Braulio and Familia in Woodside and TJ's Asian Bistro in Sunnyside
On the latter: I don't think it's gonna make it. It's often mostly empty when I walk by it, and last night, at 8:45, they were pitching a shut-out. Nobody in the joint. It's a perfectly fine place for sushi, but it faces many obstacles:
-Queens just doesn't seem like the place for Japanese restaurants. I don't think they are supported that wholeheartedly by people who live here.
-There's established, if somewhat inferior competition, on Queens Boulevard, a few blocks away. Whatever local crowd there is for sushi already goes to these places and doesn't seem all that curious about the new place.
-They didn't serve alcohol forever, and I don't even know if people realize they have beer and sake now.
I know tkey do some delivery business, but still, I doubt they make it 6 more months.
The former: Drinks at the Cuckoo's Nest on Woodside Ave last night (it's a fine pub, about a year old, but nothing great) followed by dinner at the once-in-a-while touted Braulio and Familia, an Ecuadorian place with reportedly excellent ceviches. I understood the culture of these places to be aimed mostly at single guys who need a meal after work, or something like that, with B and F supposedly being a bit different, an environment that is more varied. Instead, it was indeed just a bunch of single guys sitting at tables lapping up ceviche--not a woman in the place at 7pm. The food was reasonably good. Avocado salad, fine, and the cheese empanadas were excellent--better than the chicken ones. The pescado ceviche was good but yeah, I prefer Peruvian-style (less soupy, bigger chunks). They were out of both Ecuadorian beer and Budweiser. My buddy and I drank Heineken and split a Shrimp Ajillo dish, pretty mellow for a dish that is all about garlic, but from what I understand Ecuadorian cuisine isn't that spicy and the shrimp were quite flavorful. It was a fine place, but the energy in the room, it was hard to embrace. I couldn't imagine bringing wife and 2-yr-old daughter there. I believe we were served by Braulio himself and he was super-nice, but still, overall, this place just didn't excite me. Though those cheese empanadas rocked.
I've always been curious about Braulio's, but on a very recent walk-by, I noticed that they had posted a sign announcing their need of waitresses. The sign specifically asks for attractive women. This is a major turnoff for me. Hence, I would not consider this a "family style" restaurant. I've been to too many of these Ecuadorian restaurants that blare the jukebox music and cater predominantly to lonely guys looking for a home style meal served by a babe.
I've ordered from TJs twice and had pretty bad rolls, and a local friend who went for lunch said she had trouble even finishing her sushi. That may explain the lack of patrons as well.
Cuckoo's Nest, though has been in the recent re-incarnation for maybe two years, has been around forever, I forget what it used to be called as it went through at least 3 names and exterior re-decorations.
Braulio's used to be my favorite neighborhood spot, I should re-visit. Everytime we went there it was always empty, so it didn't seem very seedy to me. I always feel that they should take off all the signs and lights from the windows - they make them look divy-er than they are. I used to love their bandeja typico. The tripe stew that came in it was sublime.
The folks at Braulio are really nice in my experience, and a lot of the food is really good, particularly the bandeja tipico and the ceviche (ask for the picante sauce). But I usually just get carryout because I find the atmosphere in my apt. a bit better than the admittedly dreary atmosphere at Braulio's. Like any other neighborhood business, especially ethnic ones, Braulio has to appeal to the largest local trade, which due to immigration trends means mostly single men for most Hispanic places. It's not seedy, it's just plain business survival. While it may not be the most comfortable place for women or children to eat, I highly doubt that anything intimidating or untoward would happen to anyone going there, and I'm certain that the owner wouldn't stand for it if it did.
I've really enjoyed TJ's quite a bit every time I've eaten there. Unfortunately my patronage alone isn't going to keep them in business. Them, or anyone else, I guess.
The fish has been consistently far fresher and more delicious than anywhere within walking distance, and the staff is genuine and sweet. They goof some stuff up, but I have never had a bad experience.
I've been to TJ's 3 times.
The first was a pleasant surprise. Fish, despite an over-the-top presentation, was fresh enough, prices were comparable to what is on the boulevard, and location is closer to my house than other Sunnyside sushi alternatives.
The next 2 visits were pretty disappointing. Fish was supbar and even the cooked apps were lacking.
I haven't had the desire to go back since then.
I actually do believe there are plenty of people in the area who want sushi. Though Yamakaze, and the other Nepalese / Japanese resto on QB are generally empty (Yamakaze being too far from the "main drag" of Sunnyside's QB and the other place being too big with weird atmosphere), Ariyoshi and Oki do a pretty steady business from what I can see.
As an aside, I had dinner at Oki for the first time in years a couple weeks ago. Though the 2 for 1 happy hour special applies to sushi and not sashimi, prices were still pretty decent and my fish was really really delish.