Category Archives: Queens

Guan Fu Szechuan

I recently had the pleasure of dining with a bunch of food friends at this new Szechuan joint in Flushing called Guan Fu. They do an incredible job of showcasing the different kinds of spice that the cuisine is known for (numbing as well as heat), while also developing intense, robust flavors that you can actually taste. Contrast with many other Szechuan joints in NYC that just blow your mouth out with heat and numbness, leaving you unable to actually enjoy the food.

That’s not to say that the food here isn’t spicy. It sure as heck is! But the balance is so well done that it’s quite impressive. But let me get down to business, because we tried 17 different dishes here. There is a lot to discuss…

The first four dishes were cold preparations.

1. Thinly Sliced Pork Liver

This was nice. No mealy texture or gamey flavor. Good heat from the red chilis. Excellent citrus-flavored sauce.

2. Sweet Fried Pork Ribs

These were awesome. Great crispy texture, super tender, and with just a little bit of heat to gently contrast the sweet.

3. Razor Clams

These were served with Mexican green peppers (likely a poblano or hatch variety) as well as some red Thai chili peppers. Great preparation, and the clams were perfectly cooked.

4. Bean Jelly

This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The bean jelly was reminiscent of a snappy, thick noodle. This was served with chili oil, peanuts, sesame seeds and scallions.

Okay now onto the warm food.

5. “Water Fish” Tilapia

This was both numbing and heat spicy. The fish was served in an over-seasoned broth so as to get all the flavors into the flesh of the Tilapia. In fact, the sauce/broth isn’t meant to be eaten, as is the case with many of the dishes we were served.

6. Dry Pot Frog

This was another favorite of the night. The frog was so tender on the inside and crispy on the outside. It was served with crisp, fried potatoes and lotus root in the mix too. That textural contrast really blew me away. Just be careful of the tiny bones in the frog meat!

7. Sliced Beef With Pickled Cherry Peppers

This was a really fun dish. The peppers were pickled, but the beef and cucumber cooked in the sauce were both fresh (meaning not pickled). Really nice.

8. Hot Pot

In addition to cabbage and mushrooms, this also contained slices of lamb meat and beef meatballs. Awesome flavors going on here when you mixed it all together, and a little bit of numbness from those famous Szechuan peppercorns.

9. Sweet & Crispy Corn

This was a nice way to knock back any heat that might be lingering in your mouth. These little nuggets were a perfect snack. Juicy inside, bursting with kernel corn flavor, but crispy and batter-fried on the outside.

10. Kung Pao Chicken

This is a famous dish, but done right and as close to authentic as you’re going to get. Lots of heat, really tender meat, and a great contrast of flavors and textures in the stir fry mix.

11. Ma Po Tofu

This is another famously spicy dish from the Szechuan region. The sauce here is a blast of heat and numbing spice, meant to be eaten with rice. I skipped the rice, though, and was just spooning the sauce into my mouth, gulp after gulp. It was great!

12. “Fishy Pork”

There is no actual fish in this dish, but it is made with the intent of giving the diner the essence or flavors of fish. The actual protein here is shredded pork, and it is delicious.

13. Hand Ripped Cabbage With Pork Belly

Bacon makes everything better, especially cabbage. This was a really nice way to get a veggie into the mix other than incorporating peppers and onions into a stir fry.

14. Double Pepper Chicken

Wow. Just when you thought Kung Pao was a kick in the balls, you discover double pepper chicken. The two peppers are green chilis (jalapeños) and red chilis (Thai chilis). But the sneaky spice here is the numbing Szechuan peppercorns that are also worked into the dish. Excellent.

15. Shrimp

These head-on giant shrimp were excellent. They even serve small shrimp where you can eat the shell as well.

16. Green Beans

I love how the veggie comes out last. These were simple and delicious though. A welcome addition to the meal.

17. Fried Sesame Cakes

I’ve had these babies before and I love them. These were filled with a squash mash or paste of some kind. I generally like the red bean or mung bean pastes better (they’re a little sweeter).

