Authentic French Cuisine (and Much More) in Queens

Exploring the restaurants of New York's underappreciated borough
Aug 21, 2012

With the amount of time I spend at Citi Field each summer, I've come to learn the restaurants along the No. 7 train through Queens fairly well. As decent as the ballpark's food is, sometimes you want to stop at a real restaurant (or just pick up one of the city's best Cubanos on the way home).

All-Time N.L. East villain John Rocker didn't mean it nicely when he commented to Sports Illustrated about the diversity along the No. 7 train (it was one reason he said he didn't want to play for a New York team), but it's wonderfully true that there are myriad ethnic cuisines and exciting restaurants to be found along every turn and stop of the subway ride from Manhattan to Citi Field (and beyond).

My favorite restaurant in Queens, just one stop from Manhattan, is Tournesol, an authentically French restaurant with affordable prices and a solid wine list. I've visited three times this summer. I'm also including a rundown of some of my other top plays in Queens on the way to or from the game.

TOURNESOL
50-12 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City, Queens
Telephone: (718) 472-4355
Website: Tournesolnyc.com

When the weather is nice, the front doors and windows of Tournesol are thrown open, juxtaposing a bit of southwest France against the warehouse buildings of Vernon Boulevard. Owner Pascal Escriout, who grew up in Toulouse, France, opened Tournesol after serving two years as the maître d' at Artisanal when that restaurant opened. Expect to be greeted with a "Bonjour!" if you go, as Escriout attempts to create a complete southern France dining experience. Tournesol's 40-plus-selection wine list is exclusively French, and the Domaine wine bar next door, which Escriout also owns, features almost 100 percent French wines. However, Escriout and his chef, Christophe Morvan, don't recommend wine pairings on the menu—"I don't want to impose," said Escriout, "People can drink what they want."

On a hot summer evening, I've frequently looked to Tournesol's $8 glass of Côtes de Provence Cuvée Cep d'Or 2009 rosé. Also recently on the regularly updated wine list were reds from seven appellations of Bordeaux, a Chassagne-Montrachet and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. As for the food, I swiped the bowl clean of tarragon sauce when we ordered the escargots. Other favorites include the very aromatic hake (a cousin of haddock) and clams papillote with leeks and zucchini, the seared trout with almonds and cauliflower and the seared skate with red cabbage and mustard sauce.

And sometimes southern France follows you outside on to Vernon. Upon leaving after my last visit, I heard "Monsieur! Monsieur!" cried out along the street and turned to see my waitress waving my lucky Phillies hat. Turns out a Phillies fan can get great treatment in Queens.

Corner Bistro L.I.C.: This burger joint is just a few blocks from Tournesol in Queens' Long Island City neighborhood. The original Corner Bistro, in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, is famous for its delicious Bistro Burgers, with bacon piled high and plenty of American cheese, as well as for long waits for a table and a gruff bartender/manager serving McSorley's Ale. You'll find the same burgers and beer here, though not the lines (Cornerbistrony.com).

Claret: Located in the Sunnyside neighborhood, Claret is a cozy, open-spaced wine bar, run by locals Jean Clancy and Niall Costello, that provides an alternative to the pub scene in the Irish enclave. The menu hits the classic enoteca notes with charcuterie, cheeses, paninis and pizzas. Truffled macaroni and cheese and meatballs are usually on the menu. New York wines are a big part of the 100-selection list here, including Wölffer Estate Rosé The Hamptons Long Island 2011 ($10). Also available at $10 a glass was a favorite value of mine, Mud House Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2011 from New Zealand (Claretwinebar.com).

Check out Sunnyside's Souk el Shater (43-03 Queens Blvd.) for falafel and SriPraPhai (Sripraphairestaurant.com) in Woodside for Thai. Definitely don't miss El Sitio (68-28 Roosevelt Ave.) if you are a fan of Cuban sandwiches (I recommend pairing with an ice-cold Coke). Pio Pio (Piopio.com) is famous for its Peruvian cuisine, particularly rotisserie chicken, and it says a lot about Tortilleria Nixtamal (Tortillerianixtamal.com) that many other Mexican restaurants in the city buy their daily fresh-made tortillas here.

As Queens is New York's largest, most diverse, and perhaps most underappreciated borough, there are no doubt many more worthy restaurants I've failed to mention. Tell us about your favorites in the comments.

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