Astorian Ambrosia

Readers who have canvassed my back posts will notice that I have thus far, save for mentioning the Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall, totally ignored the neighborhood of Astoria in favor if its slightly more exotic neighbor, Jackson Heights.  Believe me, this was unintentional – despite some initial mediocre experiences (culinary and otherwise), Astoria has grown on me during subsequent visits.

Combining my need to write about Astoria with my and my girlfriend’s cravings for Greek food (another thus-far untouched category), we decided to visit Philoxenia (26-18 23rd Av., Ditmars N/W) last night.  Philoxenia is the number 4 restaurant on the 2005 Sietsema list, which is both quite justified and somewhat confusing – the food is absolutely delicious, but the prices are more expensive than any other restaurant I’ve been to on his list, save perhaps Korean Temple Cuisine.

We started with a powerfully garlic version of Tadzhiki ($4.50), which I probably hadn’t had in spreadable form since leaving Germany three-plus years ago.  This olive-oil-infused version of the cucumbery classic was thicker than many versions I’ve had, not diluting the yogurt base in the least.  It was a good match with the buttery garlic bread that arrived on our table concurrently.

Our entrees were the beef stew special ($12.50) and the meatballs ($10.50), both sided with Philoxenia’s fresh cut French fries topped with parmesan.  The meatballs were exquisite.  I’m of the opinion that there’s no worse sensation in the beef world than the snap that previously-frozen meatballs make when bitten into; these large, football-shaped nuggets were to-die-for fresh and drenched in an oily red sauce that, had we said ‘yes’ to the friendly waitress’ asking us if we wanted more bread, would absolutely have received the sop-up treatment.

The beef stew was also good – the beef was cooked to retain both texture and flavor and was not at all mushy, but it was tender rather than tough.  Not much stew sauce was included, but what was there was mighty tasty.  The parmesan-and-oregano-topped fries included with it (we had a choice of fries or rice) were cooked to perfection from obviously-fresh potato sources, and they made a nice complement to the beef, but the parmesan and oregano didn’t offer as much flavor as I’d hoped.

We were absolutely stuffed after this feast, and hadn’t planned to eat dessert, but the very friendly waitress offered us something on the house, and I’m loath to turn down free food in good restaurants.  We hadn’t realized what was coming, though – put down in front of us was what looked like yogurt with golden raisins on steroids.  Indeed, it was yogurt, but of a particularly thick, pungent variety – I think it was goat milk yogurt, actually.  The “golden raisins” were actually golden grapes infused with honey, and the combined pungency of the yogurt and sweetness of the grapes led us to scarf the dish with no regard to our already sated appetites – was this the Ambrosia that the Olympian gods noshed on?  I’d order it again even if it wasn’t offered gratis.

Again, this meal was not what I’d consider extremely cheap, overall – both entrees were over ten bucks, and the five dollar appetizer was a bit on the expensive side for what it was, I thought.  However, I have not compared to other Greek restaurants – this one may be the cheapest of the lot.  Also, it was hugely tasty and the service was very friendly.  I’m thinking that one of my mantras should probably be, “If you’re going to overpay, make sure it’s damn good.”  Philoxenia, I’m happy to report, is damn good.

P.S. – for you wine drinkers out there, a glass of the house wine is only $2.50.  Make no mistake: this is house wine of the unaged and unsubtle variety, but the red (we didn’t try the white) has a pleasing fruitiness rather than an unappealing one, and the taste reminded me of table wines previously drunk at Greek restaurants across Europe.  The Greek and Cypriot beer isn’t too expensive, either.

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