That about does it. I really want to come back here and try more stuff, or even just put down full portions of my favorite dishes from this trip, like the bean jelly and dry pot frog. Get your ass out here and try this stuff ASAP!

GUAN FU SZECHUAN
39-16 Prince St
G01
Flushing, NY 11354

White Bear

My buddy and I stopped into White Bear after a Charcuterie event in Flushing to try some dumplings / wontons in hot chili oil. The funny part is that the woman working there just brought out the plate of dumplings before we even ordered.

But I guess it kind of makes sense: Every white person that was in before and after us within the 20 minute span of time we were there ordered the same thing. She knew.

For $6 you get an order of 12. They were very tasty and well made.

WHITE BEAR
135-02 Roosevelt Ave
Flushing, NY 11354

Oro

I was recently invited to Oro by the owners to try out some of the classic and modern Italian fare that they serve at their spacious, beautifully appointed Long Island City restaurant.

Oro means “gold” in Italian, and the food equivalent of gold is just what they’re serving you here, especially when you indulge in some of the highlights that I mention here in this review.

First off, there’s an excellent cocktail menu. I went with a blueberry and bourbon drink that was really nicely executed. My wife went with a selection from their Moscow Mule menu. Also excellent.

The waiter will bring out some fresh house made bread next. It’s toasty warm and served with a dish of EVOO and vinegar.

We started with two nice, fresh and delicate apps: scallop crudo with crispy prosciutto in a grapefruit sauce, and charred octopus. Both were perfect. The scallop crudo was really fresh, light and crisp. I wish we ordered two!

The octopus has a great flavor and still kept a slight firmness without being too soft or too chewy – a sweet spot middle ground. There was a good spice kick to it as well.

We shared the duck bolognese pappardelle pasta (which was good, but just needed a bit more salt):

And the 28oz tomahawk ribeye:

That blob you see is an herb butter, which added a green-tasting freshness to each bite.

The meat itself hails from Snake River Farms, which is not only a purveyor of fine standard meats, but also American Wagyu. The owners of Oro are friends with the people at Snake River, so you know the cuts will be of high quality.

The cut itself was cooked a slight bit over from what I would have preferred, being more towards medium than medium rare.

But no matter. The flavor was still good, and the fat cap was delicious. Not to mention that at a price of $52, you’re saving big money and you’re just one stop into Queens from midtown Manhattan. At a place like Cut downtown, that Snake River Farms steak is going to run you almost $100. Crazy discount here. And this can be shared with a second diner, so even better. 7/10.

The steak selection here is pretty impressive. As soon as next week, as a matter of fact, there will be even more of a “butcher’s block” selection here, which will include a 36oz porterhouse as well as what’s already on the menu (filet, strip, tomahawk, and pork chops).

On the side we had some arancini, or fried rice balls, which were fun and tasty.

We also had the sweet potato creme brulee. I didn’t think I’d like it when we were told about it by the waiter. As such, we didn’t order it. But the waiter brought it out for us to try anyhow. It turned out to be my favorite item of the night!

It was sweet without going overboard, and the brulee crunch and marshmallow topping was just thrilling. I even remarked that if you plop a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of it, it would make for a perfect dessert. Do yourself a favor and get this when you come here. It is unbelievable.

For our proper desserts, we tried the fig panna cotta and nutella bread pudding with homemade fluff. Both were incredible, but I give the edge to the panna cotta. So silky, smooth and light, but packing a big flavor punch.

ORO
41-17 Crescent St
Long Island City, NY 11101

Cafe Istanbul

Cafe Istanbul is a brand new middle eastern joint in Astoria that offers late hours, belly dancers, hookahs and great food.

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The owner, Sonny, is from Bombay, India. His love of food began when his mother inspired him to cook at age 15. Owning and operating a restaurant was his dream.

Chef Fathi hails from Egypt. Prior to Cafe Istanbul, he was a 13-year veteran of another popular middle eastern restaurant in Astoria. His cooking style is a blend of Mediterranean, Egyptian and Turkish cuisine.

