Thursday, September 29, 2011


I know what you've been thinking: "Susan, you live in Astoria. Where the hell is the Greek food?" 

Cut me some slack, people. I've only been at this for three weeks. But to keep you guys happy, Dr. Science and I had our Saturday lunch at Aliada, the closest Hellenic joint to our house. 

We sat at one of the outside tables to enjoy the warm early fall day. Although Aliada's outdoor space is perfectly attractive, it suffers from the same problem as all Astoria sidewalk cafes: it's on the sidewalk. In Astoria. This means we saw a lot of cars making three-point turns in the middle of traffic, and heard a lot of horns honking as a result. Whether this counts as atmosphere depends on your taste.

Getting back to the food: the trick to eating veggie at meat-and-fish-centric Greek restaurants is to order lots of appetizers. Our server kicked things off by bringing us a complimentary dish of spicy hummus and warm pita triangles. We followed that with thick, garlicky tzatziki (yogurt-cucumber dip, for the uninitiated), which is so filling and delicious that I've actually made a dinner out of it on a number of occasions.


The spanokopita, sadly, was less successful. It looked pretty and the spinach-feta filling was tasty, but the soggy layers of phyllo on top dragged it down.


The dolmadakia – grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs – were also disappointingly mushy.

As for meatless entrees, Aliada offers exactly two: spinach kanellonia and the ancient Athenian delicacy known as falafel. We went for the kanellonia (that's "cannelloni" in English, or perhaps Italian) – crepes stuffed with spinach and feta and topped with a spicy tomato sauce and melted kefalograviera, a pungent sheep's milk cheese. Dr. Science and I both gave this one an "opa!"


Lemon potatoes (and rice)

As our side dish, we ordered lemon potatoes, which, in a carb addict's dream, arrived on a bed of rice. The potatoes were tangy and perfectly cooked; the rice, unfortunately, was studded with tough little kernels of corn.

Portions at Aliada are more than generous; after four appetizers and an entree, we didn't even consider dessert. Even so, dessert arrived, compliments of the house. (Our server must have suspected I was some sort of reviewer, since I wasn't all that discreet when I snapped photos of the food.) We're pretty sure it was galaktoboureko, a custard baked in phyllo. It wasn't terribly memorable, but hey, it was free. The total bill came to $38, including tax and tip.

So – not bad, but not exactly a trip to Santorini, either. In the future we'll probably stick to takeout tzatziki.

29-19 Broadway

Veg friendliness

Food quality


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Il Bambino

If vegetarianism had 10 Commandments, this would probably be one of them: thou shalt not dine at a restaurant with a pig painted on the window. Or a giant pork cuts diagram on the wall. Or an impressive range of porcine products on the menu.

Good thing no such rules exist, because Il Bambino, in its sneaky way, is vegetarian heaven.

Dr. Science and I would know: we eat there every few weeks, more often in nice weather when the delightful back garden is open. We're at the point where our favorite waiter doesn't bother to tell us the specials unless they're meat-free.

Il Bambino is known for its panini, but I'm gonna let you in on something: I kind of hate panini. As a fan of grilled cheese, I like the idea of it, but it never tastes as magically delicious as it should. The bread-to-filling ratio is simply too high. When I do opt for panini, it's here – the eggplant, mushroom, goat cheese and spicy mayo one is nice – but mostly I stick to the crostini. They come two to an order, and vegetarian options abound: there are about a dozen to choose from, ranging in tastiness from pretty good to phenonemenal.

Normally Dr. Science and I split two crostini, but when our pal the Chairman joined us on a recent visit, we went berserk and ordered three. (Hat tip to the Chairman for taking all the photos.) We had the manchego and membrillo, the white bean, pesto and parmesan, and the spicy avocado with goat cheese, a candidate for Best Tiny Sandwich Ever. It's topped with chili oil so awesome that Il Bambino sells it by the bottle.

Stringbeans (with cheesedrift)

To supplement the Food on Bread, we shared a couple of salads. The baby stringbeans came tossed with croutons and an umami-licious truffle vinaigrette, and topped with what Dr. Science calls a cheesedrift of shaved parmesan.

Roasted carrots

We also got the roasted carrots with sage, caramelized onions, Caesar vinaigrette and a healthy (or perhaps unhealthy) amount of feta. (Once again: apologies to my vegan friends. Or anyone concerned about the state of his or her arteries.)

Dessert at Il Bambino is no great shakes, with the notable exception of the vanilla bean panna cotta, served with a strawberry sauce and crunchy chocolate cornflake clusters. The three of us polished it off quicker than you can say PAH-nuh COAT-uh in a ridiculous fake Italian accent.

The service at Il Bambino is on par with the food. The waiters all wear cool hats – from jaunty newsboy caps to (appropriately) porkpies – and they're cute and friendly (without any of that "I'm Ryan, and I'll be taking care of you tonight" crap that drives me nuts).

Our latest dinner for three with a glass of wine, a beer and an iced tea came to $76 with tax and tip. Not bad for a lovely al fresco meal in which no pigs were harmed.

Il Bambino
34-08 31st Ave.

Veg friendliness

Food quality


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Queens Kickshaw

Note: This post is participating in the Astoria Blog Carnival, hosted by We Heart Astoria.

