Monday, November 7, 2011
Enjoy this Bear of a Meal
I wanted to officially announce that the much anticipated Bear restaurant is celebrating its grand opening this Friday. Excited about this news, I had a chance to preview their menu of Russian delicacies last week, along with my We Heart Astoria colleagues and friends, Vicky and Kimberly. We all had a lovely time, mingling with fellow Astoria blogger friends such as WT and Erich from Gardenfreude blog.
Set in a quiet residential neighborhood on 31st Avenue near the East River, Bear's location is a bit remote, although still a good walk from the subway on a nice day and an easy few blocks if you opt for the bus. I like that the street it's on is quiet and mellow, so if you're looking for a something private and personal, this will be it.
The dining room is long and rectangular, boasting a few comfy banquettes along the perimeter. There's a bar towards the back of the restaurant, which reminds me of the one at Ovelia, a long, smooth piece of marble with a sprinkling of shiny, irregular flecks. I like that the vibe is casual yet still nice enough to be the setting for a romantic dinner or a special occasion. The center aisle is wide and flowy, allowing patrons and staff to walk through freely, promoting a collaborative and open atmosphere.
I liked that the format for the party included a buffet, which was refreshed every couple of minutes with new and exciting dishes. Although we tasted a whole bunch of typical Russian foods, the ones below specifically stood out.
Roasted Tomatoes -As you can see from the above picture, these tomatoes were gorgeous in color and even more impressive in taste. Soft and juicy on the inside, they had a hint of sweetness but also lots of great acidity. Thin slivers of fresh basil added a shot of earthiness and freshness characteristic of a quality tomato.
Potato Salad - Absolutely loving this dish, it reminded me exactly of the type of potato salad my mom and aunts would make at home and serve at every family get together. It's truly a European version of a classic potato salad, made with sliced carrots, peas, pickles, and a few pieces of smoky ham. My family omits the latter ingredient, but I thought it was a great idea that brought the salad to a new level.
Roasted Duck - Once again, each bite of this hit home, as it was a slow roasted duck that was tender and shredded to delectable pieces. It tasted incredibly rich, given it was cooked for about 9 hours, developing intense flavors that were comforting and just right on this cold November night.
Potato Pancake Poppers - These reminded me of mini latkes, however, they were round and shaped like a croquette. Fried to perfection, with a golden brown crust, they were crunchy with a soft interior - the whole combination was addicting and extremely poppable. It's no wonder that most of us went back for seconds and thirds.
Mushroom Salad - Russians sure love their mushrooms, and there were two types of mushroom salads featured that night - a cold, pickled version and a warm one too. I preferred the latter, made up of thinly sliced baby bella mushrooms in a tangy cream sauce, coupled with fresh dill. It was a lovely side dish that held its own next to showpiece foods such as the duck.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi - A true show-stopper, this dish was a Chef Natasha original. Looking like pretty little orange torpedoes, the gnocchi was nice and tender, coated in a brown butter sage sauce and salty Romano cheese that made you stop, chew slowly, and just savor each bite.
Service and Cost:
Hospitable, friendly and family-oriented are ways I'd describe the service at Bear. Run by a family of native Russians from Kiev, Alex (front of house) and Natasha (chef) they do a great job at making everyone feel at home. Even welcomed by mama and papa Pogrebinsky, the party at Bear was a true family affair, and one I'd love to be a part of any day. Russian or not, they'll welcome you with open arms (and a vodka shot in hand).
Costs are moderate and include:
Appetizers - $9 - $14
Entrees - $19 - $28
Sides - $7 - $9
Late Night Menu - $8 - $19
Bear opens this Friday, November 11th, so come by and make sure to check it out.
Bear - 12-14 31st Avenue, Long Island City NY 11106
N/Q Train to Broadway