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Posts tagged ‘astor room’

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Grandma Edition

Because I can be a horrible person, in my 17 years of NYC life I’ve only returned home for a visit maybe four times. Periodically a family member or two will make up the difference and venture here from Oregon. That was the case this weekend and the impetus for social media grousing over the many where-to-dine-with-out-of-town-parents listicles that assume all elders are wealthier than their adult children and can’t wait to treat them to Daniel.

This was an all-Queens extravaganza motivated by the fact that my mom and her mom have experienced Manhattan and Brooklyn many times by now–and more importantly were airbnb’ing four blocks from my apartment in Jackson Heights. If I took away anything from this rare visit it might be that there’s a genetic possibility that between now and senior citizen-hood I could morph from a crank into a ham.

pollos mario spread

Chicken, rice, beans, and salad at Pollos a la Brasa Mario happened before I realized standard food blog photos weren’t going to cut it. Grandma wanted to be in the picture. There were mixed feelings on first experiences with arepas while hearts of palm passed muster.

jahn's waffle

I’ve wanted to go to the last Jahn’s on earth ever since moving here six months ago but wouldn’t drag friends out for the experience and going solo never felt right. The liver and onions, meatloaf, and white zinfandel will still have to wait. There’s no arguing with a fat waffle hiding a trove of bacon beneath, though.

grandma jahn's breakfast

“The fruit is in a can,” grandma was warned when ordering french toast with fruit. Who would have it any other way? Breakfast inspired the first action shot. Life, bowls of cherries and all that.


grandma eating takoyaki

Octopus balls became a hot topic after showing a photo of takoyaki made by a friend of a friend for Easter, so I knew that while in Flushing I’d have to flout convention and stop by the only Japanese stand, Mojoilla Fresh, at the New World Mall.

grandma tacuba

If you wrap up a Museum of the Moving Image visit too early for The Astor Room’s 5pm happy hour , newish Tacuba across the street is great for a very strong margarita (or two). I probably wouldn’t suggest pitching in with the guacamole-making service to everyone.

astor room bacon

There are limits to being game. No one could be convinced to eat $1 oysters at The Astor Room, but the candied bacon that’s freely available at the bar was a hit.

grandma astor room

I almost thought I was going to get a new grandpa out of our very sweet bartender.

grandma jackson diner

I regret not squeezing in any momos or thenthuk considering Himalayan is now more relevant than Indian in the neighborhood. Buffets are crowd-pleasers, though, and Jackson Diner is now a classic in its own way.

grandma jahn's

Jahn’s was irresistible. So much so that sundaes were had an hour before dinner. Now I need to convince seven others to go in on the original large format meal, the $51.95 Kitchen Sink.

grandma chivito d'oro

Only a heartless monster could dislike Chivito d’Oro, the lovely wood-paneled Uruguayan steakhouse that’s second-closest to my apartment. This is the first time I didn’t order a full-blown parrillada and ventured into the pasta section (primavera with canned mushrooms that elicited no comment a la Jahn’s). Even though I try to avoid starch during the day, I am eating the leftover pasta for lunch as I type because I abhor food waste with the passion of someone on a fixed income.

grandma kitchen 79

Kitchen 79 has a good $7.50 lunch special (grandma had a simple green salad and pineapple fried rice with chicken) and now serves beer.

Not pictured: Empanadas, pasteles, and mini cakes from La Gran Uruguaya or random pizza ordered from La Pequena Taste of Italy on Seamless for delivery that didn’t arrive and took me over an hour to realize I’d accidentally clicked pick-up (too much happy hour).

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Nearly Sog-Free

Sripraphai crispy chinese watercress salad

As often, fried pork belly with chiles and basil, and duck with Thai eggplants were on the agenda, no need to rehash. But the Chinese watercress salad? What the heck?! Since when did they start serving it all deconstructed? I appreciate their new (to me) attention to sog (never mind my own personal sog brought on by my lack of waterproof shoes–that freak Saturday snow  caused wet soggy socks that I had to keep on my feet for hours) but I actually kind of liked the spicy and fishy goop, filled with softened shallots and stray pieces of batter that collected at the bottom of the plate. It reminded me of  how one of the best parts of an ice cream sundae is all the melted ice cream and whipped cream mingling with syrup (coffee, butterscotch, and hot fudge) that I used to call “the drink’ when Farrell’s still existed in Portland and I could order the Mocha Nut. Previously on Sripraphai.

