By Judah S. Harris
Take your seat before 5:30 p.m. at Turquoise Kosher Fish Restaurant on Union Turnpike in Fresh Meadows, Queens, and you can catch what someone else caught. We’re speaking fish. This is the early-bird special—smaller portions (“about 30 percent less,” said my server), and a comfortable price of $23.
The early-bird-special menu is going to be more limited, but you still get your fish—a choice of flounder, salmon, or St. Peter’s (tilapia)—along with two side dishes and a salad option. I had the goat cheese and beet salad, slightly tangy with candied walnuts served over greens. I first assumed they added ready-made candied walnuts, but I was glad to hear they make their own.
There are two desserts available for early-birders: Ciao Bella sorbet and homemade biscuit cake (compliments of the owner’s wife who comes in a few times a week), with the requisite biscuits, mousse, walnuts—they’re back again!—and chocolate drizzled for presentation, though certainly not enough to provide flavonoid benefit (pick up a bar of dark chocolate with 72–80 percent cocoa on your way home).
You can get fresh fish at other local kosher restaurants in the Queens/Long Island area, but this is one of the very few that specialize in fish, and people seem to know that—and not only those who observe kashrut. The owner has been involved with fish restaurants for many years, and the longevity of Turquoise, in an industry that shakes out businesses with ease, says that something is being done quite right. Peek in the windows on a busy night, or even lunch time, to see not just the volume but also the diversity of the patronage. It can be a popular business-luncheon spot on weekdays.
During my early-bird moments, which extended into regular dinner time, groups of varying sizes arrived and took their seats. Two women to my left, “friends since daycare,” had ordered a whole fish and whole fire-roasted eggplant with tahini. It looked good and it’s made to order; allow 25 minutes. There were married couples enjoying a meal together, parties celebrating something or other, and when I first arrived, there was a birthday for a toddler in progress. I happen to know some members of that family, had my camera with me, and after obliging photos with their phone, when the slice of cake with candle came out, I took some for them with my DSLR.
The fish fillet—St. Peter’s, but I could have gone with salmon—was ample, seasoned but not overly so, and I made use of the accoutrement of a half a lemon (a still underrated ingredient in our American culture that can be used in many areas of cooking). On a different occasion, I would have chosen off-menu—the Chilean sea bass, probably with the miso glaze. When I eat out, I try things that I can maybe replicate at home, or foods I know I can’t make at home or won’t take the time to try.
If there’s one immediate suggestion for Turquoise, it would be to possibly offer on the early-bird menu one or two salad/appetizer items featuring a group of small samplings of some of their more exotic fare. They’ve got it, so they should showcase it. I realize that incurs more prep time and ingredient cost, but if it’s kept uniform, I think other diners will partake and be drawn in. My feeling is that early-bird menus are not just about keeping it below a certain price point for the customer (to entice new or repeat business), but also a chance to highlight some of the more interesting items on the menu. There are four salads on the early-bird menu at Turquoise, all fresh and fine, but I’m here to learn and taste new things, and if it will add a few dollars or more to the early-bird cost, I’ll do it to upgrade from the Israeli, Greek, or green-salad variety—and even beets.
This was not my first time at Turquoise, but it had certainly been a number of years. I was in the area, it was dinner time, and a serious approach to fish and fresh-ingredient cooking is something to admire up close.
Turquoise Kosher Fish Restaurant is located at 189-23 Union Turnpike in Fresh Meadows, NY. Phone number is 718-776-7775.
Judah S. Harris is a photographer, filmmaker, speaker, writer, and advocate for strong visual marketing. He’s been involved in the craft of visual storytelling for more than two decades and provides visual and social marketing consulting to small business, retail shops, boutique hotels, local restaurants, and nonprofit organizations. Visit www.judahsharris.com/visual-marketing.