Greece's austerity measures haven't hit Taverna Kyclades, an Astoria restaurant dedicated to the motherland. Given our choice of tables alongside ivy-covered, whitewashed walls, beneath a huge awning, we were immediately served water with a plate of lemon slices (so refreshing!) and an oregano-dusted and olive oil-splattered loaf of bread (so crusty!). When we finished our entrees, we were offered two blocks of galaktoboureko (custard phyllo pie). But what we liked best were all the smiles, from our server, from the person who bussed our table, from the many fellow diners who arrived peckish and left satisfied.
Our potato and garlic dip ($5.50) was more garlic than potato, a light, bright pungent mash. Phew! As we ordered, we briefly wondered if we weren't perhaps dooming ourselves to an appetizer of cold mashed potatoes. We tore off hunks of the aforementioned bread, but a plain pita might have been better. Still, this was a good spread, particularly if you get off on garlic.
Next up, we tried a rectangle of pan-fried Greek cheese ($6.95), cut to look like a child's hopscotch board. But all childishness stopped at the shape. The cheese stayed firm within the brittle shell, and the entire effect was salty and frangible, like your skin after a long day at the beach.
Truth be told, we did find some austerity on the menu, albeit of the lexical variety. The "Greek-style shrimp" ($19.50) revealed nothing except its price. Out came a casserole-esque dish of tomatoes, onions, peppers, and feta, with five or so fat shrimp buried beneath. Regulars and residents of the Hellenic Republic perhaps don't need an explanation or description. Had we had one, though, we would have saved such fare for a non-90-degree day. It all tasted fine, mind you, but the cheese- and tomato-thickened sauce tasted too like putting on ski pants, a parka, and a wool cap.
The grilled quail ($14) balanced the delicacy of the little birds with the char and crunch of the preparation. Flecks of char and meat splattered the plate. With no sauce, no garnish, and virtually no seasoning, the dishes lives or dies on the cook's ability to keep the flesh tender while crisping the skin.
Horta, or boiled greens, taste like missing a spot on an Olympic team by one-tenth of a second, finding out that your ex is getting married, or discovering that your office mate makes twice as much as you. In other words, bitter. Our second side, lemon potatoes, were elegantly acerbic, and not for the faint of heart.
Like everyone else, we received a complimentary piece of galaktoboureko to finish our meal. The flaky phyllo had separated from the firm custard base, but the simple syrup and copious amounts of cinnamon prevented a true divorce.
Taverna Kyclades is known for two things: its seafood preparations, and its wait time. The wood-paneled dining area is half the size of the great big patio. A stuffed fish reigns supreme on one wall. We sat outside, but the hot hot heat no doubt kept several diners at home. "Bustling" best describes the atmosphere inside and out, "generous" best describes the food and overarching spirit. It's best for: a non-abstemious date.