The air in Cafe Istanbul is filled with delicious aromas and the sweet smells of hookah smoke. The best move is to get a few different teas and order a hookah right off the bat, that way you can sip and puff throughout the entire meal.

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I tried three teas: Moroccan, Egyptian and Turkish. My favorite was the Egyptian, which was similar to a sweet black tea. If you want something more mild, then go for the Moroccan tea, which is similar to a green tea variety.

We started the meal with some baba ganoush and  hummus, both of which were fantastic.

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I, in particular, really enjoyed the baba ganoush. I’m generally not an eggplant fan, but it was creamy, smooth and flavorful.

We slurped on some garlicky lentil soup as well, which was really warming on such a frigid winter night.

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We tried a duo of these wrapped “cigar” apps too. One was filled with melty, stretchy cheese, and the other with ground, spiced chicken. Both were good but if I had to choose a favorite, it would be the cheese.

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This simple chopped salad of lettuce, tomato, cukes, herbs and dressing was certainly my speed as far as salads go. I don’t like overly complicated salads with unidentifiable greens lurking within.

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We tried three entrees. First, the Istanbul steak:

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This was a thin cut boneless rib eye steak that was coated with a variety of very interesting spices – like sumac – grilled up, and then sprinkled with finishing herbs. At just $21 this is a good deal, and the robust and unique flavor profile is a great way to dress up a cut of choice beef. Ours was cooked to medium, which was appropriate for this particular cut. As it turns out, the eye portion was slightly more flavorful than the cap, which is an interesting anomaly for me to note for future reference.

Next up: lamb chops.

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The platter contained a mix of both lamb T-bones and rib chops, all seasoned in a similar manner as the rib eye steak above, with sumac and interesting middle eastern spices. I think I actually enjoyed the lamb more than the steak! I know – blasphemy – but these guys really nailed it with the lamb.

The final entree was actually my favorite of the three: shrimp tagine.

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You guys must think I’m losing my mind: the steak guy, not only liking the lamb better than the beef, but liking the shrimp above all! What can I say? It was perfect. The shrimp were cooked just right, and the sauce in the tagine was a nice, thick, tomato-based stew that really hit the spot.

And the rice! I usually despise rice. It’s boring! But here, it was really tasty, and I found myself just spooning it into my mouth over and over, all by itself.

Dessert was fun. We did some more teas, and a trio of nice end-of-meal selections.

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Baklava: This still retained a crunch while also benefitting from a good coating of syrup/honey and flavorings.

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Creme brulee with assorted berries on top:

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This was much lighter and fluffier than all the creme brulees I’ve had in the past. I liked it a lot! Sometimes custard can be heavy at the end of a meal, but this was the opposite.

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And almond rice pudding.

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This was actually my favorite of the three, because it was the least sweet. It was just right after a good meaty meal; delicate and mild.

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Definitely give this place a shot; especially if you’re out in Astoria on a regular basis. Heck; from midtown it was just a quick 30 minute subway ride and walk combined. Right now they’re open from 2pm to 2am, but in the future they will be open for lunch, and eventually breakfast as well.

Note: I was invited to dine as a guest of this establishment and received a complimentary meal. This was not in exchange for a positive review; all opinions expressed are my own.

CAFE ISTANBUL
25-47 Steinway St
Astoria, NY 11103

Christo’s Steak House

Christo’s Steak House overall score: 83

A food buddy of mine, Jared from Food & City, set up a nice small press dinner at this joint since we recently got to know the person who runs social media and PR for this joint and a few others in the area. Check out the run-down:

Flavor: 8
While some parts were over-seasoned, some were also under-seasoned on this porterhouse for two. However, the cook temperature was a perfect medium rare, there was an awesome crust on the outside, and the meat was well rested and juicy. 8/10.

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We shared among five people because there were other entrees to eat as well, like this sous vide and smoked beef rib.

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This baby sits in a temperature controlled bath for 48hrs and is also smoked like BBQ brisket. The result is a really top notch entree that rivals the best smoke houses in town. I think it just needed more sauce. 8/10 (and also mentioned in the “other meats” section).

