Food Reviews: MP TAVERNA

Roslyn (516) 686-6486


imageIt’s virtually impossible to order a bad dish at MP Taverna in Roslyn. That’s because chef/owner Michael Psilakis is preparing the same rustic, authentic, delicious Greek home cooking his mother served to him when he was growing up in East Northport (although he gives some of it creative twists). She knew what she was doing and so does he. What’s more, Mr. Psilakis (yes, the MP Taverna is named for Michael Psilakis) is a man on a mission. He believes Greek food deserves the same attention and respect that is properly accorded Italian and Asian cuisine, that it should be as much an everyday choice as they are. (He believes Greek cuisine is a combination of Italian and Middle Eastern.) Nobody who samples his cooking at the no-nonsense, food-first MP Taverna will be likely to argue with him.

There is a reason every seat has been filled every night since the restaurant opened in May. At MP Taverna, prices are modest, portions are generous, service is swift and the food is consistently superior. In other words, he and his concerned crew know how to run a restaurant. He proved that in Manhattan where he operates the successful Kefi and Fish Tag eating places and earned best new chef recognition from Food & Wine Magazine, and Chef of the Year awards from both Bon Appétit and Esquire.

Like his city ventures, MP Taverna is an earthy everyman restaurant that shuns elitism. There’s admirable flair, but no phoniness or pretense to the food. From the crusty peasant bread that proceeds dinners to the Greek dessert staples like baklava, galaktoboureko and rich, thick yogurt that ends them, there are no weak sisters. Although some dishes are better than others, there simply are no strikeouts. The roasted lemon chicken ($15) with dill and garlic roasted fingerling potato, for instance, is a gentle little dish and all that it should be, but not nearly as innovative or exciting as the prawn and green vegetable risotto ($18): long, heads-on, though shelled, shrimp below a hill of rice laced with fresh, vibrant peas, fava beans, zucchini and arugula. Other equally impressive entrées, some of which despite being simple, straightforward dishes, yielded unexpected complexity, were five or six (depending on size) tasty, flawlessly-grilled lamb chops (at $25 the most expensive, everyday menu entrée) garnished with seasonal vegetables like zucchini, cherry tomatoes and red onions that offered a choice of five salads as well. Those cherry tomatoes, olives and fingerling potatoes also accompany a marvelous rendition of grilled and filleted branzino ($19).

Impressive as the main courses were, appetizers were even better, and often more interesting. The soft, almost sweet octopus ($11) perched on a bed of Mediterranean chickpea salad caused one diner at our table to say, “I’d return here just for that.” Flavor-packed meatballs ($7.50) in a tomato sauce alive with onions and olives are in the same don’t-miss category. Scallop lovers were delighted with the unexpected farm-fresh cauliflower and dried cherry that boosted the tender shellfish beyond the usual ($11.50).

The feta-laced salads should also be given serious consideration. The MP is a chopped salad for the ages with its amalgam of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, olive, onion and peppers, and the tomato salad sports string beans and grilled onions.

While desserts weren’t at quite the exalted level of appetizers and entrées, they were anything but a letdown. Best was the apple baklava Napoleon ($7) served with a scoop of Amaretto or maple walnut ice cream, followed by the dense chocolate halva (sesame seed) brownie ($8) and thick Greek yogurt ($7) embedded with seeds and honey.

MP Taverna is a neat, brown-hued, double storefront with a high industrial ceiling (that controls the noise), shiny blond wood floors, dark wood paneling, mirrors, banquettes, bare tables and exposed brick.

Had one appetizer not been auctioned off and had our wine arrived before, rather than after, the entrées were served, MP would have received five stars, which is nevertheless what its food deserves.

photos by stephen lang

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richard jay scholem

Richard Jay Scholem practically invented the Long Island restaurant culture through 800+ reviews of the region's eateries both on radio and in print over the last 30 years. He is a former New York Times Long Island Section restaurant reviewer, has contributed to the Great Restaurants of...magazines and Bon Vivant, authored a book, aired reviews on WGSM and WCTO radio stations, served on the board of countless community and food and beverage organizations, and received many accolades for his journalism in both print and broadcast media. He is currently available for restaurant consultation. Reach him at (631) 271-3227.