Tag Archives: greek food

It’s all Greek to me


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Bradley Hawks

BRADLEY HAWKS

The Giannakas brothers are the powerhouse duo who have been running one of the most innovative and original Greek restaurants in Astoria for the better part of the past decade. The two men work alongside their mother and father, and the harmony is borderline tangible. Chris runs the front of the house with effortless charisma and charm, while Chef Pete orchestrates delectable and creative spins on traditional Greek dishes. They certainly have lemon potatoes, skewered meats and plenty of fresh seafood — even a raw bar.

Or try their Rock n’ Ribs Wednesdays, featuring a barbecue smorgasbord. But the real magic is found hidden throughout the Greek menu in the recipes often masked with the most deceptively simple names.

“I was inspired a lot by our childhood home,” Pete explains. It was his mother’s cupboard that suggested the marriage of java and skirt steak on the Greek Coffee Steak. The beef is dusted with Greek coffee, and served with a skillet of fresh mushrooms and halloumi poutine. It is a little Hawaiian, a little Canadian, a little Greek and 100 percent Ovelia.

At brunch, guests may order a frittata loaded with French fries and feta cheese. Named after the Giannakas brothers’ grandmother, it is lovingly called Yiayia’s Omelette. A family recipe for Tiropita toast arrives with an array of toppings, from halloumi and cucumbers to fiesta grilled chicken, jalapeño and cilantro-lime aioli. An open-faced ham chip-drip steals the show, with thinly shaved slices of ham sautéed with creamy mozzarella and mushrooms, cloaked in a bright, citrusy hollandaise.

At lunchtime, an old favorite — the Lamburgini Burger — has been replaced with a Saganaki Burger.

“Everyone started doing pretzel rolls,” laughs Chef Pete, “and so I knew it was time to do something different.” The new burger features a juicy patty of chopped veal, crisp ribbons of cucumber, fried kefalograviera and a creamy slathering of Greek yogurt tahini spread, all stacked on a bun of Turkish pide bread.

Dinner should begin with an order of fried feta cubes that have been encrusted in black and white sesame seeds and drizzled with Greek honey. Another Ovelia signature is the Parea — a Greek word referring to a group of friends. What better comrades than a carving board loaded with pork souvlaki, chicken breast, monastiraki bifteki, grilled links of loukaniko, steaming pita triangles and french fries sprinkled with oregano.

The pan-fried, hickory-smoked sweetbreads are decadent and tender, and the bone marrow is slowly roasted after it has been brined in lemon and oregano, rendering it subtly but distinctly Greek.

The complete range of dishes runs the gamut from old-school Mediterranean to trendy and current fare, employing sophisticated techniques.

Regardless of what comes from the kitchen, the brothers always offer a broad range of carefully edited international wines and liquors, featuring an impressive selection direct from Greece.

Each page of Ovelia’s menu holds several curious, delicious little secrets. The best thing you could possibly say is, “It’s all Greek to me.”

Ovelia Psistaria & Bar
34-01 30th Ave., Astoria
718-721-7217

 

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From the basketball court to the ocean floor


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Bradley Hawks

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.

Taverna Kyclades
33-07 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria
718-545-8666
Open daily for lunch and dinner

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

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A new kind of Greek


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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The new fortress known as MP Taverna sits on the corner of Ditmars and 32nd Street, eager patrons spilling out of the bar and onto the sidewalk even though the restaurant opened just a few weeks ago. The second floor is a little more hushed, with handsome industrial design and brushed brass lamp shades dangling over each table. MP Taverna can seat 150 patrons, not counting an outdoor dining area along the sidewalk.

At the helm of this new culinary castle is distinguished chef, producer, James Beard Award nominee and author Michael Psilakis.

“We hope that people just look at us like a Greek brasserie,” he said. “The whole focus of this restaurant really is to sort of demystify what Greek food is to people who don’t understand it. We’re trying to take things that are very recognizable and just call them something that you can recognize as well.”

Take, for instance, the meatballs, or, as they are listed on the menu, keftedes. They arrive in an iron skillet bubbling with a tangy tomato sauce and glistening with olives in shades of purple and green. The tender meat is fragrant with dill, mint and lots and lots of garlic.

The exquisitely tender octopus comes nestled on a mound of chickpeas. Enormous, grilled, head-on prawns are served under a creamy bed of Greek spinach and lemon rice pilaf.

A refreshing spin on bulgur salad is studded with crunchy pistachios, tender dates and juicy pomegranate seeds that explode between your teeth. Your fork involuntarily keeps going back for more.

The menu is full of excellent surprises like Cypriot lamb sausage sizzling in a skillet and scallops glistening with brown butter and dried cherries.

So what inspired this inventive take on classic Greek flavors?

“We aren’t just Greek,” Psilakis explained. “We’re Greek-Americans. The biggest difference for me, really, is that being born here and being able to perceive the food that I grew up eating through our new country’s eyes allows us to take liberties with things that a traditional Greek wouldn’t.”

