Tag Archives: astoria

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

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

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

Ornella Trattoria

Meet Giuseppe Viterale, a meat man after my own heart.

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After putting his architecture career to the side, Giuseppe came to the US from Italy, sight unseen. He diligently worked his way up through the restaurant industry, all the way from bus boy, to waiter, to manager, and, eventually, to owner of his own restaurant, Ornella, which is romantically named after his wife of 25 years and staffed with his sons.

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But that’s not where it ends. Giuseppe owns a pig farm in the Catskills where he spends lots of time working on and perfecting new recipes, and curing his own meats. SAY WHAT!?!??

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For the last few years, he’s been making his own prosciutto, fresh sausages, cured sausages, nduja sausages and other delicious meat items that end up on the seasonal and special menus at Ornella. As you can imagine, the result is a restaurant that is very meat-centric, fresh, dynamic and locally sourced. Shit, he even has a pretty impressive steak menu and hosts a steak night on Mondays for $15… FIFTEEN DOLLARS!!!

But this isn’t just a place for meat eaters either. There’s a sizable vegetarian selection, and the menu boasts an array of authentic Italian dishes. There’s even some unique items like duck meatballs and sanguinaccio (a chocolate blood pudding dessert), inventive sauces like pistachio pesto sauce and orange brandy sauce, and interesting pasta dishes made from hemp, buckwheat and chestnut flour – all made fresh in house.

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They’ve even recently added a pizza selection for the delivery menu:

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The joint has even been featured on ABC’s Eyewitness News:

My wife and I stopped in for a complimentary press dinner after Giuseppe reached out to me and let me know about his gem of a restaurant in Astoria.

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Giuseppe has an incredibly magnetic personality. He is overflowing with information and a desire to impart his knowledge of food history, his food philosophy and his ideas about food culture onto everyone around him. He has actually even considered hosting classes for this very reason. But what exactly is his philosophy? That food, what we eat, how we eat it, and the quality and history of our dishes, is central to everything; our humanity, our health and well being, our economy, our interpersonal relations, and our understanding of one another. And he’s right. The kitchen is the center of any home. The table is where we congregate as a family and actually interact with one another. In a living room, we simply stare at the television. All peoples with rich cultures have rich food cultures, he explained. One thing that crosses cultural, visual, and audio-linguistic barriers is our common need and desire for food. Food brings people together.

Another interesting aspect of Giuseppe’s philosophy was what he referred to as “slow food.” With everything becoming expensive and factory-commercialized, with the proliferation of fast food joints and instant gratification meals, he was drawn to start making his own products and spend real time making dishes as opposed to just buying products and preparing them for diners. This is how the pig farm started. Giuseppe found that he could either buy nduja sausage for $80, which wasn’t that good to begin with and was very difficult to find in the form he wanted due to embargoes and other impediments, or he could make his own and control every aspect of the flavor, just how he wanted. He explained that he could actually verify where an animal came from and what it ate while living, unlike what is happening now with “prosciutto di Parma.” He could ensure the quality, the spice level, and the firmness or texture of whatever he was making. He could take different parts of the animal and cook them each in their correct way in order to utilize the entirety of the animal without wasting the undesirable parts. So many places only cook the items that are quick and easy to move off the line in a kitchen. “Slow food” is more respectful to the product and the environment, he explained.

His passion and respect for food shines through his dishes, as does his inviting, innovative and creative personality. He has applied his background in architecture to his food endeavors. “In order to have a strong building, you first need to build a good foundation,” he said. Quality ingredients, strong, basic cooking techniques… “Then you can build up, you can build flavors.” Well if cooking is architecture, then Giuseppe is Frank Lloyd Wright, and his food is the Guggenheim. Not only is he great with the foundations, but he is wildly creative as he builds up from there.

Here’s what we tried:

First there were the massively poured goblet of Montepulciano wine. Very smooth yet robust and flavorful. A perfect red for meat eating. I had read about the large glasses of wine served here online. This was a treat, and they certainly live up to their reputation of BIG wine pours.

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The bread was a nice rustic style, crisp and flakey on the crust and soft and savory on the inside.

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Giuseppe sat with us and explained the two different types of sausages we were about to try, both of which were homemade at the farm upstate.