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The rib eye, which I had on a second visit: 7/10

A special strip, topped with onions, sauce and bacon wrapped shrimp: 8/10 – would have been higher if not for the sauce and onions.

Choice of Cuts & Quality Available: 9
Master Purveyors supplies all the meat for Christo’s, so we are dealing with excellent quality. You can see in the images above that the porterhouse has excellent marbling throughout the cut. Really good quality fat. Everything is aged in house for 21-days, and all the major cuts are covered with some large format options and alternative cuts as well (hanger, skirt, beef rib).

Portion Size & Plating: 8
Portions here are big. We were actually able to get a peek into the kitchen to see the steak cooking and plating process in action.

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But these two videos really bring it to life, and in the second one you can see just how huge the portions are.

Keep watching…

Another thing to mention in the plating section is the lobster mashed potatoes. They serve the potatoes directly in the lobster shell. Pretty awesome.

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Price: 10
You get a lot of bang for your buck here, with steaks that still pack a ton of flavor but run a lot cheaper than the midtown boys. The quality is the same; it really is. I see the Master Purveyors trucks making deliveries all the time at the places in midtown. Yet, while we weren’t charged for the meal, I think everything only came to about $500. This is insane considering the amount of food, and the same bill in midtown would be $750. I’d definitely come back here.

Bar: 7
This joint has a nice cozy bar and lounge area off to the side when you walk in. I think it makes for a great neighborhood spot to meet up for a drink even if you’re not dining. And bartender Jeff mixes a good martini.

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Specials and Other Meats: 8
Since we were guests of the restaurant, the management and staff brought out everything they wanted us to try. That said, there were no specials read to us. In terms of other meats, aside from that awesome smoked beef rib, Christo’s offers lamb, pork chops and chicken, as well as hanger steak and skirt steak.

Apps, Sides & Desserts: 8
We tried a shitload of stuff in this category. I’m just going to drop the photos in and talk briefly.

Classic trio of Greek spreads. Keep in mind, we are in Astoria here, so this is a steakhouse with clear Greek influence.

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Lamb gyro tacos:

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Crab cakes:

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Lightly breaded and fried firm Greek cheese:

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Bacon. Delightful.

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Why, yes, more bacon please…

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Veal meatballs:

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Hanger steak egg rolls:

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Lobster mashed potatoes:

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Parmesan and chive fries:

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Grilled asparagus:

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Steak tartare:

Tri-color cauliflower and blue cheese & bacon mashed:

Trio of apps – bacon, grilled oyster, balsamic figs:

Cheese cake and chocolate lava cake:

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My favorites were the bacon, all the Greek items and the crab cakes. Stick to those and you’re in great hands.

Seafood Selection: 8
Scallops, shrimp, salmon and whole branzino are on the menu here for entrees, and I assume lobster as well due to the presence of a tank in the entry area. We tried the branzino. It was very simply prepared: roasted and de-boned.

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Service: 10
The service here is top notch. Everyone is attentive, courteous and pleasant, from the bar to the back of the restaurant. And here comes the usual shot of table bread to boot. I always do it. Don’t know why.

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Ambiance: 7
They really do a great job with the space here. It’s cozy, warm, comfortable and has a classic steakhouse vibe. Since this place is situated in the residential neighborhood of Astoria on the first floor of an apartment building, they are somewhat limited in what they can do. While this place is no Keen’s in terms of grandeur and decor, they certainly deliver everything you want from the traditional steakhouse experience.

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CHRISTO’S STEAK HOUSE
4108 23rd Ave
Astoria, NY 11105

Ben’s Best Kosher Deli

You can probably count on your hands the number of real-deal, old school, authentic Kosher delis that are still standing in the same place where they started decades if not centuries ago. Ben’s Best is one of those places.

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Located out in Rego Park, Queens, it lacks just one thing that places like Katz and Carnegie have in spades: a massive line of tourists that trails out the door and down the block. This place is a small, quaint neighborhood spot that has withstood the test of time and NYC real estate economics for over 70 years, since 1945.

