In my perverse system of measurement for such things, restaurants whose virtues take me by surprise get bonus points above and beyond those that entice you with beguiling exteriors. The places that are discreet about their charm allow you a feeling of discovery, or of being let in on a secret.
One prime example of such a place in Opa, a Greek restaurant in Astoria. I had passed it by for years, thinking of it as a take-out joint good for a quick souvlaki on the run. Only when a Greek acquaintance referred to it as his fave Greek restaurant did I suspect that it might be worth a second glance.
My arrival at Opa yielded pretty much what I had originally envisioned a deli style counter offering a variety of Greek specialties, and a couple of tables for waiting for take-out orders to be prepared. Then a hostess appeared and asked my companion and I if we would like to be seated in the dining room. Sure, we replied. She ushered us through a narrow passageway into another world.
The dining room is light and airy with skylights and windows overlooking an adjoining outdoor dining area. The walls and ceiling have been plastered with a thick stucco-like material that was used to round all the corners, and create odd shaped niches for Greek artifacts and plants. There is a fireplace in one corner embedded in the white stucco and surrounded by a mosaic of stones. Plants, textiles, streamers of Greek flags and lively Greek music complete the charmingly festive atmosphere.
The décor certainly clues you in to what to expect foodwise Greek, of course. Their offerings run the gamut from traditional dips and salads, grilled meats, casseroles (pastitsio and moussaka) and seafood. Their two greatest assets are their meats, which come from their butcher shop next door, and their bread which comes freshly emerged from their wood burning oven.
We began with a cold combination appetizer platter of cheese salad, Russian salad, Taramosalata and melitzanosalata. The cheese salad was deliciously garlicky, like a feta-based Boursin. The excellent taramosalata, a creamy emulsified spread made from fish roe, was perfect. Melitsanosalata, an eggplant salad similar to babaganoush, was rich and very smoky. The Russian salad was a potato salad, and the least interesting of the four. The salads were served accompanied by a basket of heavenly Greek Village bread. An order of the cold combination appetizers for one is enough for two if youre also ordering entrée platters.
Two other appetizers worth considering are saganaki and loukaniko meze. The saganaki is slices of Greek cheese that are flamed with brandy at your table. This dish should be shared among several diners, or its an awful lot of cheese. Loukaniko meze is a platter of delectable homemade Greek sausages which make a worthy appetizer if you arent planning to order them as your main course.
Stick with meat entrees like gyro, souvlaki, or bifteki. The Opa combination platter which includes gyro, souvlaki and bifteki with salad, pita and fries or rice and tzatziki (yogurt) sauce allows you to sample several of Opas best dishes. They operate a butcher shop as well, so you can count on the meat being fresh and good quality. The pastitsio, moussaka, spinach pie on the other hand, are less dependable, often arriving reheated and soggy.
For dessert we indulged ourselves in Greek coffee and a richly rewarding custard-filled pastry called galaktobouriko. It was a satisfying ending to a delightful meal.
The Bottom Line
Opa is a charming Greek hideaway in an unlikely location. Stick with the salads and meats for a delicious Greek meal. Buy a loaf of Greek bread to take home on your way in as the bakery closes earlier than the restaurant. They also offer all of their seasoned meats uncooked on skewers, a great idea for your own backyard barbecue.
28-44 31st St., Astoria
Setting: Greek country village
Hours: L & D daily
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Tolerable
Handicap Access: Yes
Cold combination appetizers (cheese salad, Russian salad, taramosalata, melitzanosalata) for one $4.25 (for two $7.50, for four $12.25)
Scordalia (potato & garlic spread) $3.50
Opa Saganaki $5.75
Loukaniko Meze $6.25
Opa Combination Platter $11.25
Loukaniko (sausage) and Keftedakia (meatballs) $8.25
©2004 Community News Group
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