Over the centuries, Greece has given the world democracy, philosophy, drama, deductive mathematics, and naked competitive sports. We knew this upon entering Bahari Estiatorio, in Astoria. What we didn't know is that the Hellenes would, by the end of our meal, give us a love of shark meat.
We weren't intending to eat shark. As land lubbers, in fact, we try to stay away from aquatic killing machines. But the heavy ropes crisscrossing the ceiling, attached to metal chocks, put us in mind of the water and caused our eyes to gravitate toward seafood. There we found galeos saganaki ($13), sauteed baby tope shark served in a lemony cream sauce incorporating feta cheese and jalapeños. We might as well say it: this shark tasted like chicken, minus that protein's fibrousness. Served on the cartilage, the horseshoe-shaped chunks were pleasantly dry, almost like canned tuna, and carried the sauce well.
Really sharp feta tastes of, and sometimes causes, tears. Heat, however, renders the cheese's pungence more mild. The feta ceramic ($12) hissed, as the cheese singed against the side, leaving char marks. For a moment, the plump white rectangle resembled a marshmallow, and our taste buds started to tingle for sweetness. In actuality, of course, the cheese, topped with tomatoes, peppers, and olive oil, activated a whole different side of the palate, the salty-sour zone. We wouldn't want to live here, but an occasional visit makes us appreciate why others might.
Somehow the menu forgot to mention the key ingredient in the spanakoryzo ($9). It listed the rice, it listed the spinach, but it completely omitted the six or so cups of olive oil conjoining the other two in soupy matrimony. The oil rendered the rice and spinach utterly featureless. An excellent option for anyone looking to raise his or her good cholesterol, it works less well as a simple entree, unless you just had dental surgery and can't chew or are craving a sloppy, moist mass.
We fared better with the gemista me kima ($11.50), a tomato and a green pepper stuffed with a mixture of rice, ground beef, and herbs. It tasted airier than it looked, with an appealing sourness. Although the pepper had been cooked beyond pepperdom, the tomato beyond all tomatodom, the softness of this uncomplicated dish seemed apropros. It's a dish to come home to after a long day of labor, when you're tired and in need of warming sustenance.
We fell hard for the lemon potatoes, which accompanied the gemista me kima. We never would have put these two flavors together, yet they make perfect sense in the context of the sea: potatoes last practically forever, and lemon prevents scurvy.
For dessert, complimentary squares of galaktoboureko, creamy custard that hinted at apples loosely sheathed in flaky phyllo, and halva, an oily, sugary, grainy concoction of—you guessed it—oil, sugar, and semolina. Want a treat? Try them together. Putting them on the same fork made the two sing in a way that neither did as a soloist.
If possible, sit in the white-washed side room, which is calmer and more transporting than the bustling front rooom. Banish thoughts of debt, Greek or American, as you dip the bread into the olive oil, and concentrate on Epicureanism. Pleasure might be the greatest good, for a few hours anyway. Listening closely, you might even hear waves. Bahari Estiatorio is best for: a date with someone you'd like to sail away with.