A decade ago, Greek restaurants on Long Island were casual places where you could grab a gyro or a Greek salad. Then came the wave of elegant venues with seafood displayed on beds of ice. Those fish were often priced by the pound, resulting in a bit of sticker shock when the bill arrived.
Taverna 38, which opened in Williston Park in early May, takes the middle ground. The restaurant is elegant, the service is top notch, the food is delicious and beautifully presented and, best of all, the prices are moderate.
The restaurant is a crisp-looking beauty: all white with a few blue accents. There is a white brick exterior with a blue awning and door. Inside, tables are white with a faint wood-grain pattern, most of the walls are white and the very comfortable chairs are outfitted in white leather. There is a row of long, multipaned windows, framed with diaphanous white and blue curtains, between the main dining room and the bar.
The owners of this promising new restaurant are John Alexopoulos and Claudio Peralta, who, between them, have decades of experience as waiters, headwaiters and maître d’s at high-end Manhattan establishments like Bouley, Molyvos and Picholine. The excellence of the service at Taverna 38 reflects their combined work histories.
The chef, Fotios Markou, was born in Greece but has cooked around the world. His vast experience shines here. The first dish we tried, melitzanosalata (eggplant spread), set the stage for our dining experience. It was the best I’ve ever had. It looked as good as it tasted, featuring a very nice feta in the mix, and was served on red onion and topped with garnishes of chopped black olives and red peppers.
Other appetizer standouts were the creamy taramosalata (caviar spread) and the tasty zucchini fritters with a rémoulade dipping sauce.
Also earning praise were the horiatiki salad, with chunks of cucumber, red onions, tomatoes, olives and once again, that nice feta. Another salad hit was the prasini of chopped romaine, scallions, feta and dill. Ours was garnished with a whole leaf of romaine, a scallion brush, a few carrot rounds and an intricately carved radish. We asked that the salad be split in the kitchen: One salad was topped with a radish rose, the other with a radish carved to resemble a toadstool. Only an appetizer of a somewhat dry Greek sausage tossed with peppers and onions failed to get raves.
Entrees are divided into three categories: From the Land, From the Sea and, in a tribute to Greek grandmothers, From Yia Yia’s Kitchen. The last section included our favorite and our least favorite entrees. The winner featured tender medallions of sautéed pork tenderloin in a lemon-egg-dill sauce dotted with scallions, shallots and cubes of artichoke heart. The dish that came up short was a slightly dry roast chicken with olive oil, lemon and garlic potatoes. Back in the winners’ circle was a dish of sautéed shrimp in a snappy tomato sauce sparked by garlic, Greek wine and Greek cheese, all atop a bed of pasta.
The showstopper, however, was the whole grilled fish. We tried the branzino and it was perfectly cooked. We were also impressed with the marinated and grilled large shrimp, which were served with a side dish of one’s choice. The healthy eater among us picked steamed baby spinach, the “seasonal greens” selection at the time.
Traditionalists will like the gyro platter: an overflowing plate of sliced lamb and beef, wedges of grilled pita, a simple salad, a mound of thin, crisp French fries and a generous dollop of tzatziki (yogurt sauce).
Desserts, including ice creams and sorbets, are all made in house. Favorites like galaktoboureko (phyllo and custard) and crème caramel made a good showing, but our favorite was a very moist olive oil cake presented with Greek yogurt ice cream and a tangy cranberry and strawberry compote.
Tavern 38 is a find: an elegant, upscale Greek restaurant with down-to-earth prices.
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