>> Tuesday, May 17, 2011

70-09 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 793-7900

We in FH have seen a near explosion of new restaurants as of late. There's the new Q, Marianella's Taqueria on 71st, Exo on Austin, La Boulangerie on the way, Wafa's has been replaced. But perhaps the most anticipated of them all is Agora Taverna, located where the original Piu Bello used to be. As a dining community, we wanted upscale and unique and most of all, not something done half-assed. Agora Taverna, a none-too-cheap Greek seafood restaurant managed to pull off two of those three. Could it deliver on the third? A few days ago I grabbed the 'Rents to find out.

From the outside, Agora Taverna, located in one of the Austin street mall buildings and under a glowing plastic blue sign, seems more like a chain restaurant than a place where you could easily drop over $60 per person on a meal. But inside it's crisp and white and clean and modern and feels incredibly comfortable and pleasant (albeit extremely loud), even when it's bustling. And bustling it was when we went. There lies its biggest fault. The staff is overwhelmed. Being told it was a twenty minute wait is one thing, but when it's actually 45, you get the feeling that they're told to keep the advertised wait low to prevent people from walking to one of the other myriad nearby restaurants. So a throng of people milled about, in front. So many, in fact, that extra chairs were lined up in three rows to seat them all. Plus the staff, while nice, wasn't terribly helpful over the phone. When I called earlier in the day someone clearly out of the loop picked up. Being evasive and giving unhelpfully useless answers is great for TV, but in real life tends to piss people off. When I asked to speak to the hostess, he said he didn't know where she was and that I should just stop by and ask my questions in person. A few hours after that pointless phone call, Shrink tried herself with the same exact result. "What an idiot" she muttered as she hung up the phone.

So that's the downside. But we were eventually seated and, having had plenty of time to look through the menu, promptly ordered. Agora Taverna gives every table timid French bread in olive oil with hummus and we wolfed it down. A quick side note, Agora does have food that isn't seafood, but nothing we ordered used to live on land. We figured that since this was supposed to be a seafood restaurant at its core, we would limit ourselves to sealife. Anyone whose meals breathed air is more than welcome to wax about their experiences in the comments.

Round one, appetizers, and they were worth the wait, despite a little frustration that they didn't all arrive at the same time. I ordered the Octopus, grilled to perfection, slightly and amazingly tender. It might have been the best octopus I've ever had. Don't trust me? Go order it. Shrink ordered the Loukaniko, a grilled sausage dish made with spices and orange. Also fantastic. Spiced without being spicy and you absolutely could not ask for more flavor hitting your palate all at one time without conflicts. Dudeman ordered the Stuffed Calamari, whole grilled calamari stuffed with a blend of feta, manouri and kefalograviera cheeses. I don't personally care for Greek cheeses. Never have. But if you do (and my parents do) then you'll love this. The only downside to the dish is that you can't really eat stuffed calamari without the stuffing squeezing out of it like toothpaste from a tube. So the stuffing is ultimately for show since, in about ten seconds, the squid and its filling will be next to each other on the plate.

Round two, entrees. These were less impressive and leave me saying the following to Agora Taverna: change and become a small plates restaurant! Seriously, I'd go there every week. Anyway, I ordered the Swordfish, marinated cubes of swordfish with vegetables and it was, while excellent, a step down from the near-crack-like experience of the apps. Dudeman and Shrink ordered from the whole fish menu. He chose the Branzini and she chose the Royal Dorado. There isn't any point in talking about them separately since they both looked and tasted like the same fish. Perfectly bland white fish with lemon, spices, capers and a whole mess o' bones. Whoever tried to de-bone these fish needs a refresher course. Anyway, they were fine for what they were, but I'm not about to stand on the table and shout praise to the masses. Each entree comes with the choice of a side dish and we tried three from the list. None were very good. The steamed Asparagus was cooked perfectly well, but for some reason they decided to dump half a ton of sea salt on top of it. The Lemon Roasted Potatoes were obviously boiled instead and were pretty bad as a result. If you're planning to boil a potato, don't serve it until you've mashed it smooth and injected it with butter. Finally, the Florta, a combo of steamed red chard, green chard escarole, spinach and chicory was the kind of side dish that public school lunches and soup kitchens would have rejected. I'm sure it's healthy, but still.

Round three, dessert. Myself and Shrink kept piling on the calories while Dudeman passed. and the food and drinks took an obscenely long time to arrive once we ordered. "How long does pouring a coffee take?" my parents Shrink asked. I ordered the Loukoumades, deep fried dough balls sprinkled with cinnamon. I was expecting something akin to a beignet (I love beignets) but these were fried for too long. As a result it was like biting into a searing hot golf ball. Less time in the fryer would have done wonders. Shrink chose the Ekmek, a cake that's the love child of a custard and a baklava with pistachio whipped cream to boot. This was very good but mind-numbingly heavy.

Three appetizers, three entrees, two desserts, two coffees and a few glasses of wine came to about $200 after tax and tip.


Circa Style May 19, 2011 at 9:12 PM  

I'm a vegetarian, so my experience at Agora is a little different, but apps and salads are always excellent. The horoatiki salad, spanakopita, and baked lima beans are delicious! Definitely the way to go!

CattyinQueens,  May 29, 2011 at 4:01 PM  

I had the lamb skewers and my partner had the chicken (we got the land animals because we also got the stuff calamari appetizer, which was indeed delicious, if awkward and pretty rich. I was skeptical about cheese in my squid, which is usually great plain as long as it's not overcooked, and this wasn't overcooked AND the cheese was actually tasted really interesting and good with it).

Everything else--chicken, lamb--was juicy and cooked perfectly.

My experience of being there was a bit like yours--told 35 minutes, waited an hour. felt assaulted by the number of people also waiting and the obnoxiousness of fellow diners.

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