Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Restaurant 30: Stamatis

LOCATION: 31-14 Broadway, Astoria, Queens
DATE: May 29, 2005
FOOD: Split orders of the following: Fried Calamari, Spinach Pie, Garlic Dip, Salmon Roe Dip, Fried Cheese, Small Cucumber and Tomato Salad, Chicken Kebab with Lemon Potatoes. Complimentary Dessert of Custard Filled Phyllo Square.
BEVERAGE: Two Mythos (Greek Beer)
PRICE: $36.00

As much as I love the Greek-gone-gourmet of such Manhattan noveau-Aegean restaurants as Molyvos and Pylos, authentic Greek cuisine in its un-rarified form still holds a special place in my stomach. Northern Virginia may be the universe’s leader in strip malls and McMansions, but it’s also home to many excellent Greek restaurants. I grew up on my mother’s incomparable spinach pie and gyros and slouvaki aplenty. Thus, both of my visits to Astoria have felt reminiscent of a homecoming – at least gastrointestinally – despite the fact Edith Hamilton is the closest I’ve ever been to the Isles.

On my first visit in February, Danny and I tired Taverna Klycades, and I left amazed at every dish we sampled. I decided to venture back to Greece’s home away from home, this time with Libby, making her inaugural visit to Queens. Stamatis, one of two family run Astoria-based restaurants of the same name, was our destination. While Taverna Klycades had had the Sunday night dinner buzz of families and singles a like, Stamatis was only half-filled and subdued. But the food did the talking and I once again exited Astoria immensely happy and wishing I lived amongst the pages of Corelli’s Mandolin or in the city-states of Thucydides and Plato.

The Mediterranean diet has gained notoriety recently for the health benefits of its vegetable based lifestyle. Vegetables and fitness are all well and good, but Stamatis’ fried calamari and fried cheese squares would make even Body By Jake take a night off. The cheese oozes between twin sheets of crisp phyllo and reminds one of why the monstrosity that is American mozzarella sticks should remain relegated to the likes of TGI Fridays and Ruby Tuesdays. Once the cheese cools, it’s not nearly as flavorful, so inhaling the greasy delicacies as soon as they reach tableside is advisable. The calamari is light and has an appropriate level of resistant chew, instead of the pulpy tenderizing or silly putty stringiness of many a more expensive restaurant. Served with a plate of lemon wedges, the generous portion is enough to feed three or four.

Stamatis really excelled at dips. The pinkish hue of Salmon roe dip frequently hides Great Salt Lake quantities of sodium, but Stamatis’ version avoided this failure. Covering the point of a grilled pita triangle, the dip provides all the taste of caviar, but with a creamy texture to replace the obnoxious spherical eggs. As fluffy as a cloud, the garlic dip was best when placed on our other dishes – from the surprisingly moist but greasy grilled chicken kebabs to the forgettable lemon potatoes the chicken came with (which once they lost their heat, because almost inedible) to the aforementioned calamari. The garlic taste was present, but so low key it would be easy to tell blind Oedipus it was bean dip and have him believe you.

Libby’s seemingly nonplus selection of the tomato and cucumber salad proved surprisingly delightful. The tomatoes were perfectly ripe and firm and the cucumbers tasted fresh from the garden. Libby and I both found the spinach pie mediocre. The feta in the spinach filling had fully melted and had become a runny mess. And while one should never complain about free desserts, Stamatis’ should keep their sweets to themselves. The custard wrapped in phyllo was alright, but a brown square that tasted like honey soaked sand, disgusted Libby and I both.

However, the meal was less about individual dishes, and more about the wholesome rewards of many tastes taken together. It’s seldom when a dinner contains nothing that stands out and yet diners can leave completely satisfied. But we did. Thus, Stamatis illustrates why Astoria is the Greek capital of the U.S. Stamatis might not make Greek newcomers like Libby crave the food at all hours, it certainly offers ample reason to remember that though Zeus and Athena may have fallen, their descendants are still finding ways to soar to grand, if not Olympic, heights.

RATING: 7.1/10


chef 'em out said...

Did you mean Molyvos?
(I've never heard of a Mykvlos)

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