Thursday, January 13, 2011

Blog Awards & Authentic Greek Cuisine

I was recently given a couple blogging awards from one of my favorite blogs, Foodiva's Kitchen.  Maya, the lovely diva who runs the site, has become a great blogging friend in the past several months.  Although she lives on the other side of the world, she has been tremendously supportive and is one of the most creative bloggers I've had the pleasure of following.  She not only introduced me to the amazing purple sweet potato, but continuously shares inspiring dishes on her blog.  Thanks so much, Maya, for passing along these wonderful awards!

I'd like to share these awards with some of the bloggers that I find to be most supportive in the community.  Thanks for always being there, and for sharing your craft with the world!  You are all fabulous!  Please check out their sites if you haven't already :)

Alisha at The Ardent Epicure
Claudia at What's Cookin' Italian Style
Natasha at Five Star Foodie Culinary Adventures
Faith at An Edible Mosaic
Joanne at Eats Well With Others
Christine at Fresh Local and Best
Rebecca at Chow and Chatter
Priscilla at She's Cookin'

Zenon Taverna
3410 31st Ave
Astoria, NY 11106
(718) 956-0133

Zenon Taverna is another of what I should now refer to as "Sydney's Selections."  Now, I must tell you that the Astoria neighborhood in Queens is known for its Greek cuisine.  I must also tell you that while waiting for my friends outside the restaurant, a large group of people speaking Greek (including a Greek Orthodox priest) headed into the restaurant.  I'm pretty sure you want to be eating where they're eating.  Sydney informed me later that they've tried many different Greek restaurants in the neighborhood to find their favorite.  Their criteria in the end came down to which restaurant had the biggest flame on their sakanaki, haha.  I guess Zenon won in the end :)  I must admit, sakanaki is one of my favorite Greek dishes.  It's basically cheese on fire, but more specifically it's baked imported Greek goat cheese (Kefalograviera) flambeed with brandy.  They bring it to your table on fire and then squeeze a bit of lemon over the top to put out the flames.  Man I love food on fire!  Especially CHEESE!  Love love love love love saganaki!  It's also so fun to say.  I tried getting a picture in action, but it was blurry.  Someone at the table also ordered spanakopita, a traditional Greek spinach pie.  I tried a small bite and thought it was good, but I can't comment too much since I only tried a tiny piece.

Saganaki - Baked imported Greek goat cheese (Kefalograviera) flambeed with brandy $9.50

Spanakopita - Fresh saute spinach, scallions and dill with Greek feta cheese wrapped in crispy fillo dough $7.50

For my entree I was really torn.  I wanted to get a more traditional souvlaki type dish, but then I was also craving seafood.  I don't typically think of seafood as being very Greek, but it really is because so much of the country (and it's many islands) is seaside, thus making fresh fish a hot commodity.  In the end I ordered the stuffed fillet of sole, which is stuffed with crabmeat.  I thought the fish was tender and juicy and the stuffing was okay but a bit mushy (not much texture).  Also, the chunks of crabmeat looked like imitation crab (we won't even go there).  With the exception of that, the fish itself was good and I almost polished off my plate.  Entrees came with a choice of sides, and I selected the Cyprus fries, which are basically thick potato chips seasoned with oregano and salt.  Very nice spin on fries!  Others at the table had a souvlaki pita sandwich, and sheftalia (or pork meatballs).  I tried one of the pork meatballs with some tzatziki sauce and thought it was juicy and flavorful.

Stuffed Filet of Sole - Broiled Filet of Sole Stuffed with Crabmeat $20.95

Cyprus Fries

Souvlaki Pita Sandwich - Char-grilled pork kebab in pita bread with freshly cut tomato, cucumber, onion and parsley $7.50

Shefalia - Char-grilled pork meatballs with herbs and spices $13.95

By the time we got around to ordering dessert, we were all pretty full, but we managed to split these fried "cigarettes" filled with ground nuts, cinnamon, and sugar, and soaked with some honey syrup flavored with rose water.  They were delicately floral and sweet, a nice way to end the meal.  Complimentary sliced oranges and grapes were served with our check.

