(New York, NY) — We’ve tried many different cultural and ethnic food varieties in Manhattan, with one glaring exception: Greek. Both of us love Mediterranean cuisine so when we get a recommendation to try Kefi on the upper west side, it goes on the itinerary. Our steadfast foodie friends JoJo and Ivy once again beat us to the punch and arrive before we do...

He Fed:

Juliet and I get to the restaurant early, thanks to a speedy cab. We are a bit groggy after a long lunch at Birerria, but still raring to go. While keeping an eye on foot traffic, we get a text. JoJo and Ivy are already inside! We hustle into the restaurant, which is a flurry of activity and noise. Servers thread their way from kitchen to table, delivering platters to small, packed tables on the lower floor. The back half is elevated by a few stairs, where we meet the hostess. We check into our OpenTable reservations, then join our friends.

I start with a glass of dry, tart Villa Amalia Classic Brut from Tselepos, in southern Greece while the ladies mull the Meze (appetizers). No surprise, they settle on a selection of spreads, including creamy tzatziki (yogurt), spicy melintzanaosalata (eggplant), and earthy revithia (chickpea), all served with warm triangles of pita. Even though we had a big lunch, we all attack the dips like ravenous wolves.

This only whets the appetite, apparently, because suddenly we are ordering more! Crispy, deep-fried calamari achieves that perfect state of firm-but-tender. There are even a couple thin slices of deep fried lemon, which I’ve never tried and are very fun (think, sweet batter and puckery fruit). The real show-stopper, though, is Grilled Octopus on a bean salad. Baker & Banker probably wins this competition, but only by a hair, and Kefi’s rendition is surely better than Le Bernardin’s. Again, the slow braising method produces meat that is firm and tender, with just a touch of sun-scorched sea. Juliet is all octopussed-out and Ivy helps with a couple bites (he got soup), but since JoJo is vegetarian, most of this dish belongs to me. And I have no problems with that.

After consulting with our friendly and informative waiter, I decide on a main: the Pulled Braised Rabbit with Flat Pasta and Graviera Cheese. It arrives hot out of the oven, green herbs and crispy fried shallots sprinkled on top. A thin broth seeps underneath. My fork delves into the treasure trove again and again, bringing back sweet, succulent rabbit meat and thick chunks of handmade pasta. Oh, is so good. I can feel my eyes roll back in my head, and the din of nearby noisy diners fades out. It is just me and this dish. And a glass of finely-matched Syrah from Protopapas in Drama (northeastern Greece), of course.

I’m done for. No room at the inn. Still, somebody at our table makes the questionably wise decision to command dessert in the form of Rice Pudding and Walnut Cake. Gamely, I try a bit of each and they are very nice, but my taste buds are kaput. I put my fork and spoon down for the night. As we pack it up and prepare to head back to our respective hotels (all thought of bar-hopping until the wee hours gone from our heads, like a bad dream), I reflect on Kefi’s success of delivering simple Greek food, artfully prepared, and humbly served. It is exactly what we’d hoped it would be, and for that, should be on anyone’s must-do list while visiting the Big Apple.
She Fed:

Kefi is bustling with activity but we are seated quickly. Our foursome orders a massive spread of starters. JoJo’s warm fingerling potatoes with string beans, feta, and olives are wonderfully bright with the briny olives and cheese. Jeremy’s crispy calamari with fried lemon slices are battered lightly, ethereal enough to not mask the tender squid. I don’t take a slurp of Ivy’s soup (though he offers) because I’m too busy calculating how I can eat all the “mystery hummus” before anyone notices.

We’ve ordered the selection of spreads for two with tzatziki, taramsalata, melintzanosalata and revithia. The tzatziki is one of the best I’ve ever had with crisp fresh cukes, a hint of onion and garlic, and thick puckery Greek yogurt. The melintzanosalata turns out to be a creamy eggplant dip with tomatoes, garlic, and lots of olive oil. The revithia is a tasty, chunky pureed chickpea spread, but the taramosalata is puzzling. It reminds me of hummus, but it has a smoky, meaty flavor as well as a pinkish tint. Further investigation reveals it’s carp roe dip, not nearly as exotic or appetizing sounding as taramosalata, right? But it’s highly addictive and I’m greedily schmearing it on fresh, warm pita at record speed.

I’ve ordered the tsoutsoukakia, Greek meatballs with garlic, olives, and tomatoes. The beefy meatballs are out of this world, enhanced by tomato sauce with slivers of green and black olives, whole cloves of roasted garlic, and chunks of fresh tomato. The garlic cloves are so large, I mistake them for gnocchi (for the record, I know those aren’t Greek) or butter beans at first. What a pleasant surprise to bite into a sweet garlicky clove daubed in tomato sauce! This is comfort food at its best. Paired with more warm pita just elevates it even further. Jeremy isn’t as taken by the meatballs as I am, but for me this is the absolute best dish of our Manhattan foodie weekend. I vow to replicate these meatballs back home, and it’s only after returning home I discover they were named best meatballs in the city a few years back.

For my main entree, I choose the chickpea, eggplant, and bulgar fritter with tahini sauce and pita. The sandwich is served with a generous portion of potato chips and a small Greek salad. I’m pretty full from all our fab appetizers, so I open up the pita, dump on the salad, and eat it fork and knife style. The fritters are creamy on the inside and slightly crunchy on the outside. With the lemony tahini sauce and veg from the salad, it’s the perfect bite each time. I’m too full to finish and leave most of the pita behind, which is depressing, given Kefi’s pita bread warm from the ovens is extraordinary.

We order the rice pudding and walnut cake to share, both of which are exquisite. Not much can tear me away from a good rice pudding, but I opt to sip my red wine (a Northern Greek blend 90% Tempranillo and 10% Cab), relive those phenomenal meatballs, and plot how I might smuggle some home.

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