104-02 Metropolitan Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 261-2144

My neighborhood of Forest Hills can be divided, for all intents and purposes, into two halves. Half one is Austin Street, north of the mansion-rich Forest Hills Gardens. Austin Street is home to the subway lines, Station Square, Barnes & Noble, Ethan Allen, Banana Republic, more boutiques than you can shake a stick at, and most of the neighborhood’s restaurants.

Half two is Metropolitan Avenue, south of the Gardens. It’s home to… well, not much. A few antique stores, the gas stations, some cafes, and now an ongoing dispute about whether a dry cleaner should become a 7-Eleven. But this is changing. Dee’s Brick Oven is there (which I promise to review one day). The perfect-for-summer-nights Theater Café opened last year. Trader Joe’s is planning a supermarket here. And now, in has arrived DB (Danny Brown, not Daniel Boulud) Wine Bar & Kitchen.

DB is what every Forest Hills restaurant should aspire to. Actually, it’s what every small restaurant, as a general category, should aspire to. Make a few things, make them well, and make your customers welcome.

DB itself is small. Not Savoy small, but not large. There are perhaps twenty tables, almost all of which are for two people. No booths. The dining area’s high ceilings and well-lit interior (they dim the lights a bit at 8) serve to raise customer volume. Everyone’s talking and laughing. No one sits eating their meal in silence as though they fear waking the table next to them. People have already become regulars, as one can immediately tell by the sheer number of patrons who walk in and start hugging the staff. One almost feels left out.

The tables fill up by 8:30 and the bar soon follows. DB is supposed to be a wine bar, and with a bar that stacks its wine to the ceiling and a wine list five times as large as the menu, this could be an accurate statement. But it isn’t. The term “wine bar” in this case appears to be a way to differentiate DB from the other restaurants in the neighborhood. I think of a wine bar as someplace that focuses almost all of its attention on wine at the expense of having a full menu. Usually just an appetizer list should you desire solid sustenance to temper the coming insobriety. Besides, you can differentiate yourself from most of the other Metropolitan Avenue restaurants just by not serving Italian.

The seemingly endless waves of E coli scares that have flooded through the news freaking stay-at-home moms and vegetarians alike have done little to assuage the numbers of eat-outers. But they have prompted health agencies to be more vigilant. Maybe this is one reason why the open kitchen thing feels nice. I walk in. I see the open kitchen. Any grease dripping off the pots? Nope. Any once-flying food stuck to the walls? Looking good. Is this why I like DB’s open kitchen? Who knows. Probably not, since I was one of those guys who kept ordering spinach this past fall, but it does look nice, and it does look clean.

God, as they say, is in the details. But so is quality. If I go somewhere that looks perfect initially, but I’m given paper napkins or the sugar packet selection is left on the table throughout the meal, then I can assume that the lack of attention to detail here will transfer into the kitchen. This isn’t snobbery and this isn’t universal, especially when it comes to inexpensive mom-and-pop places. But when it comes to a restaurant that wants to play the “we’re-worth-the-price” card, it has been my experience. DB doesn’t go the cheap route (though their menu is hardly expensive). Real napkins, tablecloths, butter NOT served inside the foil with the bread, and miniature peppermills so you can grind yourself fresh pepper right at the table all exude the time and energy that went into the restaurant beyond making it look good past a cursory inspection. Candles on the table are everywhere these days except at McDonalds (though give them time), but it’s always a nice touch.

I ordered the organic chicken “under a brick” and found it moist and tender with a yummy, crispy skin. The dish was very lean even with the skin and thus, virtually guiltless, but heavy nonetheless. For an appetizer, I ordered the grilled calamari. Full disclosure: I have been to DB once before, and ordered the exact same things. The chicken was identical, but the calamari was not. Don’t translate this into my thinking it was bad, but it was better the first time ‘round. The calamari is served warm on a bed of white beans and this time the dish was noticeably more liquidy than the first time as well as saltier. I’m not a salt person. Still, I enjoyed it and would recommend it, especially to someone who likes calamari but maybe gets tired of the same ol’ deep fried versions that exist most everywhere else. My brother ordered the ham croquettes starter and the striped bass entrée. His dishes were, I jealously mention, more artfully displayed than mine. After reading a few articles in the Times health section, Bro makes a point to have fish for dinner once or more a week. And he was clearly not disappointed with his bass dish (nor was I when I stole a bit without asking) given the speed with which he inhaled it.

The desserts were similarly tasty. My upside down, boozed-up rum raisin carrot cake and Bro’s ultra-smooth buttermilk citrus panna cotta were delicious and I was very glad that the waitress recommended them to us.

Now for my ignorance. I am terrible at a couple of things. Asking for directions is one of them. In fact, when I crumble and ask, I end up barely listening (just point “thataway”). Number two is names. This applies to people, state capitals, your extended family and specifically wine. Give me a vineyard and a year and I’ll just stare blankly and mutter “uh huh.” I’ve started keeping a wine diary so I can remember which ones I’ve had that I liked and which ones I’ve wasted my money on. I regret to admit that when I go to a wine bar, I have no idea what I’m doing. Therefore, I cannot review the wine list, but from what I’ve read about it online at places like Chowhound, it’s pretty damn good. So take their anonymous words for it and buy a bottle or two with some friends. For a pro's advice, I recommend the Wine Library online program.

As I’ve said, DB is on Metropolitan Avenue. This could present a problem. See, Metropolitan is a street sans a subway. So if, after reading this review, you decide that, like any good foodie, you’re gonna trek out to Queens (as well you will), how will you go? If you’re coming from outside of the neighborhood, I suggest driving even though parking is, politely put, a pain in the ass (though both times I’ve eaten here I managed to get a spot right out front). If driving is not an option, then you have to take the subway or LIRR. Walking south away from Queens Boulevard, head towards the cobblestone of Station Square and begin your journey through the Gardens to Metropolitan. Your walk through the Gardens will be both tree and Mercedes-Benz lined, but it’s going to take twenty minutes to get where you want to be, so go in warm weather. And since you’re walking back, don’t get too plastered at dinner. I can vouch for the safety of the neighborhood, but not for the safety of wandering into oncoming traffic.

My meal, which was an appetizer, entrée, glass of wine, dessert and coffee, including tax and tip came to around $50.

Bro paid.

In your web travels, you may have already come across, a far more professional blog created by a fellow resident of Forest Hills. The author mostly writes about recipes, but she also wrote a review of DB Wine Bar & Kitchen. Read it here and notice how we, purely by coincidence, ordered many of the same things. Freaky. Anyway, while the choice of dishes ordered by me in no way had anything to do with her review, my choice to use the restaurant's business card did. Just some full disclosure on my part. Kudos for the good idea. And a good review also, by the way.

UPDATE: 6/15/07
Daniel Boulud has threatened to sue Danny Brown over the use of the "db" initials.

UPDATE: 9/24/07
I compared DB Bistro Moderne to DB Wine Bar and Kitchen.

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