Denizens of Astoria’s Greek restaurants have come to expect a certain repertoire. A selection of garlicky dips, salads with feta, grilled seafood, a lamb dish or two, maybe moussaka are all tasty if done well, but predictable.
Thymari, a brand new Astoria restaurant has brought with it a new take on Aegean cuisine. Owner Konstanios Batalamas draws on memories from his northern Greek childhood for game recipes like wild boar and quail. His inclusive menu introduces various regional dishes utilizing indigenous ingredients like lavender honey and the restaurant’s namesake: thyme, a symbol of vigor in Greece.
The space, designed by Greek architect Maria Mousouri is stylish and welcoming. It features exposed brick walls and dark wood ceiling beams like so many of the newer western Queens eateries, but the effect is sleek and sophisticated rather than the post-industrial scruffy look that has been proliferating in the nabe. A series of six striking photographs by Greek photographer Giorgos Katsaggelos and an unusual diagonal wine rack complete the effect.
The selection of mezedes (small plates) is particularly enticing. Of course you can get the usual pikillia, a triad of dips with homemade pita, but there are so many more adventurous options.
Soutzoukakia is a quartet of skinless homemade cumin-scented beef and olive sausages doubly sauced with something feta and yogurty over something else red and tomatoey. Ctenia is a wonderfully voluptuous dish of pan seared scallops in sea urchin butter paired with a spinach feta soufflé. Although intrigued by it, we passed on the tigania, described as lamb offal, with scallions, mushrooms and oregano. Somehow the moniker “lamb offal” was off-putting in its mystery meat implications.
If you associate salad with leafy rabbit food, think outside the box with a Thymari salad. Instead think “soggy” but in a good way. The foundation of this salad is ouzo-soaked dakos (Greek barley rusks) mounded with feta, tomatoes, peppers, and capers dressed with a thyme-infused dressing. The sweet, salty, and sharp flavors are unpredictably harmonious.
Ortikia (quail) is a popular game bird in Greece. Here, a trio of them are pan seared and sauced with a sweet ouzo-orange sauce. The effect is more of a glaze than a sauce, and the mushroom fennel stuffing could use a little more assertiveness to balance the slightly cloying sauce. Our fish selection, lavraki (Mediterranean sea bass) was strewn with sautéed arugula, cherry tomatoes olives, garlic and capers. Somehow it wound up tasting like spa cuisine that made you want to go off your diet.
Speaking of going off your diet, the desserts here are worth it. House made, these Greek specialies avoid the obvious. Their bakclava is steeped in lavender honey. Pears poached in Mavrodafni wine comes with white chocolate yogurt mousse dusted with rosemary.
Thymari is an attactive new spot to expand your Greek culinary vocabulary. It has a full bar, a well-priced list of Greek wines, and even Greek beer. We recommend choosing multiple small plates over the app/entrée model to create your own customized tasting menu. It will be worth your thyme.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
32-07 34th Ave
Astoria, NY 11106
Price Range: small plates: $7–14; large plates: $17–26
Cuisine: Updated Greek
Setting: Stylish minimalist
Service: Eager to please. Working out the kinks.
Hours: Tues.–Thurs. and Sunday 5–11 p.m.. Fri–Sat. 5 p.m.–12 p.m.
Alcohol: Full bar
Dress: Smart casual to dressy
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes
©2012 Community News Group
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