When I told one of my coworkers that I would be reviewing a Greek restaurant, he replied, “So, lamb parts and yogurt sauce?” While I did laugh, it had me thinking just how people view Greek food who only know its most popular food (gyros) as being something you can buy from a truck. Hopefully, mine and Chelsea’s excursion to Yefsi Estiatorio in the Yorkville neighborhood can have some effect on people’s opinions.
Much like how Italian food is compartmentalized as being spaghetti, sausage, and bell peppers, or how Mexican cuisine is thought to only revolve around tacos, there is far more to Greek cuisine than its best-known (cheap) dish. Just because our own culinary culture is associated with fast food and the Paula Deens of the world doesn’t mean other national foods are so easy to stereotype. Greek food is a world of fresh, unique flavors, served in a (primarily) healthy style, and with something for everybody.
For starters, Chelsea had a 2008 Xinomavro, a full-flavored red whose name translates as “sour black,” boasting a woody aroma and a rich taste that seemed a bit like leather and tobacco. Certainly not recommended for novices, but the stuff wine lovers only dream of. I enjoyed a 2010 Moschofilero, a particularly perfumey white wine from Peloponnese. Both wines were unique, definitely reserved for wine aficionados.
Our appetizers were both from the sea: I ordered a plate of grilled octopus and Chelsea had diver scallops. The octopus was well-marinated and meaty with spicy capers and red onions on the side; the scallops were cooked on stalks of rosemary with pureed fava beans on the side. Both were delicious, pairing quite well with the Moschofilero. We also split an order of zucchini croquettes, crispy pan-fried fritters with a side of spiced yogurt sauce.
For our entrees, Chelsea had xifias- swordfish steak served on a bed of rice and spinach (opening photo). I ordered paidakia, a dish of baby lamb chops with lemon potatoes and a side of leeks and rice. The swordfish was perfectly cooked, requiring very little seasoning, and the lamb was hearty and savory, balanced out by the tart lemon potatoes and the creamy rice. Both entrees are perfect representative dishes of Greek cuisine.
Yefsi Estiatorio has a great cocktail menu, featuring both classics like the Old Fashioned and the Tom Collins, but also some specialties. Chelsea had a smores cocktail, made with “fluffed Smirnoff,” honey, crème de cacao, and milk; I ordered the baklava: rakomelo (spiced raki), amaretto, cloves, and a bit of orange. Both drinks nicely complemented our dessert: baklava, layer upon layer of phyllo dough, honey, cinnamon, and finely chopped walnuts.
The overall experience was marvelous: the bustling restaurant was warm and inviting, the food delicious and (more importantly) healthy, and the drink menu was exquisite. Whether it’s just down the road or a subway ride away, Yefsi Estiatorio is worth venturing out to Yorkville. We’ll be back soon!
Yefsi Estiatorio is located at 1481 York Avenue between 78th and 79th Streets. For reservations call 212.535.0293 or visit their website www.yefsiestiatorio.com.
Photos by Chelsea Herman