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May 13, 2021


Some people set up chemistry sets, combine various chemicals and formulate a concoction. With a little luck, it works. Then there are chefs, who either out of boredom or creativity do the same with food. A protein here, a vegetable there, and a few spices. Not quite right?

As a diner, you hope that the chef keeps going until the taste becomes so prolific that you’re not exactly sure of what you’re eating, but that it tastes so great that you want to savor each bite, leave the restaurant and hope to belch, just for the after effects.

Gary Robins is the food genius and the restaurant is The Biltmore Room, 290 Eighth Avenue at 25 Street (212-807-0111). Obviously American cuisine must be bland because chefs seem to be experimenting with Asian spices to tickle our taste buds.

I am a gourmet cook at home with just about every gadget to make things from scratch, but I’ll leave it up to chefs like Robins to do the preparations. My friend Jo and I sampled the lunch menu and I’ll just do my best to describe what we ate.

Grilled Octopus, a cold salad, was sitting atop sliced purple potatoes and Japanese eggplant. Autumn Pumpkin Salad. Slices of sautéed pumpkin with roasted fennel, shaved pecorino cheese, watercress, arugula and a walnut chile sauce. “Tataki” of Blue Fin Tuna. Sushi grade tuna, cooked “black and blue” and sliced sitting along fennel-jicama salad with a cucumber ginger sorbet, and cayenne pepper oil. The sorbet cools off the “hotness” of the pepper oil. Those were the appetizers.

Jo selected the Wild Mushroom Ravioli with grilled porcini mushrooms, shaved parmesan and burgundy truffles. Very creamy tasting morsels.

I made certain to taste the ravioli, although I opted for the Five Spice Crusted Leg of Muscovy Duck with a “pumpkin agnolotti, savory cabbage (a Chinese cabbage), seared oyster mushrooms and truffled wine jus”. Heck, I don’t know what to say about this one except that it was absolutely delicious.

At many restaurants, desserts are just desserts and although the taste is great, may not be as creative as the rest of the menu. You MUST save room for a dessert! Warm Chocolate Torte (Valrone is used here)…one of those tortes where the chocolate oozes out when you sink your fork into it. Macademia praline ice cream complement it. Asian Pear Strudel with chestnuts and a candied ginger, jasmine sorbet. Blueberry Cheescake…very light and creamy…with mascarpone…berries and a blueberry sorbet.

Aside from the mixture of food and spices, each dish is extremely colorful and artistically arranged. The senses of sight, smell, and taste capture a dining pleasure that deserves relishing.

Kalustyan’s , 123 Lexington Avenue (212-685-3451) is described as having the “Greatest emporium of spices, herbs and foods from around the world.” I found it heavy on South Asian…Thai, Indian dominated. All was delectable, but many just a bit too spicy for me.

We began with “sides”. Cucumber Mint Raita, Raisin Currant Chutney, Butternut Relish Aachor, Mango Papays Slaw and Cilcantro Yogurt. For breads, I chose the Rosemary Naan and cheese Kulcha (kind of like having a grilled cheese sandwich).

As an appetizer I would have liked the Allepo Glazed Tuna Carpaccio, but told that it was spicy. I opted for the TelliCherry Tandoori Shrimp with a marinated cucumber salad. My dining partner selected the Spiced Long Island Duck Breast with Frik, Sicilian Pistachio and Grape Chutney. Neither dish was “hot” and both agreed with our taste buds.

There were some excellent sounding choices for a main dish but the waiter related that the Grilled Sambal Brushed Skate Wing and Vindaloo of Braised Veal would not be for me. The Tandoori Spiced Leg of Lamb with pickled butternut squash and green chick pea sounded just fine as did the Clay Oven Organic Chicken with “Ufrabiber and One Thousand-One Nut Sauce”. And may I add that each tasted just fab.

Executive Chef Mohan Ismail provides the creativity of eye, nose and taste appeal. Kalustyan’s is located on the corner of 29th and a restaurant called “Curry In a Hurry” is located directing across on the next corner. I would classify “Curry” as a fast food Indian eatery, whereas Kalustyan’s serves more of an upscale Southern Indian-Asian gastronomy. In case you’re looking for an area choice, it’s a whole different dining experience and a totally different cuisine.

On the local scene. Douglaston Manor, 63-20 Marathon Parkway (718-224-8787) has new owners. One of the best ways to sample the food for a catered affair or just pig out on lobster is to drop in on a Thursday evening. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet and easy to chow down five lobsters. There are lots of other meat, chicken and fish choices along with salads and vegetables. The menu keeps changing as they are looking to see what the customers are or not indulging in.

December 02, 2004 - Queens Times


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