2013-02-13 / Restaurant of the Week

THE THIRSTY KOALA

Treat yourself to a Modern Australian dining experience at The Thirsty Koala in Astoria. Serving made-to-order, artfully prepared dishes that use only natural, organic ingredients, The Thirsty Koala aims to nourish body and spirit. Choose from a menu that offers grass-fed, free range, hormone and antibiotic free meats, vegan and gluten-free options, and a Koala Kids section. You will find something for everyone at your table.

Hands-on co-owners Christine Chellos, Alex Styponias and Katherine Fuchs are long-time friends who share total involvement in their individual and cross-over roles. You will recognize Christine by her ready smile and authentic Aussie accent as she bustles around the dining room greeting customers as well as serving, clearing and dashing in and out of the kitchen. Alex, who has a background as a restaurateur, works at the bar and takes care of all the drinks. Katherine is the chef, but you might see her carrying plates from the kitchen and placing them on your table. “I want to know what’s going on out here,” is the way she explains it. We don’t blame her. The Thirsty Koala is very, very busy and vibrates with excitement. But our upbeat waiter, David, put it another way. “There’s no hierarchy here,” he said. “We switch roles. Whatever needs to get done gets done.”

The dining room has a welcoming atmosphere that is casual and relaxed. Yet, if you look carefully, you will see that everything in it is energy efficient and of truly superior quality. The bar, tables and all the wood trim were handcrafted by a friend of Christine’s, while authentic Aboriginal art captures the imagination. And don’t miss the stuffed Koalas on the bar. They have a story to tell.

The Thirsty Koala opened in late December. Curious neighbors began to peer in as construction was going on, and before you could say “The Thirsty Koala” the three friends had been coaxed into opening their doors before they were finished decorating. Their liquor license is being processed and they plan to serve Australian beer and wine and New Zealand cocktails soon, but right now everything is all about the food, and that alone has made The Thirsty Koala an overnight success.

Our own meal began with fresh bread served with Katherine’s Kalamata Tapenade and her special fig spread. Next, we delighted in a fresh roasted strawberry, spinach, and homemade goat cheese salad with leek and fennel, and lime vinaigrette. The combination of savory and sweet in both dishes complemented each other in a unique and fascinating way that may be one of Katherine’s trademarks. “I just focus on it being good food,” she told us, but she also wants to give “your palate a fireworks experience.” Katherine and her husband both come from a family of chefs. Her father was the chef at the Waldorf Astoria and her mother taught her to make her own cheese. She makes fresh cheese every day at The Thirsty Koala.

For our next course, we ordered the sweet potato and ginger soup. Made with oriental yams that are indigenous to Australia, it was light and creamy, slightly sweet, and delicious. Accompanied by bread rounds topped with a savory herb spread, it had a depth and complexity of flavors that I had already begun to associate with Katherine Fuchs and The Thirsty Koala. Another choice for soup is the Earth Chili topped with walnuts that is vegan and gluten free, and is another of Katherine’s personal creations. She is thrilled to see her recipes enjoyed by so many people. When she sees her line cooks preparing her recipes, she told us, she feels like a song writer hearing her songs sung.

We tasted the Mahi and chips with Thai basil yogurt, and The Thirsty Koala’s signature dish, Herb Crusted Aussie Lamb Lollies with Caramelized Pumpkin. The fish is purchased fresh at the market every day, brought back to The Thirsty Koala and fileted. The lamb and also the beef are imported from Australia; but if you prefer chicken, the Roasted Free Range Chicken, with Grilled Mango and Avo Salsa Napoleon will tempt and satisfy. Other dinner choices include Grilled Prawn Skewers with Courgette, Pineapple, Eschalot and Capiscum; Herb Citrus Salmon with Ginger Braised Baby Bok Choy; and more.

You can also try any of The Thirsty Koala’s Boomerang Tacos, Burgers, Crostis (crostini) or Jaffles (pressed sandwiches); and they have an incredible array of homemade Australian desserts, and luscious designer coffees. We had tacos stuffed with plump shrimp and brimming with avocado and healthy vegetables, and a steak sandwich on crusty bread topped with caramelized onion, potato and cheese. Everything we tasted was fresh, natural, and had its own unique personality.

When it was time for dessert, our waiter, David, recommended the Triple T, an Aussie twist on an old favorite that uses Australian Tim Tam cookies in place of Ladyfingers. It was outstanding. We also tested the Pavlova, another distinctly Australian dessert of a light meringue cake topped with fresh whipped cream and fresh fruit that was my favorite; a vegan dessert called Lime and Tropical Fruit Pannacotta, and several more. No one could have guessed that I would then finish my Australian Iced Coffee, consisting of espresso mixed with milk, ice cream and topped with whipped cream and cocoa powder, but it was so delicious, I drank it down to the last drop!

The Thirsty Koala is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM, Friday and Saturday from 11:00 AM to midnight, and Sunday from 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM. There is a special brunch menu on Saturday and Sunday that includes a vegan option. Brunch is served from 11:00 AM until 3:30 PM. The restaurant is closed on Mondays. The Thirsty Koala is located at 35-12 Ditmars Blvd. Astoria, New York 11105. Phone: 718-626- 5430. Transit: Astoria – Ditmars Blvd. For parties of six or more, please call for reservations.

35-12 Ditmars Boulevard
Astoria / 718.626.5430

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