So, you want some chicken souvlaki. What do you do? You go to Astoria, where Greeks have made a point to settle and share their delectable cuisine. But, with all the options available, which restaurant do you choose? I’ll make it easy for you. MP Taverna is where you want to go. Here’s why.
Chef Michael Psilakis’ Astoria outpost is gorgeous. Situated on a corner steps away from a busy intersection (and two CVS pharmacies, for some reason), MP Taverna is a pleasure to walk into. When you enter, you pass by a long bar on your way to the back of the narrow interior. There’s an upstairs, and I’m not sure what happens up there, but the downstairs area is certain to be hopping. We were seated at the rear of the first floor at table for two with a distinctive light source overhead, shedding just the right amount of illumination on our table.
Laminated menus were presented to us with an extensive beer and wine list on the back. I selected a beer I had never tried before; one that was inflected with vanilla flavors and a certain punch at the end. MDP ordered a rye whiskey. The waiter was garrulous, sharing reflections on the current beers on tap and the appetizer selection. He recommended that we order an additional appetizer in addition to the three dips that we planned to try, so we opted for the calamari, which took some time to arrive. Good thing Chef Michael Psilakis was on hand–he sent out a complimentary order of the most delicious meatballs I’ve ever tried in my life to satisfy us while our calamari was prepared. The crisp-on-the-outside-tender-on-the-inside meatballs were made from lamb, I think, with generous bits of parsley integrated. They were served with a yogurt-dill sauce, which was a welcome change from my childhood experience with meatballs drenched in gravy.
The calamari was worth waiting for. Octopus was mixed in with chickpeas and cauliflower, all doused in the same batter and flash fried to an ideal texture. The calamari was served with a yogurt-dill sauce and a tomato sauce. I favored the yogurt to the tomato, just because I felt it was a little bit more Greek. I enjoyed the chef’s interpretation of this dish.
And the not-to-be-overlooked dips were excellent, as well. We received chick pea, yogurt and eggplant dips neatly arranged in a cute tray. The yogurt one, which featured bits of cucumber and dill, was far and away my favorite, with the delicious chick pea/sun-dried tomato one as a close second. The eggplant dip was fine, but not nearly as flavorful as the other two. I’d still recommend ordering the three dip combo, as opposed to separate dips, since they’re all worth trying. And the pita that was served with the dips was divine–so tender, so thin, I’ve never had pita like this in my life.
For our entrees–which I was sure I would be too full to sample–I opted for the chicken souvlaki, while MDP ordered the dumplings. The chicken souvlaki was served with the most delicious “smashed” fries, which were steak-like fries condensed into tender, potato crisps. They were fantastic. I wish I could say the same for the chicken souvlaki itself. The flavor of kalamata olives overtook the entire wrap for some reason, even though only a few kalamatas were included. I favor a more mild souvlaki than this one, but I ate most of it anyway. The chicken was fine and the ingredients were clearly fresh.
MDP’s dish was incredible. Bits of dumpling were covered with spicy lamb sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, feta and spinach, with some pine nuts mixed in. The dumplings themselves were extremely tender and delicious, and the accent of feta and lamb sausage delighted my palate. I greatly enjoyed his dish, and I suspect it’s one of MP Taverna’s signature offerings, so you might want to try it.
At any Greek restaurant, it’s just about law that you need to have their baklava for dessert, and so we did. But MP Taverna’s baklava is an interesting interpretation of the traditional dish. Instead of thin, light layers of phyllo dough, their baklava features three thick layers of dough that is far crispier and dense than phyllo. A seasoned apple mixture was part of the dessert, with some pistachios making a brief cameo. The real highlight of the dish (for me, anyway) was the fascinating ice cream that accompanied the baklava. It tasted of almond extract and cardamom, and was quite good.
Though the service was erratic and the place seemed a bit disorganized overall, MP Taverna is not to be missed. If you haven’t been to Astoria, you should really see it. And going to MP Taverna is the perfect excuse to visit the popular Queens neighborhood.
31-29 Ditmars Boulevard
Astoria, New York
Take the N/Q to the very last stop in Queens. Walk around the corner.