Photo by Daniel Krieger
Grilled branzino at MP Taverna in Irvington.
It’s pretty rare that I say this about a restaurant that manifests the second or third iteration of an idea that originated somewhere else, but run, don’t walk, to Chef Michael Psilakis’s third MP Taverna (at 1 Bridge St, Irvington). It’s the modern Greek restaurant that dispenses with all the Ks.
What’s wrong with the Ks? Nothing, in themselves—but those names (dolmadakia, souvlaki, spanakopita) hearken back to America’s corner Greek restaurants. And, as I wrote in my recent review of Nemea, the perception of Greek food in America has suffered from the very successes of Greek restaurateurs. Americans—living with the ubiquity Greek diners and gyro trucks—feel that they know all about Greek food, but what they really know is a cheap, Americanized, fast-food hybrid. The analog might be to say that Italian cuisine is exemplified by the corner slice—you know, the huge triangle soaked with orange grease and capped by a slippery sheet of translucent cheese. By taking the Ks away from dishes like “yogurt, cucumber & dill,” MP Taverna reduces familiar tzatziki to its elements, which, without those Ks, feel very modern. At MP Tavern, hummus is merely chickpea dip and loukaniko are “Cypriot lamb sausages.” Sure, if you hunt, you’ll find galaktabouriko on the dessert menu, but, generally, the Greek classics have been modernized with short English descriptions.
Here are some first impressions (this is a first taste, and it’s way too soon to judge). Excellent drinks feel like a surprise at MP Taverna and include an opaque, slatey Sambuca iced tea that employs citrus to haul the liqueur’s pervasive black jelly-bean notes back to their herbal origins. Starters were uniformly sexy—like a trio of briny, marshmallow-sized feta chunks that arrived dressed in Pelopponese olive oil, crisp grilled scallions, and the elusive flavor of Greek mountain oregano. The scallions, deliciously caramelized, could be spun in the fork like spaghetti and tasted like most compelling onion rings on earth. Our yogurt dip (not tzatziki!) was mouth-filling and lush, and more about cool, salty, dairy than dill. Paired with warm wedges of delicate pita (still smoky from the grill), the dish sustained the addictive tension of a yin-yang punch. It was impossible to stop eating.
Photo by Michael Harlan Turkell
When not huntin’ and cookin’ (and droppin’ out of helicopters) for his BBCA show, No Kitchen Required http://www.bbcamerica.com/no-kitchen-required/ Chef Michael Psilakis can be found in Irvington at MP Taverna.
The Sambuca iced tea was not a one-off win on MP Taverna’s beverage program, which also lists 46 craft and commercial beers classified by flavor and alcoholic content (for example, “light and aromatic” and “easy-drinking session beers”). Underneath the basic classifications of wines (sparkling, red, white, rosé, and – get this – sake!), they are also grouped by flavor profiles. Don’t miss the woodsy Assyrtiko’s “Kallisti Reserve” Boutari Santorini, 2007, for $16 per glass or $55 per bottle.
Here’s a confession: I couldn’t figure out what kind of elusive juju went into a simple dish of grilled dorade that arrived dressed with oil, salt, lemon, and, apparently, magic. I could identify some pepper and that slightly exotic mountain oregano, but distinct flavors were lost in a delicious unity, which, on the creamy, crackle-skinned fish, made for heaven. Tangy, cheese “dumplings” (with spicy lamb sausage, sundried tomato, pine nut, spinach, tomato, and feta) were some of Westchester’s best gnocchi—tender, melting, ethereal—in a very carnal sauce. Our only regrets were that the meal was coming to a close.
For dessert, don’t miss the sophisticated grilled fruit of the day, which makes for a sweet, closing palate cleanser. We loved our salted, grill-striped watermelon, which burst in the mouth with sweet, slightly smoky juice. It’s topped with a tiny crumble of salty feta, drizzled in watered honey, and topped with a dusting of finely cracked pepper. And that K-laden galaktabouriko? It arrived under a haystack of salty, buttery kataifi (shredded phyllo) that added some tasty texture to a luxurious custard. This mouth-filling custard was alleviated by intriguingly bitter caramelized honey and crunchy smoked almonds. It was stellar, even with all those Ks: as in, I Kannot wait to go back.
Here are some updates for the Best of Westchester Party, the annual evening that gathers 3,000 party people on one island for one night of celebrating the best that Westchester has to offer. Folks, we can’t tell you the winners yet (all will be revealed when our July Best of Westchester issue comes out), but I will say that BOW 2012 will be one hell of a party. This year, our fearless leader has accessed the great lawn at Glen Island for parking, which means that the BOW driving/parking process will be speedier than ever. Also, our very limited VIP tickets mean that some guests will be kicking off the party at 5:30 rather than at 7 pm—click here for info. $25more per VIP ticket gets you an hour and a half more partying. Plus, party people, take note: 2012’s Best of Westchester Party will also have an after party at Noma Social, so we might go all night. In fact, you should probably plan for it.
What’s going on with the explosion of Greek restaurants in the county? First, Elia Taverna, then Nemea, and now MP Taverna and Ionian Grill in New Rochelle? A few days ago, we dropped by inexpensive Ionian Grill (which, BTW, offers free local delivery and online ordering) for a lunch of this colorful Greek salad, which was bursting with crunchy cucumbers, tart Kalamatas, and giant slabs of salty feta. Yum.