Monday, July 25, 2005
Restaurant 56: Philoxenia
Clockwise from top left: Spanakopitakia; Taramosalata; Chicken Slouvaki; Feta Cheese Special.
LOCATION: 26-18 23rd Avenue (26th Street), Astoria, Queens
DATE: July 19, 2005
FOOD: Split the following appetizers: Taramosalata (Carp roe caviar spread); Feta Cheese Special (broiled feat cheese with peppers, tomatoes, and olives); Spanakopitakia (Spinach Pie); Entrée: Chicken Soulvaki with French Fries and Sauteed Dandelions; Yogurt with Grapes and Honey (complimentary)
BEVERAGE: Half Carafe of House White Wine
Philoxenia is the Greek word for hospitality or “love of visitors”. So it seems only logical that a restaurant deciding to use the word as it’s name would be situated in a two story house, complete with a charming fence and outdoor patio, in a homey Astoria neighborhood. Such a setting exudes a “make yourself at home” quality that causes a diner to do just that – relax, sprawl in a chair, and kick back with some inexpensive wine($2.50 for a glass, $5.00 for a half-carafe).
Dionysia Germani, the owner, sometime chef, sometime waitress of Philoxenia, seems to embody the essence of hospitality in and of herself. She floats around the restaurant, paying careful attention to the customers, always ensuring that every empty water glass is filled, every request or substitution is met. If you’re Greek, there’s the possibility you may mistake her for your aunt, as such attentiveness is seldom extended to strangers in Manhattan restaurants.
The food at Philoxenia is just as traditional and comforting as the environs. While nothing is spectacular, the food is consistently good and affordable, the type of food experience it’s easy to walk away from feeling satisfied.
Crusty buttered bread, served warm and topped with oregano, begins the meal. A wide range of hot and cold appetizers open a lengthy menu compiled with English definitions for Greek dishes. This user-friendly touch allows diners to always know what they’re getting in for before ordering.
The baby pink taramosalata, a spread of caviar roe, was airier and less garlicky than at Taverna Kylcades and Pylos. While enjoyable, it was almost too slight in stature, as wispy as the gender ambiguous Cal in Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex is while a young boy/girl. However, there is nothing insubstantial about the spanakopitakia, delicious triangles of spinach and feta cheese wrapped tautly in phyllo dough. A welcome twist on conventional spinach pie, Philoxenia’s had a full layer of feta cheese inside the flaky crust. It made the turnovers creamier than versions in which the spinach and cheese is fully mixed.
But both roe dip and spinach pie are to Greek food what hamburgers and French fries are for American restaurants – their ubiquity can often result in a desire for something new, some Greek dish not available at every corner deli. Philoxenia’s broiled feta cheese special is the perfect solution for those seeking the untried. Broiled with tomatoes, olives, green peppers and spices, the feta cheese is served unpretentiously, wrapped in the very tin foil in which it simmered. It’s an outstanding way to eat heated cheese, as unlike fried haloumi or other Greek cheeses, the broiled feta was lacking in excess grease (one pun per review) and oil. The chicken slouvaki was the only major disappointment of the meal, tough and slightly bland, it failed to achieve the level of marinated succulence of chicken kebabs elsewhere. However, the cheese and oregano covered French fries and sweet and sultry wilted dandelions helped make up for the dry chicken.
In one final act of the aforementioned Greek hospitality, at Philoxenia, meals end with a bountiful portion of honey covered Greek yogurt and grapes. Smooth and light, the yogurt concluded a meal at once both cheering in its fare and its surroundings. With a price-tag far smaller than many lackluster Greek restaurants in Manhattan, Philoxenia might not be the best Greek in Astoria, but it might just be the best way to feel like you’re eating at home, even when you can’t.
Posted by Vincent Rossmeier at Monday, July 25, 2005