypocrite, I made a big production about wanting whole lobster only this weekend, no rolls, and then went and ate a roll on a whim (after walking from Smorgasburg in a daze and pit-stopping at Transmitter Brewing for a tasting). This was a satisfying New England-style roll, light-handed with the mayonnaise (which I’m pretty sure contained tarragon) and extraneous crunchy additions i.e. celery. I also ate fries, this time waffle, for unexpected late-night dinner at The Randolph. That might be embarrassing under any other circumstances than a three-day weekend.

fritz's lunchbox burger

Fritzl’s Lunch Box. Ok, technically I ate this delicious mess of a cheeseburger before Labor Day weekend. It’s notable enough, though, to not let it get lost in the wilds of Instagram. The use of strong cheddar instead of American cheese (my disgusting preference) tells you it’s not haute junk food, as does the aioli and super mustardy relish, which probably made me seem like a maniac when I asked for mustard before tasting. It’s not precious either. Why there was never more than one other table occupied during my 8-9pm solo stint in the back garden is a mystery.

M. Wells Steakhouse

threeshovelIf you’ve heard anything about M. Wells Steakhouse, it’s that steaks aren’t necessarily its strength (oh, and that it’s hidden away at the ends of the earth amidst a bunch of grit and rubble–never mind the towering luxury dwellings and five subway lines running less than four blocks away). That makes perfect sense for a restaurant sprung from the contrarian Québécois school where more is more and things are never what they seem.

Prices, portions and descriptors can be at odds. Can a lobster tail really be $10 when the caviar sandwich is $50? Should one pay $60 to eat something called a Dog Bowl? I knew that the $25 side of beef butter was actually a small steak, but where does that fit into the meal?

m wells steakhouse shrimp on shrimp

Two of the things I did want (Solomon Gundy, bison rib eye) were already unavailable at 8pm on a Sunday. Not that that didn’t leave plenty of other choices; the menu is sprawling. I would’ve preferred the excess of the smelt and trout egg waffle to the shrimp on shrimp, which is exactly what it sounds like, plus cocktail sauce and the flavor of Old Bay.

m wells steakhouse onion & bone marrow soup

The onion and bone marrow soup was more like it. Who cares that the gratineed beef gelatin enriched with pork belly, caramelized onions, and yes, containing a scoopable bone, hardly qualifies as a soup. This is the M. Wells-ian decadence people–and by people, I mean me–want.

m wells steakhouse dinner

The steaks were ok. Or maybe I’ve just been unduly influenced. I had to nix the châteaubriand for two because that tender cut is like the steak fries of steak. And that’s not a positive. The côte de boeuf probably would’ve been more up my alley, but the Minetta Tavern price tag was not.  The grass-fed Kansas strip had moments of greatness. Medium-rare was exactly that and some bites had nice char and punches of minerality, but overall it was a fairly innocuous piece of meat. That said, the half I saved for dinner the next night was one of the better things I’ve eaten in my apartment this year. It’s all about context.

m wells steakhouse t-bone

The T-bone was more what I wanted–fat and flavor–though my dining companion preferred my strip steak, which only proves that meat is very subjective.

m wells steakhouse pommes agliote stretched

Sides were more fun. Potatoes come five ways and the aligot, more cheese and butter than actual tuber, is the one to get if only to test its elasticity with a fork.

m wells steakhouse salsify & black truffles

Salsify with shaved black truffles was almost candied, as the roots were browned in copious amounts of butter, bringing out the natural sweetness.

After all this (and a Manhattan and a bottle of Russian River valley pinot noir that I can’t recall) dessert wasn’t entirely needed. I wanted to see the fabled dessert cart rolling about the former garage’s floor (as long as I live, I’ll never forget the two sweets trolleys at Robuchon a Galera in Macau) but that wasn’t the drill. Next thing, I’ll find out that the trout are already dead and caught elsewhere and and that there’s not going to be freaking catamaran at all.

m wells steakhouse pavlova

At least a pavlova is light. The meringue shell was drizzled with a passionfruit sauce and branded with gold leaf. The interior contained blood orange curd.

The menu is ranging enough to pay an additional visit and try all different things. I’d be up for a non-steak second meal, not because the meat was all that disappointing but because other dishes are just more interesting.

