LIC Market

Trying to beat the heat.

Trying to beat the heat and eat someplace fun.

Wanting to try a new place.

Fork and Spoon decided to try LIC Market – now celebrating their 1st anniversary. We had heard wonderful things about LIC Market and decided to begin our exploration of Long Island City with LIC Market.

It is very difficult to park here, so plan on driving around for a bit.

As you walk into LIC Market, you are in the retail area of the business. They sell teas and pickles and jams. They also sell coffee and tea to go. After you walk through this space there is a dining room in back. A very small dining room. So crammed full of tables that diners actually have to get up so you can sit down.

The lunch menu is small, but the most of what is on there is enticing!

Before we start on the food, let’s get the iced tea situation out of the way. The iced tea comes in a large glass, probably 16 ozs. There is maybe – a big maybe – 4 ozs of tea and the rest ice. Now this wouldn’t be bad if the iced were bottomless. It’s not. It’s $2.50 per glass. I don’t know about you, but I resent paying $2.50 for 4 ozs of iced tea and a glass of ice – FOUR TIMES.

Back to the food.

 

Our first sandwich was fresh mozzarella, grilled radicchio, arugula and basil on French bread. This was very good. Fresh Mozzarella was slightly salty. The bitterness of the grilled radicchio was nice with the peppery arugula. It could have used another – something – vinegar, oil, just another layer of flavor.

Our second sandwich was slow cooked pulled pork on souman bread, gruyere, pickles and a mustard dressing. Almost a Cuban and very tasty. The bread alone was fabulous. THe pork melt in your mouth tender. THe gruyere and pickles giving it that homey spin with a touch of salty and sour. 

 

On the side we ordered rapini with roasted tomatoes. Rapini is a cross between broccoli rabe and broccoli. Same shape as a broccoli rabe but not as bitter. This was really delicious. The tomatoes and oil and rapini were GREAT on the mozzarella sandwich!

When asked if we wanted anything else, we asked about dessert. The waitress handed us back the menu. The lunch menu. Did she think we wanted another sandwich? When we mentioned that we were looking for something sweet, she said they might have an oatmeal cookie left, but that they don’t serve sweets.

SIGH …

LIC Market ~ 21-52 44th Drive ~ LIC, NY ~ 718.361.0013
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Salt & Fat

Now, really. Is there anything about the name of this restaurant that would lead you to believe that it wasn’t wonderful? We can all pretend that we are virtuous when it comes to what we eat, but let’s call a spade a spade … we like salty, we like fatty, we LOVE porky! Salty is not our enemy and comes from many more places than just a salt shaker. Fats, too, don’t necessarily mean transfats or bad fats. Salt & Fat, a new restaurant on Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside, Queens, certainly shows the virtues of salty and fat.

To quote their website, Salt & Fat “is a neighborhood restaurant  serving globally influenced New American small plates in a relaxed casual environment. ”  It couldn’t be summed up any better by anyone. Owner and chef, Danny Yi, the former executive sous chef of The Monkey Bar has set the bar high for the New American small plate concept and so far is rising well above it.

Fork and Spoon love small plate dining. It gives you the ability to try so many more things on the menu, and there were SO many things on the menu to try!

By the way, the hostess is lovely. Our waiter, Brian, super. Everyone is friendly and accommodating. The decor is simple. The tables not jammed together crowded. At the time of this writing, they had not received their liquor license yet, but had soda or water for drinks. They don’t serve coffee or hot tea. And (GASP) no iced tea.

Fork and Spoon went to Salt & Fat on a rainy, cold Tuesday night and it was pretty crowded. THe hostess told us that there was a 20 minute wait for tables the previous Saturday night.  Brian came over as soon as we sat down and gave us our menus, explained that with the exception of the last three, entrée sized dishes, everything on the menu was small plates.

While we were looking at the menu and trying to decide where to start, Brian brought over a small paper bag filled with popcorn. Salty, yummy popcorn that had been popped in bacon fat. You know more than one bag was eaten. This is amazing, addictive stuff! If this was a sign of what was yet to come, we were in for a real treat.

As an aside, Spoon and Spork had tried this restaurant already. Fork had seen it and when mentioned to Spoon, laughter erupted as they had just that night been there and loved it. There was much “na na na na” coming from Spork to Fork. So in turn, when Fork and Spoon went, there were texts and photos sent with ‘na na na’ right back.

Silliness aside, we chose 4 small plates to start. Each small plate comes with 3 of whatever the dish is. Each plate is thoughtfully put together and beautiful. As much attention is paid to the plating of the food as to the ingredients in the dishes.

