Monday, March 31, 2008

Darren Lawless - 5 Questions

WHO: Darren Lawless
Chef/Owner, Il Bambino (34-08 31st Ave.)
- Surprise huh? As much as we write up these guys, you figured we just had to get Darren in on the 5 questions. Well here you have it:

Question #1 Were you born here? If not, where were you born, and what brought you to Astoria?
I was born in Dublin, Ireland. After 2 years in Manhattan, I moved to Astoria for it's "then" much cheaper rents, large apartments and proximity to the city.

Question #2 What is your favorite thing about living in Astoria?
Its diversity and feel of living in a city but with the strong sense of community. It also has the broadest range of ethnic restaurants of any other area I know, ensuring you'll never get bored.

Question #3 What is your number one go to restaurant in Astoria?
I work so much and I very rarely get to go out, but my favorite take out has to be the tacos at La Cabana (33-18 30th Ave)

Question #4 Best kept local secret that you don't mind sharing?
SEE ABOVE- ed note: having a brand new business and keeping it going this past year has paid a toll on our friend Darren! It's up to you guys to go frequent his little gem and get it to the point where the guy can take a day off or something!

Question #5 What would you like see happen in/for Astoria in 2008?
I'd love to see the opening of some "Americana" style eateries. We need a great bar/burger joint, a bakery with artisinal breads and traditional pastries and a B.B.Q spot. Makes your mouth water just thinking about them...

Go • Eat • Love
Il Bambino
34-08 31st Ave.
Astoria, NY

A Femme Revolution at P.S.1

I had the chance to see a provocative and emotionally charged exhibit at P.S.1 MOMA this past weekend. Titled WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, the exhibit showcases international feminist works from the mid 60's to early 80's. As is the case with most P.S.1 showings, this one involves various mediums including painting, sculpture, photography, film, video and performance art. Some of the works really push the envelope to the max (think vintage pornography or Georgia O'Keefe's most prominent subject). Although WACK! is not for kids, it makes for an entertaining and educational experience for people 18+. And in addition to what's inside, check out P.S.1's courtyard artwork, Homage to Skate Culture by Ryan McGinness.

I wasn't able to take pics inside so I captured some fun shots in the P.S.1 courtyard as well as the LIC hood. Enjoy.

WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution runs until May 12th.

Opening April 20th - June 30th

P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center
Museum of Modern Art Affiliate
22-25 Jackson Ave at 46th Ave
Long Island City, NY 11101

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Astorian Weekend Edition 27.03.08

Well, it's a pretty mellow weekend here in Astoria. But there are a few things I want to highlight:

Last week I finally made it to the wonderful Zenon Taverna (34-10 31st Avenue). We loved the relaxed vibe that night, and enjoyed the food very much. We opted for the Kypriaki Mezedes (Cyprus Meze - Meal). For $17.95 each, we were presented with am amazing amount of food. Every college kid should know about this - you can eat for a couple of days on what they feed you! My favorites were the skordalia, tzatziki, and the various meatballs. A wonderful meal can be had there - if you haven't been, definitely check it out.

Saturdays have been Smoked Tomato Bisque days at Il Bambino (34-08 31st Avenue). This has got to be one of their more popular soups, because it's fan-tastic! I had some last weekend and wanted to lick the bowl. I recommend getting the smoked garlic butter and parmesan crostini. Everything else on the menu is good, too. But get that soup!

New wine bar, Winegasm (31-86 37th Street), is having their soft opening on Saturday. Despite the controversial name, the owners are enthusiastic and excited about becoming part of the culinary community in Astoria. For the soft opening there will be a limited menu and everything will be half price.

My colleague Anne Mironchik is playing at Waltz (23-14 Ditmars Boulevard) this Friday night! She's a very talented singer songwriter and will be participating on the Songwriters Showcase series that night. I'll be there - perhaps I'll see you there, too! $10.

