Dining out at Greek restaurants, aka tavernas, is generally a casual affair. But dining out Hellenic-style can also be sophisticated—case in point, the new 160-seat Yefsi Estiatorio in Eastchester. Helmed by Executive Chef Christos Christou, its menu has more than 20 mezedes, plus numerous mains and specials.
“I’m a farm boy at heart,” explains Christos Christou, executive chef and principal owner of the six-month-old Yefsi Estiatorio in Eastchester, a new sibling to the original in Manhattan, which opened in 2011. We’re not talking Iowa corn or Wisconsin dairy but Cyprus eggplants, figs, lemons, and peppers. “I grew up on a farm with all sorts of produce, plus sheep and goats, which we got cheese and milk from,” he explains.
His family also had a taverna, where Christou began his food-industry career, washing dishes and peeling potatoes and onions. “I still peel vegetables sometimes in the morning,” he says, “a quiet way to start my day.”
Those veggies end up in salads and mezedes, or “small plates,” such as horiatiki (traditional Greek salad with snowy-white hued feta imported from Greece); garides me fasolia (sautéed shrimp and giant white beans in a tomato sauce); and Yefsi chips (fried shards of zucchini and eggplant served with tzatziki sauce).
There are more than 20 small plates at Yefsi, which is to be expected at an estiatorio that serves “homestyle Greek cuisine.” The ambitious plating, however, in addition to the stylishly masculine atmosphere (lots of dark-wood tables, tufted-leather booth seating, and dewdrop-pendant lighting) makes for a uniquely classy Greek dining experience in the county.
Christou’s technique comes from an impressive pedigree: a French Culinary Institute of New York education, including apprenticeships under chefs Alain Sailhac, André Soltner, and Jacques Pepin, plus positions at Manhattan Greek bastions Molyvos (sous chef) and Milos (executive chef).
“My schooling and time at Molyvos and Milos taught me how to treat ingredients—the sourcing of fish, telling the difference between all the olive oils,” he says.
But Christou adds that his true culinary roots—the essence of what Greek cuisine is—started with being around his mother and grandmother when they cooked.
While small plates are a significant portion of the menu at the 160-seat restaurant, there are full-plated items, too, such as arni souvlaki (grilled lamb kebab with peppers and onions over a fluffy, lemony leek-and-rice pilaf) and thalasino youvetsi (melted feta over Greek orzo with shrimp, mussels, and scallops in a tomato sauce). The olive oil and olives are imported from Crete; the pastas, cheeses, oregano, and capers are from Greece.
Christou believes some diners have misconceptions about the cuisine but points out: “Yes, gyro and souvlaki… that is Greek cuisine, but there is more to it.”
An interesting wine list that’s 80 percent Greek (I suggest a glass of Wishes Eratines, a dry three-varietal red from Pieria Eratini) has bottles that mostly range from $35 to $85.
And good luck to anyone of non-Greek heritage who’s attempting to correctly pronounce house-made desserts like karitopita and galaktoboureko. But that’s okay—just point to the dish you’d like on the menu, and you’ll more than likely enjoy whatever you order.