Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Philoxenia - Good Food but Hospitality Forgotten
Philoxenia - 32-07 34th Avenue, Astoria NY 11106
N/W Train to Broadway
Last night I finally visited a restaurant that's been on my to-try list for a while, Philoxenia. I've heard many great things about it, especially about how warm and authentic it is. While I enjoyed the food and the atmosphere very much, the service needed improvement.
What a lovely place! Even though my dining companion and I sat in the semi-outdoor area in the front, we were curious and explored the back of the restaurant after our meal. We were so impressed that we agreed to sit here during our next visit.
The walls are rustic with exposed brick and Greek folky knick-knacks such as clay pots, plates and vases. There's a huge fireplace in the back of the room that's a focal point and gives Philoxenia a cozy feel. Another aspect that drew us to the main dining area was the live Rebetika, Smyrneika & Entehna music, featured every Tuesday night at 9pm. It was beautiful, relaxing and set the mood further for an authentic evening of Greek eats.
There was a nice selection of meze as well as traditional Greek seafood. My dining companion and I chose the sharing route, as we split four distinctive meze and a dessert. It was just enough for us and we walked out full but not overstuffed.
Pikilia (Sampling of Spreads) - I like this sort of meze because it offers a variety of tastes on one plate. The four spreads included tzatziki, eggplant, spicy feta and fish roe. My clear favorite was the tzatziki because it was the most refreshing, with a distinctive cucumber flavor. A close second was the spicy feta. While my dining companion thought that it was too spicy, I could've handled a bit more heat--I like how it woke up the senses with its sharpness. The fish roe and the eggplant were also good but I've had better at other Greek neighborhood joints such as Akti and Agnanti.
Grilled Haloumi - A big fan of this grilled goat's cheese, I was curious to try Philoxenia's. I thought that it was satisfactory but unremarkable because it was a bit dry. Again, I preferred Akti's version, which is served on pita with tomatoes and lemon.
Keftedes Tiganitoi (Meatballs) - This dish hit it out of the park for me. The meatballs were lightly fried with a crunchy exterior and the softest, most fragrant interior. There were plenty of fresh spices intertwined in the meat and I could've eaten the whole plate myself. These were far superior to other Greek meatballs that I've tried in the neighborhood and I recommend them wholeheartedly.
Octapodi Psito (Grilled Octopus) - A highly recommended dish by the New York Times, we just had to try it. Its texture was nice and the flavor was fresh (not fishy) and lemony. Seasoned simply but well with salt, pepper and oregano, it was flavorful and refreshing. The portion was generous and definitely enough for two people.
Karidopita (Walnut Cake) - I just loved this spicy, walnut-cinnamon cake. It wasn't heavy and was dressed with a dollop of simple Greek yogurt. Although cakes like this have the propensity to be dry, this one wasn't and it actually didn't even need the yogurt. We both liked it and cleaned the plate--again, the portion was big, especially given the low cost.
Service and Cost:
The service started out amazingly, as our cheery waitress came over every few minutes to check on us, take our order and answer various questions. However, we felt disappointed when we asked her for suggestions and she was unable to give us a clear cut recommendation, instead providing us with sugary generalizations, saying that "everything is good."
Towards the middle of dinner, we got another waitress and at the end, yet another. We had a hard time getting hold of anyone when we needed the check and felt forgotten. Philoxenia shares this unfortunate service trait with Agnanti - they start out stellar but neglect patrons at the end of the meal.
Costs are moderate but more expensive in comparison to its Greek counterparts. We paid $40 per person for a meal consisting of 4 meze, 1 dessert and 2 glasses of wine. Meze range between $5.50 - $18.50, fish dishes run between $13.50 - $24 and desserts are in the $5.50 neighborhood.