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Anthos > a new Greek revival in New York April 25, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Taste World.

The new Greek revival in New York is heating up, and Michael Psilakis is the one turning up the flame. His first Manhattan restaurant, Onera, helped pioneer the movement in 2004. Now, three restaurants later, he is asking $44 for lamb chops.

Onera broke new ground for inventive Greek-inspired cooking, but Anthos, located across 52nd Street from “21,” innovates in a different way. The dishes listed in the left-hand column of the menu haven’t changed dramatically at the new restaurant, but the numbers on the right have leapt up, making it hard to escape the floral decorated dining room for under $100 a head sober, and impossible if you want to sample the interesting Greek wine list.

The price buys its share of frills. There are two rounds of palateteasers, one before and one after you’re allowed to see a menu, and a selection of perfect ovoids of goat or cow butter, set out on fine china, to spread on the dinner rolls. But the luxury isn’t consistent: The tables are too close-set, the waits for food prolonged, and little imperfections spot the experience, like the nodule of hardened food that spotted one of my dinner forks.

Mr. Psilakis favors unusual harmonies among his ingredients, an approach that succeeds most, but not all, of the time. A starter quintet of raw fish, another Psilakis hallmark, packs a lot of ingredients into five bites. Toasted, almost burnt pistachios mingle with pomegranate seeds and fresh mint leaves on top of a smooth, sweet scallop; a mild piece of yellowtail is upstaged by its flavorful crust of fennel pollen and ouzo soaked cherries. Bright-pink tuna is seasoned with mastic, the aromatic resin with a bitter piney taste; mint, vinegar, and potato temper the sweetness of faintly smoked sable (aka black cod), and firm cobia fish gets a savory gel coating flavored with lamb. It’s a quick, immersive tour of the chef’s imagination.

Hilopites pasta is a stalwart of Mr. Psilakis’s restaurants, where it’s reconfigured for each incarnation. Here it’s gussied up by a couple of garden pests: rabbits and snails, the one braised juicily and the other buttery and scented with black truffle.

The lamb, a pair of thick, beautifully grilled cuts stacked rustically on the plate, certainly provide a lot of meat for the buck, and easily hold their own against less exorbitant chops, but they don’t set any citywide records for succulence or flavor. Ordering the lamb chops is also the only way to get at the chef’s famous moussaka, which comes in a cast-iron pot beside the lamb, capped with sizzling eggplant slices and drenched in cinnamon-tinged cream. The savory hunks of lamb at the bottom of the little pot are worth digging for, but the body of the moussaka has a pasty, floury consistency that hardly measures up to Onera’s classic version.

Fish options are a bit more dependable. A grilled swordfish steak, blackened on the outside and sliced into tender hunks, has more than enough full flavor to compete with the smoky lamb sausage and charred miniature octopi that are its plate-mates. Like the monkfish, the John Dory is a fish that feeds on crustaceans and other marine delicacies, and the benefit shows in its dense, tasty flesh. At Anthos, it’s crisped deliciously and poached in olive oil, giving it an unusually moist and firm character. Accompanied by tiny, tart yogurt-filled dumplings, and doused in a foamy, fresh broth that’s steeped at the table in a French press from pungent, oniony ramps, it could be simple and perfect, but misguided luxury strikes again. Perhaps to justify the price, the kitchen scoops onto the fish a couple of generous tablespoons of American caviar, which quickly loses in the heat any crunch or character it may have had, becoming a salty gunmetal-gray mush.

A wide array of Greek wines many from small vineyards, is supplemented by plenty of non-Greek options, although both are victims of a stiff markup. Baklava puts in a command performance modernized and elaborated by pastry chef Bill Corbett into a trio one traditional, dense baklava square, heavy on the nuts and light on the honey; one sandwich of tuile and honey custard that’s like brown-sugar penuche fudge, and a heavy walnut cake capped with zesty cinnamon ice cream. But the loukoumades, Greek dough fritters, are unbeatable: served hot, sugared, and piped full of custard, with a clove-scented honey sauce for dipping.

At Anthos, Mr. Psilakis has set himself a challenge. His creativity is still impressive, and his peaks are very high, but with an average main-course price of $36, the height to which the restaurant raises the stakes feels somewhat precarious.

Anthos, 36 W. 52nd St., between Fifth and Sixth avenues, 212-582 6900.

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