Friday, September 7, 2007

Kefi

Grilled Octopus and Bean Salad.

by Jill Donenfeld

Kefi’s
nearly clandestine locale—located on a hectic stretch of west 79th street in the back of the sunken level of an apartment building—adds to its much-reviewed appeal, but the food could easily stand strong on its own. Upon entry, diners are greeted with a small bar and waiting area before being led to the quaint, low ceiling dining room when their table is ready. Tables are small and smooshed together, which, though adds to the intimacy of the place, becomes a problem when food starts arriving at rapid fire—which is exactly what it does.

Prices are so reasonable here that it is difficult to not over order. Everything looks and smells so good all around you (perhaps a benefit to putting tables up against one another is so you can check out what your neighbor is eating) that you’ll find yourself throwing in a side of this or an extra appetizer without a second thought.

Don’t fill up on the bread and instead, start off with the selection of spreads, which comes with warm fresh pita for dipping into small dishes of cool yogurt, taramasalata, eggplant dip, red pepper dip, and hummus. All are superb and instantly prepare diners palates for the theme of tastes and flavors to come.
Selection of Spreads Yogurt, Caviar, Eggplant, Yellow Pea.
Don’t miss out on the warm feta with tomatoes, capers, anchovies, peppers, and olives. It, too, arrives with pita, of which you’ll surely need a refill anyway. Crispy calamari is light and refreshing with its yogurt dip, but the better cephalopod in which to indulge is the grilled octopus, which arrives atop a bean and tomato salad. Two fat tentacles are perfectly grilled and offer a tender, meaty, smoky flavor. Meatballs, which come five minis per order, in a bubbly hot tomato bath will certainly be listed over and over in citywide meatball round-ups for months to come.

If all of this sounds tantalizing, don’t forget that those are just the appetizers. Of course, each one could serve as a meal. Each dish is so well seasoned and sauced; none will go to waste with the proper amount of pita to soak up any left over jus on any given platter.
Flat Pasta with Pulled Braised Rabbit and Graviera Cheese.
Try to go with more than one person so that a proper sampling of appetizers can be generated without feeling threatened by the thought of more food; because the food just keeps getting tastier as the meal progresses. Flat pasta with braised rabbit and graviera cheese—a sweet, nutty, hard cheese made from sheep’s milk—is easily a new top-twenty-dish in Manhattan for me. A casserole of orzo with feta, shrimp, blistery tomatoes, and spinach is another. Like many Greek restaurants, the fillet or whole fish should not be missed. And here it is the same. On the particular night we went, a striped bass was served crispy on a bed of golden potatoes and roasted tomatoes.

Though many of the traditional Greek ingredients—tomatoes, olives, feta, oregano, chickpeas, and sweet spices—are repeated in each dish, the flavors take on new meanings with each preparation. You’ll finish your meal fully sated but also wanting to try that one thing more you didn’t have room to try. Indeed, this is a restaurant that you’ll need to return to many times before you can feel like you’ve had the full experience. And that’s a really great thing—it’s not everyday in Manhattan, especially the Upper West Side that an affordable and delicious restaurant pops up.

Kefi
222 W. 79th St.
212-873-0200.
Kefi's dining room.
When not scooping the latest for NYSD, Jill Donenfeld heads up The Dish's Dishes, a personal chef and catering company founded for those who crave delicious food without the hassle of making reservations, ordering in, or turning on the oven. For more information on how to get your first DISH, check out www.TheDishsDishes.com