For someone whose sole brush with the law involved carrying an open container of Molson Ice on the Jersey Shore, I spend an awful lot of time worrying about going to jail – or, more specifically, death row. This invariably leads to the ultimate question: if I were about to get the chair, what would I choose as my last meal?

Chances are it would involve cheese. Grilled cheese. And probably beer.

In other words: my final dinner on the planet could be catered by the Queens Kickshaw.

My encounter with Astoria’s palace of all things melted and gooey took place on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Befitting Kickshaw’s reputation as a little slice o’ Williamsburg, the crowd leaned toward the hipster – bearded 20something guys in retro tees, young women in thick-framed glasses, a dad carrying an infant in a Snugli. Bare lightbulbs hung in wire cages from the rusty stamped-tin ceiling; a strangely pleasurable mix of slow hip-hop jams and vintage Bob Dylan played on the sound system. Our party of three – Dr. Science, the Esquire and me – took our posts on industrial-looking stools at the end of the long, communal butcher block table.

Service seemed to be a team effort. We were waited on at various times by the friendly husband-and-wife owners and a flamed-haired, nerd-chic young waitress.

Photo credit: Dr. Science
Our dining adventure began, as all good meals should, with beverages. Dr. Science and I each ordered a beer from the short list of draughts, which changes frequently (even daily, if the kegs get kicked). I chose a Kelso Pilsener and the good doctor picked a Mikkeller Single Hop IPA. The Esquire ventured into the caffeinated portion of the menu, ordering a cold-brewed iced coffee made with beans from Coffee Labs Roasters. It was so smooth that even a java wuss like me could drink it without milk.

We shared the Miso-Mustard Pickles, a mini-mason jar filled with carrots, asparagus, cauliflower, cucumbers and the Holy Grail, a single hard-boiled quail egg. ("Whoever gets that is lucky," the owner-wife informed us. We managed to split it three ways.) All had a perfect, mild tang – even the cauliflower, which normally falls slightly above Brussels sprouts on my list of Vegetables from Hell.

The real draw, however, is the grilled cheese. There are eight varieties, and none is sullied with bacon, speck or any of the other porky things the kids are so wild for these days. (Vegans, I'm afraid, are SOL.) Here's how it went down:

  • Fontina (Dr. Science). Hoo boy, was this tasty. It was melted over pesto and sauteed mushrooms on fluffy foccaccia.


  • Gouda (The Esquire). This one, served on brioche, had a nice kick courtesy of the pickled jalapenos. The guava jam, however, got lost in the mix.

  • Gruyere (Me). Kickass – just the right amount of cheese melted with pickled onions on rye. My only gripe: the crust was so crisp it scraped the hell out of the roof of my mouth. Whatever, it was worth it. I also liked the shredded Napa cabbage and caraway seed slaw served in a tiny bowl on the side.
    The Esquire, having just stepped off a plane from the Heartland, was hungry enough to order a bowl of tomato soup. That too was creamy and delicious, and adorned with a festive sprig of dill.

    There were only two choices for dessert, which was really OK considering the amount of carbs, cholesterol and calories we'd already ingested. We opted for the Brownie Affogato: two large cubes of brownie in a milk-and-coffee concentrate bath. The owner-husband recommended that we hold on to the bowl as we dug our spoons into the brownies, thereby helping us avoid a coffee-splash tragedy.

    Total damage? $83 including tax and a healthy tip. Not bad for drinks, three sammies, a soup and a shared app and dessert.

    It must be said that not every sandwich is a hit. On subsequent visits, I was disappointed by the ricotta and manchego on multigrain, which tasted like, well, multigrain, and the arahovas feta, which was overpowered by dill. But really, everything else on the menu continued to satisfy.

    So yes, Queens Kickshaw, before they strap me in to Old Sparky, send me over a sandwich or two.

    The Queens Kickshaw
    40-17 Broadway

    Veg friendliness

    Food quality


    Greetings from Crescent Street: An Introduction

    There's something you should know about Astoria, Queens, where cones of gyro mystery meat spin in infinite circles in restaurants on every block.

    You can be a vegetarian here.

    No, really.

    When I first e-mailed a friend about this blog, she replied, “Is it possible to eat vegetarian in Astoria? I lived there for a year in the '80s – will never forget the smell of roasting lamb on Easter.”

    The answer, of course, is yes. The lambs are still here – their skinned carcasses hang in every butcher-shop window – but Astorians can happily consume three meals a day that contain nary an ounce of flesh.

    So join me as I sample the best of what the 'hood has to offer, from burek to crostini to dolmadakia. I’m not trying to convince you to give up burgers (that’s what PETA is for). But if you’re looking for some meatless meals in the food nirvana that is Western Queens, I’m here to help.

    Restaurants will be rated on three criteria: veg friendliness, food quality and vibe. Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5 beets. (Why beets? Because they're weird.)
    Freakin' awesome
    Pretty cool
    Nice enough 

    Check in every Thursday for a new review, and hey, why not follow me on Facebook and Twitter?

    P.S. Any resemblance to Brooklyn Vegan is entirely unintentional. Unless it gets me page views.