04/27/16 11:33pm
Chef Viko Ortega is a chef's chef.

Chef Viko Ortega is a chef’s chef.

One of the first places I lived in Queens was Woodside. Walking Roosevelt Avenue to hit Thai places, Filipino spots, and taco trucks turned me on to the delicious diversity of food that makes the borough my favorite place to live, eat, and play. There’s one place I never frequented in all my time in Woodside though, La Flor, a cafe restaurant helmed by journeyman Chef Viko Ortega. I only just got around to meeting Chef Viko and trying his wonderful nuanced dishes. I was mightily impressed by his cooking. As were my friends Chef Jonathan Forgash and Gabe Gross of  Queens Dinner Club. That’s we’ve decided to have Chef Viko cook our next dinner Mexico Meets France and Italy via Roosevelt Ave. which takes Tuesday May 17, 2016, 7:30 p.m. Chef Viko was kind enough to take some time away from the kitchen to answer seven questions.

How did you get into cooking?
I started baking when I was 13 years old in my hometown of Puebla, Mexico. In 1987 when I was 21 the main reason I came here was that I was tired of baking. So I came here and figured out that the only way to make decent money was back to the kitchen. I started doing pizza and pastry and salads. I cooked at dozens of restaurants including Larry Forgione’s An American Place. I can’t get away from baking though. The starter I use to make all the breads at La Flor is 24 years old.

Atlantic salmon with potato gallettes.

Atlantic salmon with potato gallettes.

How would you characterize your cooking at La Flor?
I would say it’s a combination of everything I learned. I mix Italian, French, Mexican—that’s one of my favorites—a little bit of Asian. So it’s kind of fusion and I just love food. The dishes that you’re going to find here you’re not going to find anywhere else, I just love to play. It’s me. (more…)

01/03/16 12:29pm

Now that the streets around Times Square are almost cleared of New Year’s Eve confetti and I’ve digested several plates of lucky New Year’s noodles it’s time to take a look back at 2015. It was a big year for me, including a profile in The Wall Street Journal. Queens  continued to amaze with everything from octopus tacos and Thai noodles to Caribbean Chinese and the most unlikely French patisserie ever. In no particular order here are 15 of the best things I ate last year.

CHERRYDRYNOODLE

Tom yum haeng topped with fried pork sugar and chili.

1. Yummiest dry tom yum
The weekend noodle soup pop-up at Elmhurst’s Pata Paplean remained on point, but one of my favorites there wasn’t a soup at all. Tom yum haeng—dry tom yum noodles—consists of springy yellow noodles, fish balls and golden shards of fried pork all dressed with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili, and cilantro. Mix it all up and dig into the best dry noodles in Thai Town.

BIGELOWS2

2.  Tastiest deep-fried seafood nostalgia
The cheery blue and white Bigelow’s Seafood has been around for more than 70 years. After driving by it for about that amount of time, I finally had the privilege of trying it this past spring. These wizards of the fryer turn out impeccable Ipswich clams, fried smelts, shrimp, and soft shell crabs all served in an atmosphere that time and cholesterol have forgotten.  (more…)

04/16/15 11:56am
PASTRYGUY

Creme’s chocolate, praline, and pistachio éclairs are exquisite

Flushing has been home to Asian-owned and operated French inspired bakeries of middling quality, notably Tous Les Jours and Paris Bakery, for more than a decade. Now the largely Asian community has a real deal French bakery run by an honest to goodness Frenchman. His name is Rudolf Merlin and his bakery, called Creme, opened quietly back in January in a most unlikely location, New Age Market, an Asian supermarket in the heart of the K-tropolis that is Northern Boulevard. Only in Queens can one find cases lined with croissants, éclairs, and tarts scant feet away from a vendor selling Korean kimbap.    (more…)

10/27/14 11:46am
CANNELLE2

Breakfast of champions via L.I.C. and Brittany.

For seven years French pastry fans have made the pilgrimage to Cannelle Patisserie. There, in the Paris of East Elmhurst, situated in an otherwise unremarkable strip mall, they found cases lined with flaky croissants, praline cream-filled Paris-Brest, and other specialties of owner Jean-Claude Perennou’s native Brittany. Now Perennou has opened a second shop in the heart of Long Island City, practically a macaron’s throw from the East River waterfront. (more…)

09/17/14 10:17am
PARIS-BREST

Best French breakfast sandwich ever!

Yes, I know it’s a dessert and not a technically a sandwich, but some people would consider a Paris-Brest ($3.50) from Cannelle Patisserie a breakfast sandwich. And, I am one of those people. Named for one of the oldest cycling events, the Paris-Brest-Paris, it’s an exercise in carbo loading and a sure sugar rush.

