Tuesday, July 13, 2010

WunderBar: An LIC Wunderkind

On the long walk to WunderBar I noticed halal meat shops, pizza places, gyro stands, Greek restaurants, Italian restaurants, Spanish restaurants, French restaurants, Mexican restaurants, Colombian restaurants, and more! But no German restaurants, or bars for that matter.

I'd been meaning to go to WunderBar since I heard about it a while ago from a friend and on Monday I finally made the trek down to 37th Ave and 11th St. I didn't expect the front of it to be painted bright blue but the color as well as the German flag flying high above it definitely caught my eye.

When I walked in owner and chef Felix was doing some phone business as he tends to do on Mondays but he pointed me to a seat at the bar and a menu. First of all, this is just a cool place to be in. The skylight in the middle of the room lets in a lot of sun, there's German and pirate decorations everywhere and the dining room floor can and will be easily converted into a concert venue come OKTOBERFEST! I talked with Felix a little while and he served me some delicious, authentic and very filling German food (not to mention beers!) and I acted like a glutton in the name of WLA.

I started with a Radeberger Pilsner and this tangy plate of vegetable "salats." The cucumber salat is as good as the green bean salat and the pickle is enjoyable as well but the star for me here was the tomato salat. It was incredibly flavorful with lots of garlic. The tomatoes weren't mushy and I couldn't stop eating it. Too bad there was only about three bites.

I was still hungry so I ate a Spicy Kaesewurst. The sauerkraut and rotkraut (red cabbage) are imported from Germany and the two mustards are homemade. Their creamy tanginess slathered all over that extra snappy skinned spicy wiener exploded with flavor and texture. This is a very well made sausage.

When I asked about schnitzel Felix asked, "You like gravy?" What kind of question is that?Who doesn't?! The veal Jager Schnitzel swimming in a gravy made from smoked bacon, mushrooms, and Black Forest ham was the best thing I tasted. Every bite was better than the last savoring it like it was my last meal. This is Felix's favorite dish to cook and serve. If the chef refers to a dish as "my baby" then you order it without question.

His kartoffelsalat (potato salad) is ridiculously creamy and moist and without being overly mayonnaise-y. Felix says it comes from the addition of milk. I say gimme more.
This is the third beir I drank, Hofbrauhaus dunkel. Felix has a background in tending bar and you can tell from the way he pours a beer from his beautiful tap system. This is the second of three different Hofbrauhaus beirs I drank. All deliciously malty like great German beirs.

The Hofbrauhaus Oktoberfest was my favorite and I'll definitely be ordering a liter of it next time I go into WunderBar. There were also Das Boots available to drink out of for a deposit or for purchase. Happy Birthday to me!

The last few morsels I could squeeze down were some potato pancakes with traditional toppings of sour cream and applesauce. These brown and crusty cakes beat a short stack any day.

Lots of space for RAMMSTEIN concert!

I almost put my face in this....almost.

Beir Shrine

German pirate bar

I had an terrific experience at WunderBar and will find myself back there very soon and definitely for Oktoberfest this year. In a neighborhood of ethnic restaurants, WunderBar sticks out not just for being German, but for being really good. The owner is gracious and loves his job and it shows in the food and the fun had in his bright blue German bar in LIC. As a matter of fact, the food and atmosphere here are so cool, it could be in Astoria.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

CSA Day: Cherry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

So far all the recipes I've cooked with my vegetable shares from the CSA have been healthful and mostly green colored, but the extreme summer heat has me hankering for some cool sweet treats. It just so happens that last week Harvest Astoria dropped a big bunch of fresh picked cherries in my lap. My first thought was cherry pie but that's LAME, plus I made a multi-berry pie that included cherries last month. It had a Cinnamon Chex crunchy topping and was delicious. My favorite dessert is ice cream in any form so I decided to make my own version of the Ben & Jerry classic, Cherry Garcia.

You will need:
2 quarts (separated) pitted cherries (preferably from Harvest Astoria)
2 cups (separated) sugar
3 large strips orange zest
2 pints cream
2 cups skim milk
5 egg yolks (Harvest Astoria)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2 cups dark chocolate (60% cacao) chips

In a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat, bring the cream and milk to a boil but be careful not to let it boil over the sides of the pan and make a huge mess like I've done before. Do not want.