The paella was inspired by youvetsi, a very traditional dish made with lamb and orzo in a clay pot. Psilakis took the idea of a youvetsi and playfully juxtaposed it with the idea of paella. Lamb sausage and orzo replace chorizo and rice.

“It’s not a dish my mother would even understand,” the chef chuckled. “It doesn’t belong in the Greek lexicon of food, and yet when you eat it, it reminds you of Greek food.”

“To a certain degree, Astoria allows you to cook food that can only be recognized in certain venues,” he continued. “Astoria is one of those venues. There is enough of Greece here that if you are cooking [with Greek flavors], there’s going to be people who are going to be coming who are going to understand the beauty of that thing that brings them back to childhood or to a village. That, to me, is exciting. That, to me, is soulful.”

MP TAVERNA
31-29 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria
718-777-2187

-BY BRADLEY HAWKS

 

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A new generation of Greek at Thymari


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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BY BRADLEY HAWKS

A love affair with Astoria’s food scene would be incomplete without an appreciation of the neighborhood’s rich Greek tradition. Bringing that tradition into a contemporary light comes Thymari.

The menu at Thymari, which means thyme, is peppered with the standard glossary of Greek cuisine: dolmades, feta, saganaki, spanakopita, and kalamata. But the chef carefully applies subtle nuances to the seemingly familiar recipes.

The shrimp saganaki appears as a clay dish lavishly arranged with jumbo prawns in a robust vine-ripened tomato sauce with sequins of scallion and snowdrops of feta. The hint of anise comes from masticha, an oil drawn from raisin-like berries found in Northern Greece.

An entirely different saganaki—this time as expected, with cheese—encrusts a delicately mild Arahova feta with sesame seeds, which is pan-fried, then ribboned with a sash of wild berry compote.

Owner Konstantinos Batalamas designed the restaurant with one of his childhood friends from Greece. It spans from a sunny open-front café and bar to an expansive, dramatically lit dining room which also doubles as a photography gallery.

A few flavorsome newcomers pop up, like a bouquet of mussels in a golden broth of krokos (Greek saffron). The Thalassinon orzo is studded with thyme-kissed medallions of shrimp and mussels in a rich tomato reduction. A Greek spin on chicken pot pie, kotopita, layers flaky country-style phyllo stuffed with spiced chicken and peppers in a creamy béchamel. Whole branzino (Mediterranean sea bass) is butterflied, seared, and served on a pedestal of roasted new potatoes, arugula, cherry tomatoes, capers, shallots, and olives shimmering in olive oil and lemon zest.

Weekend brunch is heightened with a gorgeous strapatsada omelet, as well as traditional Greek sweet bread nuanced into French toast, served with a whipped dollop of homemade chocolate hazelnut Greek yogurt. Try a bellini with pressed sour cherry juice for a refreshing brunch bubbly.

Desserts shine with a stemless martini glass of Greek custard made from homemade, strained, and whipped yogurt draped with a luxurious walnut amaretto caramel.  And the classic baklava is practically unrivaled, even in this neighborhood.

Thymari also boasts the largest selection of Greek wines anywhere in the area, with over fifty bottles, as well as a playful mix of cocktails, including a baklava martini.

Acoustic pop and rock on Thursdays and Fridays turns the scene into a destination. Check the website for a schedule of upcoming artists.

 

THYMARI
32-07 34th Ave, Astoria
718- 204-2880
Hours:
Tuesday-Friday, 5 p.m. to close
Saturday, Sunday, 11 a.m. to close

 

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Cavo: A Gem in Astoria


| editorial1@queenscourier.com

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Cavo is a food-lover’s dream. Situated in Astoria, this modern Greek eatery has an inventive, daring menu – inspiring foodies everywhere to expand their culinary horizons.

Cavo succeeds at fusing classic Greek ingredients within elegant, adventurous appetizers and savory entrees. The grilled octopus — charcoal grilled, drizzled in Greek extra virgin olive oil with a hint of lemon – is light and flavorful. If you’re searching for a classic appetizer, order the crab cakes. Jumbo lump crab meat, celery root, red pepper and lemon zest – the texture and the combination of flavors is delightful.

The menu at Cavo offers something for everyone, whether you prefer classic Greek cuisine or innovative chef’s specials. The chicken paillard presents grilled chicken cutlet with classic Greek salad. The diver scallops are brilliant. They are pan seared, complemented with an assortment of herb roasted potatoes, fennel and baby arugula, all drizzled with a pomegranate molasses. If you’re searching for something daring, order the olive oil poached Mediterranean tuna salad – pickled red onions, kalamata olives, celery root, fine herbs and toasted walnuts all tossed in a parsley basil vinaigrette. The combination of the pickled onions with the toasted walnuts presents a unique texture while not overpowering the quality of the tuna.

More classic Greek entrees are available such as moussaka and an impressive collection of fish including red snapper, Scottish salmon, and branzino, Mediterranean sea bass. Most of the fish dishes are served whole, pan seared, with an assortment of fresh herbs and Chef Rory’s signature ingredients including arugula, celery root and tomato. If you’re a meat eater, order the Colorado prime lamb chop combining rack of lamb, goat cheese macaroni and wilted baby arugula.