Our first plate to arrive was the Braised Pork Belly Tacos. Crunchy tacos filled with melt in your mouth Hampshire pork belly that had been braised in an amazing broth. Sitting on top of the pork belly nestled inside the taco shell was kimchi, pico de gallo and  queso fresco. The fusion between the Korean and Mexican was seamless, as if kimchi has naturally always been on a taco. Served with the tacos were lightly picked jalapenos. Tuck one of those slices into the taco and you had a spectacular bite of food. SO many tastes and flavors at one time. You know this dish is on the FAT side of the fence, but really must be tried.

Next came the Short Rib Buns. If you like short ribs, this is so for you. The boneless short rib was fall apart tender. The nice sized square of really flavorful beef sat on a steamed bun.  Ticked inside the bun with the beef were thin slices of pickled cucumber. These are pickled just enough to give you that vinegar hit, but still crisp and cucumber tasting.  Topping all of this is an apricot mustard which adds a tiny bit of heat and sweet. Fork’s only negative thought here is that the bun was a little too thick so the flavors of the beef, pickled cucumber slices and mustard and apricot sauce was a little lost.

Next came Korean BBQ Wraps. Fork loves things wrapped in lettuce leaves. There’s something so seemingly healthy about it. You can honestly say you had a vegetable with the meal. Lettuce is a great, not too filling or heavy wrapper for whatever goodness is inside. And inside! Inside this lettuce leaf is a slice of BBQ hangar steak. The steak was so flavorful. The accompaniment to the steak was a thin slice of pickled daikon radish and seasoned miso. Just to gild the lily, sprinkled over the top were fried bits of shallots. Every bite hit a different part of your tastebuds and all of them were smiling!

And last – and by no means least – we ordered Crack & Cheese. Fork’s mouth is watering just typing, that’s how absolutely amazing this dish was. Imagine if you will lightly fried potato gnocchi swimming in a rich, cheesey bechamel sauce and studded with squares of crispy bacon. I don’t think another thing can possibly be said about this dish except OMG, you have to try it!

Dessert seems sparse here – and you definitely need something sweet after the salty and fatty goodness. There is a panna cotta with a yuzu buttermilk sorbet that Spoon says is amazing. We ordered the Rice Krispie Treats with Marshmallow ice cream. Yes, that’s right, marshmallow ice cream. It’s an ice cream (cream being the key word here) and marshmallow. You get the texture and flavor or both. It is truly amazing. Eaten by itself it’s wonderful. Spread on top of the rice krispie treats and it soared. This dessert is truly amazing. Definitely brough Fork back to being a kid, during the summer, with my sister! The only downside of the desserts here – they really need a third, something with chocolate!

I can’t wait to come back here. I can’t wait to bring more people here. I can’t wait for them to be open for lunch too. I can’t wait for you to get there!

Salt & Fat ~ 41-16 Queens Boulevard ~ Sunnyside, NY ~ 718.408.0533
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5 Napkin Burger

Those of you who follow along with the Cutlery know that our last trip to 5 Napkin Burger was les than stellar. But here we were in Astoria, attending a concert at the Frank Sinatra School, on a dark and stormy night – it was as if fate stepped in, placed 5 Napkin Burger across the street and said, ‘Come, give us another try.’ Like the Lemmings we can all be at times, we took the easy way out and walked across the street to 5 Napkin Burger.

The space is great. Larger than the space on 9th Avenue. Basically the same decor. Far less harried. Far less claustrophobic. Much nicer staff. Now, that could be from Spoon’s becoming a fixture there, or it could be just a more relaxed atmosphere, or just nicer staff. So far so good.

Iced tea bottomless and plentiful. Water glases and iced teas are refilled before the empty glass is set back on the table.

Our waiter came over and presented us with both the regular menu and the Queens Restaurant Week menu. Here is where our dilemma began. Knork wanted only the appetizer from the special menu, Fork wanted only the entree from the special menu, Spoon wanted everything on the special menu. Sigh. The solution turned out to be simple though. Fork ordered the special menu, but Knork had the appetizer. And Knork order the main course from the regular menu and had the dessert from the special menu.

To start, because we were ‘Starvin’ like Marvin’, we ordered the Pork Taquitos. Slow cooked pork, tender as anything, nestled inside crispy little tacos shells. So good. Piled on top of the pork is salsa, lettuce and queso fresco. The only thing that seemed to be lacking in this dish was lime. It needed copious amounts of lime. But a simple request was all it took for the lime to arrive within seconds.

