Monday, February 2, 2009

Anthos Saves NYC Restaurant Week

Hot damn, Anthos – you are serving up some flavor flav!

A lackluster NYC Winter Restaurant Week was rescusitated Friday night by dinner at Greek hotspot/food-critic darling, Anthos. Since opening in 2007, the now Michelin-rated restaurant has earned nothing but praise and encouragement for head chef Michael Psilakis’ reinvented, modern take on Aegean cuisine.

What is a “reinvented, modern take,” you ask?

Well, flavors one comes to expect in Greek cooking such as dill, lemon, fennel, yogurt, and feta, are still alive and well on the plate, yet come together in intricate and surprising ways with other elements not typically found in Greek cuisine: vanilla-braised rabbit with hilopita pasta, manouri cheese and truffle, anyone?

Despite the hype, I found myself increasingly unmoved to try this cutting-edge menu. Maybe it was for fear Restaurant Week was going to be a wash after the meh-ness experienced at JoJo and The Bar Room at the Modern. What really sank my spirits, though, were the critical, often-scathing reports I’d discovered by folks on Yelp, who were less than impressed with Anthos’ Restaurant Week menu. “The TripChik” wrote, “Can I give Anthos negative stars?” Or “Peter A.”, who proclaimed cheerfully, “It wasn’t THAT bad.” Sure, there were a couple of posts that gave me hope, such as one from “jt,” who wrote, “I’m almost appalled at all the low stars. Anthos deserves 5”… but then slapped it with four.

Now that I’ve visited the restaurant, the backlash on Yelp makes more sense. Anthos puts forth thoughtful, imaginative, and surprising dishes—dishes that should evoke strong feelings, which may or may not make sense to everyone, especially to someone who likes his lamb gyro and grilled pork chops just fine. There’s also the matter of service at Anthos, which is every bit as atrocious as Yelpers let on.

We’ll start from the beginning.

Friday night, I met my good friend Eileen in the tiny waiting area at Anthos at 7:50. I asked a prickly hostess if our 8:00 p.m. table was available. “Name?” she asked brusquely. “Sharon,” I replied.

The woman scanned her list, already shaking her head in the negative, as if primed to dispute the reservation, which I had spent the previous night confirming over the phone. “Sharon?” she asked, her air incredulous. “Oh yes, Sharon,” her split-personality answered. The brusqueness returned. “No, your table will not be ready until 8:00.”

At 8:00 p.m. sharp, Eileen and I were led past the bustling main dining room, to a roomier, quieter, yet zero-ambiance space upstairs. We both appreciated the extra room, so didn’t mind the lack of decor, or even the smudged windows.

Soon after we were seated, an inordinate amount of free stuff was set before us. I’m not talking about bread--although there was some of that too, thoughtfully paired with regular and goat’s milk butter--I’m talking about this:
And this:
The first was a tasting plate of fried salmon meatballs with tsatziki; a red, fiery cheese with pita chips; and an assortment of herbed olives. Tasty.

The second was a decadent amuse bouche of a cauliflower soup topped with brussel sprout flake and a pinch of smoked feta cheese. This was all kinds of delicious, with layers upon layers of complexity and richness.

For dinner, I stuck to the Fixed-Price menu, and ordered:

Winter Greens Salad
Kaitiki Cheese, crushed pistachio, grapefruit vinaigrette

Braised Lamb Shank
Cinnamon onion, coriander puree, root vegetable

Pumpkin Karadopita
Spice cake, cranberry spoon sweet, smoked cinnamon parfait

(My dessert is in the foreground. Behind it is Eileen’s Chocolate torta with Caramel crème, tahini sorbet, halva, sesame pasteli: $12, which she ordered from the regular menu.)

My food was wonderful: unexpected, yet masterfully-controlled flavors. Anthos took something as simple and straightforward as a salad, and through a house-made grapefruit vinaigrette, elevated it into a complex, refreshing, and memorable first-course.

The lamb shank was brilliant. Not only was it cooked perfectly (I should’ve taken an “after” picture, so you could see a solitary, white bone on the plate), the prep for this dish must’ve been monster. Each root vegetable—tiny pearl onions, parsnips, carrots and mushrooms—were cooked separately. The coriander puree (more of a parsnip puree, really) had been soaked all day in milk with whole pieces of cardamom (I tracked down a server to inquire). The paper thin Tuscan kale had a hint of lemon, and managed to stay dry and crisp on top of the luscious shank. Each element stood out, yet melded.

The karadopita (essentially a walnut cake) took my breath away. Karadopita in the past has been very moist; this cake was not, however, it was better. The parfait added creaminess, pumpkin seeds added a salty twist, and the juicy, not-too-tart cranberries balanced flavors. A winner.

The extraordinariness of the food, coupled with the sheer amount of free stuff, made it easier to forgive dreadful, normally inexcusable service blunders such as:
  • We asked three times for a Diet Pepsi – it didn’t show up until halfway through the main course.
  • We asked more than once to have our water re-filled.
  • No one came to check on us during the course of dinner—our waiter took our orders and was never seen again. Afterwards, it was busboys who cleared the plates, and a stream of new characters who set dishes before us.
  • There were swarms of servers, yet no one seemed to know what they were doing. Most were congregating and chatting with one another (Eileen said that on her way to the restroom, she overheard a group under the staircase gossiping about diners).
Here are pictures from Eileen’s two dishes:

She ordered a diver sea scallop with a smoked oyster, ouzu butter and Jerusalem artichoke ($19), and some tuna (I believe it was in the $30 range, but don’t recall). She was equally delighted with her food (if not a little put off by the small portion size, or at least I was--I felt guilty sampling her dishes because they were so little) and similarly horrified by the service.

When the bill arrived, we received a final treat: some tasty caramel popcorn (not too sweet, a tad salty).

Be forewarned: regular menu prices at Anthos are hefty (my French press coffee was $6.00!). And service is downright awful.

But the food. Oh, the food!

36 West 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 582-6900


  1. Wow, sounds amazing. Did you happen to get a glimpse of the famous lamb burger? I remember reading somewhere that it's "epic".

  2. Hi Youngchae,

    No, sadly, all those around me were also partaking in Restaurant Week. It didn't help we were seated in Siberia, though. :)
    Will definitely try to make it back. They are definitely doing some interesting stuff there.