2014-02-05 / Restaurant of the Week

The Thirsty Koala...

AUSTRALIAN CUISINE AND SPIRITS

Everything about The Thirsty Koala is cool, warm and inviting. From the décor to their commitment to organic, unprocessed food, The Thirsty Koala is truly a one-of-a-kind restaurant in Queens, offering a singular culinary experience. The Thirsty Koala is owned by a trio of friends who welcome each and every guest personally, and happily take them through the menu, especially if it’s your first visit here. The very congenial Christine works the front of the house with her Australian-born charm (though she’s Greek in origin) while Alex mans the bar and mixes up their incredible cocktails. Executive Chef Kathy heads up the kitchen with her exemplary culinary and technical skills. Together, they have just celebrated their first year in business on the restaurant row known as Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria.

The sleek, modern interior features pistachio green leather banquettes that line the wall which is fitted with warm, wooden slats. Blown glass light fixtures and soft lighting create a serene mood, along with soothing background music. This is the perfect environment in which to enjoy their happy Happy Hour served from 4pm to 8pm at the wood slat bar. There are $3 draughts, $4 wines and well drinks available at that time, or try one of their signature cocktails made with fine spirits, fruit and fresh herbs. The “Dingo” was one of my favorites, mixed with bourbon, Chambord, cucumber, lemon, lime and fresh cilantro for a clean finish ($8). My partner enjoyed the “Hooley Dooley Caipirinha” finished with strawberry slices and fresh basil leaves for an extra kick of flavor without all the sweetness. The “Gingeroo” stirs gin into ginger beer with lemon juice, cucumber syrup and basil. Australian wines and beers are also available and the staff will gladly help you decide on a great pairing for the fabulous food you’re about to eat.

All the produce used here is organic and locally grown when possible. The meats are imported from Australia and are hormone-free and antibiotic-free. Meat dishes include farm raised beef, the best lamb ever, and kangaroo. Yes…kangaroo, which is incredibly lean, loaded with protein and amino acids, not to mention its delicious sweet flavor, similar to bison, if you’ve ever tried that. The kangaroo sliders offer the perfect introduction to this savory meat, served on mini brioche buns with caramelized onions, lettuce and tomato. With two to an order, you can share one with a friend as an appetizer, or make a meal out of it yourself as a full-size burger. The French fries are hand cut from organic potatoes and really taste like potatoes! Vegetarians and vegans, as well as gluten-free folks will rejoice in the many options available here, so there is truly something for everyone, including fresh fish.

We started with perhaps the best crab cake we’d ever had. Kathy’s secret is nothing. That is, nothing like fillers or bread crumbs are added to the sweet lump crabmeat. Just some perfectly balanced seasonings and a quick pan fry makes this crab cake spectacular, served with baby greens and blood orange vinaigrette ($12.50). The chef proudly makes her own goat cheese and farmer cheese with organic milk, then incorporates the creamy goat cheese into the Coolangatta Crostini, placed on a wedge of bread with pineapple salsa, mint and honey ($7). The crispiest calamari is available here and they’re made with gluten-free flour, served with Thai basil yogurt dipping sauce and sweet chili dipping sauce. Ask about the soup of the day, such as the carrot beet puree that we sampled, or the vegan-approved bean chili made with edamame, eggplant and “akudjura” bush tomatoes. All the appetizers are generously sized and great to share.

Light meals for lunch, dinner or brunch include the great burgers, made with grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, or kangaroo, or try one of their Boomerang Tacos that will keep you coming back for more. The mahi taco is freshly grilled and topped with salsa, vibrant red cabbage shreds, peppers, cilantro and chipotle sauce on their own house made tortillas. You can also fill your taco with marinated skirt steak, prawns or try the vegan version with chili, avocado and peppers. “Jaffles” are Aussie sandwiches made on ciabatta bread and layered with artichoke hearts, goat cheese, kalamata tapenade and balsamic glaze in the “Canberra Jaffle” ($9.95). The “Banjo Patterson” is made with grilled skirt steak, herb hash, asiago cheese and garlic aioli.

Dig your fork into one of their incredibly delicious entrees, served hot off the grill and beautifully presented. The herb and citrus wild Atlantic salmon was glistening with soy sauce glaze and served with organic rice scented with Australian lemon myrtle. The sautéed bok choy was nestled below the fish, which was perfectly cooked ($19.50). Clearly their signature dish is the Australian lamb chops or “lamb lollies” as they call them. Supremely tender and scented with herbs, these juicy lamb chops came sizzling off the grill and were served with caramelized pumpkin, lending a sweet counterpoint to the earthy lamb.

Even the desserts are inventive, such as the caramel slices, Triple T tiramisu, coconut milk panna cotta and an Aussie favorite called ‘pavlova’, a light, fluffy meringue cake topped with cream and fresh fruit. Enjoy a steaming cup of robust Australian coffee with dessert and start planning your next trip to The Thirsty Koala. Come to think of it, brunch is a great time to visit, on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 3pm where you’ll find croissant French toast, fluffy omelets, sandwiches, burgers and more.

Stop in for lunch, dinner or weekend brunch, seven days a week (no lunch service on Monday). They’re open from 11am to 11pm on weeknights and until midnight on weekends. You can stop in just for a cocktail at the convivial bar or enjoy a full meal there, as there is plenty of room to eat. Weekend reservations are suggested and don’t forget to take your sweetheart to The Thirsty Koala for a memorable Valentine’s Day dinner, lunch or brunch. For an amazing journey “Down Under” without the 20- hour flight, visit The Thirsty Koala for a meal you won’t soon forget. G’day mate!

35-12 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria / 718.626.5430

www.thethirstykoala.com  Follow them on Facebook and Twitter

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