Before if I needed to satisfy a craving for Greek food, I would have headed for Astoria, our region’s Greek cultural capital. Northeastern Queens, from Bayside to Little Neck, another Greek population center, would have been another good option. But, on the other hand, Forest Hills doesn’t exactly conjure scenes from the Aegean. Or does it? Just maybe Agora Tavern, a new arrival on Austin Street, is going to change my perceptions.
Word of the great new place seems to be out. Early on a recent Wednesday evening, we were lucky enough to get a table. Reservations are not an option at this sleek modern aptly colored blue-and-white eatery. They manage to convey the combined messages of “Greek” and “seafood” without a speck of Greek nauticalia. No fishnets, stuffed fish, or other chazeri. Good call.
Skip the spreads here, not that they aren’t great, but with clever ordering you can sample some of them and a whole lot more. White bean dip with a light slick of fruity olive oil and a sprinkling of herbs is delivered to your table gratis with either a mini-baguette or toasted pita according to their whim, as far as we could tell. Multicolored wedges of sugar-sweet beets surround a central mound of skordalia, a garlic and almond-based dip to create Patzaria. Kolokithi could make you forget you ever heard of Buffalo wings. Paper-thin slices of tempura-like zucchini, eggplant and battered fried cubes of kefalograviera cheese are mated with a savory ramekin of tzatziki (garlicky yogurt and cucumber dip). Greeks salads here, officially called Horiatiki, are not the usual. Wedges of excellent tomatoes abound along with generous slabs of feta, sliced onions, cucumbers and green peppers. Olives are in scarce supply, and lettuce and anchovies entirely absent. A small garnish of sprouts suffices for any semblance of leafiness. Not bad, just maybe not exactly what I was expecting, and without airy greens — quite filling.
Life aquatic is definitely the main event here. If you want to check it out before you order, an array of the day’s offerings is displayed in a showcase in the rear. Their website claims that all seafood is purchased fresh daily, and everything I’ve tasted seems to support their assertion. A sweet-fleshed royal dorado was served grilled, topped with capers and herbs. The quality of the fish made this simple preparation work brilliantly. Seafood penne with shrimp, scallops, mussels and clams may not have been as abundant with seafood as some but its fresh tasting mollusks and crustaceans were obviously chosen with care, and what it lacked in quantity it more than made up for in quality. The slurp-worthy flavor of the white wine and garlic sauce would have made the dish a success even without the seafood.
My contrary dining partner wasn’t in the mood for fish. “So order a steak,” I suggested, not really meaning it. I inwardly rolled my eyes when he ordered, but had I let on what I was thinking, I would have had to eat my words. Agora could be a stealth steak house. His 16-ounce Brizola, or NY strip steak, was tender, juicy, flavorful, and cooked medium rare, exactly as ordered. It compared favorably to most I’ve had on the premises of purported steak specialists.
Agora’s desserts are a worthwhile indulgence. Go for the ekmek—shredded filo custard and pistachio whipped cream. Alternatively, the chocolatina is a Greek-named version of a chocolate mousse served with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream and a few roasted figs.
The Bottom Line
Agora is the best new restaurant to open on Austin Street in living memory, and my Forest Hills memory goes back quite a ways. The food is traditionally Greek, but with enough unusual variations on the theme to keep it interesting. The service is friendly, professional, and well-staffed, and has avoided the sense of disorganization that often plagues new dining establishments. Prices are reasonable. Outdoor seating is available in good weather. I’m delighted that they’re on my home turf, and expect to return many times in the future.
70-09 Austin St
Forest Hills, NY 11375
Price Range: Apps: $4.95--$12.95, Mains; $12.95--$23.95
Cuisine: Greek with emphasis on seafood.
Setting: Long, narrow, close quarters but attractive.
Service: Attentive, professional.
Hours: Lunch & Dinner Daily, Weekend Brunch.
Alcohol: Wine & Beer.
Children: Children’s menu.
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Acceptable.
Handicap accessible: Yes
©2011 Community News Group
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