Marani's dairy kitchen churns out the Georgian cheese bread known as khachapuri.

Marani’s dairy kitchen churns out the Georgian cheese bread known as khachapuri.

As far as this food writer is concerned Marani, a kosher Georgian restaurant in Rego Park, is one of the most unique spots around. For one thing it has both a meat kitchen and a dairy kitchen. The downstairs dairy kitchen with a selection of decadent Georgian cheese pies known as khachapuri is a point of fascination for me. Upstairs find kebabs, stews, and many other Georgian specialties, including khinkali, giant soup dumplings filled with beef and lamb. My friends Chef Jonathan Forgash and Gabe Gross of Queens Dinner Club, were equally impressed with Marani that’s why we’ve decide to have our next dinner there on Weds., June 22 at 7 p.m.  Marani’s owner Ana Epremashvili was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer Seven Questions.

So tell me about the restaurant. When did it open? What made you guys decide to open it? We opened the restaurant in 2013, we serve authentic Georgian cuisine with a kosher twist and influences. We are the only establishment to have both meat and dairy under one roof in New York City. We did not think it would be an authentic representation of Georgian cuisine without the dairy, so we were happy to get approval once all the separate kitchen requirements were met.

We try to keep the kitchen modern and exciting with reinventing of the traditional dishes, as well as sticking to authentic recipes. We felt there was a void of authentic ethnic cuisines in the kosher world, when you are kosher it is common to have Japanese sushi, steak and Israeli food all in one restaurant and none of it is authentic or any good. Only lately there have been restaurants that stick to their roots, and we are happy to be a part of that trend.

Khinkali filled with beef and lamb.

Khinkali filled with beef and lamb.

The family style menu for the upcoming Queens Dinner Club is pretty exciting—khinkali dumplings, lula kebabs, beef stew, herring and more—tell me what inspired it?
We are excited to showcase the diversity of our menu and introduce people to our flavors. We also find it important for people to understand what it means for a restaurant to be kosher and what is involved in washing greens and specific ways of butchering, once people find out what it really means, they feel more comfortable patronizing kosher establishments. (more…)

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…)

03/29/16 11:10am
Tangra Peter Lo

Peter Lo whipping up Singapore chow mein in the kitchen of Tangra Masala.

Indian-Chinese, with its fiery palate of ginger, garlic, green chilies and soy, used to be one of my favorites, but for about five years my love affair for one of the world’s original fusion cuisines was doused by waves of regional Chinese, Thai, and Uzbek food. I’ve been away from my old flame, Tangra Masala for far too long. It took a chef buddy, Jonathan Forgash, to reintroduce me to one of Queens most vibrant and delicious cuisines. And in so doing he introduced me to the man who is unquestionably the Godfather of Indian-Chinese cuisine in Queens, Chef Peter Lo. Chef Lo took the time out of his busy schedule to talk about the hallmarks of his cuisine as well as the upcoming Queens Dinner Club.

Where are you from originally and how did you learn to cook?
I’m from Calcutta. When I came to this country in 1984 I used to work part time in a restaurant. I really got fascinated seeing the way food was cooked and prepared. I liked the system. Back home my mother had an Indian-Chinese restaurant. She’s an excellent cook. Gradually I got to love cooking food, a friend used to say, “Why don’t you open a restaurant? You know you cook good food.” So that’s how I got to opened this restaurant in 2001. (more…)