Michael Psilakis elevates Greek cuisine to Olympian heights at Anthos.
Thu Apr 5 2007
Photo: Talia Simhi
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Anthos, the latest Greek extravaganza from chef Michael Psilakis, has service so professional that I asked one waitress about her previous employer. Per Se, she replied. Why leave one of the most coveted and lucrative serving gigs in town? “I came here to learn,” she insisted. As I tore through the meal, that reasoning seemed increasingly prescient. Psilakis is surely the Thomas Keller of Greek cuisine, and the confident, ambitious Anthos makes a resounding case that Greek cooking, at its highest levels, can compete with the city’s most sophisticated cuisines.
Those familiar with Psilakis won’t be surprised. His now-closed restaurant Onera, which opened on the Upper West Side in 2004, reminded New York diners that Greek could be both haute and innovative. And while Dona, last year’s Pan-Mediterranean collaboration with restaurateur Donatella Arpaia (also closed), was uneven, the Greek dishes sang. Anthos reunites Psilakis with Arpaia, but here, the chef transforms what was merely a revelation at Onera into high art.
The charming Arpaia still swans around the front of the house, but Anthos is less of a Donatella showcase than her previous spots. Little has been done to the rich, muted dining room that the partners inherited from Acqua Pazzo. Though the setting is lush—big front windows; textured, cream wallpaper; curved ceiling; cherry blossom prints (anthos means “blossom” in Greek)—the focus is squarely on the food.
Psilakis reasserts his mastery of seafood, best exemplified by his crudo, a signature of both Onera and Dona. The chef lines up colorful bites, anointing each perfect piece of fish with a distinctly Greek touch: Blood red tuna was topped with mastic oil, black caviar and lemon confit; yellowtail came with fennel pollen and ouzo-marinated cherries; a silky scallop was mated with pomegranate seeds and pistachios.
Psilakis is less experimental when it comes to meat. Roasting is his method of choice, whether it’s chicken, a sirloin steak or the succulent rack of lamb, paired with the lightest moussaka I’ve ever had. Among the main courses, fish still reigns supreme. My favorite: Extra-moist halibut (first poached in olive oil, then panfried) rests in an earthy scallion broth dotted with giant morels and crowned with a sturgeon taramasalata.
As excellent as the savories are, Anthos’s strongest course might be dessert. Pastry chef Bill Corbett follows Psilakis’s lead, toying with Greek standards: Sesame ice cream is coated in a sweet-salty sesame paste in a riff on halvah; Greek yogurt is adapted into four panna cotta--style custards and topped with candied fruits and vegetables, including olives (which tasted like prunes), with lime gelatin as a palate cleanser in between.
Like that gelatin, extras popped up constantly: Meze of halloumi cheese, lamb sausage, taramasalata and lightly batter-fried shrimp appeared on the table even before the bread did; tiny praline-sesame mousse cakes, truffles and tangerine ptes de fruits ended the meal. It makes Anthos a Keller-like experience, which is only appropriate given the Keller-level pricing. The only bargains on the equally expensive wine list are the Greek bottles (hint: the $36 Limnos is quite good). But a meal here is well worth paying—or leaving Per Se—for.