This area, contains both Astoria natives who have lived here their whole lives, as well as groups of immigrants who have diversified the flavor and culture of the neighborhood, and in recent years, a slew of "yuppies" who have embraced the Queens town for its close proximity to Manhattan, without the New York City rents and cost of living.
As a result, the eateries are plentiful. With a large portion of the populous being of Greek decent, the preponderance of restaurants offer Greek cuisine or a combination thereof.
My one and only aunt, was born, bred and still resides in Astoria and during a recent visit, she and I, along with my daughters, had a most scrumptious lunch at MP Taverna.
More about Chef Psilakis, in a moment, whose professional career has earned him recognition as Food & Wine’s Best New Chef and Bon Appetit’s Chef of the Year distinctions in 2008 alone!
But, back to the food, which was DEE-LISH!!
I happen to love Greek food from the spices to the preparation and the wide array of ingredients and traditional dishes. Of course, as a "mostly" vegetarian and non-fish eater, some may say that my food choices are limited.
However, the options available at MP Taverna were custom made for a non-carnivore! Of course, my dear aunt Ro is a fish eater, and managed to entice me to try her dish!! And, if you can believe it - I LOVED IT! Imagine, me, eating fish!
Even my girls ordered out of the box given all the choices and intriguing sounding options.
Kelsey started with an order of fried calamari (one of her faves!). Lightly breaded and tender, she gobbled away!
Not being able to make up my mind for a while, I finally settled on the Trio of Dips with Pita. Comprised of a yogurt, eggplant and chickpea, each dip was more flavorful than the next. I wish I could tell you I had a favorite, but they were all equally luscious.
Little did we know that the salads were so large and generous!
I went with the Tomato salad full of beautiful, bright red and yellow juicy tomatoes, feta and cucumbers and I topped it off with perfectly seasoned, grilled chicken.
Trying something a little different, Gianna went for the Bulgar Salad, which I can attest was a super tasty blend of savory and sweet, with the right amount of crunch comprised of dates, almonds, pomegranates, olives, red onion and pistachios. Now, that's my kind of salad!
Now, she is a total seafood lover and as such, has a pretty discerning palette when it comes to fish.
The Grilled Branzino fish served with fingerling potatoes, cherry tomatoes, garlic and olives was an artistic plate to behold, but in the end, it was fish and to me, that did not appeal.
My aunt insisted I try it and promised I would like it. And you know what -- she was right! Perfectly cooked, delicately flakey, MP Taverna may have won me over as a fish eater - well, if not across the board, at least for their grilled branzino!
His career has included tremendous success with several of his previous restaurants, with numerous awards for his upscale Greek cuisine.
Psilakis was also the Co-Executive Producer and Co-Star of BBC AMERICA’s original adventure cooking competition series, No Kitchen Required, which premiered in April 2012. The show followed three chefs as they were dropped into the most exotic and remote places on Earth.
Psilakis has appeared on “TODAY” show, “Good Morning America,” “Live with Kelly,” as well as in numerous publications including The New York Times, Men’s Health, and Food & Wine magazine.
The problem was, there was way too many appetizing options. What captivated me was the mix of sweet and savory ingredients that made up each dessert and every one had a suggested wine pairing - regional Greek wine, of course.
From Apple "Baklava" Napoleon made with Metaxa spiked cream, almonds, phyllo dough, honey, amaretto crunch ice cream to "Galaktoboureko" Creme Brûlée comprised of caramelized honey, kataifi, smoked almonds, raspberry, cara cara orange segment and the Fresh Fruit of the Day served with feta, honey, cracked pepper, I was having a tough time.
In the end, I went with the Spiced Walnut & Parsnip Cake with cream cheese frosting and maple walnut ice cream. Something about it just caught my eye and boy, was it good. Light, not too sweet, a great way to end a great meal.
Cost-wise, it was probably more than I had planned to spend for lunch, but I have to say, the quality of the food, the preparation of all the dishes and the fact that enjoyment of our dishes was consistent for everyone in our party, it was well worth it.
You can bet that my goal is to pay a visit to Chef Michael Psilakis' other acclaimed dining experiences!
31-29 Ditmars Boulevard
Astoria, NY 11105