NYC Right Now: The Food Diaries – Greek is Glorious!

If I’d made a list of the things we missed about NYC during lockdown, Greek food might be very near the top. I’ve never been to Greece, so I can speak only to Greek food NYC-style. I’m sure it must taste better looking out over the Ionian or Aegean Sea but I have to say it tasted just fine looking out over the Hudson River, too. We couldn’t get enough of it this trip. Hence, glorious Greek, four ways:

Best Value: Avra Estiatorio has two NYC locations. The one on 60th Street (former location of Rouge Tomate) is a bit precious and pricey. But Avra on 48th, between Lexington and Third Ave. is a gem in the currently boarded-up desert of Midtown East. The National is gone. Maloney & Porcelli, gone. But Avra 48th survived and is bustling, with a $31.50 three-course lunch prix fixe that is so popular you’ll need to reserve well ahead.

Pre-pandemic it was a sprawling warren of indoor dining rooms. Now there are umbrella-shaded outdoor tables that take full advantage of the restaurant’s garden entry:

No sooner had we been seated than sustenance arrived – their bread is divine.

We always start with Greek salad.

And then I splurged on lamb chops, which are an up-charge, but well worth it:

Of the Greek restaurants we visited this trip, Avra was the only one to offer baklava on the prix fixe dessert menu. Extra points for them – it was perfection!

Best shopping location: Anassa Tavern at 60th and Lexington. We’ve often eaten lunch here because of the convenience – just a block away – to Bloomingdale’s, but this trip we noticed that they seem to have upped their food game. The menu seemed a bit more polished and the food more flavorful than in the past. They aren’t currently featuring a lunch prix fixe – I hope with time that will find its way back onto the menu.

Their bread is almost as good as Avra’s:

And one thing we had not noticed on the menu before are the irresistible fried eggplant chips:

By the time our salads came, we were already full! Anassa’s salad features capers and a very generous portion of feta:

Best view: Estiatorio Milos/Hudson Yards (Level 5) Even before the pandemic, we were curious as to how the ginormous Hudson Yards development would fare. Building an immense mall when malls had gone decisively out of favor seemed very courageous – or maybe just foolhardy. Then came COVID and soon after, the Hudson Yards anchor store, Neiman Marcus, breathed its last. Dire headlines followed in its wake. “Will Hudson Yards Survive the Pandemic?” queried The New York Times.

The mall, in general, seemed lightly peopled the day we were there, but there are signs of life and signs of new store openings.

We had an early reservation at Milos, so we snagged one of the coveted window tables, looking out on the currently-shuttered Vessel.

By the time our “Milos Special” – the classic that other mere mortal restaurants copy – arrived at our table, nearly every seat was taken. The Greek gods apparently smile on Milos and why not – their airy special is served with flaky nuggets of kefalograviera cheese on the side – ambrosia!

Milos’ lunch prix fixe is $39 but when you consider the view, it’s a bargain, or at least you can talk yourself into believing it is if you’re having a glass of Assyrtiko wine with lunch like I did. After the obligatory tomato salad

the CE had fish,

while I enjoyed more Assyrtiko and the view. Dessert was yummy Greek yogurt steeped in honey:

If I could only dine at one Greek restaurant in the city it would probably be Milos. But beware of dinner there – the Hudson Yards escalators are nothing compared to the escalated prices on the dinner menu where you purchase your fish by the pound.

Best new Greek restaurant: Iris (Broadway between 55th and 56th) We walked past the sleek and inviting upscale patio filled with happy diners several times before finally stopping to look at the menu – no wonder everyone looked so happy – more Greek food! But with a plot twist – also Turkish food! Here, the menu and experience are artfully crafted by Chef John Fraser of former Dovetail fame. How fortunate we were to find this new venture just a few blocks from our apartment.

As The New York Times sagely observed in their review, the “prices occasionally drift into expense-account territory”. Thus, I had to order a second Tsipouro Sour before I gained the courage to contemplate $60 lamb chops. (And THIS, friends, is why the Avra lunch prix-fixe is such a steal!)

While we contemplated, the CE ordered a sumptuous mezze platter:

The Iris take on a Greek salad was fresh a full of heirloom tomatoes:

Still smarting from the price tag on the lamb chops, I decided instead on the moussaka, which was both affordable and terrific:

while the CE ordered the swordfish kebab:

We were too full to order dessert, but will save room for next time. Iris has not quite fully bloomed – there were some hiccups in the service and I didn’t totally grasp the vibe of servers attired in what was either trireme sailor casual or a Hamptons weekend uniform. Perhaps they are trying to convey that the restaurant is sophisticated yet casual, and both things are true. We’ll be back!

I don’t know if I will ever make it to Greece, given the chaotic and ever-changing rules of pandemic world travel. The tomatoes in all the Greek salads we enjoyed more likely come from New Jersey than Santorini, but I’m okay with that. Wherever they make it, Greek is definitely the food of the gods. It might just look like Broadway, but after a few Tsipouro Sours, it felt just like Mount Olympus:-)

About polloplayer

Empty nester searching for meaning of life through the occasional chicken epiphany.
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