Virtual Gourmet

One Bridge Street
Irvington, NY
914-231-7854
www.michaelpsilakis.com

 

Photos by Michael Harlan, Oleg March and Daniel Krieger


The Village of Irvington, named after the area’s most beloved writer, Washington Irving, who lived nearby at Sunnyside, has a quaint river town charm, history–it once had its own opera house and was home of America’s first female millionaire, Vera Lewaro–and  fine, varied architecture.  Sleepy is the word often applied to these Hudson Valley villages, and Irvington is a quiet spot, now enlivened by MP Taverna, which occupies a site that has seen a few restaurants come and go in
recent years.

 

MP stands for Michael Psilakis (left), the brilliant Greek-American chef who burst upon the scene in 2007 with Anthos, a thoroughly modern take on Greek cuisine, done with dash and high creativity–my pick inEsquire as best new restaurant of the year. His well-regarded cookbook,How to Roast a Lamb, was published in 2009.Some missteps, celebrity hype and partnership break-ups drove Psilakis out of Anthos back into more traditional forms of Greek food with Kefi and FISHTAG on the Upper West Side, and another unit of MP Taverna, in Roslyn, Long Island, and another on the way in Astoria, Queens.

 

The Irvington restaurant, with 120 seats and patio,  is set in an 18th century building that has seen a few restaurants come and go over the years. There’s a lot of mahogany wood, pine floors,  brass chandeliers, shelves of glass vases, distressed brick, roomy brown leather booths,  black and white floor tiles in the lounge (right), with a marble-topped bar,  and four larger tables that seat 16.  Would that this charming decor had tablecloths rather than dark brown tabletops. The 20-seat outdoor deck is outfitted with white marble table tops and dark brown wicker seating.

Westchester County is far from rich in Greek restaurants, so MP would be welcome anywhere, but, Psilakis told me, “I want Greek food to move into the American mainstream, like Italian food. So I’ve made the menu to have a lot of Greek classics but I’ve updated them and serve them alongside classic American sandwiches, salads, and burgers.” It’s a formula that really works, and, open just ten days now, it was already packed on a Thursday evening.

The heart of Middle Eastern food is in the mezes, and Psilakis offers a baker’s dozen, plus a selection of dips with pita bread. The barrel-aged feta with olive oil and a sprinkling of oregano had the right tang and texture, while the octopus (below) was not just among the most tender I’ve had anywhere but also the most flavorful. The biggest hit of the evening were a plate of hefty gyro sliders, whose juicy shreds of meat were well seasoned with pepperoncini and onion and set on a little bun that itself was delicious.  Also impressive was a generous platter of spiced pork ribs with smashed potatoes; not particularly smoky, the meat was an ideal balance of fat and lean and came off the bone full of succulence. The dips–savory eggplant with roasted peppers and garlic, chickpeas with sun-dried tomato and herbs, and housemade yogurt with cucumber and dill–available separately or all three for $12. The night’s only disappointments were the mushy texture of some otherwise good meatballs and the barely warm, somewhat chewy pita bread.

Every entree was a standout. Where to begin? Greek paella had an abundance of shellfish, each impeccably cooked, and lamb sausage in a heady broth.  A grilled branzino (below) could not possibly have been better cooked, a large piece of beautiful fish whose crispy skin was entirely edible, atop firm flesh oozing juiciness. If you like Italian gnocchi, you’ll love the fat dumplings here with lamb sausage

, sun-dried tomato, pine nuts, spinach, tomato and feta. Lamb shank was textbook perfect, with orzo pasta around it in the juices of the meat. Finally, I’m ready to pronounce Psilakis’ roasted lemon chicken in a rich, velvety garlic and dill the most delicious chicken dish I can remember in years–a masterpiece of good ingredients cooked with imagination and finesse. Did I mention it’s just $15 on the menu?

All desserts toed the same careful line as what preceded them, from a lovely spiced walnut and parsnip cake with cream cheese frosting and maple walnut ice cream to a chocolate halvah brownie with tahini creme anglaise and sesame ice cream. The apple baklava-like napoleon had a fine texture of shredded phyllo pastry over metxa ice cream and amaretto crunch ice cream.
There are more than 50 bottles of wine available in three- and six-ounce pours, as well as a good selection of international beers. Oddly enough, though, there is only one white and one red Greek wine on the list, a startling omission (especially since they were out of the listed red that night, and the vintages were already out of date). A place like this should be championing the great strides made in Greek wine in the past decade.

I worry that Psilakis may soon overextend himself with too many restaurants, but I sense that most of the food at MP Taverna can be made by a well-trained kitchen staff to come out with consistency.  Right now, this is some of the most exciting Greek food in the region, and I think Psilakis is well on his way to have such food enter the mainstream.

 

MP Taverna is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., Brunch Sat. & Sun., and dinner nightly. Dinner appetizers run $8.50-$13, entrees $15-$23.

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