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First was the nduja, which is a Calabrian-originated product that is somewhat similar to French andouille, only soft like a pate, as well as spicy. It was spread across a nice slice of farm house bread. The main ingredients are pork belly and red peppers. Simple and delicious.

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I’ve never had anything like this before, where it can be spread across bread like butter or pate. It was absolutely amazing. The spice level was mild to medium, so it didn’t ruin your taste buds for the rest of the meal.

Next was the hard, dried sausage. This was aged and cured perfectly. It would make for a really amazing thin-sliced charcuterie plate, but it is equally great to just gnaw on like jerky. It had a wonderful natural flavor. You knew you were eating something that was made with care.

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We had the pleasure of trying the famous duck meatballs for our appetizer. In the center was a blend of mild cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta, so as not to take away any attention from the duck.

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The orange brandy sauce was a classic pairing with the duck, yet presented in an innovative Italian way in the form of a meatball. Those are raisins you see garnishing the plate as well.

Next up was probably my favorite of the savory courses. Pork chop, pounded flat, lightly breaded and fried, and rolled up / stuffed with mushroom, spinach and cheese, dressed in a marsala wine sauce with mushrooms and served  with absolutely perfectly executed cavatelli.

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Cavatelli is my favorite kind of pasta, so for me to rave about it here means a little something extra. I loved it – every last bite.

Next was some “slow food” braised beef short rib, on the bone, and served with gnocchi. This was topped with a reduction of the braising liquids, which was essentially carrots, celery, onion and a little bit of tomato.

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Despite the fact that I am not a huge fan of gnocchi to begin with (too starchy and often gummy for me), I really did enjoy this dish. The beef was tender and fell off the bone, and the sauce was impressive. When I heard “reduction of the braising liquid” I was expecting something very salty. This was actually kind of light for a beef sauce. Impressive.

Last, but certainly not least, was the absolute star of the show for both my wife and I. You can’t get it anywhere else in the world, as a matter of fact. Only in Astoria at this small restaurant. This is the sanguinaccio. It is a raviolo made from a mixture of chestnut and regular flour, fried up like an empanada but stuffed with a 50/50 mixture of pigs blood and chocolate, to make a blood pudding that’s been spiced with cinnamon, clove, orange peel and sugar. If I had to guess, 90% of people would cringe at the description of this, but all you need to do is take one fucking bite and you will have your entire world turned on its head.

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This is definitely a bucket dish: a dish to put on your bucket list, something you must try before you die. And I’m not the only one who thinks this way. This dish (as well as another made by Giuseppe), was featured in the book “1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die,” written by famous New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton.

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I really can’t say enough good things about that dessert. It was amazing, and I’m generally not a sweets guy, and certainly not a chocolate guy. I’ve never seen blood served in a dessert manner. I’d had my fair share of blood sausages, congealed blood cubes like gelatin in asian soups, etc. But never like this in dessert. Amazing. I’ll definitely be back here soon, and I hope you make your way there as well. Go and experience this rare dish, and fall in love with all the other great innovations that Giuseppe has to offer. He’s truly a talented man.

ORNELLA TRATTORIA
29-17 23rd Ave.
Astoria, NY 11105

S Prime Steakhouse

S Prime overall score: 88

My wife found a Groupon deal for this joint: $50 gets you $100. They had a nice menu, and now that we’re in the city again, the trip to Queens to check the place out was no worse than heading downtown after work. Nice easy subway ride on the R train.

Flavor: 9
I had the 60-day dry aged signature rib eye, of course. It was fucking great. Some of the fat wasn’t as soft and jelly-ish as I like, so that’s why I took a point (I had some scraps left). Otherwise this place is spot on, perfectly cooked, perfect temperature, no bleed out, nicely rested, juicy as a pair of titties in an early 90’s rap video.

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Choice of Cuts & Quality Available: 10
All the beef is dry aged in house, and prime. I was impressed with the beef here, and there was a great selection to choose from.

Portion Size & Plating: 9
Portions here are pretty big. As you can see from the images, you get a good deal of shit for your buck here. Plating is elegant and refined but not over the top fancy. At 28oz, the rib eye is a nice manly size, though it did feel a bit smaller than 28oz when it came out. Typically that is the weight before cooking and sometimes even before aging, so there is expected weight loss during those processes.

