Anassa – A First Glimpse

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY

Anassa
200 E 60th Street
212.371.5200/anassataverna.com
Midtown East

 

Inside Anassa

Inside Anassa

Anassa opened its doors to the public for the first time Friday.  A Greek Taverna with a prime spot on Third Avenue across from Bloomingdales. Hungry shoppers (expect a ladies who lunch vibe) will be a contributing factor to the mid-day customer flow here – especially with moderate prices right in line with the area and it’s attractions (entrees averaging at the $26 mark).  The Grecian space in the former Brasserie 360 location transports with plenty of windows, marble, and flowing white curtains.  The fashion forward crowd here will certainly enjoy the prime people watching of Third Avenue through the walls of windows the space sports.  An especially airy upstairs dining area doubles as an event space with its own ouzo bar.  

Anassa’s bartenders are engaging and knowledgeable, the marble bar top they stand behind, the perfect spot to try a glass of Greek wine while you wait for a table.

Greek staples like dolmades (stuffed cabbage with rice), lamb chops, and skordalia (potato and garlic dip) dot the otherwise seafood heavy menu – just the way I like my Greek.

Anassa Taverna on Urbanspoon

A Decade of Distinguished Greek Dining in Tribeca – Revisiting Thalassa

BY ELENA MANCINI

Thalassa
179 Franklin St.
Tribeca
212-941-7661 / thalassanyc.com/ 

The luxurious high ceilinged restaurant that brought refined Greek seafood fare cuisine to Tribeca  in the wake of 9-11  celebrated its tenth anniversary this past November. Ten years onward from those harrowing months in 2002, and Thalassa is performing at the top of its game. Not that the challenge-riddled decade culminating in the global financial crisis of 2008 has been smooth sailing all the way for Thalassa, which TGP reviewed in 2011, but the restaurant’s seasoned tradition in hospitality including large-scale banquet events  and commitment to culinary excellence and fresh, quality ingredients .

Chef Ralphael Abrahante grilling fagri.

The key players behind Thalassa’s success are Executive Chef Ralphael Abrahante, Wine Director, Steve Makris and Director of Operations and Banquet Manager, Tasso Zapanti. Having worked in Thalassa’s kitchen since its infancy, Abrahante rose to the  rank of Executive Chef in 2007.  A lover of seafood, and having worked in Greek restaurants before, Abrahante was a natural fit for Thalassa. Passionate about seafood, he elaborated upon the many considersations in handling seafood, and the fact that there are many more ways to cut seafood than beef. He meets with fish purveyors daily to make his selections. He shared that the pressures of the current economy have strained the fish market. As a result “wild edibles are not as common now,” and the current climate demands conscious and knowledgeable purchasing choices. “Often times purveyors don’t even know or see what they are selling.” This was also manifest in a story that broke in the NYT several weeks ago about the mislabeling of fish. Decidedly critical to Thalassa’s integrity to its brand of authentic Mediterranean seafood restaurant has  been Makris family-owned Mediterranean food importing company, Fantis Foods, which is responsible for supplying Thalassa with many of its quality imports including its noteworthy Cretan olive oil, artisanal cheeses and imported fish. Makris is also the man behind Thalassa’s award-winning wine list, which is comprised of over 12,000 bottles. Committed to championing Greek wines, wines by the glass are exclusively Greek here, and extensive enough to match nearly every wine palate.

Set foot into its generous foyer and expansive bar area and the transportive Aegean atmosphere that Thalassa exudes is experienced instantaneously. Soothing maritime hues, mood lighting, a striking 15ft. white marble bar conspire with a relaxed chic decor to conjure a perfect balance between classic contemporary and evocative. The luxurious space, which consists of an extensive main dining room, a lower level wine room and a gallery loft is the frequent site of private receptions and corporate parties that are fastidiously coordinated by Zapanti. The seasoned banquet manager has witnessed more than a few wedding proposals that have taken place at Thalassa turn into Thalassa-hosted wedding banquets.

While Abrahante’s dishes will stimulate and elate your palate, Thalassa’s ambiance and hospitality will attend to massaging your other senses with charming wait staff that will offer a genuine welcome sans corporate script, weekly live music and the enticing aroma of olive oil on your plate.

