A lunchtime crowd gathers amid a vibrant hum of conversation beneath the grapevine-draped awning outside Taverna Kyclades. There is even a waiting list on this rainy Tuesday afternoon. Kyclades doesn’t take reservations; this 95-seat restaurant does not need them. It is always buzzing, even as neighboring establishments along Ditmars Boulevard scramble for business.
The first Michelin-rated restaurant in Queens, which has also topped Zagat’s lists, has no gimmicks. When asked to reflect on the secret of his longterm success, chef and owner Ardian Skenderi lights up.
“I cook with my heart,” he said.
The former pro point guard from Athens stands six-and-a-half-feet tall, but wears a smile that could melt titanium. He knows several customers by name, many of whom dine at Kyclades multiple times a week, sometimes twice in the same day.
“When I give [someone] a dish, I can always say, ‘This is the very best I can do,’ and if they tell me I can do better, then I am going to learn,” Skenderi said.
Room for improvement would be difficult to find. The sole chef, Skenderi is in the restaurant daily. He also gathers seafood before sunrise at the Fulton Fish Market in Hunts Point two to five times a week.
“We have no specials on the menu,” boasts the beloved chef, “because everything here is special.”
Flame-kissed swordfish kebabs skewered with peppers and onions duet with glistening beets or Spanish-style saffron rice. Whole red snapper is prepared to juicy perfection, carved tableside and accompanied with a ramekin of warm lemon oil.
Challenging dishes like Spanish octopus served with olive oil and red wine vinegar, and even steamed horta (dandelion greens), are exceptionally tender at Kyclades in Astoria. Whole branzino is simply prepared in extra virgin olive oil and sea salt and filleted tableside.
In fact, Taverna Kyclades exhausts nearly 20 cases of olive oil each week. Portions are the size of Skenderi himself, but the price point, remarkably, is lower than his Manhattan competitors’.
Is the meal worth the inevitable wait time? You bet it is. The multiple generations of families who gather here regularly for special occasions — or just for some of the best selection and preparation of seafood in all five boroughs — would enthusiastically agree.
The complimentary galaktoboureko (syrup-soaked phyllo layered with warm Greek custard) is baked daily — and runs out daily, to0.
33-07 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria
Open daily for lunch and dinner
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