Chef Michael Psilakis
So, guess where we spent our morning? Hauling butt down to the River to meet rocket-hot Chef Michael Psilakis at 9:30 (in the a.m.!) at the new site for MP Taverna: 1 Bridge St, Irvington. You’ve heard of this guy. He’s almost singlehandedly credited for stretching New York’s concepts of Greek food beyond the modest Mom and Pop shops of Astoria. In 2008, Psilakis snagged one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs and Bon Appétit’s Chef of the Year awards; and, in the same year, his chic Greek restaurant, Anthos, was nominated for a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. He also was named Chef of the Year by Esquire and his restaurant Anthos (since-closed) was awarded a Michelin star. Finally, Anthos was named the third of 10 best new restaurants by the New York Times’s Frank Bruni. Since 2008, Psilakis has brought Kefi (relocated), Eos at Viceroy Miami, and the super high-profile NYC spot: Fishtag. In 2011, Psilakis opened the first MP Taverna in Roslyn (out on the Gyland). This spring, Psilakis will open MP Taverna in Irvington (then another MP Taverna, crazily enough, in Astoria).
Folks, this Psilakis hotshot is bald, Greek, and coming to town.
Psilakis’s Irvington spot (going into the former Lord & Burnham factory site that recently held Day Boat Cafe, and, before that, One) will hew very closely to the Roslyn original, a restaurant whose big innovation is dispensing with the funny alphabet. At MP Taverna, meatballs are simply meatballs and not six unpronounceable syllables with too many Ks. Psilakis’s idea is to make Greek food as approachable as Italian (and as universally popular) by highlighting the fact that the ingredients in Greece’s cuisine are recognizable. Says the chef, “It’s made with stuff that you can go to the supermarket and find. It’s not like you have to go to specialty purveyors. This is basic, recognizable food.”
Grilled branzino with fingerling potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and olives at MP Taverna in Roslyn (and soon at Irvington, too): part of Chef Michael Psilakis’s approachable “Greek brasserie” menu.
Why, with such serious Manhattan success, is he putting on a suburban push in Roslyn and Irvington? Apparently, the suburbs are the key to the American market. “At MP Taverna, we’re looking for the best representation of America. There aren’t many cities like New York City: the urban demographic is very different when it comes to people and the market. So, when you’re trying to take something into the mainstream and make it accessible to everyone, you really have to look at the demographics of suburbia. Because that’s what America is: it’s families. The demographics here in Irvington are perfect for what we’re looking to attract. What you’ll find when you come is that MP Taverna’s reach changes. At five o’clock, it has what people need and want at that time. There’s a children’s menu, there are specials for people who want to come early, the music is different, the lighting is brighter. Then, as the evening gets later, things start to change. At MP Taverna, we’ve made a very conscious effort to open our reach as wide as we can.” If the Roslyn menu is anything to go by, MP Taverna also will be moderately priced with mains mostly in the mid to upper teens.
Speaking of later crowds, Psilakis says, ”The bar is a significant part of who we are. We have a huge by-the-glass wine list, we have a huge beer list, a huge spirit list, and cocktails. The menu—which is in one page of ledger paper in the brasserie style—its whole reverse side is the beverage list. So we’ve dedicated as much space to beverage as to food. That’s part of the idea that, at eight or nine o’clock, the different people in the restaurant are going to have different needs and we’re trying to accommodate them.”
Does Psilakis worry that such a strong stress on beverage won’t pay off in the suburbs, where people have to get into their cars to go home? “What we’re finding is that people still want the whole experience,” says Psilakis. “So they’ll have a cocktail. We’re looking at fifty wines by the glass. We’re looking at ten tap beers and another thirty or forty in bottles. We’ve got a whole wall of whiskey. So it’s about the connoisseur coming in to have a wide range of different experiences.”
“The thing to remember is that MP Taverna is a Greek brasserie. So, think about Italian food and how it’s evolved in the US, and especially in New York. Thirty years ago, when you went into an Italian restaurant, you had to see the straw-wrapped fiascos of Chianti. You had to hear Italian music playing. You had to see Italian people eating. But now, when you go into an Italian restaurant, all you see is a pretty restaurant. We’re trying to do the same thing for Greek restaurants. MP Taverna will not look like a Greek restaurant at all. It looks like a brasserie. It has the comfort of the known. It looks like mahogany walls, beautiful banquettes.”
Chatting with MP Taverna’s interior designer, Michael Shewan (of Michael David & Associates out of Charleston, South Carolina), I got the impression he took the brasserie idea and ran with it. The mahogany walls will be studded with mirrors—some scripted with “MP”—and the black-and-white hex-tiled floor in the bar almost reads like a steak house: cozy and familiar. While counts were not yet finalized, it looks like there will be somewhere around 100+ seats.
Look for MP Taverna to debut within, according to Chef Psilakis (so don’t get up my pipe when there are inevitable delays) four to six weeks. Meanwhile, Psilakis is the co-executive producer and co-star of BBC America’s new adventure cooking competition series, No Kitchen Required, which will premiere in April. The show “follows three chefs as they are dropped into the most exotic and remote places on Earth” – apparently, not Irvington.
Antonio Galloni “Chianti Classico” at Tarry Wine
March 22, 7-8:30 pm
$75 per person + tax (includes six wines, plus cheeses and salumi)
According to the announcement, Antonio Galloni is a “worldwide wine author and wine critic from The Wine Advocate” who was invited by Robert Parker himself to join The Wine Advocate. Galloni will be discussing Chianti Classico, a quintessential (and often misunderstood) world wine. Space is limited. Call (914) 939-7234 to reserve.
Check out sometime Westchester Magazine contributor, Michael Malone, blogging from Captain Lawrence’s tasting room. Mike gets to drink beer and blog about it; I think he must’ve been Gandhi in a former life.
HotPlate: Miniature Olive Oil Cakes at Red Barn Bakery
This adorable little bakery could get by just on looks: it’s housed in a sweet, vintage building by Irvington’s riverfront that would draw coffee breakers even if it slung Dunkie Dos. But it doesn’t. Inside, you’ll find excellent coffee and a tidy array of all-organic treats, like this lovely, crumbly olive oil cake that was sweet and sugary, yet richly perfumed by olive. Yum.