19 W 44th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-221-0144). Subway: B, D, F, V to 42nd St--Bryant Park; 7 to Fifth Ave. Daily 5:30pm--midnight. Average main course: $19.
Greek menus can be intimidating on many levels. First there’s the aki suffix—not just in souvlaki, but, at a high-end restaurant like this, in lavraki (a fish), spanaki (a salad) and an entire saganaki “bar,” a.k.a. a selection of Greek “cheeses dishes.” These and others are all on the menu at Kellari, a giant addition to midtown overseen by Costas Tsingas—executive chef for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece. The other scary thing about Greek restaurants are their obscure Mediterranean fish, vaguely described as delicate, moist or mild. This is indeed how it pans out at Kellari, but all is not lost: One Greek server chimed in with useful advice during every course. She not only explained why the lavraki was a better choice for us than the sargos: She brought samples to our table, discussed portion sizes and made sure we didn’t end up ordering a $100 whole fish—something that can happen when you buy your entres by the pound. She was especially useful before dessert, when we labored over what to eat and drink—not ouzo, which is apparently more of an aperitif, but dessert wines and spirits (Greek equivalents to Madeira and grappa). Of note to niche-interest diners: The space is not designed for intimate seduction, but can ably and attractively host large groups. The Mediterranean-heavy wine list of 250 bottles includes 36 by the glass. And there are a number of exotic meat dishes—lamb offal, veal cheeks and kid goat—which, when compared with everything else on the menu, suddenly seem like the least intimidating choices.—TONY
|Venue name:||Kellari Taverna||Contact:|
19 W 44th St
|Cross street:||between Fifth and Sixth Aves|
|Opening hours:||Daily 5:30pm–midnight|
|Transport:||Subway: B, D, F, V to 42nd St–Bryant Park; 7 to Fifth Ave|
|Price:||Average main course: $19. AmEx, MC, V|
|Do you own this business?|
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Kellari Taverna offers traditional Greek dishes in a very upscale atmosphere; you won't find any Acropolis murals or cheap plaster statuary here, but you can get favorites like spanikopita (spinach pie) and baklava.
Lunch at Kellari attracts mid-town business people, and it's a large, high-ceilinged room, so it can be rather noisy, making conversation a chore. Our server had to shout to be heard. Since it was my first dining experience at Kellari, I played it safe and went with familiar dishes: the aforementioned spanikopita to start (fresh and light, with crispy (not soggy) philo and tangy feta cheese) and the kebab as entrée. Made of fine ground lamb and beef, it was somewhat dry and chewy; the dill yogurt helped to make it go down. It was served with french fries (not very Greek!), pita triangles and a few leaves of bib lettuce. The ever-popular baklava was the dessert: A hefty slice, sweet and crunchy with plenty of honey and walnuts, served with delicious coffee.
Seafood is the draw at Kellari, but unfortunately I don't eat fish, so my options were limited. Judging from my standard lunch choices, however, I'm sure everything on the menu is well-prepared, fresh and handsomely served. I can't comment on price, either, since I was being treated. Overall, though, I would definitely recommend Kellari Taverna if you're looking for upscale Greek cuisine in mid-town Manhattan.