Finally, from Green Shores:

What: Learn how to care for young street trees and greenstreets at this popular workshop. You will receive a free set of tools and get to apply for a Parks Volunteer permit to garden and maintain young trees and greenstreets throughout the city.
When: Saturday, March 29th, 10am - noon.
Where: ARROW Community Center 35-30 35th Street (between 35th Ave.and 36th Ave.)
Sponsored by: Green Shores NYC, Partnerships for Parks, and NY Tree Trust
RSVP: Please RSVP to

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Akti Will Open Soon

We've been waiting patiently (ok maybe impatiently) for this new Greek eatery to open. I called them yesterday and found out that their doors will open this Friday. Pop-in and check 'em out.

Akti is the sister restaurant of Table 30. It will offer authentic Greek lunch and dinner specialties. A review will come soon...

Akti: Corner of 35th Street and 30th Avenue. 718.721.3530.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A fond farewell to Astoria...

Not from us though!

A couple of weeks ago, a friend to us here at JIA - Sweet Amanda, moved back down south to the land of the lone star. As we chatted away her last few days here, I thought it would be fun to get her "Goodbye Astoria" letter to post here. She was happy to oblige!

With a tear in my eye, I opened it today and read:

Dearest Astoria,

I can’t believe it has been almost a month since I left you. Since I last crossed 31st Avenue, cat carrier in hand, and climbed into the car that would take me away from New York for good. I left my cozy apartment that day, my sweet landlords who tearfully hugged me one last time as I slipped down the stairs. It had been the culmination of a very tumultuous several weeks, of packing and planning for the move ahead. Needless to say, I was not able to truly sit and contemplate how much I would miss you until now. And yet, I do.

You were the first neighborhood I called home in New York, as well as the last, dear Astoria. I had a short sublet just off Ditmars before moving to Brooklyn for a while, but I inevitably returned to you. I remember walking down 30th Avenue just a couple of months before I moved back, and feeling my mind just spin at it all. So many people, so many different languages, children, saris, burkas, people trying to sell me mobile phones. It was so different from the bucolic quiet of Windsor Terrace, where I had been living. It felt like a different country altogether, and I longed to return.

You were (and are) rather charming in this hard to quantify way, dear Astoria. A mix of old and new, both people and places. And of course, restaurants to satisfy any adventurous foodie. Toward the end of my time in New York, when I was to meet someone for dinner in Manhattan, I was at a loss of where to go. “I only ever eat out in Astoria these days - you pick something,” I’d say with a shrug.

Most importantly though, you are the place where I finally came into my own in New York. Perhaps it was simply that enough time had passed to finally feel settled. Or perhaps it was the vibe, the simple clicking with a place. Whatever it was, I felt at home. I made wonderful friends and gathered with them to idle in restaurants. We checked on each other’s pets and said hello in the store. I can’t begin to explain how important they were to me, how pivotal the strength of their support. I wish I could have brought them with me. But for now they remain there, among the din, the clatter, the sounds and smells. For me, those good times (and that good food!) will always stay with you, dear Astoria.

So while far away in Austin, I will often think of you and seek out those little reminders of that time in my life - whether it’s an e-mail from a friend, or the tiny tub of Sabra hummus I spotted at the grocery store last week. I was beyond thrilled to see it (their pitas, however, were sadly lacking). But hey, I’ll take what I can get of you, whenever I can get it, dear Astoria.



Astoria will miss you Amanda!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Vue Cafe Comes to Astoria

I had the pleasure of dining at the brand-spankin' new Vue Cafe. Opening just a week ago and located on 12th Street and 31st Avenue, it's on the border of Astoria and Long Island City in a quiet residential neighborhood. The restaurant is situated on the ground floor of an upscale condominium building--talk about convenience for residents.

The atmosphere is modern but not pretentious--simple tables, good functional flatware and yes the walls are a bit glitzy but they give Vue attitude and its own voice. The space is intimate and an upscale touch is felt but not so much that you'd feel awkward dressed in comfortable garb.

