Queens Dinner Club serves up the borough in a moveable feast

By Suzanne Parker

Have you ever gone to a restaurant, and wanted to try more than just two or three dishes?

Did you long for guidance when sampling an unfamiliar cuisine?

Do you enjoy hanging with people who share your passion for food?

If any of this resonates with you, then you should look into the Queens Dinner Club.

The club is the brainchild of three Queens guys, passionate not only about food, but also about the wonders of their most multicultural of all boroughs.

Joe Distefano is the ubiquitous Queens culinary tour leader, blogger, and all around borough culinary cheerleader.

Gabe Gross, Nexus/Lexus account manager by day, developed his appreciation for good eats in New Orleans, and had his eyes opened to the limitless breadth of gastronomic possibilities when he moved to the borough in 2000. He’s the operations manager for the club.

Chef Jonathan Forgash was until recently the chef/owner of Starstruck Caterers, providing sustenance to the film and TV world. Now he operates Servana, a company that provides home chefs for people with medical conditions that require special foods and compassionate care. It was his vision that made the club happen.

The club’s recent kick-off event dazzled in more ways than one. It was held at Tangra Masala, an Indian-Chinese restaurant that occupies the over-the-top glitzy digs of a former Romanian restaurant. It is replete with multiple chandeliers sprouting from decoratively painted plaster rosettes, shining brass columns and balustrades, and all manner of rococo ornamentation. It is a large, comfortable space, which is a good thing, as about 80 hungry mouths signed up to be fed at the club’s debut.

This style of Indian-Chinese food originated in the Tangra region of Calcutta, created by Hakka Chinese immigrants.

Calcutta native Peter Lo, chef/owner of Tangra Masala, introduced this style of cooking here when he opened his first restaurant in 2001. It is a mashup, characterized by its union of the fiery spices so beloved by Indians, and the soy based sauces and dry stir-fries favored by Chinese cooks.

The QDC dinner was a cornucopia of the most iconic Tangra dishes, starting with plump Lollypop Chicken, a dish that could hold its own against Buffalo wings any day of the week. We munched and slurped our way through a mostly piquant riot of fish fingers, two kinds of soup, beef Tangra style, chilli chicken, fish with hot garlic sauce, jade vegetables, Singapore curry noodles and a finale of a kulfi (Indian style) ice cream selection. All this for $40 including tax and tip. Beer and other drinks could be had for $4.

We were joined by a random assembly of enthusiastic diners—a buyer from Macy’s, an attorney from the Urban Justice Center, which, defends the rights of street vendors, a former press officer of the Bloomberg administration who now works for Bloomberg news. None of them were from Queens.

Queens Dinner Club’s mission, as stated, is to “showcase unique global cuisines through a series of local dinners offering guests an opportunity to experience the global cuisines of Queens with their friends and neighbors.” They seek out talented chefs who fly under the radar.

The second dinner, to be held at La Flor May 17, will highlight Chef Viko Ortega. His day job is with the prestigious Ark Restaurant Corporation, but at his own La Flor is where he gets to play with his food. He is equally at home reproducing his abuela’s mole, or sophisticated French food.

“I mix Italian, French, Mexican that’s one of my favorites a little bit of Asian,” Ortega said.

The three-course dinner for $47.50 is titled “Mexico Meets France and Italy via Roosevelt Ave.”

There are only 40 seats up for grabs for this event, so make your commitment ASAP.

Some future events on QDC’s horizon might be a Georgian dinner, a Filipino dinner, and an Eastern European and Queens microbrew bash at a Queens brewery. Stay tuned.


You can join the Queens Dinner Club e-mail list either by visiting its Facebook page: www.facebook.com/queensdinnerclub and using the “sign up” tab or by sending an email to contact@queensdinnerclub.com. Tickets to the dinners are sold online through brownpapertickets.com.

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