Two airy discs of choux pastry studded with almonds encase a generous shmear of praline cream. The walk to Cannelle from the 74 St. subway is long enough that you can almost delude yourself into thinking you’ve burned off the sweet, nutty treat on the way there and back.

Cannelle Patisserie, 75-59 31st Ave., East Elmhurst, 718-565-6200

09/02/14 12:10pm
RUGELSSAINT

It’s no mere pain au chocolat.

At first glance it looks like an especially robust chocolate croissant. This burnished breakfast treat is no mere pain au chocolat though. For one thing, it’s not French at all. I found this glorious $3 beauty at Andre’s Hungarian Bakery a couple of weeks ago. The Forest Hills establishment is better known for apple strudel and rugelach than French breakfast items. I have never waited on line for a Cronut, and don’t plan to anytime soon. The chocolate croissant—or rugelssaint as I’ve taken to calling it— is worth waiting on line for though. Not that there’s ever a line at Andre’s. (more…)

03/05/14 11:40am
FOIEGRAS

Call me a foie gras philistine if you must.

As most C+M readers know I don’t often dine out in Manhattan’s Theater District, but when my pal Chef Dave, said he could set me up with a tasting at Gaby, I figured why not. Chef Sylvain Harribey laid out a lovely four-course meal. It included a wonderful rack of lamb, but my favorite by far was the declination  de foie gras, mainly because it included a DIY foie gras sandwich.  (more…)

10/08/13 10:23am

CRONUTSIGN2

I have yet to consume a Cronut, but my friend Wendy Chan did, and she was kind enough to file this dispatch from the front lines of food faddery in Soho. Take it away Wendy . . .

While grocery shopping at Stew Leonard’s this summer, I walked past the bakery where samples were passed out for a taste of their new product, a croissant donut. The bakery team there claimed this new hybrid is made from 162 layers of butter and dough, deep-fried to golden perfection. I knew this “Cro Do” was a copycat product, but I would not miss a chance to try it.

It did taste pretty good, still piping hot. I was sold. Frankly, butter makes everything taste good! Deep fried? Darn it! Irresistible! It’s retailed at $3.99 for two. I bought half a dozen to share with friends that evening. No line, no fuss.

My daughter ,Veronica, had already introduced me to the original Cronut, created by Dominique Ansel, but it didn’t impress me. But then, it was frozen overnight, as a thoughtful gift of love, (well, she had to get up early to stand in line for it) so it was not a fair verdict. (more…)

09/18/13 10:04am
boulangerieduck

Salty focacia plays nice with the duck and mozzarella.

Ever since it opened a few years ago I’ve been a fan of Francois Delano’s bakery La Boulangerie, It turns out the best baguettes in Queens as well as some killer croissants and other Viennoiserie. And with all that bread it’s inevitable that there’d be sandwiches. The croque-monsieur is quite lovely here, oozing Béchamel and topped with Gruyère. Recently Delano added a new sandwich to the menu, canard fumé, or smoked duck breast ($8). Thick slabs of the bakery’s salty focacia are layered with smoked duck breast, mozzarella, basil and tomatoes. It’s not a sandwich that will make you slap the table with epicurean glee, but it’s a pleasant change of pace in a somewhat lackluster food neighborhood. Consider it a mozzarella and tomato sandwich for French carnivores.

La Boulangerie, 109-01 72nd Rd., Forest Hills, 347-644-5606

05/22/13 10:02am
Surely the only lobster roll to use shichimi pepper and Japanese mayo.

Surely the only lobster roll to use shichimi pepper and Japanese mayo.

Tex-Japanese, a noxious hybrid created by Guy Fieri, is the last spin I’d expect to see on that summertime Maine classic, the lobster roll.  Thankfully in the capable hands of Gary Anza, the chef at Astoria’s Bistro 33 it works. That’s mainly because Anza is a skilled chef and Guy Fieri is a dude prone to perching sunglasses on the back of his frosted-tipped dome. When I ordered the lobster roll ($16) I knew it wasn’t going to hew to Down East tradition. After all, the menu made it clear the sandwich included Japanese mayo and shichimi, a red pepper powder more common at Japanese izakaya than at French bistros. It didn’t say anything about the Texas toast though. Topped with a tangle of shredded cucumbers and dressed with Japanese mayo and served with some fancy lettuce it’s the type of lobster roll that could only come from a chef in Queens. Actually it’s more of a sandwich than a lobster roll. One that’s as refreshing and eclectic as the borough from which it hails.

Bistro 33,19-33 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria, 718-721-1933