While the cream is heating, whisk together one cup of sugar, the egg yolks, vanilla and salt in a large stainless steel bowl.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, cook one cup of the cherries with one cup of the sugar and the orange zest strips. This probably won't boil over unless you're really doing something wrong but, nonetheless, keep an eye on it. After about five minutes all the sugar should be melted and the cherries should pretty much fall apart. Transfer to a blender and puree or use a fancy schmancy immersion blender like me and just keep everything in one pan.

Continue whisking the eggs and sugar until the mixture drips from the bottom of the whisk in a ribbon like this ^.

Once your eggs have reached what we call "ribbon stage" very slowly drizzle and whisk in about one third of the cream into the eggs. In culinary terms, this is called tempering. Adding a small amount of the cream into the eggs slowly rises the temperature of the mixture so as not to scramble the eggs once they are mixed with the hot cream.

Now slowly add the tempered egg mixture back into the rest of the hot cream, whisking continuously. Add the pureed cherries, turn low heat back on under the pan and cook, stirring continuously until the mixture is thickened to a sauce consistency and can coat the back of a spoon.

After the ice cream base has been thickened, refrigerate it overnight. The next day spin the base in an ice cream maker until it is the consistency of soft serve. Fold in the rest of the cherries and chocolate chips and freeze until firm.

My Cherry Garcia recipe turned out amazing. The CSA eggs made it so rich and the cherries gave it an amazing color and flavor. The dark chocolate gave it a depth I think the original lacks but my chips were way too big. B&J's fudge flakes work best. Can't wait to see what we get next week!

I finally made it to Luke's Lobster

I've been reading about Luke's Lobster in food magazines and blogs for months but have been really good at finding excuses not to make it down to the East Village. The tiny store front specializing in Maine lobster rolls has attracted tremendous accolades and patrons by appealing to that niche market of people who like their food decadent and to-go.

I was in such a rush to get there that I even got off the R train from 46th St in Astoria at 59th and Lex, left my girlfriend behind and transferred to a downtown 6 to get to Astor Place faster than she could get to 8th St NYU. She didn't think my route was faster. She lost and I reserved our place in line.

Despite the extreme heat, the design of the restaurant makes it a lot of fun to be in. Maybe there was something wrong with the A/C or maybe they just don't have it but it was hot as balls inside that cramped little lobster shack. Things to look at while in line include: the chalkboard menu, the rain slicker and special lobsterin' tools with descriptions, and a specially commissioned mural with real pieces of Maine driftwood! It was like being in a very cutely decorated fisherman's toaster oven.

Original Costumes from the last movie shot in Maine: I Know How Much Lobster You Ate Last Summer

The pulse of the restaurant is quick with eaters ordering, getting their food and finishing it or leaving with it in about 15 minutes. The lobstermen workin' up a sweat in the back and the speedy but chummy girl taking orders and dispensing seafood may or may not be from Maine but who cares? The lobster is the bomb.com.

An actual story-board from Maine's next big motion picture, a remake of Jaws, but with lobster, Claws.

Buoys and guirls love Luke's!

I ordered the Taste of Maine. It came with 3 mini rolls (lobster, crab and shrimp), 2 empress claws, a bag of chips and a soda. I drank the Root Beer from Maine Root, a Maine-based soda company, and ate the Bar-B-Q Miss Vickie's while I was waiting for my order. When my name was called a bandana-ed hipster handed me a hefty little box with four delicious presents inside. The first thing I ate was the lobster roll. I expected it to be good (and I've had lobster rolls I thought were good in the past) but it was outstanding. The lobster was cooked perfectly and coated with barley anything at all. Generously seasoned, ridiculously fresh lobster on a buttery toasted bun is what this place does best. Next time I'm getting just the large lobster roll.

That's not to say I didn't thoroughly enjoy the chilled empress claws dipped in cocktail sauce, the closest thing there is to a flawless condiment.

The crab roll was tasty but the texture was different than I expected. I wanted large chunks and intact claws like the lobster roll. This looked messy and shredded.

The shrimp roll was my least favorite but still a pretty solid effort, especially dipped in some of that cocktail sauce.
I'll be going back to Luke's soon for another lobster roll and to try some of their bisque, but maybe I'll wait till it cools down a bit.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Great cocktails and pizza are worth the wait at DiWine

I used to live right around the corner from DiWine but the tumbleweeds blowing through the dining room kept me (and many others) from going in for a while. Once last winter I didn't want to cook and the ladyfriend wanted to brave the cold for a nice dinner. The closest place to my front door that sold food was DiWine. Since that fateful January night I've been coming and bringing friends to DiWine on 31st Ave and 41st St in Astoria with the promise of great cocktails, the neighborhood's best pizza and a warning of notoriously terrible service.
Speaking of tumbleweeds...