Astor room
Astor Room
$1.50 oysters might not be the most suitable snow in October snack (I don’t associate chilled raw seafood with wintery weather) but paired with two for one classic (the Mary Pickford, pictured) and newfangled (The Mexican Firing squad, not snapped) cocktails, the 5pm-7pm happy hour is a fun pitstop before a movie at the nearby UA Kaufman Astoria multiplex. Except that we stayed beyond our showtime. Luckily, Drive was still playing at Kew Gardens Cinemas (and Cobble Hill Cinemas—they’re owned by the same company, which becomes apparent during the ‘80s-seeming, probably made in the ‘90s s pre-trailer sequence with a synth soundtrack to rival Drive’s—but I like my old, small, two-dollars-cheaper theaters bereft of people). Previously on Astor Room.

Jolie Cantina
BrooklynDid you ever eat at Jolie? I did not. It took a move and sprinkling Mexican touches into the French cuisine to get my attention. I like mish-mashes. And they were subtle. Like funky merguez links in tacos and duck confit in enchiladas. The blueberry strudel with pistachio ice cream was straightforward. It’s a low-key neighborhood restaurant, not one worth traveling to, but one I could revisit since it’s not one of those places where weeknight dining demands a lengthy wait. Plus, I like the roosters in a beret and a sombrero.

Duran duranRedFarm has moved onto its fancier digs. Now you have burgers, salads, sandwiches, and the new Mr. Wong’s, filling the Chinese void. It is kind of fun ordering duck wonton noodles by touchscreen. And it was one of the least offensive dining options near Madison Square Garden. It took nearly three decades (sweet jesus) but I’ve finally seen Duran Duran live. That is my view from above, and not my noodles (obviously).

Chip Shop
A plate with 90% of its surface taken up by stubby, gravy-soaked fried potatoes (at least two spuds) beef and kidney-filled pie centered on top should probably not be consumed unless one is bulking up for the winter. What else is the Chip Shop good for if not adding snow-in-October padding. Too bad they were out of Scotch eggs.

The Astor Room

1/2 I don’t even bother attempting to keep up with new restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn first-hand anymore. I’m not out and about every night, the first few weeks are always crowded and awful and then when you’ve waited a month for a place to mellow out, the chef leaves. Queens, though? Totally manageable. How often does a new restaurant open in the borough with any semblance of fanfare? I take Queens over Brooklyn on many levels (we ended up seeing Blue Valentine in Kew Gardens after eating at The Astor room even though the movie’s playing in our own neighborhood—I like a quiet, sparsely populated theater).

Astor room entrance Located in the basement near one corner of the Kaufman Astoria Studios, the space functioned as Paramount Pictures’ commissary from the '20s until…I’m not sure. No matter, it has been reopened to the public and is serving cocktails and food evocative of the early 20th century. And no, it’s not a speakeasy despite its subterranean location, piano player and bearded bartender. The entrance is clearly marked by an awning—and a sign for valet parking—the first hint that this is a thoroughly Queens operation.

Other clues that you are not in Brooklyn: instead of the standard maximum bodies/minimal breathing room banquette along a wall, the tables are well-spaced (and there was no wait for one on a weekend night) and seat four, cocktails are $9, neither a 25-year-old nor 65-year-old would feel out of place, the ceiling is low, white and paneled like in an office building. Despite being more Victorian, a Brooklyn restaurant probably would’ve put in tin ceilings or some other bygone signifier, the wood wouldn’t be so pristine and glossy but artfully dulled down and roughed-up; the brass fixtures not so polished, if used at all. This photo sums up what I mean. The tiled walls are cool and are one of the few vestiges of the original space. The Astor Room is not hip and I can appreciate that. Not following the old-timey playbook endeared them to me.

Then there are incongruencies. Service is opening-week, over-officious–at points staff outnumbered the guests–though I’m certain once everyone gets into synch about formalities like when to replace silverware, where to position the glasses and not to remove bread plates (the rolls are like a focaccia/Cheddar Bay Biscuit hybrid and you don’t want a half-nibbled one whisked away) they’ll ease up.