We also ordered a stack of Cornmeal Crusted Onion Rings. Seriously crispy. Almost a cross between a batter and a coating. The corn meal makes them so crunchy.  Fresh onions, but cooked long enough for them to not be raw, and short enough for them to still be crisp. Great dipping sauces.

For a starter, Spoon and Knork both had the Corn and Potato Chowder from the Restaurant Week menu. It looked delicious. It was perfect for the cold, rainy night we had yet to face. The chowder was thick. Nice sized pieces of tender potato, lots of fresh corn. Very fresh, very good. The tiny sprinkling of bacon on the top didn’t hurt either!

Spoon and Fork both had the Short Rib Sliders from the special menu. These sliders were slammin’! They were OMG good. The short ribs were unbelievably moist and tender. On top of the short ribs was a chowchow that was both spicy and sweet. Giving the perfect amount of OOMPH to the short ribs – like they needed any! The House Cured Pickles were amazing, so much so that we asked for more. It couldn’t be helped. They cut the richness of the short ribs and were just so good on their own! Anyone out there in 5 Napkin land who reads this – please, oh please, put these on the menu permanently!

Knork, who always has to be different, ordered the Italian Turkey Burger. Put all of your thoughts about turkey burgers aside. This turkey burger was amazing. Very moist. Smothered in mozzarella cheese and a spicy tomato sauce, this burger was the total pacakge. The burger was served on a sesame egg roll with vinegar peppers on top. The aromas wafting across the table from the burger were stirring food envy in the Spoon and Fork. THe burger was served with a side of fries. Their fries are great too. Thinly cut, very cruspy, could have used a touch of salt, but that isn’t something that’s really a problem.

For dessert, Knork had a Black & White Shake. No picture, it was gone in a flash! But according to Knork it  was thick and perfect.

Spoon and Fork shared the Brownie Sundae that was on the special menu. Gooey caramel, chunks of brownies, vanilla ice cream, nuts. Does anything else really need to be said? We didn’t think so!

What a totally different experience 5 Napkin Burger in Astoria was. We can’t wait to go back again and again! Great service, great staff, great food, great everything!

5 Napkin Burger ~ 35-01 36th Street ~ Astoria, NY ~ 718.433.2727
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Testaccio

As you drive toward Testaccio, you may think to yourself that Fork and Spoon are off their trolleys and sending you in the wrong direction. How wrong you would be! You are headed in absolutely the right direction! Mostly undiscovered residential, a little industrial, and definitely the next neighborhood to live in, Long Island City is quickly becoming the restaurant place to be.

Testaccio was on the list of places Fork and Spoon wanted to try, and one of the places that Cheese Plane was urging us to try. As luck would have it Cheese Plane was in for a visit, so Fork and Spoon decided it was time for this adventure. And even luckier for us, it turned out to be a tableful Cutlery along with us –  always the better, more dishes to try!

Testaccio is just there. No fanfare, no fancy front, but that is where the plain part of this Roman cuisined restaurant ends.

You walk into a very large, very warm, beautifully decorated restaurant. Lovely staff, friendly accommodating, knowledgable about the restaurant and the menu. Through the bar, you pass the pizza kitchen. There is a gigantic pizza oven. We were trying to figure out if this was built in the space, or built and brought in.  We really don’t think it was possible for it to have been brought in. What craftmanship. It almost looked like an adobe hut in the middle of this open part of the pizza kitchen.

The rest of the kitchen is down a half flight of stairs in the back. Up a half flight of stairs are more tables. Separating the view of the kitchen and the upstairs tables is a gigantic wine area. All wrought iron and encased in glass, it is interesting and multi-functional.

The wait staff is super friendly, very courteous, and knowledgable about the entire menu. By the way, the restaurant is child friendly. They even have a children’s menu.

The menu is extensive, with just enough dishes in each category for variety, but not so many to make the menu seem overwhelming. Yes, you heard it here, too many menu choices can be a bad thing.

Yes, they had iced tea, and yes, it was bottomless.

Their bread was also very good. Constantly replenished and served with two different spreads that are made in house, one olive and one sun dried tomato. Be careful of the pits in the olive spread!

As there were eight of us, we knew trying a number of appetizers would be no problem (oh, yes, our accompanying Cutlery fell so easily into our evil plan – MORE DISHES!).