Price: 8
The prices here are pretty high for Queens, but the quality offsets that damage. Also, with their long-running Groupon deal, there is really no excuse not to come try this place out. Don’t let the pricey steaks deter you. Our bill for two came to $228 (not including the oysters and 2 drinks at the bar), minus $100 for the Groupon. Not bad.

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Bar: 10
There’s an absolutely awesome happy hour deal here. Dollar oysters and half price drinks and bar bites. The bar is big too, and it was already pretty full at 6:00pm when I arrived. They even have extra seating at high tables nearby, and a narrow bar along the windows. By time we were finishing our meal, the place was packed. Seems like a good scene. Anyway, we ordered up a few drinks and a dozen oysters before sitting for dinner. Total steal! Also worth noting here: HUGE wine selection, and beautiful displays of wine, for those of you who are wine freaks.

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Specials and Other Meats: 9
The other meats offered here are chicken, veal, and lamb. A very solid showing. They even have a cajun rub that they offer on their steaks, which is interesting. Our waiter also told us about some specials that were not on the menu, like a stuffed broiled lobster (my wife almost got it), and a berry cobbler dessert.

Apps, Sides & Desserts: 8
We started with the agave braised pork belly, which was huge and delicious. The outer skin was perfectly crispy too.

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Then we dove into a trio of tartares: tuna, scallop, and beef. All were good, but we liked the tuna the best:

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On the side we had parmesan herb fries, which were tasty but could have benefitted from a bit more crispiness.

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The fries went really well with the steak sauce, which was finally a refreshing step away from heavy tomato based sauces that other steak joints push on you:

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We also tried the creamed spinach. Our waiter talked us away from sautéed spinach and toward this dish because it had a nice bread crumb crumble on top. I wasn’t crazy about it. The texture of the spinach was a little too watery for my taste. Kinda wish we had stuck with the sautéed spinach order instead, but it’s all good.

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For dessert we split a slice of key lime pie. This was the only item that I thought was over priced. It was a bit small for $10, and we’ve had better key lime pie elsewhere.

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Seafood Selection: 9
There’s a great selection of seafood items. Aside from minimum 2-pound lobbies, they also rock a whole roasted branzino, salmon, tuna, and scallop entrees. And you can’t really beat dollar oysters at happy hour. We also tried the tuna and scallop tartare apps too, which were really good. My wife’s entree was a broiled lobster, which she loved. I only took a point here because one or two of the oysters were sub-par, but at a dollar a pop, who cares?

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Service: 9
When we sat down, the restaurant was largely empty, but we were put at a small table right next to another couple. That kinda stinks. I guess we could have asked for a different spot, but I don’t like being an annoying customer. Other than that, service was excellent, our waiter was perfect, and the manager was really polite and even waited on us when we were sitting at the bar along the windows before dinner. Oh yeah – the bread. There was a nice selection to choose from: pumpernickel, pretzel, seven grain, and more. The only issue is they were not warm and toasty, but the soft, whipped butter was delicious.

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They also brought out some nice, warm manchego cheese with honey drizzled over the top as a little snack. Very nice.

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Ambiance: 7
The space is very “Queens,” if that makes any sense. It was clearly a garage or some sort of wide open space that was converted into a restaurant. That’s great! I liked the lighting, the seating, the layout, etc. It had a nice upstairs and a beautiful stairway leading up. I think there was just a slight clash between modern and traditional that didn’t fit the space, and it also felt like it could be a club, despite the awesome 80’s music they had playing (nice!). Otherwise it is beautiful inside, and the bathrooms and kitchen are super clean. I know this next thing is a little nit-picky, but our table was massively wobbly. We had to shove a wad of doily underneath to balance it out a little better. We’ve had a string of bad wobbles lately at recent restaurants, so I figured I’d mention it here just because.

S PRIME
35-15 36th St.
Long Island City, NY 11106

Bull & Bear Prime Steakhouse

Bull & Bear Prime Steakhouse overall score: 84

My wife and I tried this place because she got a great deal on a steak dinner for two from Gilt City. The regular coupon was $99 for two apps, two sides, and two entrees. But my bargain hunter wife got it for $84. The kicker was this: EVERY item on the menu was included in the deal – no restrictions. With that said, I chose the regularly priced $95 Wagyu rib eye for my entree. It was either that or the $79 longbone rib eye. So my single steak cost more than the coupon. Crazy. Verdict is below:

