Thursday, August 21, 2008

Good Greek by Grand Central at Ammos Estiatorio

My mom was in town this evening, so we decided to meet up for an early dinner. I chose Ammos Estiatorio, a place I had spotted a couple weeks ago when wandering around that was also convenient to both our locations.

We arrived absurdly early in the dinner hour-- towards 5PM-- to a not-surprisingly empty dining room. We were seated in a corner table in the lovely, warm, yet sophisticated dining room and were given the dinner menu. Since my mom wasn't really hungry, it took us a while to find our footing menu-wise, but after a few false starts (and several questions answered adequately by the server), our order was placed.

A runner brought over a basket of bread and a small plate of olives. The basket held flatbread, breadsticks, sesame bread, and what looked like rosemary-onion rolls. I tried a bit of the flatbread, which was utterly flavorless and nearly textureless as well (don't even know how that's POSSIBLE), and a tiny bit of the hard and chewy sesame roll. The lackluster bread was made up for by the delicious olives-- a mixture of fresh, tangy, and savory green, dark brown, and kalamata olives. The kalamatas were especially soft and fabulous. About halfway through our bread course, another runner came over with another basket of bread, stopped awkwardly, and then put some extra plates on the table and gave us his dish of olives. Upside: we got more olives.

Not the best I've had...

...but oh, so much better!

As my mother had ordered a whole grilled fish, which takes a while, the first part of my meal arrived first. It was the lahanika xidata, a selection of four mezes presented in a clear ice-cube-like tray. From left to right were pickled cucumbers (like the lightest, most gentle yet delectable pickles you've ever had); carrots in some sort of sauce (nothing special); chickpeas with a pepper and parsley mixture (very good, but even a bad chickpea is good for me); and beets (which tasted like bacon. Hmmm).

They're not REALLY floating there, it's just an optical illusion

Close up: cucumbers and carrots

Close up: yummy chickpeas and bacony beets

While I was having a little solo meze party, a surprise arrived at our table: an appetizer of kolokithokeftedes, or fried zucchini balls, "compliments of the chef." Not sure why this came (perhaps they spotted my liberal use of the camera?), but we were happy to have it. The little fried spheres were surprisingly soft and were filled with a mixture of fried zucchini and a touch of ricotta-like cheese. There was a welcome puddle of tzaziki in the middle (yummmm), and a few of those cucumber pickles. This was a delightful and delicious addition to our meal.

Free, fried, and delicious

After this appetizer extravaganza came the entrees. My "entree" was a side of grilled broccoli rabe with lemon. It was mercifully un-oily, as requested, but it was pretty bitter and lacked much flavor. I remarked to my mom that it could use some salt, and all of a sudden a dish of salt flakes and a pepper grinder appeared at my side. Well done, eavesdroppers!


My mom had ordered the Rhode Island Black Sea Bass. It came as a whole fish (head on, which my mom balked at and which was quickly removed), seasoned with herbs and a bit of olive oil and sauce. My mom thought it was very good, and it was flavored with a lot of spices she had never encountered before.

Pretty... yet fishy

We were both full and I had a lot of things to do this evening, so we skipped dessert and paid our bill. All in all, our experience at Ammos was a little odd. There were certainly service foibles, especially at the beginning... After we placed our order our waiter returned to bring back the menu and ask if my mom wanted a side dish with her fish (um, no); and then he took the wine list, then returned shortly after to bring back the wine list and ask if we wanted wine (um, no). But at some point I suspect they got wise to the whole blogging thing and began to dote on us... which wasn't too difficult, because we were one of the few patrons in the restaurant, even at the end of our meal. In any case, it's hard to judge service accurately at a really off-peak time, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt here. The food was really good, creative, and well-prepared (well, except for the bread basket, I guess), and the prices are not cheap but are certainly reasonable, especially for a rather nice restaurant. Would I recommend Ammos? Definitely, especially if you're in the vicinity of Grand Central. While I'm pretty sure Ammos would be a three-and-a-half Offset Spatula restaurant if I had half offset spatulas (I'm waiting, nycfoodguy...), I think this time I'm going to have to round up to four OSes. Go and check it out for yourself-- and let me know if you disagree.

Ammos Estiatorio
52 Vanderbilt Avenue, between 44th and 45th Streets

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