We’ll start with an appetizer we ordered from the specials menu. Raviolini Fritti – these were fried spinach and ricotta ravioli served over baby spinach and spicy tomato marmalade for dipping.  There was a lot of dough and not a lot of filling. It might have been that what filling there was inside the slightly greasy raviolini was seriously bland. In complete contrast, though, the spicy tomato marmalade was fantastic. What a blend of flavors. That alone with some bread would have been great! Sadly, with the exception of the marmalade, this was our least favorite of the appetizers.

Next was Assaggini di Suppli – an assortment of rice croquettes.  Six ping pong ball sized rice balls, three different varieties. There were two artichoke and truffle, two tomato and mozzarella and two sweet corn and pecorino. The shells were very crisp and golden. The rice was beautifully cooked. Spoon had the tomato and mozzarella, Fork the artichoke and truffle. The only one not received so well was the sweet corn and pecorino and that may have been just from the odd combination. They were very good, although not enough cheese in them to make them truly suppli – stringy.

Cheese Plane ordered the Terina di Coda alla Vaccinara – oxtail terrine with celery and mushrooms. The itself terrine was quite tasty. Very rich and hearty. It was served with grilled flat bread or naked pizza crust. Not sure what the beige dollops were. Cheese plane said this was a dish that could be taken or left.

There was a Pasta e Fagioli. Huge portion of bean soup which supposedly was served over maltagliati pasta. Lovely flavor. Full of beans and vegetables. Maltagliati is a short, almost trapezoid shape tube made from left over scraps of pasta. The pasta used in the soup was a long, hollow pasta as opposed to a short pasta that would lend itself better to this soup and the ease of eating it, but it was yummy just the same.

One of the appetizers that we had been longing to try was the Carciofo all Giedea. Crispy artichokes served with a black olive tapenade. The tapenade was really good. Salty, rich and terrific alongside the crispy artichoke hearts. They were quarters of hearts with long stems. Beautifully cooked – nicely seasoned and very crispy on the outside while still tender on the inside.  Perfect for one or for two to share. But, for more than two people, there just isn’t enough!

Spoon had been eyeing the Insalata di Fagioli Giganti e Porchetta. Fork is sure it was the word porchetta that made Spoon swoon. This was a warm butter bean salad, with chunks of porchetta, roasted peppers, eggplant, and other vegetables. Nice light dressing. It was different. The porchetta needed to be a little crisper – or there needed to be something in this salad with a crunch – otherwise everything was the same much consistency. It'[s a shame to take away from a delicious dish because of texture.

The last appetizer we tried was the Gnocchi alla Romana. These are not what one would normally think of when gnocchi is mentioned. Gnocchi – unless cooked really well – can be like little lead balloons. These were nothing like that. These were not even shaped like that.  These weren’t even potato. These were semolina gnocchi. They were very light and fluffy with a great flavor. They seemed to just melt in your mouth. Their shape resembled a short cylinder, as though they were made as a timbale – or perhaps made into a log and then cut into 1″ pieces. They sat on a flat side, sprinkled with parmesan and then light broiled to melt the cheese. The gnocchi were served in a light tomato and basil sauce.

With the exception of Fork and Spoon, main dishes were not shared, so we can’t really comment on the others.

Well, no, Cheese Plane is always a happy sharer. Cheese Plane ordered the Costolette D’Abbacchio Scottdito – grilled organic lamb chops with chicory and grilled polenta all drizzled with a lamb reduction. The dish though was not cooked the way requested.  Cheese Plane explained to the waiter what was wrong and he whisked the dish away and returned with the dish perfectly cooked. Cheese Plane asked for sauce on the side, and truthfully, the sauce is unnecessary and takes away from the dish. Sadly, by this time Cheese Plane had been happily munching away on everyone else’s entrees and took the dish home for later.

Fork and Spoon decided to order two things and share them.

First we tried the Bucatini all’Amatriciana. Bucatini is a long hollow pasta. Amatriciana is a spicy tomato based sauce made with guanciale, hot peppers and a lot of pecorino cheese. Guanciale is salt cured pork jowl. Because it is less lean than pancetta it gives a very rich feel to the sauce.  This was super. Spicy and rich, the guanciale so yummy, the tomato sauce sweet, the perfect amount of heat just hitting the back of your throat.

Our second choice was a pizza. How could we be 10 feet from this amazing pizza oven and not have a pizza from it!? We ordered the Pizza Diavola. First, their pizza crust is great. The dough is fabulous. Thin crust, nice tooth, not soggy in the center, not too doughy or yeasty tasting. The crust is topped with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, salamino and fresh oregano. Great flavor combination. The salamino (pepperoni to most of you) was thinly sliced, packing just enough heat to make it interesting, and crispy. Doesn’t get much better than that!