Flavor: 9
After asking the waiter twice if the Wagyu rib eye was included, and being told emphatically “yes,” I was convinced that all was right with the world. It was delicious. Small (14oz), but delicious. Cooked perfectly, well seasoned, juicy, tender, and good to the last bite. However, if you are going to pay full price for something like this, I think the better bet is to head over to Del Frisco’s Double Eagle; I found their Wagyu rib eye to be superior (double the size and better flavor, yet for the same price). My wife had the lamb chops (two double cut chops). She ordered them medium rare but they came back medium to medium-well. Shame.
14oz Wagyu Rib Eye
14oz Wagyu Rib Eye
Lamb Chops
Lamb Chops

 

Choice of Cuts & Quality Available: 8

Everything is good quality, and they cover every type of cut possible; two rib eyes, a few filets, porterhouse, strip… Nothing outside the basics though.

Portion Size & Plating: 8

The plating was basic, and I thought the portion size was a little small for my rib eye, but the Wagyu’s are sometimes smaller than the American cuts. At $95, if I paid full price, I would have been a little upset with a 14oz steak. In fact had I been paying full price I would have gone with the 30oz longbone rib eye, which looked awesome when I saw a waiter carry it to another table. But I had to jump on the Wagyu since it was essentially free.

Price: 10

I really can’t say shit about price since we had an amazing coupon deal, and it included their most expensive cuts. We paid $100 over the initial $84 because we each had a drink, we ordered a dessert (not included), and then tip.
Bar: 7
There bar room is tremendous and beautiful, and that’s why it has seven points. I had to yank three. The main problem was that there weren’t enough bartenders to deal with the mobbed, crowded room. Perhaps we were just there at a bad time? It took about 20 minutes to get the attention of a bartender who had been ignoring my friend and I when we first stepped up to the bar. To top it off, the drinks were insanely overpriced. Two Johnny Walker blacks cost me $45, and drinks were $20 a pop on the cocktail menu as well (“Winter in Manhattan” – $19 – orange and cinnamon infused whiskey). Fuck that shit.
The Bar
The Bar
Specials and Other Meats: 8
The waiter didn’t read off any specials. Not sure if that was because there were none, or because it was busy and he forgot. As for other meats, they offered veal, lamb, and chicken.
Apps, Sides & Desserts: 9
We tried the crab cake and the day boat scallops for starters. Both were really good. The crab cake was meaty and crispy on the edges, and the scallops were cooked perfectly and dressed with a nice sauce.
Crab Cake
Crab Cake
Scallops
Scallops
On the side we had creamed spinach and truffle french fries. Deliciousness oozed from both. The creamed spinach was a little bit creamier than I normally like (ratio was off a bit) but I was surprised by how nice and well-balanced it tasted. The fries were awesome. Really great earthy flavor from the truffles, and they were nicely seasoned with Parmesan cheese and garlic.
Creamed Spinach
Creamed Spinach
Truffle Fries
Truffle Fries
For dessert we tried the maple bacon ice cream, which had actual bits of bacon folded into the ice cream. It was breakfasty. Interesting and yummy at first, but three scoops was two too many for the taste buds.
Maple Bacon Ice Cream
Maple Bacon Ice Cream
Seafood Selection: 8
The appetizer section is a little light on the normal types of seafood items you usually see at a steak joint, but the entree menu has an ocean section with several types of fish to choose from.
Service: 8
Shit was busy as fuck in this place. I don’t know if it was because tourists were in town for the previous night’s Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, or if this is a regular thing… But getting a drink at the bar was a nightmare, and the time lapse between being seated, ordering, getting drinks delivered, getting apps/entrees, etc. was very long. Our waiter was great though, so no complaints there. Just insanely busy. On a lighter note, the table bread came out with a really soft and creamy whipped butter – very nice.
Table Breads
Table Breads
Ambiance: 9
Both the bar room and the restaurant itself are beautiful, which is to be expected of the Waldorf. Dark wood paneling rises all the way up the walls to meet the high vaulted ceilings, where elegant chandeliers hang down to dimly light the room. The floor is carpeted with a wide red plaid pattern that makes for a warm, cozy atmosphere. It’s gorgeous. I only took a point away for the general feeling of “too busy.” Perhaps a different night would make for a more intimate dining experience.
Chandelier
Chandelier

BULL & BEAR PRIME
540 Lexington Ave.
New York, NY 10022