Chef Randall Benjamin offers up an eclectic menu, focusing on hearty meat and seafood dishes. My fiancee and I shared the sweet and sour spare ribs, topped with sweet pickled onions and red peppers. The dish was also accompanied by cheesy jalapeno poppers, which were our favorite--crispy on the outside and silky smooth on the inside; they were a fun indulgence for both the eyes and the palate. Our entrees also didn't disappoint--mine was the lamb with zucchini croquettes, tzatziki and pita and my fiancee enjoyed a hearty steak. While he had to send it back because it was slightly undercooked, the staff was gracious, returning the steak cooked perfectly, satisfying him to the point where he cleaned his plate.

The service is friendly, attentive and eager to please--they are still very new so you could feel them on their toes, giving you that "special touch." Cost-wise, it's moderate and comparable to 30th Avenue prices. Some of the entrees might be a little more expensive ($22 for lamb chops and $25 for steak) but the quality of the food is good. Take a walk over there, especially on a weekend to unwind from a busy week.

Vue Cafe: 12-14 31st Avenue, Astoria, NY 11106. 718.726.4400

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Astorian Weekend Edition 20.03.08

We love our local healthy CSA's, and now there are more and more organic choices popping up. Thursday (tonight) learn all about and taste some "certified organic" and "biodynamic" wines at Hunter's Point Wines & Spirits (47-07 Vernon Blvd). The event runs 6 to 8 p.m., but be
s ure to RSVP with Lynne Serpe at 646-202-0825 or Robyn Sklar, The store holds regular tastings on Thursday and Friday nights too, good to know.

We know how much our neighborhood rocks, but it seems that the cat is out of the bag bigtime! As much as we love Loveday 31 (33-06 31st. Ave) and Mimi's Closet (21-10 31st St.) , now that Zagat and Channel 7 are onto them: things might never be the same again! Pay them a visit and see why they rate so highly. Sticking with the cute boutique theme- Candy Plum (30-98 36th St.) has drinks and treats on Saturday in celebration of a local designer sharing her accessories collection.

Welcome Spring on Saturday with Savvy Cyclist and their free, one-day "introduction to cycling" program. It's a class "ideal for new cyclists who want to learn the basics, those returning to cycling from a long hiatus, people who want to be more independent on their bike, and those who feel a little nervous while cycling in traffic." It's an all day thing going from 9am-5pm at Recycle-A-Bicycle (46 Ave. & 5th St.) There are no walk-ins so be sure to go here and register first!

I have it on good authority that Family Market (29-15 Broadway) carries some delicious daifuku. Stop by the store for all kinds of interesting imports from tiny dried fish to full on ready-to-eat meals. I'm a big fan of this one of a kind (in this nabe anyway) shop.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Drink Up Astoria!

Support the Tap Project--a campaign that recognizes clean and available tap water in our communities and helps UNICEF distribute clean water to children around the globe.

Some of Astoria's best eateries are participating. Visit these places between now and March 22nd, donate $1 for your tap water (normally free) and you'll help provide clean water to those who need it most.

Ovelia Psistaria - Fun place for traditional and modern Greek cuisine--and a great brunch option. 34-01 30th Avenue, Astoria, NY 11103. 718.721.7217

Sanford's Restaurant - Astoria's landmark diner--has been in the 'hood for over 75 years!
30-13 Broadway, Astoria NY 11106. 718.932.9569

Chocolate Spoon Coffee House - A new cafe/bakery in Astoria--known for serving drinks in amazingly oversized mugs. 37-03 31st Avenue, Astoria, NY 11103. 718.204.0780

JJ's Asian Fusion - A neighbor of the Chocolate Spoon, you'll find tasty sushi and other eclectic Asian grub. 37-05 31st Avenue, Astoria NY 11103. 718.626.8888

Locale - Trendy cafe/bar, serving Italian dinner specialties and various brunch options. 33-02 34th Avenue, Astoria, NY 11106. 718.729.9080

Give to a great cause and experience some of Astoria's best restaurants. Happy drinking!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Michael's Restaurant - $12.95 for Din-Din?

I couldn't believe the dinner special I spied the other day at Michael's Restaurant on Broadway. $12.95--and that includes a soup or salad, an entree, a side of potato or veggies, dessert and coffee/tea. I've heard of brunch specials for that price but never dinner! This neighborhood never ceases to amaze me...

