One unpleasing Greek restaurant in Forest Hills doesn’t spoil it for another. In fact, Agora Taverna residing at 70-09 Austin Street may surpass many of the eateries located in Astoria. Astoria has long been known for having a large Greek neighborhood, thus markets, restaurants and bars to sample the cuisine. Total authenticity and freshness reigns at this great lunch and dinner spot. Having a location on the corner allows for some outdoor café space as well as large windows to bring in the air when it’s the proper temperature.
To learn even more about Greek products I went to Krinos, the manufacturer of Greek food and distributor for many of the imported ones. That’s another story. I was more curious as to whether some of the Greek restaurants made their own rendition with all of the ingredients and none from a jar or can.
Peter Mastoros is the owner of Agora Taverna and an accomplished chef as well. He said that he prides himself on having a restaurant that focuses on fresh seafood and a cuisine that he learned growing up in Greece.
Put your boasting where your mouth is and let’s sample the menu as I begin with the famous Avgolemono, Greek Chicken Soup. Mmmm…I detect chicken broth, “pulled” white meat chicken, Greek Orzo and lemon.
Must try the spreads. Peter tells me that they are all made without prior preparation. They area called “spreads” for a reason. “Tarama”, as it is stated on the menu, consisted of red caviar (he buys the caviar), olive oil, lemon and bread all processed together.
Skordalia is basically potatoes, garlic and almonds. Not being a garlic eater, it wasn’t my favorite. However, I did taste it one a piece of pita bread and it’s a thumbs up. Pass me the water.
Tzatziki is another garlic delight. It’s more of a sauce made from yogurt and cucumbers. Great for topping gyros and kebabs.
Melitzanosalta consisted of roasted eggplant and herbs, none of which is garlic. Loved this one.
Ktipiti is made with Holland peppers and feta cheese. I also detect some hot peppers as well. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the flavor, “hot” is not my thing. Not hot enough to “pass me the milk”.
Roasted beets were quite surprising in that they did not have the “root” taste. Excellent choice of spices such as dill to enhance it and just a touch of garlic. If I didn’t ask, I wouldn’t have noticed.
Now here is one for the apps. Agora Chips. Instead of indulging in freshly made fried potato chips, they use extremely thin slices of zucchini, eggplant and kefalograviera cheese. Bet you can’t eat just 10!
Speaking of kefalograviera cheese, Saganaki is the pan fried version. I found the cheese to be quite mild and not salty as I did when I sampled the feta cheese that topped the Greek Salad.
Peter said that the saltiness of the cheese depends on the quality. I guess quality is important here. The Greek salad had some of the most delicious vine ripe tomatoes going. Onions, cucumbers, green bell pepper and a perfect dressing to enhance the produce….do I detect fresh oregano?
Grilled Octopus. OMG. Grilling alone made it savory. Cooked perfectly…not chewy or overly soft. Could make for a great meat substitute. No bones about it.
There is quite a difference between the sardines that come out of a can and ones that are fresh from the Mediterranean. They are not “packed” or tiny. With a choice of fried or broiled I opted for fried. Bone down the middle and with the right seasoning, as done here, there certainly isn’t any “fishy” taste.
Speaking of bones…out came a whole Branzini imported from Greece. It was not deboned but cut open to allow the fish to be broiled inside with capers atop. The skin is seasoned and a must to enjoy. I had a vegetable that I had never eaten before called Horta. These particular dark greens had a consistency of a “bok choy”. Not bitter at all. Cooked just soft enough. Herbs, spices, or whatever was added gave a perfect flavor pairing with the Branzini. A dry Greek white wine was a great choice.
Did I save room for dessert? Is the Pope Catholic? Does skordalia have garlic? “Sometimes you feel like a nut….”. All of the desserts are made in house as well. There were two desserts with nuts, one of which is the famous Baklava. Phyllo dough, walnuts, honey, sugar, cinnamon. That thin Phyllo on top is crunchy with the bottom soaking in a combination of Greek honey and sugar. Walnuts just soft enough to chew as if it were a meat.
Ekmek delivers a layer of shredded phyllo dough that builds with pistachios, custard, whipped cream and topped with more pistachios. It is certainly not a one-step process. I found it less sugary sweet than the Baklava or “sometimes you don’t” Galactoboureko, a dessert using a milk farina custard wrapped in phyllo with cinnamon and powdered sugar.
Say “Opa”, have a glass of ouzo, listen to the music, but don’t even attempt to break a plate as the food will defy Agora Taverna as an upscale restaurant, not a “joint”.