Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Mag Loading, Family Style (The Original Stamatis Restaurant, 29-12 23rd Avenue)

Where we grew up, family restaurant meant Perkins, Friendly's, Bob Evans. Parents could bring in the kids, there would be something on the menu for everyone, the tab would be reasonable, and the staff wouldn't blink twice when six-year-olds would slither under the table or toddlers would toddle into the aisles. (At least they kept their annoyance behind the swinging doors, rather.) But had we grown up Greek in Astoria, "family restaurant" would likely mean Stamatis.

Toddlers, six-year-olds, grandparents, birthdays, nonplussed staffers, big portions were all a part of Stamatis when we visited on a recent Friday night. (Note: The official name of this place is The Original Stamatis Restaurant; apparently it is not affiliated with the Stamatis on Broadway, and it may not meet a technical requirement for "original," as it recently relocated from across the street.) We didn't feel out of place at Stamatis as adults, and neither did we feel as though our waiter had more important things to tend to (e.g. six-year-olds). If anything, we felt, for this night at least, we were part of the scene, the backdrop to somebody or other's birthday dinner. We didn't belong to the celebration, but we felt like a part of the larger community simply by sharing the vast dining-hall-like space.

The food is dining-hall-like too, which is not to say it was bad, just plain and handled well. Staight-up Greek cuisine like you find in Astoria isn't especially known for delicacy or intricacy, and Stamatis isn't out to break the mold. We started with octopus, spurred by a Harold McGee piece detailing the difficulty of preparing this cephalopod without rendering it fibrous and rubbery. Stamatis accomplished this, though the octopus managed to be mealy instead, hopscotching from one undesireable texture to another. The saganaki was saganaki -- you can't really go that wrong with fried cheese -- in this case feta. The entrees fared better: The waiter suggested the lamb chops, and we happily ordered them with no regrets. Rich, moist, meaty -- what a chop should be, with just enough crispy fat around the edges to make them worth picking up with our hands. We were surprised by the complimentary honey-drenched semolina cakes, mealy in the right way this time and serving as a perfectly weighted sweet to a full dinner, putting us to bed for sweet dreams.

Which leads us to mag loading. We'd heard that ingesting large amounts of magnesium before bedtime leads to fantastically bizarre dreams. One of us had been having a disappointing streak of "administrative dreams" (checking in with coworkers on routine matters, computer problems, etc., with nary a matter-of-fact talking cat or ascendancy on a golden rope to the palace of the gods to be found), and the other rarely remembers any dreams at all, so we decided to give it a shot. Before going to Stamatis, we took the RDA for magnesium -- 400 mg -- then took another dose during the meal, one immediately following, and two more doses before retiring, so 2,000 mg in seven hours.

We'd been hoping for more intense dreams, ones that simultaneously entertain, illuminate, and elevate us to that plane of unguarded consciousness that only seems accessible in slumber. Instead, we both had flipbook dreams -- a series of moments without any narrative, not even one as incoherent as "and then John Oates and I went target-shooting for some reason...." For those who might want to try this at home, note that magnesium induces both deep relaxation (it's a good thing the host seated the two of us at a four-top, as at one point we were practically draped over the tables) and some digestive difficulties. So we're not going to blame them entirely on Stamatis, a restaurant that we probably won't dream about either.

Price: Like many Greek places, seems more expensive than it should be. Over $15 minimum for entrees.
Will we go again? The cruel irony of us undertaking this task is that neither of us really loves Greek food. Probably not. We have to go to the other restaurants named Stamatis.

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