But more importantly, Ben’s Best is serving some really high quality deli fare. This was, hands down, some of the best pastrami I have ever tasted.

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Better than Katz, better than Carnegie, better than 2nd Ave. They use a proprietary secret blend of spices to make it their own and differentiate their product from other delis, but the execution is really where it shines. It was juicy, thinly sliced, not fatty and super fucking tender.

I usually prefer corned beef over pastrami, any day of the week, but this place flipped my preference on its head. In fact I even put together a sandwich with both on it, because I was so torn:

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Pastrami on top, corned beef on bottom:

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Absolutely magnificent, and it wouldn’t be a meal without some pickles and cole slaw:

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And if that’s not what gets you going at a deli, then check out this platter of beef cold cuts:

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On the far left (above) is rolled beef, something you really can’t find anywhere else that I know of. It’s a deli meat made from shoulder and rib meats that are rolled into a log and then sliced for sandwiches. It’s amazing. Going from left to right (below) we also have thin sliced brisket, roast beef and beef tongue.

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That tongue was outstanding, by the way. It almost tasted like really good ham. So for all you Jews out there who keep Kosher but often wonder what ham tastes like, it tastes like Ben’s Best beef tongue.

This joint also does BBQ brisket sliders, which rival any smoke house I’ve been to in the city. Crazy good.

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Ben’s is clearly a meat lover’s wet dream, but let me drop some other shit on you guys too. This is a plate of cabbage stuffed with chopped meat. It has an almost sweet flavor from the tomato and carrot sauce in which the meat is stewed.

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Beef goulash on egg noodles. Simple and delicious. The meat was so incredibly tender.

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Chopped liver:

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A mix of sweet potato and regular french fries:

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And of course Jewish Penicillin, aka matzoh ball soup:

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I was invited here for an Instagram influencer event, so I ate for free, but I wholeheartedly recommend this place. It was a quick 30 minute subway ride on the R from midtown Manhattan, and the subway stop is directly below the restaurant. Not too bad. I’ll definitely be back for that amazing pastrami.

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BEN’S BEST KOSHER DELI
96-40 Queens Blvd
Queens, NY 11374

Jimbo’s Restaurant & Bar

Jimbo’s is a spacious neighborhood Greek bar and restaurant in Astoria, right near the Astoria Blvd subway stop. Inside there’s a nice long bar that serves up all the standard favorites, along with some Greek specialty cocktails, like Ouzo lemonade, which is a must try. From what I understand, some nights they have live music and dancing, late into the wee hours, 11pm-4am.

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Large door-style windows grace the street-side of the joint, which open up nice and big on sunny days – a real treat for the tables situated along the window. We saw a rainbow after a downpour.

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With a focus on fresh ingredients, Jimbo’s serves up some really nice cold spreads for snacking with pita bread at the start of your meal. We tried a trio with a salmon caviar spread, tzatziki and a potato spread.

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All were excellent, but the standout was probably the caviar spread. It was fluffy, light and had a natural brine flavor from the roe. This is a great deal for $10 and the amount that you get.

Speaking of good deals, appetizer portions are massive here, so be warned! We tried the grilled octopus and grilled sausage apps, and by time we were ready to receive the entrees, we were almost at full capacity. In fact we had to take some of the sausage home!

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The sausage was really excellent. It almost reminded me of blood sausage at times, but without the mealy texture that you can sometimes experience with that. It was spiced with really aromatic stuff like cumin, and had a robust and perfectly grilled earthy flavor. I would even love this chopped up a bit finer and served in a pita with tzatziki, cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce. Perfection. Perhaps that item would be a nice fit for the lunch menu?

Jimbo’s offers a really interesting Greek burger on a pita with melted feta, which I had ordered, but I think that is really only offered on the weekend brunch menu. So instead I was served a standard burger with fries. I added some tzatziki on top from the cold spreads to boost it up a bit, since it didn’t have cheese.

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My wife had this really nice baked casserole dish with lamb and orzo called Arni Youvesti.