It’s also difficult to overlook the prices of some of the entrees, especially those creeping over the thirty dollar mark (after an assessment, I see that five of the 29 are over $30 and the average price is $21, which is fair). That could be a tough sell for a restaurant that’s not quite a destination; just off Northern Boulevard’s car dealer strip, this commercial patch’s main draw is the multiplex theater (though, the beer garden, Pizzeria Uno and Applebee’s are also popular). For now, the clientele appears to be locals, particularly at the bar, maybe a few movie-goers and a number of curiosity-seekers like myself who’d like to see lobster thermidor and baked Alaska rescued from a continental, hotel dining past.

Astor room relish tray

The ice-chilled relish plate and sausage-topped crostini brought to the table while we scanned the menu was a nice touch. Just don’t mistake those stiff green stems for celery—a mouth full of fennel can be a surprise if you’re not expecting licorice. I particularly liked the pickled, turmeric-stained cauliflower.

Astor room new yorker

The New Yorker is like a whiskey sour, my go-to, with the addition of claret. The wine isn’t pronounced in taste but adds a nice rosy hue.

Astor room seafood tower

The shellfish platter for two looks a little sparse, but that’s only because they’ve split up the seafood into separate tiers (putting it all on one tray like I’ve had elsewhere makes it appear more bountiful). The Pine Island oysters, jumbo shrimp, stone crab claws and half a lobster tail (they threw in an extra shrimp and clams) served with mignonette, cocktail and tartar sauce were fresh and would be a fun light meal with a glass of Prosecco.

Astor room coca cola pork chop

The Coca-Cola pork chop is double-thick and big enough for a second dinner the following evening. The main reason I chose it is lame and it’s that the accompanying broccoli rabe and mushroom hash bound with heavy cream and a few tiny potato cubes were the least starchy entrée sides, but I ended up loving the pork chop because it was ringed with just enough fat, the medium-rare came out exactly that and the charred edges caramelized from the soda and reminded me of Filipino barbecue I’ve had made with Dr. Pepper. The cola really does add a vital layer of flavor.

Astor room beef wellington

Beef Wellington was the Saturday special (each night has one assigned—I’m curious about Tuesday’s chicken cordon bleu because I’ve never actually eaten the dish) and I do wish I’d snapped a photo when the whole pastry-wrapped bundle of beefy joy was presented to us before being sliced in the kitchen. The Astor Room doesn’t have many Saturdays under its belt yet, so they might not have considered asking preferred levels of doneness. James' was the first of the night to order the special and his two slices came from the end, solidly cooked through. Our neighboring table (yes, they’re well-spaced but I’m still nosy) that ordered a little later received pinker rounds, closer to the middle of the tenderloin. Not a meal-ruiner, but something to keep in mind.

Astor room valentino & the astoria

The Valentino is offered with gin, vodka or rye. I chose the latter for a cocktail that is Manhattan-esque with the bitter addition of Campari. The Astoria (orange bitters, gin, dry vermouth) is hiding in the background.

Astor room butterscoth ice box pudding

I ordered a second Valentino (I probably should’ve tried it with a different spirit) instead of dessert (hey, $9 is a strong incentive to overimbibe), but we were presented with a butterscotch ice box pudding, nonetheless. I won’t say no to that. Generously portioned, even split between two, the sweet three-layered dessert (there’s a ribbon of caramel and a chocolate base beneath the butterscotch top) with a dollop of vanilla gelato and what might’ve been malt powder, almost didn’t need the brownies. As I’ve stated before, I like my desserts gooey, caramelly and very American, basic sweet tooth concoctions. And I got it. 

I’m still not convinced that Manhattan dwellers will cross the East River (Dutch Kills or M. Wells are the only exceptions in the general area).  An average Brooklynite (or maybe just he people I know) won’t even venture beyond a 15-block radius, so it will take a lot to coax some onto the G plus a non-connecting transfer (or go through Manhattan) to arrive in Astoria. That leaves Queens residents and car-owners, which may be narrower than the restaurant’s intended audience–but a solid one. I wish them well.

The Astor Room * 34-12 36th St., Astoria, NY