Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Kellari Taverna: Superb Greek in Midtown

This Greek Is Really All That

If you are like me, several nights a week you stare at a stack of menus, or go online to figure out what’s for dinner.


Italian? Chinese? Thai? Sushi? What the hell.

For some reason, I often forget Greek food, or even Lebanese…. two of my favorites.

This leads me to this week’s review of Kellari… the place I almost forgot about.

My recent visit was on Valentine’s Day, a simply wonderful day to visit. Sure, the restaurant had a special menu for the special day, but also offered their regular daily menu for those of us who just want to eat the good stuff, without the obligatory “prix fixe” cuisine. The hand delivered roses were a nice touch by the management, too.

For me, Greek and Lebanese/Mediterranean food is all about the mezes. I usually load up on a table full of these treasures, and leave the entrees to others. Really. By the time I am finished nibbling on 8 small plates of food, I’m about done.

The good news here is that the meze are out of this world.

What can I recommend?

Before anything hits the table, you are presented with a tray of homemade hummus spread (terrific), pickles and cucumbers. Just right with that pre-wine cocktail you just ordered.

The rest?

The tzatziki, their version of the well know garlic/cucumber/yogurt dip… is outstanding. Creamy, cold and rich…. it is nearly a meal in itself, and is accompanied by a basket of fresh-out-of-the-oven pita bread. Crazy good.

The fava beans in roasted tomato reminded me of the same dish I enjoyed in Crete only a few years ago. Tangy tomato with just the right herb infusion, with perfectly cooked fava beans (with bite and no mush).

The house smoked feta with honey was also terrific, as were the dolma (vine leaves filled with lamb, rice and raisins)… but the show stealer was the katsikisio…. in Greek, that’s warm goat cheese baked with apricots and almonds. This dish convinced us that these guys really know their stuff.

The mistake of the night was ordering dinner. Already full at that point, our curiosity got the best of us, and the whole fish was begging to be roasted.

So, we ordered their house specialty… any whole fish (many to choose from), that are scaled and filleted to order, and grilled over charcoal.

Was the fish good? Yes. But I need to add an asterisk to this remark, as I had a slight problem with the fish.

Being from Louisiana can sometimes be a curse when it comes to seafood, as I was spoiled from a young age. This means that any… and I mean ANY piece of fish I eat, just can’t smell or taste like, well, fish.

So when the fresh roasted Red Snapper (not Gulf but imported) came to the table, I had a feeling it might have a slightly stronger fish taste that I prefer, and I was right. It did.

For most, this is a taste they know and don’t mind. The fish was expertly prepared and presented, and by the looks of others around us, enjoyed by all.

I passed.

Desserts looked astounding, but honestly I was still full from the meze… but I did indulge in a cup of Greek coffee… which I highly recommend. Sure, it’s sludge, but the stuff tastes great, and reminds me of Istanbul. Go for it.

So the verdict?

Aside from my fish experience, the place is absolutely wonderful. It’s a sleek, modern and tasteful room, with attentive staff and a generally good vibe. The food is excellent, and fairly priced. I’m still trying to figure out how I scored at table at 7pm here on Valentine’s Day.

My remedy for strong fish will be ordering on of the many tempting meat dishes on my next visit. This food is just too good to let one fish get in the way.

Kellari Taverna

19 W 44th St, New York 10036
Btwn 5th & 6th Ave