I'd been looking forward to eating at the most authentic Greek restaurant in New York City since we started this diplomat dining adventure. I love all Mediterranean cuisines, and Greek is to me the epitome of this genre. Then, to have a chance to eat at the restaurant a Greek diplomat said was the best? What luck!
So wasn't I surprised to learn that I'd already eaten at the most authentic Greek restaurant, and didn't even know it at the time. In Murray's conversation with a Greek diplomat, Kellari, in midtown and just around the corner from my former place of employment, was the restaurant deemed best in New York. In retrospect, this choice does not seem surprising at all, but at the time Murray even prodded the diplomat about Astoria: Surely the best Greek food must be there! But no, the diplomat insisted: If you want to eat the most authentically Greek food in New York, Kellari is the place to go.
So go we did! But not as quickly as we would have liked. Advance reservations to eat at Kellari are a must. Located near Times Square and close to many theatres, Kellari must be a highlight in all of the tourist guides to New York City. We wanted to eat there last weekend, but on Saturday at around noon, when I attempted to make reservations, I learned that the earliest we could get in would be at 8:30 pm, later than we wanted to eat dinner that night. So we decided to target the next Friday night dinner there instead, and last Wednesday I was successful in booking a table for Friday.
We arrived before the theatre crowd had left for their other evening entertainment, and the place was crowded and buzzing! Even so, the wait staff was attentive and helpful. Kellari seems to use a system whereby you have one "expert" waiter who can help you with all aspects of food and wine selection; a "mid-tier" waiter who checks in periodically to make sure everything is ok; and then the regular bus boy. This seems a smart method; we always had someone with an eye on our table and ready to help us with whatever we needed. The "mid-tier" waiter even checked in with us as we were eating our entrées, to make sure we didn't need to rush to make a curtain opening.
Since our goal was to eat a little bit of many dishes, and this time Murray and I were on our own, we selected the Aegean feast from the menu. For $45 per person, we'd get "traditional Greek seafood specialties, fresh grilled whole fish, and an eclectic selection of savory appetizers." Sounded right to me! And it was.
This is what arrived:
An appetizer platter that included Plevarakia (slow roasted lamb riblets); Grilled Octopus (described as "sushi grade from the Mediterranean" on the menu); Spanakopita; and Calamari.
The lamb was, in my opinion, the best that we've had in any of our diplomat dining experiences to date – nicely seasoned with oregano but in such a way that the lamb flavor was still able to come through. The Spanakopita was exceptionally light and flaky, and, before this meal, I did not know that octopus could be so tender and flavorful.
Our entrée was simply Lavraki (a mild Mediterranean sea bass) and Paidakia (grilled lamb chops), served with a side of some wonderful braised kale and roasted potato. I guess I was a little disappointed that we weren't able to taste more of a selection of entrées, but the quantity was certainly more than adequate! This picture shows my plate:
Before I move on to dessert, I need to tell you about our wine selection as well, because the story illustrates the quality of the service at Kellari. Since we do try to eat (and drink) authentically, we wanted to order retsina. But we know that some retsinas are stronger than others, and we definitely lean towards milder versions. So, we explained our predicament to the waiter and asked his advice. He told us quite frankly that many people find the flavor of their retsina too strong and unusual, but he offered us a taste in order to help us decide. Our taste sealed the deal: This retsina seemed just right to us.
After finishing our entrées, we were quite stuffed. But we had time to relax a bit. The theatre crowd had moved on, and the atmosphere was civilized. Kellari was still quite busy, but not filled.
We sat directly across from the open kitchen, and enjoyed watching the staff during the rush, and then as the climate turned calmer. We also admired a couple at a nearby table, who seemed to know the drill – Pick your own fish! We had noticed Kellari's extravagant display of fresh whole fish but didn't understand the utility of this until we watched this couple select their own jumbo prawns (and I mean jumbo!) and then later as they were guided (by the "expert" waiter) in the pros and cons of each of the fish available and on display.
After a little bit we decided it was time for dessert. This is what arrived:
Yes, that is as huge as it looks. It includes: Galaktoboureko, a custard-filled pastry; Karidopta, a honey walnut cake, topped with fig ice cream and a cookie; Yiaourtopita, like cheese cake, but made with yogurt; and baklavas. We ate the Karidopta (along with its ice cream and cookie) and the Yiaourtopita (we didn't think either dish would travel well) but we brought the rest home – and two days later still have not finished it. Don't take that as a comment on the quality of the food: These desserts were outstanding, and if sweets are your thing, they could be reason all by themselves to head over to Kellari at your first opportunity.
Our bill totaled $180, including tip, which is a lot for these two people. But the food was superb, the service was great, and the whole experience was fun. I'd like to go back – and will put this on my mental list for special occasions.
Kellari is definitely not an appropriate place for anyone who doesn't like to eat fish, but it's pretty close to paradise for those, like us, who love seafood.
All major credit cards are accepted. And remember: Do make reservations, or plan on starting dinner after 8:00 pm.
Where and When
19 West 44th St (between Fifth and Sixth avenues)
New York, NY 10036
Monday - Saturday
11:30 am - Midnight
11:30 am – 11:00 pm
- A $29 prix fixe theatre menu is available 5:00 – 7:00 pm
- A lobster feast that looks amazing is available on Sundays