For those of you unfamiliar with New York City’s outer boroughs, Astoria is a neighborhood in Queens. To locals, Astoria is known as “little Greece.” Growing up, I would frequent Astoria with my family, as it is home to a variety of Greek restaurants, cafés, markets, and discos (yes, discos). Driving into Queens I didn’t really have a specific restaurant in mind for dinner. I was planning on making my choice based on the street parking situation and which place had the shortest wait. Originally, I stepped into Taverna Kyclades (kee-kla-thehs) but their wait time was over an hour. Kyclades is a great restaurant but do not be fooled by the long wait; it is the size of a shoe-box and can only seat very few tables at a time. Just my luck too, I actually found parking directly in front of the entrance; oh well, back in the car for another drive around the block.
2909 23rd Ave
Astoria, NY 11105
My next and final stop landed me at Stamatis (sta-ma-tees), an establishment that has been around as long as I can remember; a place that has great food without the Manhattan prices. Upon arrival, I was seated immediately. The tables were a bit close together but you can’t really expect anything else when dining in New York City and it doesn’t bother me one bit. In a sense, the humming of conversations drowns everything else out and you feel like you are the only table there. Remember, you are in New York, a wonderful place where people mind their business and could care less about what is going on at your table. Stamatis also offers additional, covered seating outside in the back of the building rather than on the front sidewalk like most places in Queens. The decor is nothing special. It is very modest and the design style is a bit scattered but it has a comforting feel. Good thing I am not going there for a lesson on design; it is all about the food.
Before writing my own review, I like to see what others had to say about their experience at the restaurant I will be featuring. Here I go reading reviews again! Most people hit the nail on the head with their reviews while others were nothing short of ridiculous with a touch of ignorance. For instance, someone complained that when they asked for hummus the restaurant didn’t have any. Well, that makes perfect sense because regardless of what you may think hummus is not a Greek dish, it is middle eastern. Before you write a bad review on a Greek restaurant because they don’t have hummus, you should probably understand what Greek food is and what it is not. I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion but at least try to make it an educated one. Another “intelligent” reviewer based his horrible review on the fact that his steak was not cooked to his liking. Now, I can understand this because I am an aspiring chef and every chef should know how to cook a perfect piece of meat; but, who goes to a Greek restaurant and orders a steak? That is like going to a Mexican restaurant and ordering spaghetti and meatballs, going to Miami in search of a perfect pizza rather than Cuban food, or going to a steakhouse and ordering seafood; you just don’t do it. Another patron was “disgusted” with the poor service. The service is not horrible but they are definitely not there to charm and entertain you; they are there to take your order, bring you your food, and get you out so the next customer can be seated. Space is very limited in city establishments so each table needs to be served as quickly as possible. These are perfect examples of why you can’t always trust reviews you read on the internet. I, on the other hand, am a perfect candidate to write a solid review on this restaurant because: 1. I am a fantastic eater and cook (toot-toot, pat on back); and 2. I actually AM Greek!
As an appetizer I ordered the grilled octopus, which for me, is always a must and Stamatis has some of the best grilled octopus outside of Athens. I also ordered the loukaniko (lou-ka-nee-ko), which I mentioned in my Easter blog, a Greek sausage infused with wine and orange peel. The loukaniko they served was less like the Greek sausage I am used to and more like a Greek meatball, bifteki (beef-tek-ee). There is nothing wrong with that and it tasted great but I was expecting something completely different. I thought I was done with appetizers at that point until the waiter walked by me with a plate for another table and I just had to have some; a plate filled with Atherinos (ah-thee-ree-nos), a whole, tiny fish that is dredged in flour then lightly fried. All these pint-sized fish need is a squeeze of lemon and they are ready to eat. How could I possibly give you the best information if I didn’t try everything? Ok, ok, now on to the main course(s). If I am going to be doing this restaurant review thing, I need to learn how to start eating enough just to sample and stop eating the entire plate.
For my first entrée, I ordered the pork souvlaki, or kabob. Souvlaki is just a way of saying “small souvla” or “spit” because it is served on a stick which resembles the spit. The pork souvlaki was served simply, placed on a piece of pita bread with a healthy portion of tzatziki on the side, which is a Greek yogurt, cucumber, garlic, and dill sauce. The pork was skillfully cooked and offered the perfect amount of charring, which I love. As a side-dish I ordered horta, sautéed dandelion greens, but they had just run out so I ordered the beet salad instead; it was just as delicious. The beets were served so simply with just a little olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. The second entrée I tasted was a shrimp dish. I am not sure what they call it on their menu but it is usually referred to as Shrimp Mykonos: shrimp served over orzo with a tomato and feta sauce that is then topped with crumbled feta and broiled to a bubbly finish. Each course and each dish was brought out promptly and most importantly the food was hot; nobody likes being served luke-warm food. Besides the food, the thing I love most about Stamatis is the complimentary dessert they offer each customer. The dessert in Greek is called galaktobouriko (gah-lak-toe-boo-ree-ko). Galaktobouriko is a creamy custard cooked in a phyllo crust and sprinkled with cinnamon. If I could compare it to anything it would be similar to flan in taste and texture but in my opinion, it is much better; definitely my favorite Greek dessert. Stamatis offers delicious Greek food at reasonable prices. Next time you want to try some authentic Greek cuisine, just like yiayia (grandma) would have made it, head out to Queens and make a stop at Stamatis.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
xoxo, Xristina Marie
The Refined Palate
© 2011 Xristina Miros