When it comes to technology, I’m what you might call a late adopter. As for food, I am quite the opposite, living to discover new cuisines and flavors. So when Verizon contacted me to help organize and participate in a Queens food crawl on November 23 I was quite excited. Not only would I get to spend a day eating in Queens and pregame for Thanksgiving, I might learn a thing or two about technology.
Our day started at the new Verizon store in Astoria where we were each outfitted with a smart phone. Once I’d managed to set up my e-mail and social media accounts on the snazzy new LG G2, I immediately started testing out the camera. Soon we were using the Uber app to callup a car and take us to our first destination.
I was particularly excited for our first stop, Artopolis. In all the years I’ve been writing about food in Queens, I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never been to the Greek bakery. In lieu of espresso I ordered a frappé, a strong frothy Greek iced coffee. Looking around I learned there’s much more to Greek pastry than baklava, including the airy brittles known as Florentine. Fellow food crawler Jonathan Forgash favors the savory, and ordered some excellent olive and feta breads.
Our next stop was Ayada in Woodside. We took two cars and mine arrived second. When I heard the waiter recommending pad thai, I think I might have screamed at him thusly: “papaya salad with crab and sticky rice, Tham Thai Thai noi khrap.” It was excellent, spicy and funky. I was glad to turn some of the less adventurous diners in our crew on to true Thai flavors. We also had some excellent duck and the crispy watercress salad with seafood.
If Ayada seemed to be recommending nonauthentic—or at least nonadventurous dishes—the opposite was true at our next stop, Uncle Zhou. In fact one our hosts from Verizon said my favorite Henanese uncle initially proposed a menu centering around beef penis. The blame for such an outlandish proposition lies squarely with me and the Chinese New Year’s banquet I curated at the restaurant. Our meal started with an artfully laid out cold platter. My favorite items were the pig skin jelly and the pig heart, both of which left some of the other diners squeamish.
We also had pig intestine with hot pepper, which was surprisingly good, and one of my favorites, crispy rabbit showered in red chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. The real surprise of our meal though was a lovely eggplant dish, strewn with all manner of nuts, including pistachios and sunflower seeds.
By this time we were all feeling pretty full, but we soldiered on to our last stop of the day one of my favorite spots in Queens, M. Wells Dinette. “The VZW Food Crawl in Queens was the perfect opportunity for us to demonstrate how technology is fundamentally involved in the way consumers engage with food. From research to reviews, and photography to payment, smartphones and tablets have a place at the table,” Bianca Ogando, Verizon’s district manager, for Queens/Bronx retail locations told me after the crawl. They certainly had a place at our tables especially at M. Wells where everybody was amazed by M. Dufour’s over-the-top bistro meets diner fare. Forgash and I really dug the veal brains grenobloise, while our host from Verizon really enjoyed the impeccable beef tartar.
A trip to the Dinette is not complete without ordering the oatmeal and foie gras. Even though I was already incredibly full I could have scarfed up the whole bowl. Forgash was blown away by it. The better portion of a lobe of the creamy liver sat atop the oatmeal, which was strewn with nuts and bits of fig making for a most decadent late fall dish. It reminded me immediately of Uncle Zhou’s eggplant dish. That and the fact that Dufour once told me, “My life will not be complete until I learn how tomake those noodles,” referring to hand-pulled noodles, which are a specialty of the house at Uncle Zhou’s. Perhaps it is time for me to introduce two of Queens’ greatest chefs to each other.
Thanks again to the crew from Verizon for allowing me to help showcase the best of Queens, I look forward to doing so again. One suggestion: Next time let’s do fifty jumping jacks between each stop.