There are many, many Central Asian eateries in Forest Hills and Rego Park where one can procure a plate of pelmeni, the pleated Russian ravioli, but there’s none quite like Forest Hills Spa. That’s because the tiny restaurant lies within the only authentic Russkaya banya, or Russian spa, in Queens. Banya—an experience that combines a eucalyptus scented steam room, sauna, and a blistering Russian Room where the temperature hovers around 190F—is a Russian tradition. The banya is just one of many places featured in my new guidebook 111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss, which drops later this year.
The menu at the tiny restaurant illuminated by a skylight includes such spa-worthy items as fresh fruit juices, but on both visits I opted for the Russian ravioli. When in a Russian spa, why not eat Russian food?
Forest Hills Spa has somewhat of a sleepy vibe and after being told “Ten minutes my friend,” I received a plate of brown bread and butter. As I munched on it and sipped a Georgian Borjomi mineral water I wondered whether it was baked in the Russian Room, which smells a lot like a brick oven. Soon enough a plate of wrinkly veal pelmeni with a little tub of sour cream was placed before me. The juicy little morsels were glorious.
“Next time you have to try the fried ones, my wife makes them,” the guy behind the counter said. So I did. The golden brown dumplings are anything but spa food, but nonetheless delicious.
On both visits I’ve noticed an older Russian gentleman who settles into one of the booths that line the cold pool. Typically he gets a pot of tea and a platter of smoked fish and pickles. Perhaps I’ll follow his lead next time. Then again, there’s the $19.95 veal shank I’ve had my eye on.
Forest Hills Spa, 59-21 Calloway St., Corona, (718) 699-1919