Sunday, August 15, 2010

To Loukoumi - Astoria, NYC

New York City abounds with different cultural heritages. It's a city comprised of some hundreds of neighborhoods where immigrants from all of the world have built their homes in the New World. I found out that Astoria in Queens has it's own Greek area, so we took the Metro to where it ends on Astoria Boulevard, and walked east on Ditmars Boulevard to see what we could find. There was a definite Greek presence, but it was hard to decide on which restaurant would be authentic without overcharging us tourists. We walked east past a few overcrowded eateries until we came upon To Loukoumi.

The restaurant gets its name from sweet, chewy candies like Turkish delight, but the word has also come to mean "tasty," which is a good descriptor for all of their food. The menu avoids common dishes such as gyros in favor of authentic dishes that you don't find at your local Pita Pit. Everything you can imagine is on the menu, including saganaki (flambeed cheese) and chargrilled octopus. I was sad I could only fit so much food in my stomach because there were a number of dishes I wanted to try.

Dips Sampler

I could not decide on just one item from the extensive menu, so I ordered a selection of dips, served with fresh, warm pita bread points. On the left is skordalia, a thick garlic dip that just sings and begs to be spread on almost every piece of food that goes into your mouth. In the back is melitzanosalata, made from eggplant. Some unexpected sweetness came out of the earthy, smokey taste of this delicious dip. On the right is one of my favorites and what is seen as the most popular dip in Greek-American food - tzatziki. A combination of yogurt, shredded cucumber, garlic, lemon, and some other spices make a cool, refreshing, and astonishingly flavorful dip that is good on all sorts of pita sandwiches and meats. Lastly, in the foreground of the picture, is a spread made out of orange fish roe. This final dip tasted more like a smoked fish spread than I expected and was a delectable, salty counter to the other flavors.

Ground Chicken Patties

The entree we ordered was ground chicken formed into these patties, then grilled. It reminded me of a flat meatball or a slice of meatloaf in some ways. The patties contained feta and some other unknown spices that really made it stand out. I'll admit that chicken patty does not sound that outstanding, but these were flavorful and moist, so what more could you ask for? On the side are sauteed dandelion greens which are like a hearty sauteed spinach.

Greek Coffee

It was a quiet evening in the restaurant and after we paid the check we were just about ready to head back to Manhattan when one of the owners approached our table and struck up a conversation. She, like her staff, was very pleasant and even convinced us to try some Greek coffee, free of charge. Like many Mediterranean cultures, this coffee is small, strong and sweet. The coffee is poured over sugar at a temperature that caramelizes the sugar and adds an interesting flavor to the coffee. Just don't drink too deep or you might hit some of the bitter grounds at the bottom.

While we were enjoying our coffee, the proprietor brought us a plate of Greek yogurt with blueberries, peaches and honey. We ate it so fast I did not have time to take a picture, but it was very delicious and a light end to a wonderful meal.

After talking with the owner for a while longer about the area, her family and some of the history of the restaurant, we left with stomachs full of good food and hearts content from good conversation. If you plan on visiting the Greek area of Astoria, go past the overcrowded standard restaurants for a couple more blocks to find this out-of-the-way, but worth-the-trip tavern.

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