2011-10-05 / Restaurant of the Week

AGORA TAVERNA

Agora Taverna opened just six months ago in the cosmopolitan, food-centric neighborhood of Forest Hills. Owners Peter Mastoros, George

Stergios, Tony Zannikos and Teddy Passelis have created a traditional Greek taverna where friends and families gather to enjoy the best of Greek cuisine in a beautiful, airy restaurant, right on Austin Street. In fact, the name "Agora" means "market square", a place where people meet and so this restaurant is aptly named. The interior is cool and modern with neutral tones, wood tables, and open beam ceilings with bamboo. The doors on both sides of the corner allow for cool breezes and the feeling of al fresco dining, even if you're inside. The kitchen is open, at the rear of the restaurant, with sparkling glass cases just in front of it, boasting the fresh catches of the day and the high quality meats served.

You'll be pampered with excellent service and great food inspired by the healthy diet of the Southern Greek Mediterranean. We started with half a dozen blue point oysters, which were huge and briny, fresh from the ocean. Next came their signature octopus appetizer, which should not be missed. I don't know how they get it so tender, but it is first marinated, then baked, cut up and topped with a heavenly sauce of red peppers, capers and sweet red onion. Soak up the pool of sauce with warm bread and enjoy it all with a glass or bottle of reasonably priced wine from the bar. Imported domestic and imported beers are also available, including Belgian brews and the Greek "Mythos".

Other appetizers on the menu include a variety of classic Greek spreads: taramosalata, tzatziki, melitzanosalata, skordalia and more, to be ordered individually or in an assortment, ideal for sharing ($11.95). The jumbo lump crab cakes are full of sweet crabmeat and mild spices, while the grilled sardines are a Mediterranean treat, dressed with extra virgin olive oil and lemon ($10.95). My friend and I shared a wonderfully fresh arugula salad tossed with creamy feta cheese and balsamic-citron dressing. With cooler weather approaching, the fish soup, with fresh halibut and vegetables will make an excellent starter as well.

Since Hellenic cuisine relies heavily on fish, let me begin with the fresh, whole fish of the day. Choose among six or seven varieties, such as branzino, red snapper, sea bass and dorado, prepared whole on the charcoal grill, with just a basting of fine olive oil and lemon. Have your fish de-boned by the expert chefs and let the moist, flaky meat melt in your mouth. Side orders of their fabulous lemon potatoes, house made Greek-style fries, rice or greens (horta) make this a very satisfying meal. My companion's stuffed fillets of sole (two to an order) were filled with sweet crabmeat, bread crumbs and spices, then broiled just so. It was so delicious, she was thrilled to have plenty left for lunch the next day.

Sushi-grade tuna steak is encrusted in sesame seeds and quickly seared so that it's still pink inside, as it should be. Plump, juicy scallops or shrimp can be simply grilled or fried, or you may choose to have your shrimp stuffed with crabmeat.

Meat eaters will rejoice in juicy lamb chops, hefty rib-cut pork chops, or certified Angus New York strip steak, all cooked to order and served sizzling hot off the grill. Yes, you can also get your classic kebabs here, laced with marinated chicken breast, cubed pork or lamb, or seasoned filet mignon with a choice of side dishes. Even the kid's have their own menu here, so families are welcome. The service is very efficient, with new plates and silverware provided with each course, along with a swift cleaning of the table.

Though we thought we couldn't eat another bite, our friendly, attentive waiter brought us three of his favorites! Galaktobourekia is a mountain-sized wedge of creamy custard prepared in flaky phyllo, which is surprisingly light. The melted chocolate souffle is hard to resist, so I didn't, served warm, with a dollop of ice cream, black cherry sauce and a sprig of fresh mint leaves. Ekmek is a traditional Greek dessert made with whipped cream, walnuts and rose water. They all go well with a nice hot espresso, cappuccino, tea or American coffee.

The news is buzzing about Agora Taverna's weekend brunch, served Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 3pm. For the fixed price of $13.95, choose among a variety of fresh, fluffy omelets, toasted sandwiches, burgers and salads, with a brunch cocktail included. Dinner service resumes at 5pm for your evening dining. The Queens Gazette welcomes Agora Taverna to Forest Hills, offering fine Greek cuisine in a lovely setting, right on bustling Austin Street. Great food, service, and hospitality await you. Yasoo!

70-09 Austin Street  Forest Hills
718.793.7300

www.agorataverna.com

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