Assorted Greek olives and fava bean puree

 

Begin any meal here with some items from the variety of mezes. The smartest way to do this would be to avail yourself of Thalassa’s newly-minted Happy Hour deal, which offers 1/2 on select Greek wines and cocktails, from 5:30 – 7:00, Monday-Friday. Enjoy a glass of Greek wine, the dry and citrusy, Assyrtiko is my personal favorite for both dinner and aperitif, or choose from an extensive cocktail list peppered with Hellenic flavors such as Ouzo Mojitos ($13).

 

Grilled Octopus

 


The seafood menu is extensive and includes a variety of Mediterranean varieties. Entrees range from $29 – $50. In terms of  appetizers,  grilled octopus (click on its photo above for recipe) and the Maine Diver Sea Scallops ($22) are transcendent here. The octopus tentacles come lightly charred and velvet-tender to the bite, thanks to Chef Abrahante’s painstaking technique of massaging the tentacles for 15-20 minutes before grilling.  The large, juicy scallops are wrapped in Kataifi filo and dressed with a delicate sheep’s milk butter and kalamata balsamic reduction 

Grilled Fagri

Prepared with micro greens and a hint of truffle oil, the Colossal Crab salad ($20) will not steer you wrong. Meaty and lightly seasoned, the texture and big sea food flavors are able to really shine through.

During one of my most recent visits, I was fortunate enough to sample the fagri (akin to a wild red snapper) from Greece that Chef Abrahante (see photo above) grilled on live charcoal with a simple herb olive oil baste and sprinklings of sea salt.

Varlhona Chocolate Cake


Do not let the seafood feast deter you from ordering dessert! Chef Abrahante prepares a variety of traditional Greek desserts such as my favorite: citrus custard kataifi drizzled with honey and pistacchios and international favorites such as Varlhona chocolate cake.

Recipe for Thalassa’s Grilled Octopus

Recipe by Ralpheal Abrahante,
Executive Chef at Thalassa, NYC

 

Grilled Octopus at Thalassa, NYC

 

5 Pounds of Cleaned Octopus
3 Cups Red Wine Vinegar
10pc Black Pepper Corn
2pc Wine Corks
2 Tablespoon of Olive Oil

Pre Heat Oven to 350 F Place octopus, vinegar, pepper corn, corks, olive oil in a deep pan.
Cook at 325 F for an hour. Check tenderness with a fork at the skirt
(the part of the octopus that is between the tentacles and the body.) 
If the octopus slides off the fork then it’s ready.

Depending on size and origin, the octopus may need to cook as much as 30 minutes longer.
Remove octopus from liquid and let it rest on a plate for 30-45 minutes.
Heat a charcoal grill to medium hot. Briefly grill the cooked octopus until char marks appear
and the thinnest parts are crisp, about 5 minutes each side. Remove to a cutting board and cut octopus into 1-inch pieces. Put pieces into a serving bowl, and add sundried tomatoes, capper berries, fresh chopped parsley, dry oregano and drizzle with olive oil.

Ready to Serve!

Chef’s Secret Techniques:
For tender octopus message tentacles for 15 -20 min then let marinate in red wine vinegar for 3 hours.

 

Tasty, rib-sticking convivality in Astoria – Review of Ovelia Psistaria

BY ELENA MANCINI

Ovelia’s Psistaria
34-01 30th Ave, Astoria, NY 11103
718.721.7217 / ovelia-nyc.com/


Sesame Coated Feta Cubes – Photo courtesy of Judith Klein-Rich

 

Barbequed Ribs - Photo courtesy of Judith Klein-Rich

At a recent blog-relaunch event in honor of Fooditka.com (formerly Foodista), I had the pleasure of feasting on inventive Greek-inspired dishes with four smart, food-savvy women at Ovelia’s and falling in a lit bit more in love with Astoria. The woman of the evening was Judith Klein-Rich, Founder and Editor of Fooditka. Fooditka is a dynamic food blog that features many of Judith’s recipes, cooking experiments, Astoria-centered restaurant reviews and a variety of food-centered stories.   The blog’s new name is a playful homage to Slovakia, where Judith was born and spent part of her childhood. I was thrilled to be on her guest list, and my attendance at her Ovelia Psistaria event was a great opportunity for me to enjoy some modern Greek flavors in NYC’s flagship Greek neighborhood of  Astoria, and to commune with fellow food bloggers, in physical real-time. How nice it feels to write about a social experience that cannot be preceded by the adjective “virtual!” As a result, my new foodie friends include Erin of Gluten-Free Fun, Lindsay of TheLunchBelle.com and Meg of Harmonious Bellies. Meg is also a regular contributor to We heart Astoria along with Judith.

