New York Times Review


Comfort Food à la Grecque

A Review of MP Taverna, in Irvington

BRASSERIE STYLE MP Taverna is housed in a former warehouse, with high ceilings and large mirrors.
Published: September 21, 2012

MICHAEL PSILAKIS, the chef at Anthos, in Manhattan, showed diners that Greek food could be as sophisticated and creative as any other cuisine. The upscale restaurant, which he opened with Donatella Arpaia, won a Michelin star, laudatory reviews and the fervent gratitude of city foodies.

Mr. Psilakis left Anthos in 2010, but he continues to run his two other popular spots, Kefi and Fish Tag, on the Upper West Side, and has branched out with a cookbook and a BBC America series, “No Kitchen Required.” Now the peripatetic chef has introduced a new, casual restaurant concept, MP Taverna — first on Long Island, then in May, in Irvington (next up: Astoria).

Lucky Westchester. The county has seen some good Greek restaurants open in recent years, but nothing quite like MP Taverna. The difference begins with the look of the place, housed in a former warehouse set slightly back from the Hudson River, with soaring ceilings, old wood beams and large mirrors reflecting light and making the space feel even bigger than it is. There isn’t that Mediterranean blue anywhere, no fish on ice, no photos of Santorini or any of the other classic symbols of a Greek restaurant. Instead, MP Taverna feels like a Greek brasserie.

Mr. Psilakis is trying to get diners to let go of their assumptions. So the thick, creamy yogurt, cucumber and fresh dill served with warm, flavorful pita is called yogurt dip, not tzatziki. Loose, savory meatballs served with bright olives are called just that, “meatballs,” not keftedes. And the “Greek sausage” is a contemporary version of the classic pork dish, made with leeks and a hint of orange peel, but nowhere on the menu is the word loukaniko.

Still, make no mistake, this is Greek food at its best: simple, fresh, unpretentious. A soup special of broccoli and basil was the deep green of late summer, a dab of pesto and extra virgin olive oil amplifying the garden tastes. The grilled octopus appetizer was tender and smoky, with crispy edges and a chickpea side salad to balance the meat’s texture. Lemon chicken, pan roasted before it went in the oven, had a perfectly crispy skin, moist interior and just the right amount of fresh dill and garlic to bring some excitement to the familiar dish.

You can get grilled fish or chicken, and even a whole roasted lamb, goat or suckling pig, but there are a few more complicated dishes as well. The gyro-spiced beef sliders gave a Greek twist to typical pub fare, adding pepperoncini, gherkins and a slice of lemon to each little burger. “Dumplings” — basically, gnudi — were so light they barely registered on the tongue except as a wonderful ricotta taste mixed with bits of spicy lamb sausage, sun-dried tomato, pine nuts, spinach, tomato and feta. The Greek paella was full of shellfish and, for a twist, made with spicy lamb sausage as well, and orzo instead of rice.

Some of the kitchen’s most interesting work comes at the end of the meal, when nuts play a major, most welcome role. Baklava is loosened from its traditional, tight confines and made into a napoleon with layers of apple compote, Metaxa-spiked cream, phyllo squares and walnuts. The honey is subtle, but evocative. The chocolate halvah brownie comes with a tahini crème anglaise, sesame ice cream and smoked almonds. And galaktoboureko is served as a parfait with a crown of shredded phyllo, caramelized honey and almonds.

The result is comfort food at a very high level, and it all helps to meet Mr. Psilakis’s aim. He lost his father in recent years, and in a phone interview he described the experience as a turning point in his approach to cooking and restaurants. “Early in my career, I looked at food as an art,” he said. “But after my dad died, it became more about sharing and creating memories with other people — not a memory of the food, but of the experience the food helped create.”

MP Taverna

1 Bridge Street
(914) 231-7854


THE SPACE A high-ceilinged former warehouse by the Hudson River. Large mirrors increase light and sense of space. There is an outdoor dining area in front with about 20 seats. Wheelchair accessible.

THE CROWD Families, small groups, singles at the bar. Lots of local residents, but also some city diners coming up for a meal. Casually but smartly dressed.

THE BAR At the front of the restaurant, and visible but separate from the dining room. There are five tables for dining; people often eat at the bar proper as well. But there are plenty of drinks to choose from, including craft beers ($6 to $34), specialty cocktails ($12) and a broad, deep wine list. Selections are available by the half glass or glass, half bottle or bottle ($7 to $24 for a full glass; $23 to $120 for a full bottle).

THE BILL Entrees run from $15 to $19; specials can be a bit higher. American Express, MasterCard and Visa accepted.

WHAT WE LIKED Broccoli and basil purée soup (special), meatballs, Greek sausage, gyro-spiced sliders, grilled octopus, crispy cod, dip combo, beef souvlaki, dumplings, macaronia, Greek paella, roasted lemon chicken, grilled Montauk bluefish (special), spiced walnut and parsnip cake, apple “baklava” napoleon, chocolate halvah brownie, galaktoboureko parfait.

IF YOU GO Open daily. Lunch, daily, noon to 3 p.m.; dinner, Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations recommended. Parking is free on weekends, pay-and-display on weekdays.

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