Monday, September 8, 2008

Family Style (Zenon Taverna; 34-10 31st Avenue)

The menu at Zenon, a homey Cypriot place waitstaffed by the owners' daughters with homespun folk-artish frescos on the walls, is loaded with tapas-style appetizers, so we held off eating here until we could coax some Guest Diners into joining us for mezedes. Each person pays $19, and then waves of small dishes are brought out. There are three combo options: the Cyprus meal, the fish meal, and surprisingly enough, the vegetarian meal. Zenon is probably the only taverna in Astoria that's thinking about that demographic, though they haven't entirely figured it out -- the vegetarian meal includes fish.

We ordered some wine (all the selections are Greek; we had retsina) and deliberated over our options. Thankfully, our waitress cooperatively permitted us to go with a combination of the Cyprus and vegetarian meals. Then the food came out in waves. First they came with the cold appetizers -- mostly dips for the grilled pita: tzatziki, scordalia, tahini. There was also beet salad, a seafood salad, potato salad, and a Cyprus salad (basically a Greek salad with feta and olives). All of these were solid if unremarkable; what was notable was the sheer quantity and variety of food on the table. There wasn't room for it all, and the meal quickly became a delicate dance of plate passing and polite requests.

With all that food out, it was easy to forget that a second wave was coming. These were the hot dishes: calamari, grilled halloumi, two kinds of meatballs (keftedes and sheftalia), some sausages, and quail. This was all delicious stuff, but we did not pace ourselves well and were mostly too full to really enjoy it. We started to feel a little sheepish about how much we would probably leave behind, though we felt comfortable enough at our table to tarry until we finished most of it.

Our multiple but infrequent visits to Zenon always find us saying that we should order more casual meals from them -- drop in for a gyro or souvlaki. Somehow, though, we never do. The meats are all prepared well enough for us to trust that a gyro would be worthwhile, but there's something about the rustic, cozy atmosphere atmosphere that makes us feel like we're doing the whole idea of Zenon wrong by stopping by for a to-go bag. The wooden beams hold a sort of energy that Aliada, the nearest Cypriot competitor, might mimic now but won't be able to achieve for another twenty years or so. They invite you to linger, eat more food than you maybe want, drink more retsina out of a ceramic pitcher. They invite you to stay.

Price: Entrees $13-$20; mezedes, $19 per person.
Will we go again? We say we should go more often but will probably only follow through on special occasions.

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