Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Periyali made me miss Michael Psilakis.  This restaurant has twenty-seven years of staying power under its belt, plus an enthusiastic endorsement from Cindy Adams as the best Greek in the city on its website homepage.  After last night's dinner, I am kicking myself for putting even a gram of faith in the Page Six author.

It's a lovely little restaurant, don't get me wrong.  This had been its one alluring quality every time I passed by: the room is sparkly and white, the ceiling swathed in drapes of lilting silk panels, and glittering sculptures of shining silver sardines decorate the walls, along with big looming bouquets of mixed flowers, heavy with colorful blooms and arching branchlets.  So with the Post endorsement and its impressive record of endurance, I finally planned a visit.

Waiting upon my late-arrival dining companion, I was offered a drink.  I decided, yes, to have a glass of wine, and was offered the choice:  red or white.  (Really?)   I said (umm)  white?... "Sancerre, Chardonnay or Kouros?" Okay, so at least that was better than simply a decision between colors.   But three choices only, no prices given- and that was that.  I
 decided on the Kouros (it is a Greek restaurant after all) and was poured an almost laughably full glass.  It was fuller than some restaurants practice as he finished the bottle into my glass... then he opened another one and topped me off to almost the brim.  Well, luckily it was a voluptuous wine with a pronounced acidity which would pair well with food, since this abundant glass would last me the entirety of my repast.

The meal started off better than it progressed.  Complimentary bread basket included three varieties, crusty and fresh.  I started with pazaria skordalia, mostly for the luscious garlic puree, but the beets were quite fine themselves.   There was about twice as much skordalia provided as was probably necessary, and necessarily prudent.  Fortunately, the Calarmariaki Tiganita included
 the identical deluge of dip, so we were both going to be experiencing the same inevitable  post-prandial garlic aftermath upon our meal's conclusion.  I do love it, though, and this was a good example, intensely garlicky and with a bit of texture- a perfect foil for the tender sweet beets, although the pool of verdant oil beneath seemed excessive.  Abundance as a theme, that calamari was similarly plentiful, and I thought the skordalia an odd pairing, but it actually played nicely, especially with the snappy arugula alongside.

There wasn't much of a wait after our appetizer plates were cleared (both with about 50% of the superfluous skordalia left over) and our entrees appeared.  They appeared rather homogeneous, as well, both identically sided with a plain mound of steamed white rice, and (more garlic on) some steamed green beans- like t.v dinners on porcelain.  I couldn't help but notice, too, that as I ordered from a $38 prix-fixe menu, he got a lot more green beans than I did with his regular-menu shrimp- but that may have been simply coincidence.  At any rate, they weren't beans that I wanted a whole lot more of anyways, although they were, quite frankly, tastier than anything else on the plate.  Lavraki Plaki , filet of striped bass, was smothered in a generic tomato sauce with visible slices of garlic, but this time either my palate was desensitized to the allium or else it was more for decoration than flavor, because they sauce just tasted of a bland tomato puree, nothing better than what you could buy in a bottle at the grocery store.  Or a can.  Made me wish I'd have retained some of the skordalia: that stuff really makes anything taste good.
  And while I'm not always a fan of skin-on fishies, if it's well-crisped and integrated it is inarguably delicious.  This one, however, was flabby and fishy, rubberized by the wan sauce if it was ever even crisp to begin with.    The fish tasted either farmed or old, in either case unimpressive.  Shrimp were overcooked and leathery (can't say anything different about their sides since they weren't anything different); a home cook with some frozen Contessas could do better for one's self.   Nothing jumped out at me from the sides' offerings (asparagus, horta, okra, potatoes) as much as an appetizer of charcoal
 grilled mushrooms did, so I requested them as a side, instead.  Apparently, however, removing their accompanying arugula and lemon wedge was verboten, and thus impossible.  He would, however, bring the appetizer in full as a side (this was his concession), I'm guessing so as not to oblige the $8 reduction in price of the app vs. side dish (although that was not my intent).  At any rate, they may have been the best thing of the night, simply grilled with a kick of woodsy smoke, their earthy chew balancing the bite of the arugula brightened with a spritz of lemon.  Even those wouldn't have minded a little smudge of the skordalia, though, either.

My prix-fixe came with dessert, and thus plonked down our table two wedges of cake and a couple sandy, nutty cookies.  The cakes were fine: one moist with orange zest, the other rich with walnuts and a sticky-sweetness.  There are other sweets on offer, but we weren't given that option.  Out of curiosity, I asked about other dessert options, our waiter off-handedly rambled off a list of rice pudding, sorbets and gelatos- but never inquired whether we might like some.  The vanilla ice cream next door to us, however, looked goopy and chewy, so perhaps the allotted cake was as good as it was going to get.

Thing is with a meal like this, though, it does serve a purpose.  The tragedy lies in the waste of a lovely, charming and conveniently located restaurant serving such mediocre, generic food.  As I stated in my opening line, I need to get to Kefi and MP Taverna and remind myself what marvels Greek cuisine can provide.  But similarly, there's nothing like a bad meal to make your next one taste even better.

 35 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011      Ph: 212 463 7890