When it comes to Greek restaurants in which you can sit down, enjoy a glass of wine, and have a classy meal, the options in New York are surprisingly slim. A few options come to mind, including Snack Taverna, Pylos, Estiatorio Milos, and Kefi, the latter of which is reviewed here. Advertised as serving ‘rustic Greek’ cuisine, Kefi is a product of a partnership between celebrity chefs Donatella Arpaia and Michael Psilakis. It is meant to emulate a Greek taverna and to evoke the laidback je ne sais quoi of the Greek lifestyle.
The 200-seat restaurant just north of the Museum of Natural History offers a clean and prissy spin on a seaside Greek taverna. The cool blue and bright white color palette is immediately evocative of the Greek islands. Smooth stone floors, white stucco walls, neat arrangements of blue-and-white dinner plates, and textured beams work to give the illusion of rusticity, while a massive complicated wave mosaic reminds diners that they’re still in one of the more expensive zip codes in Manhattan. Periwinkle blue faux window shutters seem to ask patrons to imagine that if they were to be cracked open slightly the soft warm breeze of the Adriatic would waft through instead of the trash odors from the neighboring alleyway. The whole look is convincingly enough Mediterranean to be cool, calm and relaxed.
The food is traditionally Greek, consisting of ‘favorites from Chef Psilakis’ childhood.’ The menu offers a bewildering array of options, all at exceedingly reasonable prices, ranging from small plates to sandwiches to pastas to large entree plates. The quality of the food is uneven, ranging from very delicious to down-right disappointing. On the one hand, the meatballs, unfortunately pegged as the house specialty, were served lukewarm and under-salted; though the mildly spicy tomato and garlic sauce was flavorful, the actual meatballs lacked punch and were ultimately underwhelming. On the other, the simple warm fingerling potato starter with string beans, feta, and olives was balanced and delicious with well-cooked cuts of boiled potato and salty bits of fresh feta cheese. The entrees were similarly disparate with a scrumptious pork souvlaki and a almost inedible flat pasta dish with braised rabbit. The souvlaki sandwich was served in a fresh, warm, and doughy pita with juicy pork cuts and a plethora of crisp vegetables – refreshingly simple. The flat pasta with braised rabbit was peculiar with long, broad and overcooked noodles baked into crockware with moist braised rabbit and Graviera cheese; it had an off-putting sour aftertaste and an almost nauseating ‘cheese gone bad’ aroma.
Although I personally prefer my Greek food in styrofoam take-out containers and despite inconsistent cuisine, Kefi offers great value for the Upper West Side. If you know what to order, Kefi delivers top-notch grub in a lovely environment at surprisingly low prices for Manhattan. It’s the ideal neighborhood go-to for families and young couples or a must-try destination spot for Greek Freak foodies.
Perfect For: young professional couples seeking inexpensive yet tasty full-service restaurants, Greek Freaks, celebrity chef chasers, Upper West Side neighborhood foodies