2010-09-29 / Restaurant of the Week

Exo Greek Mediterranean Restaurant

This gorgeous Mediterranean restaurant opened just a few weeks ago, nestled in the quiet community of Whitestone in Northeastern Queens, yet is easily accessible, just off the Cross Island Parkway and Whitestone Expressway. Brothers George and Jim Isaakidis welcome all to their sunny bistro with its golden yellow walls, hand painted sconces and beautiful murals, all done by an artist and friend of the family, Gregory Dela Haba. A raised dining area at the rear of the dining room allows for private parties and intimate dining. Best of all, visit now while the weather is still conducive to outdoor dining because Exo, whose name means “outside” in Greek, boasts a very spacious outdoor patio. Plenty of teak wood tables and umbrellas rest in the sun and under the moon to enjoy this fine Mediterranean cuisine in its natural setting. Families and friends enjoyed the evening’s breezes and fresh air while they dined on wonderful fish and seafood, meat, salads and more, all expertly prepared by chef Constantine Kalandranis.

Nearly every night, you’ll be greeted by manager Zisis Soulantzos, known simply as “Zi”. When I arrived, he was mixing up his unforgettable sangria while he chatted with the patrons. Once I settled into a tidy table outside, he uncorked one of the best wines in the house from the Nemea region, simple to find as it’s listed first on the wine list. There are imported and domestic beers as well, to complement your meal. Next, chef Constantine set me on a culinary journey that would make Ulysses jealous. He first delivered an impressive array of “meze” or Greek appetizers including his own dips that do not compare with others I’ve eaten. Hummus is smooth and lighter than air, gently seasoned so that you can enjoy the flavor of the chick peas when spread on the homemade pita bread. Melitzanosalata is bright with the flavors of fresh eggplant, onion and herbs. Taramosalata, normally quite salty, is light and fresh here, as is the tzatziki sauce that is not overwhelmed with garlic. By the end of the meal I came to discover that his dishes rely on the freshness of the ingredients and simple preparation to bring out their natural flavor.

Wonderfully fresh oysters on the half shell rest on a small pillow of caviar, tzatziki and lemon ($6). Grilled octopus was crispy outside and tender inside, prepared with tomato, chick peas and red wine vinegar. I loved the grilled shrimp, served with the juicy heads on and sprinkled with coarse sea salt ($11). Mussels get a

new twist, prepared country style with house made loukaniko sausage. If you prefer, these fresh mussels can also be steamed with white wine and capers and enjoyed as an appetizersized portion or as an entrée with slices of thick, country bread. All meze are prepared fresh on the spot and beautifully presented on gleaming platters or in individual cast iron pans.

Just about a dozen entrees on the menu ensure something for everyone and optimum freshness. The whole, grilled branzino was unforgettable, prepared in a unique way, grilled on its back, de-boned and flattened so you can just dive right in. Grilled porgy fillet is another excellent choice.The crispy twist on lemon fingerling potatoes was a nice treat and grilled wedges of lemon enhance all these wonderful flavors. Maine lobster macaronia is prepared with fresh pasta, Greek basil and dried feta cheese ($18). Roasted pork chops are so tender, presented with yogurt mashed potatoes and baby vegetables ($16). Slow cooked pork shank is so tender and succulent, the meat renders easily from the bone and is served with sautéed escarole. Dig into Colorado lamb chops, thick cut and juicy, enhanced by sheftalia, perfectly seasoned lamb sausage and healthy dandelion greens called “horta”. I’m told the 14-ounce hanger steak is excellent and I’ll try that on my next visit. Seasonal sides include roasted beets, lentils and tomato, roasted eggplant, rice pilaf and more.

Visit at lunch time when you can enjoy wonderful dips, salads and sandwiches made with specialty sausages straight off the grill. Fresh tomato salad, Caesar or arugula salads can be ordered as is, or topped with grilled chicken or steak. House made flaky pies are featured each day with spinach, cheese or meat fillings. Enjoy lunch on the patio or take it to go. Even the desserts here are special and different, with kudos for the mini crepes and cinnamon gelato, house made galaktoborekia pastry, crispy baklava and decadent chocolate fondue. Dip fruit and delicate biscuits into this rich chocolate for a fabulous finish to your memorable meal. Zi makes the best Greek coffee, and there’s also espresso, cappuccino and American coffee and tea.

Exo Greek Mediterranean Restaurant is not a gyro shop. It’s a comfortable bistro that serves fine Greek cuisine and wine in a very pleasant setting, right in the heart of Whitestone. They’re open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Lunch is served from 11:30am until 3pm and dinner from 5pm to 10pm weeknights and until 11pm on weekends. Families are welcome. Opa Exo!
Greek Mediterranean Restaurant
15-16 149th Street • Whitestone

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