On my latest visit I sat in the draped lounge area for the first time. I've sat at the bar and at tables but there was something about eating on a couch and a coffee table that made me feel like I was in my living room.

An update to the menu since I was here last shows my favorite blue cheese fondue 86ed. Guacamole is a recent addition but I don't usually order guacamole that isn't made at my table in a molcajete by a polite, mustachioed, ESL young man. I've eaten appetizers and main dishes here but the reason I come is the pizza.

It's simply the best deal in the neighborhood. The biggest, best quality pizza you can get for $10 is at DiWine. The Gigi with smoked beef is a personal favorite but this time my guest and I went for the Capriciossa that comes with pepperocini, mushroom, mozzerella, and a fried egg. The warm egg yolk oozing all over the pizza made me very happy in the mouth.

In addition to a few great slices, I come here for the cocktails. A casual atmosphere lets me order anything I want and not feel intimidated even when my girlfriend gives me a hard time about ordering a Peanut Butter Cup Martini (which is EXCELLENT, by the way). Above is the Cucumber fauxjito. Describes as a vodka based mojito with an infused twist, I'm not sure what's so faux about it. I do know that it is delicious and they should serve it in a fishbowl a la CANZ.

The reason the drinks are so good here is the house made infused alcohols and syrups displayed behind the bar in all the classy fashion of a Sharpie-labeled bottle. Above is the Marie la Poire - Grey Goose la poire, rosemary and juniper infused simple syrup, lime juice.

Basil limeade - basil infused vodka, lime juice, simple syrup

As I said before, the food and drinks here are excellent. The service, however, is awfully slow. The staff is kind and courteous when they appear but sightings are few and far between. Constantly understaffed in the front and back of house, food and drinks take forever to get to the table. I used to get the same server every time who I swear popped a mixed handful of pills before her shift. We called her "Crazy" and, thankfully, she hasn't been seen at DiWine in a while. I, on the other hand, have been and will be again very soon.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Five Reasons why Five Napkin Burger is gonna to kill it

Five Napkin Burger opened earlier this week in Astoria on the same block as the popular beer garden, Studio Square and just across the street from the neighborhood's famed Kaufman Astoria Studios. Me being the illustrious food blogger that I am, I was invited to a tasting of the menu one day before opening night. Here are five reasons this place is gonna do it up big in Astoria.

1. Location, location, location

First of all, this place has a great location that will no doubt attract tons of people due to its proximity to the aforementioned Studio Square as well as the Regal Cinema just around the block. Don't forget the Frank Sinatra High School directly across the street where dozens of wannabe Gleeks will make the 10 oz. namesake burger and tots a recurring after school snack.

2. Ohhhh, pretty lights

The interior of this place is beautiful. The bare lightbulbs hanging on meat hooks give the place an industrial, striped down feeling even though it's fancier than almost any other burger place in the neighborhood.

3. Golden brown and delicious

GBD is a term they taught us in culinary school to describe when any particular deep fried item was done. The onion rings pictured here are BY FAR the best in the neighborhood and the "tots" (even though they're not real school cafeteria style) are a little herbed potato croquette bite of heaven.

Chalkboard mural. I spent a good half hour staring at this thing.

Might get this tattooed on my chest.

Deep fried pastrami and pickle, the best thing I tasted. See #3.

4. The burgers

I tried four burgers and all of them were stellar. Juicy and get-all-over-your-face, the name of the restaurant is not joke. Above is the Italian Turkey Burger with melted mozzarella and grilled peppers.

This is only the first napkin...

5. Everything else on the menu

The lobster roll I had was amazingly fresh tasting. I haven't had Luke's yet but this is delicious. Also on the menu are sushi, some delicious pork taquitos, and a Kobe beef hot dog I hear is just the jam.

Lamb Kofta Burger. A little tip of the hat to the Greek neighborhood. Much appreciated, Five Napkin.

Veggie burger. Housemade with 5N sauce and pickles. Yum.

Their signature Five Napkin Burger. Perfect Medium, caramelized onions, melted gruyere and rosemary aioli. I'm drooling.