Monday, September 8, 2008

Old-School (Omonia Café; 32-20 Broadway)

We had time to kill before a movie, so we decided to do something we had been putting off and pay our obligatory visit to Omonia for the purposes of this blog. Perhaps the most quintessential of the dessert-and-coffee Euro cafes in the neighborhood, Omonia is actually pretty staid relative to the scene on 30th Avenue. The requisite ambient techno isn't blasting, and the neon backlighting is kept to a minimum. On the night we went, Tropical Storm Hanna was threatening outside and the humidity outside was extreme, so the window wall beside our table on Omonia's outer perimeter was sweating and the view to the street streaked and foggy. The curtailed visibility was probably hurting business -- the main point of the cafes is protracted people watching -- but it made the atmosphere less intimidating for us.

Omonia's menu is surprisingly extensive -- you could actually eat dinner there if you were so inclined -- but the core lies with its coffee drinks and its pages-long list of desserts. When asked for a recommendation, our waitress, an artificially friendly Eastern European who attempted to upsell us to a bottle of wine, demurred and told us to go up to the counter and inspect them ourselves. This wasn't much help; it's the kind of display in which everything looks practically shellacked in its slightly sterile perfection. In the end we ordered the caramel cake and a piece of baklava along with two booze-enhanced coffees, each topped with a pile of whipped cream. We were somewhat embarrassed by our perplexity at the mountain of cream; we had a hard time figuring out how to even drink them without making a huge mess. (The carousers at Athens Café make it look so easy!)

The desserts were okay but not good enough to make us forget about how self-conscious the place made us feel. They're thoroughly European in their approach, with mathematical precision in the layered desserts, pristine clarity on the glazed desserts, and mounds of cream (are Europeans less prone to lactose intolerance than Americans?). This means that whatever you get will be good, but nothing will be great unless you want a by-the-book approach to whatever you order -- reliably sweet, expertly done, uninspired. As the Alpha Astoria ladies wrote of the phyllo-encased custard, the taste isn't worth the calories. (Plus, the baklava was soggy, but we're willing to blame Hanna for that, as it seems unthinkable that the original Greek cafe would have anything but crisp phyllo on the national dessert.) In the unlikely event we ever return to Omonia, we'll like get our goods to go.

Price: Consistent with other cafes, which is to say, overpriced. Two desserts and two spiked coffees set us back $29.
Will we go again? If eager non-New-York friends with outdated guidebooks visited Astoria and insisted on going to get a "taste of the boroughs," sure. Otherwise, we'll pass.

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