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It comes with a dish of grated parmesan cheese for the top, which is key, because it adds the necessary salt element into the dish. My advice is to pour it all in! The lamb was cooked perfectly. It was extremely tender and the meat was high quality.

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And the orzo underneath was a nice way to make this into a hearty stew. The pasta really took on the flavor of the tasty tomato sauce.

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Another enticing dish on the casserole menu is Arni Kleftiko, which is lamb with potatoes, herbs and lemon in extra virgin olive oil. Unfortunately, they did not have this available when we came for dinner, but I’d definitely try that on another trip.

The dessert menu also has some great looking items. In particular, Loukoumades, which is lightly fried dough served with honey and cinnamon: Greek zeppoles. And Galaktobouriko, which is baked Greek custard cream in phyllo dough and honey syrup. They were out of Loukoumades, and we initially planned to get that and Galaktobouriko. But after our entrees, we were too stuffed to even think about dessert! Next time we will know to manage the large portions a little more carefully so that we have room for dessert and Greek coffee.

FYI: Jimbo’s served us a free meal in exchange for an honest review.

JIMBO’S RESTAURANT & BAR
3005 Astoria Blvd
Astoria, NY 11102

Pao de Queijo

My friend Jeff from Foodmento organized an instagrammer event at Pao de Queijo, a Brazilian sandwich and burger joint in Astoria. Lucky for me, I was invited!

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This place also slings some really great smoothies and shakes, like this “Verano” shake, with pineapple, coconut and graviola (similar in flavor to a mango).

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This hit the spot and was super refreshing on such a hot, sunny day.

With a bunch of instagrammers on hand, there was a barrage of sandwich pics and stack shots going on.

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I managed to grab half of two sandwiches/burgers that I was really interested in trying. On the top/right in the pics below is the “X Banana” burger, which is a beef burger with banana, cheese, corn, potato sticks, lettuce, tomato and mayo. On the bottom/left is the “X Brazil” sandwich, consisting of sliced beef, cheese, egg, Brazilian sausage, corn, potato sticks, lettuce, tomato and mayo.

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Both were really great. I preferred the burger over the steak sandwich, mainly because the burger was more properly seasoned, and that banana was a great surprise that really drove some standout flavors. The burger patties have herbs and spices in the mix, which make these burgers very unique among the landscape of other burger joints.

“X Banana” Burger:

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The “X Brazil” was great in concept. I have two critiques: I think the steak just needed a bit more salt before it hit the grill, and perhaps the sausage should be chopped up a bit before it gets put onto the sandwich, that way your teeth don’t have to work through the snappy casing as much when biting down. Otherwise I loved it, and I would definitely order this again without any second thoughts.

“X Brazil” Sandwich:

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The best part about these sandwiches is that they’re properly constructed to minimize slippage and crap falling out the sides, which could otherwise make for a messy eating experience. The bread surrounds the contents nicely, and they’re wrapped compact enough so that it’s easy to get your whole mouth around for a bite.

There is so much more to try on their menu, like a burger with pineapple, or sandwiches with ham and chicken thrown into the mix. The sandwiches and burgers run anywhere from $3.75 for a simple ham and cheese to $12.50 for the “X Brazil.” Very reasonable.

Fries come separate at $3, and they’re really great when you add some of the green sauce on them, which you can find on each table.

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But the real star(s) of the “side show” are the restaurant’s namesake: Pao de Queijo, or cheese breads.

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These toasty little balls are a bread dough that’s been kneaded and mixed with cheese. The outside is crisp and warm, and the inside is a cross between bread and cheese. So awesome, so soft, so tasty… but beware: these things are fucking addicting.

In fact, as a promotion from this Instagram event, when you go here, if you mention the word “acai” you will get three free Pao de Queijo (three balls).

And speaking of acai, if you’re still hungry for dessert after all that sandwich gorging, or if you’re dieting for some ridiculous reason, then grab an acai bowl while you’re here.

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This one has acai puree on the bottom, which was like a cold berry soup, and is topped with bananas, mango, granola and mint.