The dining room features deep mahogany wood, dim lighting, and sheer, intimate drapery. Everything from the stemware to the red, studded leather chairs to the lighting fixtures lined in crystal makes the dining experience at Cavo seem indulgent.

Cavo is known for its outdoor garden, available to patrons weather permitting. “Dining in Cavo’s outdoor garden is like traveling to Greece without a plane ticket,” the eatery promises. Complete with two waterfalls, a full bar and intricate landscaping, it is another reason to look forward to warmer months.

Cavo
42-18 31st Avenue, Astoria
718-721-1001
Hours: Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Full Bar, Valet Parking, Dressy Attire


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Kati Allo offers classic Greek cuisine


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alex DiBlasi

After 13 years in Bayside, Kati Allo is the neighborhood go-to for classic Greek cuisine just like your yiayia used to make. The quiet atmosphere lends itself to a romantic date night or even just a special occasion out with family. Takeout and delivery options give locals the chance to enjoy good Greek in the comfort of their own homes. Whatever the event, Kati Allo is the perfect place for a Greek feast.

The tiny tavern’s menu offers everything from freshly caught seafood to mouthwatering gyros to incredible, authentic appetizers. We started our culinary tour with the haloumi – a white sheep’s milk cheese, grilled with lemon wedges. The thick slices of tangy cheese were complemented by the tart lemon and the char of the grill. We sampled the loukaniko, a Greek-style pork and lamb sausage, spiced with orange zest oregano and wine and completely unlike anything we’d ever tasted.

For our first entrée, we selected the broiled filet of sole — a simple recipe of fresh fish baked with lemon and olive oil and a well-deserved nod to the Mediterranean staple of quintessentially-effortless seafood dishes. The broiler adds the right amount of crisp to the top of the fish while underneath, the flaky, delicate meat awaits. Kati Allo offers an arsenal of souvlaki options as well, including pork doner, lamb and beef. We also ordered a combination entrée of the grilled chicken – marinated in lemon and olive oil – and the roast pork doner. The well-seasoned heaps of tender pork were perfectly scooped into crispy pita bread and topped with a touch of homemade tzatziki. The hot-off-the-grill chicken was artfully cooked and filling – just like great Greek poultry dishes should be.

While we sadly didn’t save room for dessert, Kati Allo offers sweet options like forever faithful Baklava and Galactobouriko – a custard-filled phylo dough pastry topped with light honey syrup.

Kati Allo’s owner said the eatery is in the process of undergoing a few menu changes to highlight the new season and some competition that’s recently entered the neighborhood. We think they’re perfect just the way they are.

Cavo: Dining fit for a Greek god


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

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When picturing a prototypical Greek restaurant, one imagines souvlaki, gyros and baklava, but upon entering Cavo, horizons are expanded beyond traditional Hellenic cuisine.

The Astoria restaurant, which moonlights as a neighborhood hot spot, creates modern remixes of yiayia’s classic dishes.

To prepare your palate for the wide array of tastes you’ll encounter throughout the course of your meal, a popular starter is a collection of three homemade Mediterranean spreads — hummus, tzatziki and a hearty olive tapenade. The dips are served with pita crisps, providing the spreads with a perfect, crunchy complement.

Cavo features an assortment of appetizers that is sure to satisfy any diner’s tastes. The crab cakes are packed with jumbo lump crab meat and served with a corn and avocado salsa. The refreshing salsa splendidly supplements the zesty crab cake, which is served with a Worcestershire sauce and a balsamic vinegar reduction.

If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary and out of this world, you must try the jumbo shrimp, flash fried in phyllo dough with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of honey Dijon mustard. The sultry mix of sweet and briny combine to form an appetizer fitting of a Greek god.

Those interested in traditional Greek appetizers can choose from saganaki, calamari, octopus or feta cheese pizza, among others.

Whether your preference is surf or turf, Cavo can cater to your every craving. The short ribs, braised for four hours, are served over a creamy polenta and topped with a red wine reduction. The slow-cooked, savory short ribs melt in your mouth before you even have time to chew.

The bronzini, a Mediterranean sea bass, is a dish large enough for two, though tasting it will make you reluctant to sacrifice even one bite. The full fish is stuffed with vegetable couscous and baked in a tomato stew with mussels, shallots, capers, olives and cherry tomatoes. Each ingredient is integral in a dish any seafood lover that enters Cavo’s doors must experience.

Cavo fulfills Greek custom by offering an extensive wine list complete with fruity whites and full bodied reds. Your expert server will advise you in the proper wine pairing with each dish. A favorite is Parparoussis Sideritis — a medium body, sweet white from Greece — which perfectly complements most seafood dishes.

If you’re too full to eat another bite, sitting back, relaxing and enjoying an after dinner drink, such as a glass of Cockburns Tawny, is the cherry on top of the cake.

Cavo offers the best of both worlds by whisking patrons away to a Greek isle taverna fused with a chic New York restaurant.

Cavo on Urbanspoon