And, as always, there is room for dessert.  We tried three!

First the Tiramisu ‘Fai Da Te’. Sort of a do-it-yourself  tiramisu plate. This was inhaled so quickly by the tiny Cutlery, there was no time for photos! But, what arrived were lady fingers – soft and springy, a bowl of mascarpone sauce, a cup of espresso, and bitter cocoa. You could put this together any way that suited you – or not at all and eat each component separately.  The mascarpone cream was so delicious, we were practically fighting over the last bits of it.

Next arrived Tortino di Cioccolato e Caffe. Dark chocolate and coffee flan with a caramel sauce. This was more like a seriously fudgey cake than a true flan. Deep, dark chocolate with a not too subtle flavor of coffee. It wasn’t as pudding-ish as a flan, and certainly not what you would call a cake – something in between. Drizzled all over the plate and all over the Tortino was incredible, buttery, sugary caramel. What a flavor combo! Chocolate, caramel and coffee. Throw in a few slices of strawberries and you have perfection!

And, last but not least, Torta di Ricotta e Visciole. Roman ricotta pie with amarena cherries. The cheese cake was so so, but the cherries – man oh man were they good! Amarena cherries are small, very dark, slightly sour cherries. The cherries are preserved in sugar.

Testaccio Ristorante ~ 47-30 Vernon Blvd ~ New York, NY ~ 718.937.2700
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El Coyote

Front

It is always amazing that you can pass by a place dozens of times and never realize the hidden gem within. So is the case with El Coyote. El Coyote is located on Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights, Queens. Hidden amongst car dealerships, Rite-Aids, 7-11s and karaoke bars is a very unassuming Mexican restaurant that is absolutely worth venturing into.

The atmosphere in El Coyote is warm, the staff friendly and the food fantastic. With that sort of restaurant trifecta a good time and great dining experience is practically guaranteed.

Fork and Spoon and those significant cutlery met here for dinner. Truly, as Fork and Spoon have mentioned before, we bring them along to have more dishes to try – though, really, they are pleasant enough company.

The restaurant is warm and cozy. Great colors throughout and murals painted on the walls. Good music wafting in the background, bottomless iced tea, and a staff that doesn’t hover and rush you. Perfecto!

The tortilla chips are hot and fresh, their salsa freshly made and really good, and no matter how many times you ask for more, they bring them – and with a smile! The salsa was fresh, didn’t have that bitter astringent taste to it that salsa gets that’s been sitting around for days.

GuacamoleThe problem becomes, when you want to eat EVERYTHING on the menu, how do you narrow it down to a few choices? Fork supposes, you begin with the first thing on the menu!

Guacamole, prepared tableside.  This was probably one of the first times Fork has had guacamole prepared tableside that the person making the guacamole actually listened to how we wanted it prepared … slightly spicy and lots of lime. Most people don’t realize, lime is what makes guacamole pop. Without it, it’s really just mushed up avocado.  Brought to the table to dip into the wonderful guacamole were warm, fresh, soft corn tortillas, and more tortilla chips.  Needless to say, this was gobbled up in minutes.

DipOur second starter was a house special, Queso Fundido – and yes, Fork made that name up! Ooey gooey queso (cheese for you gringos out there)  with bits of spicy chorizo and tomato. The chorizo bits were slightly crispy. It is unbelievably good! Salty and smooth and rich, and GONE very quickly. Again, served with soft, warm corn tortillas for dipping. You just want to pick up the bowl and run away with it so you don’t have to share any with anyone!

Puerco PebilFork and Spoon decided to share the Cochinita Pibil – for you Johnny Depp fans, a bit of trivia, this is the dish he ordered everywhere he went in  Once Upon a Time in Mexico, once finished, if he liked the way it was cooked, he killed the chef.  This was wonderful, and we did not feel the need to kill the chef! Pork shoulder rubbed with achiote, then wrapped in banana leaves and slow cooked until for tender. The little tree was heart of palm, avocado and olives. The pork was beyond tender, just falling a part as we began to dig in. The spiciness of the pork was nicely balanced with a little bite of avocado or heart of palm. The paring was wonderful. Very clever and made the dish all the more appetizing.

Served along side the Cochinite Pibil was Rice & Beans. The presentation of the plates and the plating is as important here as the food itself. They get the concept that your first bite of food is visual. The rice is fresh, not stale rice that has been sitting around, the black beans well seasoned and not mushy. Oh, for more room in our stomachs!