Fried "Cigarettes" Filled with Ground Nuts, Cinnamon and Sugar and Topped with Honey Syrup and Rose Water

I have to say, the meal was satisfying, but I do regret my decision to order the sole.  The fish was good, but I'm on the fence about the stuffing, mainly because I'm fairly certain it doesn't even contain real crabmeat (one of my pet peeves).  Otherwise, I should also say that in dining at Zenon I was hoping to partake in one of their special meze menus.  They offer three different meze menus starting at $19.95 per person and consisting between 14 and 15 different items.  The thing is, you need at least 2 people to order those and no one else in our party wanted to do it.  So I couldn't try it :(  I really think that would be the best meal here, with the most variety, and the best bang for your buck.  I can't officially recommend it because I haven't had the chance to try it myself, but hopefully in the future I will go back and have one of their meze tastings!  Regardless of that fact, overall the meal was enjoyable, the ambiance was decidedly Greek, the service was languid (as I believe is customary for traditional meals of this nature--people spend hours at a single meal), and the food was good.

**Update 2/25/11** I returned to Zenon Taverna to try out one of the meze menus, as I had hoped. A friend and I dined on 16 separate items for under $20 each, and had plenty of food to take home leftovers. We opted for the Cyprus Meze tasting, as opposed to the seafood and vegetarian options they also have. In addition to a generous bread basket, we started off with the cold meze selections, which include tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber dip), melitzanosalada (eggplant dip), scordalia (garlic dip), tahini, taramosalada (red caviar dip), pantzarosalada (beet salad), thalassinosalada (seafood salad), and Kypriaki salada (Cyprus salad). Like in my stuffed sole last time, the seafood salad contained imitation crab meat, which is unfortunate, because the rest of the food was really quite delicious. Some of the eggplant in the eggplant dip was a touch undercooked, but other than those issues, we enjoyed the tremendous variety of our cold meze selection.

Our hot meze arrived in waves. First we received a platter of lunza (smoked pork loin), grilled halloumi cheese, and loukaniko spitisio (Cyprus sausage). We both really liked the smoky flavor in the pork loin. The halloumi had started to cool and was no longer as soft as it once was, but still had a nice grilled flavor. The sausage was one of our less favorite items, as it had whole peppercorns inside, which were annoying to remove, and also the flavor was ok but not exceptional.

Next we tried the calamari, which was tender, but not super crispy on the outside. Overall, it was good, but not the best I've ever had.

We also tried the keftedes (Cyrpus meatballs) which are made with chopped pork and shredded potatoes and fried. These were moist and somewhat smoky due to the spices used to flavor it. They were definitely unique compared to other "meatballs."

Ortikia (quails) were seasoned with lemon, garlic, and oregano and chargrilled. I'm a big fan of quail, and these were definitely enjoyable! Tender meat with a great charred flavor. Very Mediterranean.

Our final platter included sheftalia (pork meatballs) and souvlaki (pork kebab). The meatballs were incredibly juicy and tender (a testament, I'm sure, to their high fat content). The souvlaki had a lovely salty crust with a tender and slightly chewy texture within. We both really loved the souvlaki! It was cooked a bit more than I'd normally prefer, but in Mediterranean cooking, I think it's very common to cook pork all the way through.

With the exception of a few minor issues (imitation crab meat, slightly undercooked eggplant, peppercorns in sausage, too cool cheese), this meal was as enjoyable as I had hoped, and a HUGE bargain for under $20! I enjoyed plenty of the leftovers the next day for lunch, so for the money it costs, you can easily get a couple meals out of it. The dishes were authentic and well-seasoned. I'd happily return for another gluttonous meze experience.


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