2016-05-04 / Restaurant of the Week

The Thirsty Koala

For a taste of Australia (without the jet-lag), make your way over to the Thirsty Koala. The Thirsty Koala is a popular, eco-responsible restaurant in Astoria that uses only organic ingredients and grass-fed meats to bring you Australian fare that is healthy as well as sensationally delicious. Owned by three energetic Aussie friends who love what they do, the Thirsty Koala seems to hum with enthusiasm and harmony. Katherine is the chef, Alex the bar manager, and Christine the exuberant front-of-the-house manager. They are a compatible team so that while they have separate responsibilities, they share ideas and sometimes lend a hand. Recently, they have begun working on a community gardening project where, with the help of young neighborhood volunteers, they are growing their own organic vegetables and herbs. Before long, their fresh produce will be finding its way onto your table at the restaurant and into the hands of charitable organizations that feed the hungry. We spoke with Katherine who is a unique kind of chef. Adept at blending tradition with innovation, she is also extremely customer-focused, a quality that is mirrored in the restaurant’s new menu. Check it out and you will see some brand new traditional, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options in response to varied customer wants and needs.

The dining room is finished in relaxing earth tones with decorative wooden wall slats and pendant lighting that gives off a golden glow. A spectacular, hand-crafted bar sits at the far end, and it is here that you will find Alex hard at work. Alex is responsible for everything bar-related: an impressive menu of imported beer and wines, exotic cocktails, inventory, ambience, and of course, customer service. Happy Hour, which runs from 3pm to 8pm Monday through Friday, offers you a great opportunity to stop in and unwind with a cocktail or glass of beer or wine. You can enjoy well drinks, signature cocktails, and selected draught beer and wines for only $5, and the house Koala beer costs just $4. At our table, our congenial waiter, John, took my friend’s order for a “Hooley Dooley Caipirinha” (Cachaça, lime juice, agave syrup, fresh strawberries and basil) and mine for the “Gabba” (vodka, lemon juice, cucumber, and pineapple juice), and brought them over to us in no time flat. Our drinks tasted fresh and perfectly balanced with just the right amount of sweetness. Well done, Alex. Thank you.

The Thirsty Koala offers a long list of quality Australian and New Zealand wines to pair with your meal. For advice on which wine to order, feel free to ask your server or Christine. You will spot Christine by her blond hair, ready smile, Australian accent, and helpful, take-charge attitude. She likes to speak with everyone personally, but if she has not gotten around to you yet, ask for her. Based on our own menu choices and personal preferences, Christine suggested the Villa Maria Pinot Gris from New Zealand and it did not disappoint.

For starters, we sampled the gluten-free “Crispy Fried Calamari” ($13.50), “Thea’s Meatballs” (also gluten free, $12.50), and the traditional “Australian Mini Meat Pies & Chips” ($12.95). The calamari, served with a sweet chili sauce and a thai basil yogurt sauce, were deliciously tender and flavorful, and the portion was large, perfect for sharing. The recipe for “Thea’s Meatballs,” a new item on the menu, came from Christine’s mom. Made from minced grass-fed beef, seasoned with garlic, onions and tomatoes, and served with field greens, lime vinaigrette and thai basil yogurt sauce, this family favorite is destined to be a winner. The mini meat pies, also new to the menu, are an Aussie classic that Katherine makes with minced grass-fed beef and tomato and onions in a flaky crust topped with puff pastry. The flavors and textures complement one another sumptuously, and these little pies come three to an order, so you can eat one, share one, and take one home for tomorrow.

Next, we sampled three entrées: the “Eggplant Parmigiana” ($15.95), the “Salmon en Papillote,” ($24.95), and the Grilled Australian Lamb Lollies ($31.95) along with a side of “Garlic Mashed Potatoes” ($5.00) that were light, smooth, and creamy. And finally, we indulged in a “Koala Chocolate Truffle” ($7.00) for dessert. Katherine makes the eggplant parmigiana with gluten free breading, fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheese, shallots, onion, garlic, fresh tomato marinara and fresh herbs. It is full-flavored and satisfying, ideal for the vegetarian in your party. I loved the ¨Salmon en Papillote” (wild salmon in parchment paper), which was pleasantly juicy, neither under- nor overdone. Prepared with sundried tomatoes, feta cheese, kalamata olives, oregano, olive oil and lemon, it boasts a delightfully complex mixture of flavors that your taste buds will appreciate. It is new to the menu and bound for stardom, The lamb lollies, made from Australian grass-fed lamb chops and served with caramelized pumpkin, arugula, pomegranate, and lemon myrtle walnut pesto, were outstanding and a rare treat. This dish was tops. Our chocolate truffle dessert, topped with vanilla ice cream and fresh chocolate syrup, was enticingly rich and the perfect ending to an exquisite meal.

Yet as varied as our meal was, it did not even begin to tap into all the customer favorites you can enjoy at the Thirsty Koala. For smaller appetites, you might prefer to choose from a range of grass-fed beef burgers, free-range chicken burgers, house special sandwiches (jaffles), salads, or “Boomerang Tacos.” You can even have a kangaroo burger, or you may wish to try a different starter dish or entrée. You can also come in just for dessert and coffee. The “Aussie Coffee Bar” has every kind of drink you can imagine, including Australian Iced Coffee, Australian Iced Chocolate, Assorted Organic Teas, and Fruit Smoothies. Your children are welcome at the Thirsty Koala, too, with a kids menu and non-alcoholic beverages to keep them happy.

The Thirsty Koala is open seven days a week: from 3pm to 11pm Monday through Thursday, 11am to midnight on Friday and Saturday, and 11am to 11pm on Sunday. A brunch is served on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 3:30pm that includes a complimentary beverage and enough menu choices to satisfy everyone in your party. There will be a special brunch for Mother’s Day on Sunday, May 8th with a round of free mimosas or champagne and a free dessert for Mom. She will love it! Reserve your spot, though, because the dining room fills up quickly. To get there by subway, take the N or Q train to Astoria-Ditmars, turn right on Ditmars Boulevard and walk four blocks to 35-12. The restaurant will be on your right.

35-12 Ditmars Boulevard
Astoria  718.626.5430

www.thethirstykoala.com

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