Now, the main problem with dining with our significant cutlery is they aren’t so willing to share!

One ordered the Chinichangas. In most Mexican restaurants, you get one gigantic chimichanga, way too much extra tortilla and not enough filling. Instead, at El Coyote, you are served two smaller chimichangas. They are completely filled, not greasy in the least, and served with a good helping of guacamole and sour cream. Totally worth ordering.

The other ordered Bistec Ranchero.  Butterflied and grilled sirloin steak served with slowly cooked onions and poblano peppers with a mild guajillo sauce.  Between the poblano and guajillo peppers there was both a smokey pepper flavor and a little bit of heat. Very nice portion of sirloin. Fork and Spoon did not try the steak, but from the silence on that side of the table, it must have been good!

Ah, dessert. No matter what you eat for dinner – or how much – there is always room for dessert. It’s Spoon’s theory that dessert goes into a separate stomach and therefore always enough room.

Spoon and Fork shared a Tres Leches cake. We were very wary of ordering tres leches cake. Past experience has taught us that ‘home made’ doesn’t always mean made in this particular home. But nothing else jumped out at us from the dessert menu. I know, stinky photo, but seriously good cake! Not damp and mushy. Definitely made in-house. Baked right inside a white ramekin. As full as we were, we had no troubles gobbling this up. Not quite sure what the red syrup was on top. Not sweet enough for maraschino juice, but really very good. Light spongy cake with loads of sweetness from the – well, from the tres leches, but not the soggy mush we were expecting.

One significant cutlery ordered Fried Ice Cream. Frozen solid vanilla ice cream, dredged in crushed corn flakes, and deep fried. Good quality ice cream makes a huge difference here. The ice cream sat in a puddle of chocolate sauce and whipped cream.

And the other significant cutlery ordered a bread pudding. Fork is not usually a fan of bread pudding. Mushy is the only word that ever comes to mind when those two words are put together.  But this was pretty good. Not too wet or mushy. There was a delicious guava sauce on top which added a great deal of flavor to the bread pudding. Served on the side was vanilla ice cream.

The service in El Coyote is outstanding. They don’t care how long you take to finish your meal. They are at the ready to refill iced teas and water.  They saw Fork and Spoon taking photos of the food and would bring plates over and say, ‘this will make a beautiful picture.’ 

When our meal was done they brought over glasses of warm mulled wine for the table.

If you live in the Jackson Heights area, you definitely must try El Coyote. If you don’t want o go out because it’s too chilly, order in, they deliver!

For those of you in the Monroe, CT, area, you are in luck as well! There is an El Coyote located at 838 Main St., Monroe, CT., 203.459.4055.

El Coyote ~ 80-18 Northern Boulevard ~ Jackson Heights, NY ~ 718.651.4874
El Coyote Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Lucas Steakhouse

Front

As it happens so many times, Spoon and Fork could not decide what to eat, what borough to travel to, what cuisine we wanted.  All Fork knew was, get out of Manhattan! The sidewalks were jammed. The streets were jammed. This was making for some very unhappy cutlery.  Let’s try Queens.  Now we have a borough, but we can’t quite get to a cuisine.  Okay, so when all else fails – STEAK!  We had been reading about a number of steak places in Astoria, but couldn’t remember the names of any. Thank goodness for Blackberries and Google!

What we came across was Lucas Steakhouse. And all I can say from the outset  – without being too silly –  is HOLY COW.

This wonderful steakhouse is off the beaten path in Astoria. As a matter of fact, as you drive around looking for a parking space you wonder if the address on the internet was wrong. But there it was, right on the corner, hard to miss. Warm and inviting. Great glass fronts (more on that at the end).

InteriorWhen you walk in and you are istantly trasported to a dining room on a cattle ranch somewhere in the midwest – perhaps a 21st Century Bonanza set.  There are only 6 tables (3 sets of 4, and 3 sets of 2), but I am sure that the configuration can be moved around a bit to accomodate more people.  The tables are wood.  The chairs are tufted leather with leather buttons. Some are wing, some are straight backed. Against the windows in the front Wineare small square, cowhide covered pillows for those sitting on the leather tufted bunch by the window.  The tables are simply, but elegantly set.  A cow hide hanging on one wall, great chandelier in the center of the room.  The room is just warm and inviting, from the tin ceiling down to the hardwood floors, all browns and chocolates.

