There are too few places in this city where you can nurse along a budding cider obsession, which makes us incredibly grateful for The Queens Kickshaw (40-17 Broadway, Astoria, 718-777-0913). Owners Ben Sandler and Jennifer Lim launched the place with grilled cheese, good coffee, and nice beer, but they’ve since grown into a full restaurant that has one of the best cider collections in town.
The Kickshaw is celebrating summer ciders this week, and in addition to pouring six new ciders on tap — plus myriad rare ciders in bottle — the restaurant threw a pair of cider pairing dinners showcasing the work of new chef Kenji Hurlburt.
Hurlburt comes from Geoffrey Zakarian’s The National, and he’s been on board here in Queens for a few weeks, mostly getting the lay of the kitchen and learning the menu. The Cider in the Summer dinner was his first chance to flex his creative muscles and step out into his own cooking, and what he produced was stunning.
The meal began with a baby kale salad, gently coated with a tart lemon-parmesan vinaigrette and scattered with hazelnuts and Granny Smith apples, paired to a light, dry cider from New Hampshire’s Farnum Hill. Next came a slow poached egg in a “crispy potato nest,” basically a killer hashbrown made with whisper-thin potato strings. You broke the yolk and then ate each gooey-crackly bite with sharp pine nut pesto and mushrooms so savory you’d be forgiven for thinking they were bacon. It made magic with a cask-aged Aaron Burr cider called Scrumpy in the Gunks, one of the most unique bottlings we’ve seen. Course three was corn tortellini, a summer-infused mash-up of the filled pasta plus succotash, pungent huitlacoche, and tangy tomato broth, which matched a number from eve’s.
Virtue Ledbury cider matched a Ledbury cider-washed cheese for the cheese course; a goat cheese came with a pour of an Asturian sidra. The meal finished with a poached pear, dulce de leche, and cider sorbet, served with a pour of poiré from Normandy.
Sandler called this one of the most successful dinners the Queens Kickshaw has thrown, not only because the food was well-executed, but also because Hurlburt matched great flavors to some really funky juice. Cider has nice acidity, which makes it ideal to drink with a meal, but a well-matched dish brings out the funk and complexity here, too.
At $55 for the food and pairings, it was one of the best value tasting menus we’ve been served here, and we’ll also point out (though Sandler and Lim never call attention to this themselves) that there was no meat involved.
Hurlburt is getting ready to unveil an updated at the Kickshaw sometime in the next few weeks. If you’re a cider fan — or if you’re curious about the breadth of the product or into beverage pairings — you should also look for the next installation in the restaurant’s dinners. Sandler says they only throw about six a year; they’re worth checking out.