M. Wells Steakhouse * 43-15 Crescent St., Long Island City, NY

M. Wells

Between servers ignoring tables speaking English (i.e. us), snickering about my cleavage—and the bizarre last straw—finding a screw in one of our dishes, my experience with foodie-approved Au Pied de Cochon was unappetizing to say the least. I would never return unless I felt like being hazed like an outcast in a high school cafeteria.

So, when I heard about Au Pied de Cochon by way of Long Island City, my first thought was "These fuckers?" Ok, ok, M. Wells turned out to be the project of just one chef from the Montreal restaurant and his wife. Innocent until proven guilty.

M wells coffee

And the gussied-up diner ended up being completely charming despite my aversion to brunch, or more accurately brunchers. I think one of its saving graces is the isolated location, despite being right across from midtown with a 7 stop feet from the front door. There was a small crowd when we arrived around 1pm, and we probably could’ve gotten a table within ten minutes but opted for two empty stools at the end of the counter.

M wells doughnut

I didn't even mind the languid pacing—I had my coffee (Oslo, not Stumptown) and wasn't in any hurry. However, the dense, cakey doughnut brought over to buffer the lag between ordering and receiving our food was appreciated. 

M wells escargot & bone marrow

I'll order anything involving bone marrow and was curious what how escargots bone marrow with shallots and red wine puree might be presented (I'm not one of those customers who asks questions). Tight quarters with nearly everything on display, we happened to be sitting across from a prep cook so I could see this dish being composed. A bone halved lengthwise gets dotted with pink and gray blobs, then heaped with breadcrumbs and parsley, ready for the broiler. Crispy and unctuous, this preparation felt like a tiny luxury rather than the purist, fatty style more typically served.

M wells pickled tongue

The pickled pork tongue was a last minute extra, and I'm glad I squeezed it in. The tongue was tender, almost pot roast shreddable, and wonderful with the flaky housemade (the worst word but accurate) soda crackers and sharp mustard. None of it was much to look at on the plate, but this is exactly the kind of spartan snack I'd love to come home to after work.

M wells egg sausage sandwich

I did not partake in the already renowned breakfast sandwich on a housemade (there it is again) English muffin. I'm just not crazy about breakfast sausage; I think it's the sage. Then again, my sense of taste and smell could be off because I kept getting a very mild whiff of durian throughout the meal, and it turned out it was coming from this handheld meal. Weird. James declared the sandwich better than what he churns out on his completely unnecessary all-in-one mcmuffin making gadget. A win for M. Wells.

M. Wells * 21-17 49th Ave., Long Island City, NY

Lucky Mojo

3/4 Cajun, Tex-Mex, bbq and sushi? Sounds like kitchen nightmare waiting to happen. The cuisine at Lucky Mojo is about as convoluted as the restaurant’s history. This cavernous bi-level, barn-like space is the current incarnation of the now-shuttered Upper West Side Jacques-Imo’s, which was an offshoot of a popular New Orleans restaurant.

Lucky mojo interior

I liked my meal on a visit to Louisiana some time ago, never heard anything good about the NYC version and was even more scared of this Long Island City mishmash. It’s not the kind of place you go out of your way for, but if the urge for sushi and etoufee strikes while you’re at the Water Taxi Beach, Lucky Mojo is your place.

Lucky mojo crawfish sushi

There’s a full on sushi bar upstairs, which churns out standard rolls in addition to specialties like this one using crawfish and Tabasco.

Lucky mojo shrimp & alligator cheesecake

I was not weirded out by the shrimp and alligator cheesecake because it’s a Jacques-Imo’s signature that I’ve had before. It only sounds creepy because they call it a cheesecake, which it is–oh, and because alligator meat doesn’t sit well with some. The alligator is in sausage form and with all of the cream and spices you would have no idea you were eating a water reptile unless someone told you. No, this is not healthy food but split among four it was reasonable.

Lucky mojo bbq shrimp

Bbq shrimp is another frighteningly rich New Orleans dish that has nothing to do with barbecue sauce or grilling. I’ve had a wonderful rendition of this buttery, Worcestershire and black pepper drenched treat, and this didn’t quite match. The rice was on the undercooked side, too. And they forgot my side of collard greens.