Our server approached with menus, the wine list, and a big smile. We asked for iced tea. Now, out of the corner of my eye I watched one of the bus boys run out……then run back in with a bag from the local market.  I then watched our waiter putting ice into a small pitcher. Moments later our iced tea arrived. Fresh as can be, large glasses, and these large glasses were refilled over and over again before the last sip was taken. Bottomless, fresh iced tea – gotta love it!

The menu is a meat eaters paradise. There is a token fish dish (and the special this night was a fish dish as well). There is a token poultry dish. Surprisingly most of the appetisers are some form of seafood, as were the appetizer specials.

WedgeFortunately for us, there was the standard Legendary Wedge Salad. Knowing we were sharing everything, the chef was kind enough to split the wedge for us. It’s wonderful when a restaurant takes the extra step to make their customers happy and comfortable – and without asking. Bacon and a three peppercorn gorgonzola dressing make this simple dish fantastic. The candied pecans knock it out of the park. The one downside, the iceberg was not as fresh as it good have – or should have – been. There were leaves on the bottom starting to brown, and it didn’t taste all that fresh, and that made it a little unappetizing. None the less, we forced (ha ha) ourselves to eat the bacon, dressing and pecans! This was a great salad even with the wilty lettuce.

Mozzarella and tomatoOur other appetizer was the Beefsteak and Buffalo Mozzarella. The tomatoes were so flavorful, noting better than end of summer tomatoes!  The slices of buffalo mozzarella on top of each tomato slice were room temperature and perfectly buttery and soft. Coupled with with basil leaves and aged balsamic, life is beautiful. This is one of my favorite appetizers always and this one did not disappoint.  There could have been a bit more balsamic on the plate, but it was really good.  I don’t remember any Himalayan sea salt on this, I do remember it needing salt. WARNING – the salt grinder shoots a ridiculous amount of salt onto your food – and all in one spot! Grind it onto the side of your plate and sprinkle it on yourself.

Just before the steak was brought from the kitchen for service, three trivets appeared at our table. One for Spoon, one for Fork, and one in the middle of the table.  The waiter brought our dinner plates to the table, with the warning, these are VERY hot.  Being the mature cutlery we are, we naturally had to touch the plates, and indeed, they were VERY hot! How fantastic!

SteakNow for the STEAK – the reason we came to this hidden gem!  The steak was amazing.  Prime cut, 28 day dry aged, 24 oz., bone-in rib eye. Perfectly grilled. Perfectly seasoned. Tender. Flavorful. Rare in the center for Spoon and more done on the edges for Fork.  Just enough fat for flavor. Salt and pepper and rosemary was all this needed. Butter added on top at the end for a perfect finish. The steak was sliced in the kitchen and brought to the table for serving.

 

Steak sauceAlong with the steak was the chef’s homemade steak sauce. Very good steak sauce, just the right amount of sweet and heat.  If steak sauce isn’t your thing, they also have red wine, au poivre, and bernaise sauces.

Sweet potato friedIn what seems to be the trend in restaurants these days, no sides are served with the entrees, BUT at Lucas there are plenty to choose from!  You can have potatoes five different ways, the usual steakhouse-type creamed spinach, asparagus or sauteed wild mushrooms.  Spoon and Fork could not resist the Sweet Potato Fries.  The chef’s special seasoning is really good. Spicy. Perfectly matched for the carmelized sweet potato fries.

CheesecakeAfter that very heavy meal, can there really be room for dessert? Knowing Spoon and Fork, does anyone even have to wonder? Profiterol with Caramel Whipped Cream? Cheesecake? Let’s ask our waiter, his suggestions so far have been spot on. Cheesecake, says he, Lucas’ cheesecake is outstanding.  I think every restaurant thinks their cheesecake is outstanding, but in this instance he was right. This cheesecake IS outstanding.  It’s worth ordering it for the crust alone. The crust is very thick and buttery, slighty salty and sweet – imagine all that at the same time. The filling was delicate and creamy, not overpowering as some cheesecakes can be. This was served with a berry coulis and a dollop of the caramel whipped cream.  Folks, it don’t get much better than that!

The staff is great.  The waiters, bus boys, even the manager very attentive, checking to see how we liked everything. The manager asked how we liked the cheesecake and then described all the new desserts Chef Carlos Simoes had planned for the winter menu. (Just remember to update your website when you change the menu – not doing so is a pet peeve of the Cutlery!)

There are only a couple of downsides to this restaurant – but we think they’re just growing pains – as of this writing Lucas has been open for 5 months.  There is a LOT of staff for a 6 table restaurant. Two waiters, two bus boys, manager, bartender, and another either bartender or manager teaching the bartender the ropes.  Fortunately they don’t hover, but they do seem to not have alot to do, and in a small restaurant you occasionally feel as if you are under a microscope.