Michael's is a comfort food diner that has been in Astoria for more than 20 years. Below is a sampling of their increible $12.95 dinner special, which you can try every Tuesday through Thursday.

Dinner Special: $12.95 (Tuesday-Thursday)

Served with soup or salad, a side of potato or vegetables, dessert and coffee/tea

Veal Parmigiana
Eggplant Parmigiana
Chicken Parmigiana
Breast of Chicken Francaise
Stuffed Fillet Florentine
Sauteed Chicken Marsala
Baked Moussaka
Broiled Pork Chops
Homemade Stuffed Peppers

Michael's Restaurant - 33-17 Broadway, Astoria. 718.726.7474

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Astoria Photoset

Originally uploaded by Eating In Translation
Fellow blogger and friend Dave Cook just put up a wonderful photoset of his weekend walk through Astoria. He shot a number of my favorite places, which made me happy. He's a really talented photographer, with an excellent blog, Eating in Translation. I recommend that you check out the photos and his blog. Definitely worth it.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Astorian Weekend Edition 13.03.08

Here are five things to check out this weekend:

1. Art at Subdivision. Subdivision is pleased to present Dreamer of Pictures, an exhibition of new paintings and drawings by Haejae Lee, Hannah Kasper, Deborah Pohl, and René Smith. The four artists present different perspectives on our relationship with the interior spaces that we inhabit, dream about, and desire. Opening Reception March 15, 6-9 p.m. 48-18 Vernon Blvd.

2. Get the brown rice at Leng Thai. I went there last week and had a great time! The food was very tasty, but particularly memorable was the brown rice that was mixed with red rice. Totally delicious and such an unexpected treat. The crispy noodles that come with each meal are also delicious - it tastes sort of like a loose sweet salty, spicy rice crispy treat. Leng Thai is at 33-09 Broadway.

3. Join the Egg Hunt at Steinway Reformed Church. Each egg holds a surprise! The hunt will take place on Saturday from 1-3:30 p.m. in the church garden. When you're not on the hunt, enjoy the the crafts and refreshments. Fun for the whole family! The church is located at the corner of Ditmars and 41st Street.

4. Laugh it up at Mezzo Mezzo. Improv comedy comes to Astoria! Groups from Upright Citizen's Brigade, People's Improv Theatre, and The Magnet will be performing at Mezzo Mezzo on Thursday at 9 p.m. $5 cover. Mezzo Mezzo is located on Ditmars and 33rd Street.

5. Discover a new world... of comics. Did you know that Astoria has its very own comic shop? SilverAge Comics is right there by the Ditmars station. Stop by and see what Batman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman are up to, and check our some of their graphic novels as well. SilverAge is at 22-55 31st Street.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Check Out the New Cellar 34

While taking a stroll on Broadway, I saw that a new restaurant called Cellar 34 has opened. I walked in and the place looks nice and pleasantly low-key. The menu covers eclectic standards such as quesadillas, wings, salads and pasta. The special twist? The chef hails from New Orleans, thus infusing his dishes with Cajun and Creole style. I perused the menu and found festive options such as Creole crispy calamari, cajun linguini, shrimp jambalaya and more...

I've got the full menu on hand so email me if you're interested in knowing more.

The Wine: They serve a variety from Greek whites to South African reds.
Happy Hour: From 5-8p enjoy 1/2 priced appetizers and $4 beers. The selection includes standbys such as Corona, Stella Artois, Bud, Bud Light, etc.

Cellar 34: 34-02 Broadway, Astoria, NY 11106. 718.728.2830

Monday, March 10, 2008

Get Pampered in Astoria

What's better than a relaxing pampering session in the 'hood?

This is yet another thing I love about Astoria. Plenty of places to get your nails and toes did girls--and for you guys, you can get a soothing (and cheap) massage. Here are some incredible pamperies that will help you relax and still keep your wallet full.

Kiki Nails: Recently renovated (see picture), this place is cheery, pleasant--and most importantly very clean. Manicure: $7, Pedicure: $13, 15 Minute Massage: $15. 34-20 30th Avenue. 718 728-1742.