 Lucky mojo shrimp po boy

I did not taste this shrimp po boy.

Lucky mojo catfish sandwich

Nor the catfish sandwich.

Lucky mojo vegetarian tacos

Vegetarian taco. What more needs to be said?

As we finished our meal, my dining companions and I began discussing a movie we were about to watch, The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief, about gender reversal host bars where young Japanese women pay good money for the attention of hired men. The Japanese propensity for fantasy indulging and role-playing gave us a brilliant idea: Beta Kappa McPaddysteins.

This would be a faux frat house where Japanese girls would shell out big bucks for a simulated American-style date rape experience. Don’t worry, no sex would actually occur, this would be a professional establishment. First, our patrons would be serenaded by Dave Mathews and sloppily wooed by gentleman in cargo shorts, flip flops and baseball caps. Beer pong would be played and jello shots would be in abundance. Good clean fun, a little cosplay never hurt anyone.

Huh, and then our waiter broke up our genius business plan when he stopped by with a tray of shots. Did he overhear? Did he want in on the action? No way, mister, Beta Kappa McPaddysteins is all mine.

Read my less date rapey take on Lucky Mojo for

Lucky Mojo * Long Island City, NY

Brasil Coffee House

1/2 So, I grew up in the freaking coffee capital of the US (or is that Seattle? I get confused. Maybe Portland is the nation’s microbrew capital, though I swear on some horrible Food Network show I was trying not to pay attention to said that Denver had that honor) but all I drink is black drip coffee. Even though I choose to drink sucky coffee cart coffee, I can tell when coffee doesn’t suck.

Brasil_coffee_house_yuca_cakeI wouldn’t be opposed to drinking Brasil Coffee House’s product if one existed anywhere near me. And almost more importantly, their yuca cakes, croquettes and cheesey pan de queijo are way more exciting than muffins (but then, I’m muffin averse). By the way, that's not a muffin on the right–it's a springy, coconut-topped yuca cake that just happens to be in a muffin wrapper.

Read my review on

Brasil Coffee House * 48-19 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City, NY

La Vuelta

I’ll admit to Long Island City dining ignorance. I don’t feel too bad because there’s not a whole lot of it to be informed about. I suspect that will change as condos continue popping up in the area and new residents bring higher standards.

But I recently started reviewing restaurants for (Hey, why not? I just hope it’s not a conflict to post my own takes here. I mean, these aren’t terribly useful and tend to be more about me than anything. What I’m paid to do is short, sweet and service oriented. Totally different beasts.) I need to represent diversity in neighborhood, culinary style and price range. It’s going to be tricky covering ten a month (that’s a lot of rice and beans, papi) because I’m accustomed to eating Asian (I know, that’s about as broad as Latin American) whenever possible and I started watching my damn points last week (yes, Weight Watchers. It’s laughable, I realize. But heck, if I even managed to shed a measly half-pound a week, that’ll be 26 gone by Christmas. I’m a turtle not a hare.) and lord knows I can’t turn down free food.

La_vuelta_empanadas I get the sense that La Vuelta does a brisk lunch and happy hour business and is trying to expand their reach. They recently started opening on Saturdays and will add Sundays next month. When we arrived around 8:30pm on a Saturday there were only two other tables occupied. It’s not surprising since the block is less than bustling.

La_vuelta_shrimp The food is all over the place (geographically, not haphazardly) with Argentinean skirt steak, cubanos, empanadas, nachos, and the like. We tried empanaditas, four tiny cheese filled pastries with salsa and two larger pork style crescents with bbq sauce. Not bad. James had said skirt steak, which came with mashed potatoes and chimmichurri. I went for grilled shrimp with coconut rice and a jalapeno-pineapple mojo (don’t tell anyone, but I’m not crazy about a lot of Western rice dishes. Biryani and nasi lemak: uh-huh. Paella and risotto: eh). They weren’t able to make the advertised pisco sours (no pisco) but caipirinhas and rioja sufficed.

Everything was well seasoned and the service nice as can be, but it’s definitely a neighborhood restaurant. And L.I.C. could surely use a few more.

La Vuelta *10-43 44th Dr., Long Island City, NY