PAO DE QUEIJO
31-90 30th St
Astoria, NY 11106

Tutti Matti

Tutti Matti opened up in January. They’re slinging some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. Their pizza is Amalfi Coast style, which is cooked a little longer than Neopolitan style.

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The crust is light, airy and crisp, yet it still has a doughy quality to it, so it isn’t stiff.

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This crust makes for a great calzone too:

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Our friends at The Creative Shake and Eaters Drinkers invited us here for a press meal, where we were able to sample a bunch of pizza as well as some of their regional Italian cuisine. Of course a really nice selection of Italian inspired cocktails were flowing.

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This pasta dish is made with spicy nduja and tuna. You wouldn’t think the two go together well, but it was tasty.

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I regret that I didn’t get a chance to sample the lasagna, but it looked and smelled delicious.

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Fried seafood, very light and crisp, and served with a zucchini cream sauce that was incredible!

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My favorite of the non-pizza items were these lamb chops. They were perfectly cooked, well seasoned and beautifully plated.

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Last of the savory items was this chicken cutlet that was pounded flat, breaded, fried and topped with arugula, tomato and balsamic vinegar. Very simple and tasty – plus I thought it was kinda shaped like the Millennium Falcon.

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For dessert, we all destroyed this delicious Nutella pizza:

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This place has two chefs: a pizza chef, and a cuisine chef. I only spoke to the latter, Luigi, who served up the lamb that I loved so much. I was glad to have the opportunity to tell him just how awesome those chops were.

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This place is just one stop into Long Island City on the 7 or E trains. I will definitely be back for more of that pizza and lamb in the future. In addition, they have the following weekly specials: 20% off lunch from noon to 3pm during the week; gnocchi night on Monday ($17 all you can eat); pizza night on Tuesday ($16 unlimited slices); ladies night on Wednesday (first glass of wine $13, rest of the night is free from 5pm to close); Thursday through Sunday $1 oysters 5pm to close; and Happy Hour all week from 4pm-7pm with $7 wine and $5 beer. Pretty amazing!

UPDATE 6/15/16

FINALLY got a chance to come back here and sample some more pizza and other dishes. The pizza still holds up as one of the best in town, easily. We tried four different pizzas:

Campagnola (tomato, prosciutto, arugula, parmesan)

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Black truffle!!!

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Radicchio and sausage.

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Broccoli rabe and sausage.

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I think that last one was my favorite, but it was really tough to choose a best of the four.

We also samples some pasta dishes. First was this buccatini. Very simple and nicely executed:

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Next was linguine with clams. Stunning presentation and very nice, mild flavors. Not too heavy with the garlic and oil.

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Last, baked gnocci. While these were heavy, they had a lot of flavor.

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Of course I had to get the lamb chops again since I loved them so much last time.

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Only this time we also threw some rib eye into the mix! This 32oz offering for two was only $64. Not bad, however I felt that it was a bit over cooked on the edges (it was a thick cut) and slightly under seasoned. It just needed a hit of salt and pepper. 6/10.

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Since we came in with a pack of about 15 food bloggers, they threw in a piece of tiramisu on the house for us. Very nice, and with good coffee flavor!

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TUTTI MATTI
47-30 Vernon Blvd
Long Island City, NY 11101

Via Vai

Located right at the end of the N/Q in Astoria is an amazing Italian joint called Via Vai (translation: Coming and Going).

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I was invited here for a free press dinner, but I can tell you honestly that this is some of the best Italian food around – especially the pizza. The flavors are not hidden with grated cheese or pepper on top at this place. You’re dealing with naked and natural dishes made from top quality ingredients. Everything comes to the table already nicely seasoned, and with great cooking technique there is no need for extra grated cheese or cracked pepper.

The first thing I noticed was that the staff can all speak Italian. In fact both people we met were from Italy. Valentina was from Genoa, and Manuel was from Rome. The crowd was good too; a full house by 7:30pm. Lots of neighborhood regulars were coming in, and the staff was eager to greet them. They even waved to people walking by on the streets – more neighborhood regulars that they know by name and sight. In fact the people next to us had clearly been there before, based on the conversation I overheard. They also spoke constantly about how great their pasta, shrimp and grilled veggies were. It seems like they had a great meal just like we did.