Salon Tiara: Altough this place is super girly, it's also endearing and friendly. Everything in there is purple and a bit sparkly--think Tiaras and princesses. But...Sue, the owner is lovely, helpful and always has a smile on her face. All the manis and pedis I've gotten here were fantastic. Manicure: $8, Pedicure: $15, 15 Minute Chair Massage: $15. 23-02 31st Street. 718.204.1527

Lift Hair Studio: One of my favorites in Astoria, I trust to get my haircuts here. The owner, Asia is spunky and fun to chat with--and she knows what she's doing. If you'd like to get a mani, they start at $9. However, make sure you make an appointment because this place doesn't accommodate walk-ins. 27-07 24th Avenue. 718.728.5438

Bamboo Nails & Spa: This is usually my back-up when Kiki is busy but I've always been really happy with the results. The shop is clean and the location is great--and very close to the Broadway subway stop. They always have fun magazines to peruse and a comfy couch to seat waiting customers. Manicure: $6, Pedicure: $12, 10 Minute Chair Massage: $10 and a $1 extra for each additional minute. 34-06 Broadway. 718.278.6886

A splurge for Astoria but worth the treat...

Spa Hydra: This place is a full-on trendy spa. The experience is a bit more professional than some of the smaller shops I've mentioned but the prices also reflect this. I've gotten a massage here and it was absolutely delightful--an experience I highly recommend. Even though this is a splurge, it's still a lot cheaper than a city spa. Citrus Manicure: $20, Basic Bliss Pedicure: $35, Classic Swedish Massage (55 minutes): $85. 35-11 36th Street. 718.267.7991.

View Larger Map

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Astorian Weekend Edition 06.03.08

Come party with the Astoria Music Society at its fundraiser at Island (36th St. and 35th Ave.) on Friday 6-9:30pm. A suggested donation of $20 at the door will be going to help continue symphony orchestra music, jazz, and chamber music. Come meet musicians, the orchestra director, and get to know AMS.

Saturday get ready for daylight savings by getting outside and get ready for Spring at the Annual Garden Clean-Up Day from 9am- 1pm at the Steinway Reformed Church (21-65 41st St) Contact Pastor Jeanne Boland at or 718.728.2948 to help bring the garden back to life! This is a great chance to get dirty for those of us without a yard.... there are a lot of us!

Also on Saturday, 1 - 4:00pm Nicole Rae Styer will be visiting at Candy Plum (30-98 36th St) from Philadelphia. Tons of cute original wares will be for sale.

First thing Sunday, there is a deal and a half of a brunch over at Omonia (32-20 Broadway) as per The Foodista. $12.95 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. buys you a heck of lot of pretty darn good food! Then walk it off and head to Magic of Astoria Arts & Crafts Market # 9 at Queensview Community Rooms #7 and #14 (21-15 34th Ave). Start your shopping with some super original gifts at 11 a.m. and keep it going till 6 p.m. Even just browsing is fun, there is so much crafty talent here in our little Astoria.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Brunch’s the Word…

A favorite meal for many, brunch is a special treat we indulge in on the weekends. Astoria offers the perfect setting and with so many options, the biggest problem is deciding where to go. Simple solution: try it all and here are some tempting choices to whet your appetite:

Omonia Café One of the best specials I’ve seen, they offer a $12.95 prix-fix brunch that includes coffee/tea, an entree, their legendary dessert and morning cocktails. 718.274.6650

Ovelia Psistaria
Also a favorite, this hip spot on 30th Avenue offers a mix of modern (American) and traditional (Greek) brunch options. They grind their own sausage and I encourage you to try Yia-Yia’s Omelette—it’s divine. You can brunch for $10-$13 which will get you a coffee/tea, an entree and a morning cocktail. 718.721.7217

Grand Café
Known for their $11 prix-fix brunch special, Grand draws in a lot of Astorians—especially the young crowd. Make sure you get there early to get a good table but even if you get stuck waiting a bit, it won’t be long—the service is incredibly fast. I recommend trying the Caprese Frittata. 718.777.7321