 THE VENUE:

“Ovelia Psistaria,” as its web site instructs, connotes the ritual of cooking lamb on a spit on an open flame and the type of place in which such food is served. Despite its traditional sounding name, however, Ovelia’s offers a contemporary spin on Greek cuisine fused with local New York flair and flavors. It features a happening bar scene in the front of the establishment, seasonal patio dining and the dining area champions a hip, contemporary decor that meshes classic Modernism with with funky kitsch: think murals evocative of Braque and Dali flanked by Patricia-Field-inspired sculptures. It’s odd, but it works with Ovelia’s fun and energetic vibe.  Its extensive menu encompasses brunch, lunch and dinner and includes classic casseroles as well as fish and meat options. Dinner entrees range roughly from $15 – $32, lunch items are mostly below the $15 range. The restaurant offers vegetarian and vegan options as well as gluten-free alternatives. Gracious chef and co-owner, Peter Giannakas, was quick in providing ready gluten-free substitutions for Erin of Gluten Free Fun, which included cucumber slices instead of pita and ribs dressed in gluten-free barbeque sauce.


THE MEAL:

A round of dry rosé wine sangria kicked off an evening of hearty grazing and foodie-pow-wowing and information sharing. The sangria, made with a dry, yet pleasingly light rosé stood out for its confetti-like sprinklings of freshly cut kiwi and strawberry. Each sip of it delivered a lively  burst of summer freshness to the palate. Next came an abundant spread of Greek and American appetizers.  There was grilled halloumi on a bed of prosciutto, kafteri poppers, which consisted of feta and grilled jalapeno, fried, semolina-coated calamari  feta cubes coated in black-and-white sesame seeds and a hint of honey, grilled loukaniko, a delicious house-made sausage flavored with fennel, savory seasonings and orange zest. The loukaniko is a Giannakas family recipe, and prepared by chef and co-owner, Peter Giannaka’s parents, Ioannis and Evangelia. The loukaniko was also used for the generous appetizer serving of corn dog buttons. Ensconced in a savory coating of fried cornmeal, and in dainty coin size servings,  these were the most gourmet corn dogs that I have ever seen or tasted.  There was a plate of warm, slightly tangy pita bread and an addictive pretzel bread made by The loukaniko and the sesame-coated feta cubes were my favorites. The loukaniko, my Astoria friends enthusiastically informed me, is also a beloved fixture on Ovelia’s weekend brunch menu. It also bears noting here that Ovelia’s appetizer options includes many traditional Greek mezes including taramosalata, eggplant salad.

More than happily sated on this course alone, little did I know that the evening still held voluminous platters of ribs and grilled meats and rich sides in store for us. There were heaping trays of succulent bbq’ed ribs seductively dressed in barbeque sauce. The smoky-flavored meat was so tender it slid right off the bone, and was not the least bit fatty. There was chicken: deep fried and grilled. I savored both. The fried chicken had a crisp and non-greasy pepper-seasoned buttermilk crust and was cooked to perfection. The grilled variety was tender lemon-flavored juiciness buried under a thin coat of rewarding blistered char. The sides included many a nod to Fourth of July and Thanksgiving goodness with mac-n-cheese, mashed potatoes with gravy, and sweet potatoes sprinkled with marshmellows and a side of Greek style sauteed spinach and lemon potatoes for good ethnic measure. Needless to say, the collective state of food-induced coma that ensued after this delicious feast would not even allow for the word dessert to be uttered. Unspoken consensus turned the word into table taboo.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

The company and the food made me feel instantly rewarded for having attended the Fooditka event. The fare, pricing and vibe at Ovelia clearly warrant returning to there. As for the neighborhood it’s located it in–an Astoria artery that is lined with the nostalgically priced fish-mongers, green grocers, Greek cafeterias– it made me heart Astoria even more than before. And I will be sure to explore the area that Harmonious Bellies’ Meg Cotner, referred to as the “food nexus of Astoria,” that is to say neighboring block of 31st Ave. and 34th. St.

This post is participating in the Astoria Blog Carnival, hosted by We Heart Astoria.

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