We started with some drinks: a Picus red wine, which was a nice blend of sangiovese and montepulciano. Very smooth. We also had a Staten Island hefeweizen from Flagship. It was the filtered wheat style: good flavor.

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The first thing that our lovely waitress Valentina brought to us was this plate of warm flatbread foccacia, which was like a pizza crust that was ever-so-lightly salted. It was served with olive oil that had a garlic clove and a rosemary sprig in it. Light. Perfect. I could eat this shit all day.

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Next up was a pizza, fresh from the brick oven:

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While I’m more of a traditional margherita pizza guy, this shit was so fucking good that I could see myself having this shit at least two or three times a week. A light, airy dough is made in house and allowed to rise for 48 hours. It gets crispy, soft, fluffy and absolutely perfect in terms of texture. This particular pie was topped with a fig marmalade, prosciutto, gorgonzola, truffle oil and arugula. This was Valentina’s favorite pizza on the menu, and Manuel told us that this is how he used to eat pizza in Rome.

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Next up was polpette (meatballs). The sauce was chunky and fresh, nicely seasoned. The balls were very soft, and made from all beef, which I like. Lots of times the pork, veal and beef mixtures can get too dense. I tend to be a picky meatball guy and I really liked these. I still like my mom’s better because she fries them in a pan first to give them a crispy crust before plopping them in the sauce – so you get crispy outside and soft inside.

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Then we got to try this really interesting gnocchi special. The purple color is from the beet and ricotta based pasta dough (all pasta is made fresh in house). The sauces on top were twofold: parmesan fondue porcini mushroom. The dish was then finished with some truffle oil and crushed hazelnuts. This was unique and very different, and stunningly gorgeous to see in person. They were like pasta bubble gum balls. I didn’t really taste any beet, but the flavor was really good.

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Last, we had some kickass desserts. The absolute best panna cotta I’ve ever had. It was insane. Realllllly smooth and creamy consistency. The texture was flawless. Not overcooked at all. It was like creme brulee but not as eggy, not too sweet.

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Last was tiramisu. This was super light and whipped, with cocoa sprinkled on top. There were thin layers of cake between the ricotta, and there was just a light hint of coffee flavor, which I appreciated (I’m not into heavy coffee flavors in dessert).

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Clean bathroom too – that is always important!

UPDATE 4/3/16

My wife and I came back here to try out their brunch/lunch options. They offer a great deal where you get two entrees/items and a dessert for $28. This is probably enough to split between two people, but my wife and I each did our own to maximize the items we wanted to try out.

Our “starters” were a spinach and egg pizza, and a spinach and asparagus crepe. The pizza was great, once again. The egg really brought home the breakfast feel, and Manuel even drizzled some truffle oil over the top to give it an earthy punch.

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The crepe was light and fluffy, and thicker than one might expect when hearing the word “crepe.” It was somewhere between an omelette and a crepe, I would say. It was covered with a light tomato sauce and filled with cheese, spinach and asparagus. Beautiful to look at, and even better to eat. This was a perfect brunch item.

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We tried two pasta dishes for the “entrees.” First was this bucatini carbonara. Bucatini, if you don’t know, is a thick spaghetti that has a hole through the center, like a straw. The sauce was nice and creamy without being too heavy. The portion size was great for the price, and the onion, pancetta and seasonings were all top notch.

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The other pasta dish was a rigatoni alla grecia, which was similar to the carbonara but without the creaminess. This ate much lighter, but both dishes contained perfectly cooked pasta that was just the right amount of al dente.

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By then we were full, so we brought some of the pasta home with us, but we couldn’t pass up on the dessert. We shared the panna cotta, which we knew that we loved from our earlier visit. I had forgotten how smooth and creamy this was. Just perfect. This time the plating was a bit nicer too, with some orange slices and pistachios.

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I highly recommend this place, especially for the pizza and pasta.

VIA VAI
31-09 23rd Ave.
New York, NY 11105