Stars Across the River

24 May

Five Star Punjabi Indian
13-05 43rd Avenue
Long Island City

I emerged from the station at 23rd St/Ely Avenue to hear the rumbling of another train above. It was dark, cold and windy. I could see the lights of Manhattan flickering across the river. I really didn’t know where I was going as I made my way down the desolate street toward 43rd Avenue in Long Island City passing warehouses and seemingly empty factories, my eyes on the alert for signs of life; for a tavern, restaurant, deli—anything. Like a welcoming beacon, in the distance I could see bright neon lights. I wasn’t sure what it was. A car wash, maybe—service station—something automobile-related. And then I got closer and could read the lights: “Banquet Hall.”  Peering inside, a slim diner-like dining room  was in disarray and obviously closed. Could this be the Five Star Punjabi Indian Restaurant? Had Zio not done his homework and the restaurant was closed?  But then I saw activity in an adjacent room—a lone diner was eating and I noticed an unused steam tray. The room was brightly lit and just as I was about to enter, Zio emerged from his car. “This can’t be it,” he exclaimed.

But it was. Between the dilapidated “diner” and a vacant “banquet hall” was the Five Star Punjabi Restaurant. The room was nondescript and mainly empty. We were given an ample table to accommodate our group along with menus that were written on decorative swiveling paddles. Gerry, Eugene, and Mike from Yonkers arrived followed soon after by Rick. All were wary and doubtful that they were in the right spot. Zio and I assured them that we were.

Those swiveling menus featured familiar Indian items, pakoras and samosas for appetizers, a variety of breads, assorted tandoori, and an array of vegetarian dishes and curries. The lone diner, an Indian talking quietly through a headphone attachment on his cellphone, was brought a huge platter of tandoori chicken. Rick eyed the platter covetously and immediately put in an order in for the same only to have his hopes just as quickly dashed when the waitress informed him that the Five Star Punjabi Indian restaurant had just run out of tandoori chicken. As an alternative, Rick, with the group’s unanimous approval, opted for the fish tandoori. Though there was nothing on the menu that described what chicken mughlai might be, Zio, for reasons known only to him, was determined to try it. On the other hand, Eugene, after learning that the chicken tikka was both boneless and prepared spicy, was sold on the dish, while Mike from Yonkers went for the tried and true, sag paneer. It was now up to Gerry and I to find something a little bit out of that ordinary that might justify this journey to the wastelands of Long Island City. The best we could come up with was the mutton roganjosh and the goat curry.

Zio’s Ship of the Damned

While the bottles of Taj beer began to crowd the table, Zio regaled us with his adventure on the high seas and his narrow escape from the cruise vessel that carried 2,800 passenger, of which 700 were stricken with a “norovirus” including three that, according to Zio, were “mouldering (sic) in a freezer somewhere in the bowels of the ship.” Zio was particularly graphic in his description going on to tell us that “in the close quarters of the ship’s hold you could hear people retching and gagging. But this still didn’t stop them from clamoring for the next buffet, after all, some of them had not eaten in a half hour.”

Zio was particularly grateful for useful tips from the cruise boat crew.

Despite Zio’s grisly tale, once the food arrived and in absolutely no particular order; the fish tandoori first followed by bread, then the entrees, and lastly, the mixed pakoras we requested as an appetizer, we began to stuff our own faces. And we didn’t stop until the plates were wiped clean with the bread.

 Everyone seemed satisfied with their food, though I’m not sure any of us were ready to award the restaurant five stars. Rick was pleased with the fish tandoori which might actually have been quickly fried in its rub as opposed to slow cooked. Not a bad alternative considering the fish was tilapia and most assuredly would have dried out if slow cooked in a tandoori oven. Gerry, however, was not as enamored with the goat. What was wrong with it, I asked?

    “All I got was bone,” he answered incredulously.

    I shrugged. “Yeah, it can be like that with goat.”

Goat curry: Bones included.

When we visited Five Star Punjabi in early 2007, the condo boom in Long Island City was just beginning.  In the four years since, high rises abound yet the funky Five Star has survived the change…at least for now.

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