Monday, July 13, 2009

Pre-theater ups and downs at Dafni

This past weekend was my father's 60th birthday celebration, and my mom surprised him with a weekend in NYC packed full of fun and family. On Friday evening, we were headed to an 8PM showing of God of Carnage, so we had to grab a Theater District dinner first. While sometimes that can spell disaster, there was a local restaurant I've been meaning to try for a while: Dafni.

Dafni is located on a miserable stretch of 42nd Street, facing the street serenely like an oasis of calm across from the hulking Port Authority. It's a relatively new restaurant, but I remember walking past it a few months ago and subsequently looking it up online when I got home. Surprisingly, it had nearly unanimous positive ratings on Menupages; intrigued, I put it on my list of places to go. On Friday, Mom, Dad, the bro and I headed over.

The dining room is typically Mediterranean-themed, filled with light woods and tasteful decor, and nicely bright. However, we noticed as the meal went on that there are pretty much no textiles in the room, making the noise level almost extreme. People on opposite sides of the table basically relegated themselves to not conversing during the meal.

But more importantly, how was the food? For appetizers, Mom and Dad shared the maroulosalata, a mixture of chopped romaine, dill, and scallions with lemon vinaigrette. I tried a few bites and it had a nice bright, zippy flavor.

Huge portion, too

As a table, we shared an order of tzaziki, which comes with warm, fresh pita. This was notably delicious, touched with garlic and scallions and expertly scooped with the very, very addictive pita. (N.B.: If you're on a date or hope to engage someone of the opposite sex during the night, be careful with this stuff... the garlic is subtle but increasingly powerful in the hours after the meal.)

Thick 'n' creamy with a garlic kick

Our final appetizer was spanakopita, the classic Greek pie of spinach, feta, and spices enfolded in crisp phyllo dough. Dafni's version was hearty and well-seasoned-- well done.

Crisp and creamy

On to the entrees. My selection was the Nisiotiki salad, which consisted of mixed greens, grilled fennel, dried figs, and haloumi cheese. Oooooh, do I love haloumi. I asked for the dressing on the side, and it turned out to be an interesting vinagrette of indeterminate ingredients-- tasty, but the salad didn't need it. The fennel provided a soft contrast to the thick and chewy figs; the haloumi had been pre-grilled, which meant it was tasty but a little bit cool and rubbery. Overall, a good salad, but I was a bit too full from the appetizers to enjoy it fully.

Beautiful, beautiful haloumi

Dad and the bro shared the souvlaki and the tigania, both pork dishes. The souvlaki, offering skewers of meat and vegetables, was a hit, but the tigania was a pan. Even the tigania's "Greek fries" (covered with Oregano and thereby, evidently, Greek) weren't that great. Oh well.

Souvlaki-- yea

Tigania- nay

Dad also inadvertently ordered a side of greens, which were truly gross. What is it with Greek greens?


Mom chose the solomos, a grilled salmon steak presented alongside bland rice. She gobbled the fish up and voiced her approval.

Down the hatch

We were all too full for dessert, so we paid the bill and headed out towards the theater. I must say, I'm a bit puzzled by Dafni-- our experience wasn't entirely consistent with the overwhelming raves populating their Menupages site. The food was somewhat uneven-- some was superlative while some was subpar. And the insane noise level definitely diminished our enjoyment of the dinner. However, since my own dishes were tasty and the restaurant is quite reasonably priced overall, I'll give Dafni three Offset Spatulas and recommend it as a good alternative to the typical pre-theater options.

Dafni Green Taverna

352 W. 42nd Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues

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