The other problem – the windows!  The front of Lucas has large windows. I believe they open. I felt behind me and there was a latch. Great in the summer – BUT the benches against the window have no back. Just a pillow to lean against. If the windows were to open, then you can’t lean back and sitting up straight like that through a meal may have been the way it was done in parochial school, but people like to be comfy when they eat. 

Even just to lean against, the pillows are too small and too squishy. When you lean back against them you are too far from the table. Two pillows are uncomfortable. The pillows are beautiful, perhaps they need to be slightly larger or more firmly stuffed. Or maybe a half back of a banquet behind you.

AND IT’S COLD! The night we were there Fork sat against the windows on the very comfortable banquet, but as the sun went down and the night air turned cooler, Fork was very cold.  My back where the pillow was placed was okay, but my shoulders and neck were freezing!  Lucas is located on a corner and I can only imagine how chilly those 4 seats against the window are going to be during the winter, especially on a windy night.   A large curtain rod hung about a foot from the top of the windows with a heavy velvet drape would fit the room and keep those seats warm. If they were to come from either side of the windows they could be slid open during the day or on a mild night.

I cannot WAIT to go back and try this wonderful restaurant again!  Right now they are only open for dinner, but they are open 7 days a week, beginning at 5:oo p.m.

Lucas Steakhouse ~ 34-55 32nd Street ~ Astoria, New York ~ 718.786.5200

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La Portena

Fork and Spoon love steak. At times we CRAVE steak.  One of the places this craving is satiated – and extremely well – is La Portena Restaurant located in Jackson Heights, Queens.

La Portena

La Portena

This unassuming storefront in the heart of Jackson Heights,  gives way to a to a wonderfully noisy, family run, fun restaurant.  Sometimes in our adventures it is necessary to bring our other halves along – if for no other reason that to be able to try more dishes!! In this case though, it was just for more company as we all ate the same thing!

There is nothing pretentious or fancy about this neighborhood restaurant.  The tablecloths are covered in white paper because this is serious eating and serious Argentinian BBQ! 

Bottomless iced tea and soda, fantastic sangria, fresh bread and their freshly made CHIMICHURRI sauce. Now, I wanted a steak, and their delicious salad and empanadas, but the chimichurri and bread is some serious eating.  I put it on everything  – the emapnadas, steak, potatoes, bread – everything but the salad!

We started our field trip with the La Portena salad especial and empanadas. 

I dream about this salad.  All of the ingredients are very, very cold, salty, and dressed in a tangy, citrus vinaigrette. Watercress, tomatoes, hearts of palm, broad beans, hard boiled eggs, and this time avocado. You just can’t stop eating it.

Salad La Portena Especial

Salad La Portena Especial

The empanadas are in a light flaky dough and filled with beef or chicken. Not being able to decide which we would prefer, we ordered two of each.  (And so good with the chimichurri)

Empanadas

Empanadas

The potatoes Spanish style – thinly sliced and fried with lots of garlic (everyone had to eat them otherwise we would not have been able to continue speaking to each other!) and parsley are so good they could be a meal unto themselves! We were virtually fighting over the last bits of them! So much so that we ordered a second plate of them! (And so good with the chimichurri!)

Potaotes

Potaotes

All having a craving for steak we all had the same entree, the Entrana, skirt steak. Beautifully grilled and so big that it hangs off the sides of the plate. Skirt steak if not treated right can get stringy and chewy. This was tender and perfect. And such a good accompaniment to the chimichurri! 

Entrana

Entrana

Now, those of you who have visited before all know we cannot have an adventure without dessert and with four people the possibilities were even better. Sadly the ‘others’ do not like to play share and are not exactly adventurous so we had Peach Sherbet in a peach, Tartufo, and for the Spoon and I, Sweet Caramel Crepe. The crepes were great! Then again, anything filled with Dulce de Leche can’t possibly be bad!! 

Crepes with dulce de leche

Crepes with dulce de leche

The chimichurri sauce is now sold in bottles!  I know people who have spent years trying to achieve the same balance of sweet, garlic, parslied perfection.  Thank goodness I can just take it home with me!! You want to dip everything in it! You want to eat more just to dip more!

 La Portena, for the past 14 years, has been located at 74-25 37th Avenue, Jackson Heights, Queens, New York.

Want a great steak? This place is a MUST!!