Flo Café - I recently spied their brunch special and it looked yummy. It’s interesting that they offer a nicely diversified menu and I like having the option of getting a breakfast burrito or a penne a la vodka. Prices range from $6 for scrambled eggs and $10.50 for a spinach and gorgonzola salad. The coffee/tea is complimentary but if you'd like a morning cocktail, be prepared to pay extra. 718.204.6096

Soho Cafe & Restaurant -
$8.95 for brunch? Who would’ve thunk it? This steal includes coffee/tea and a brunch entree such as french toast, pancakes and even a veggie frittata. The owner's name is Alex and he's eager to feed new brunch guests. 718.274.1740

Give Breakfast a Chance…

Terrizzi Pasticceria – Offers a $5.75 breakfast special, which includes two eggs on a roll with pancetta, provolone and a cappuccino. Try it, take it to go and enjoy a nice breakfast at home. 718.726.9698

View Larger Map

Monday, March 03, 2008

ohh the fun to be had!

The jokesters in the nabe are growing! A new comedy night for Astoria is underway. Every Weds at 9pm, enjoy the "FREE" comedy at the Beer Garden (29-19 24th Ave) brought to you by crazy kids Stacia Jensen and Colin Dempsey. So stop over, get your kielbasa on, sit back and laugh your tooshies off :)

I'll be heading over on the 19th when Will Franken will be headlining. Maybe I'll see you there...

la Foodista

Hello Astorians!

Souvlaki to speck. Mozzarella to matzo balls. Lavash to lattes. The food around here is a-changin! We've recruited an expert to help us distill the fair from the fabulous. Please give a proper Astorian welcome to our newest Guest Blogger, la Foodista, Judith Klein, restaurant reviewer and blogger extraordinaire!


Shake That Thang

Where can you find amazing hookah and boisterous belly dancers on basically every night of the week--and on the weekends? Only in Astoria...

And not only will you find this at Middle Eastern places in "Little Egypt" (Steinway St. between Astoria Blvd and 30th Avenue) a couple of Greek joints are also shimmying their way into your heart.

Check out these spots for some fun belly dancing action--and great food!

Dandana - By far my favorite hangout for belly dancing. Everyone (including men) get off their seats and shake it. Tues, Thurs, Fri at 12a. 718.204.6811

Jour et Nuit - Fridays and Saturdays bring late night belly action at this Moroccan/French eatery--and their tajines are to die for. Fri, Sat at 11p. 718.204.2511

Mezzo Mezzo - Recently added a hookah lounge and a belly dancer, Samantha on Saturdays and revamped their menu. Saturdays at 9p. 718.278.0444

Cavo - This modern Greek restaurant/lounge brings you Arabian Sunday with belly dancer Yasmine. Sundays at 8:30p. 718.721.1001

Be a Belly Dancer--take a class!
New York Sports Clubs Astoria: Thursdays at 10:15a and Sundays at 12:00p Middle Eastern Belly Dancing with instructor Janelle--she's incredibly skilled, patient and gives you the full shimmy experience with authentic music and all. Try it out, you might get hooked.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Marino's Fish Market

Yesterday, I went to Marino & Sons Fish Market on 30th Ave. For months, it had been recommended to me as the best fish monger in Astoria. Well, the place is awesome! They have a lot of different kinds of fish, many as whole fish (they'll gut and prepare the fish for you if you like). There were steaks and filets as well, and shellfish. Everything looked very fresh, too.

I bought a pound of wild salmon for about $16/pound, which is cheaper than what I paid when I lived on Long Island. I basically baked it in foil with some vegetables, olive oil, sea salt, lemon, white wine and dill. Delicious! I also bought some frozen fish cakes, which are apparently very tasty. I'll report back after I eat them.

I will say, the place was very, very clean. And Mr. Marino (4th generation Marino) was happy to chat about his business (they've been there for almost 80 years). Nice guy.

They are open 6 days a week, Monday-Saturday, until 6pm each day.

These are the kind of businesses that make Astoria great. Definitely worth checking out and patronizing. I'll be back! Hello fish Saturdays.