A Greek restaurant should be judged, at least in part, on the quality of its octopus. MP Taverna's does not boast the crusty char of, say, Gregory's, but it's spoon-tender, with a briny jolt not upstaged by the chickpeas, yogurt, and grassy olive oil that join it on the plate.
Bulgar Salad ($8.50)
A heap of tender, chewy bulgar run through with dates, almonds, olives, fennel, red onion, pistachios, and pomegranate. Got all that? You'll need a few bites to get it all down, and a few more to let sink in that this salad is to bulgar what roller coasters are to the merry-go-round.
Beet and Fennel Salad
A special one night, a salad of grapefruit, pickled beets, shaved fennel, and almonds that exemplifies the kitchen's knack for lipsmacking, acid-driven sauces. It's a far cry from the put-a-lemon-on-it school of Astoria's typical cookery.
Cypriot Lamb Sausage ($9)
A less revelatory appetizer, and uncharacteristically meager for the price, but it's impressively juicy and rewarding all the same. More substantive is the weighty plate of plump gigantes beans ($8) stewed with tomato and feta, sweet and salty and big enough to call a light dinner on its own.
I'm still thinking about these gnudi-like pillows of cheese swimming in a thick, sweet tomato sauce alongside tender lamb sausage nubs and wilted spinach.
Lamb Shank ($23)
The beyond-tender flesh slumps off the bone with a slight pull. It and the accompanying orzo are dressed in the meat's braising juices, sticky and sweet.
If you just want a plate of grilled fish, the kitchen has a fine dourade with lemon to sell you, a few shades tougher than what you'll find at Taverna Kyclades across the street and a touch better seasoned.
Grilled Watermelon ($5)
Grilled fruit changes daily. The feta, olive oil, and black pepper toppings are great here, but the watermelon arrived seriously undercharred and watery.
The downstairs dining room is devoted mostly to the bar, though tall tables run the length of the floor-to-ceiling windows. The restaurant hopes to add outdoor seating soon.
The scene upstairs is more upscale and serene—plush chairs, wide tables, chandeliers. You could meet friends for drinks downstairs and then take your parents out to eat up here.
Draught beers (many of which are local) and whiskey are the big draws, but the spirits selection in general is surprisingly nuanced, with many bottles you'll be hard-pressed to find in the neighborhood. They make a decent martini here and a better gin and tonic—music to the ears of all who call Ditmars Boulevard home.