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Ploes: A visit to the Mediterranean in Greek Astoria

Greek Astoria has made room for yet another Greek eatery. Kosta Azlonitis opened Ploes about five months ago, dubbing it an "Estiatorio Mezodopolio." If that is Greek to you, it means a restaurant specializing in "meze," or small plates (not really that small) of assorted Mediterranean specialties equivalent in intent (if not portion size) to Spanish tapas. Ploes claims to be the only meze restaurant in New York with more than 80 different kinds of Meze.

Ploes's interior designer did a credible job of meticulously transforming a long narrow space into a Mediterranean fantasy. The vaulted ceiling is lined with brick, and the walls feature artfully constructed arches enhanced by faux finishes and punctuated with spotlighted flowering plants. Even the restrooms are lovely and in keeping with the Mediterranean theme.

The menu is somewhat daunting to the uninitiated. Greek text predominates, although in most cases, English translations follow. The list of salads, hot or cold appetizers and meze is formidable. We asked our server for recommendations. He unhelpfully responded that "it depends on what you like." With much prompting from us, he made some recommendations, which we combined with our own choices.

Excellent bread is brought to the table, some of it studded with olives. We began with two types of salad. A very tangy Farmers Salad came with cucumbers, onions, capers, feta cheese, and carrot, served with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar. It was an upscale cousin to the kind of universal Greek salad to which we are accustomed. The components were cut up smaller, and the quality of the ingredients, a cut above, but the flavors are familiar.

Our more daring salad selection was the Pantzaria, a salad of red beets and garlic dip. That was it. Slices of cooked red beets and skordalia, the Greek garlic and potato dip. The beets, usually a vegetable with a very pronounced flavor, and with luck a bit of sweetness, lacked both characteristics. If we had closed our eyes, we could have been mopping up our dip with the mystery vegetable. The dip was tasty, though.

Tirokafteri, a tangy puree of matured cheeses, flavored with spices and hot peppers, was the recommended cold appetizer. It was as delicious as it was potent. A little goes a long way.

We moved on to a couple of fried items. Kolokithia Tiganita, or fried zucchini with garlic dip (that same skordalia again), was light and fresh and tasty, although following the beet salad with more of the same dip was a tactical error.

Our other fried dish was the result of a misunderstanding. We asked for herring, which is offered here as a smoked herring puree. Our waiter evidently heard "spearing" for "herring," so we wound up with a plateful of little fried fishies with onions. We didn't say anything. The spearing were nicely fried, but the whole fish itself was a little crunchy for our taste.

There is a category on Ploes's menu for "clay pots" with a box below urging the diner to "ask your server about Kosta's special clay pot of the day." We asked. The answer was that they had all the clay pots listed on the menu and they were all special. We tried two. One was "Giahni Toy Papa: From Mount Athos," described as a braised lamb in a delicate, fresh tomato sauce with roasted potatoes, herbs, and Kefalograviera cheese. As advertised, a hearty, meaty lamb stew arrived. The flavor of Kefalograviera, a fairly assertive sheep's milk cheese dominated the lamb, tempered by another surprising influence--apricots. The combination of flavors took a little getting used to, which kept things interesting.

In the tried-and-true department, we ordered moussaka. It is one of the "special clay pot" offerings here and is delivered baked in a very ample individual crock. It would have been a great moussaka, but was delivered unevenly reheated, probably in a microwave.

The standout dish of the evening was a beautifully grilled whole porgy. It was sweet and juicy, and redolent of an excellent herbal marinade. It took forever until it was ready, but was worth the wait.

Our meal was completed with Greek coffee and a complimentary dessert of semolina pudding, the sole dessert offering of the evening.

The Bottom Line

The extensive meze menu makes this place ideal for a group of friends to get together for an evening of tastings of a wide variety of familiar and esoteric Greek specialties in very attractive surroundings.

Ploes

33-04 Broadway, Astoria

718-278-1001/1133

Cuisine: Greek

Setting: Stylishly Mediterranean

Service: Attentiveness waxes and wanes

Hours: Seven days 12 p.m. - 12 a.m. L& D

Reservations: Optional

Alcohol: Wine & beer

Parking: Valet

Dress: Casual

Children: Welcome

Music: Recorded

Takeout: Yes

Credit cards: Yes

Noise level: Noisy

Handicap accessible: Yes

Recommended Dishes

Farmer's Salad (Horiatiki)...$9.00 lg / $7.00 med.

Cheese puree (Tirokafteri)...$5.00

Fried Zucchini with garlic dip (Kolokithia Tiganita)...$6.00

Braised lamb (Giahni Toy Papa)...$14.00

Moussaka...$12.00

Porgy (Tsipoura)...Market price

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