My stay in New York and the exploration of the Greek food scene wouldn’t be complete without tasting the creations of Michael Psilakis.
Once again, my Greek food and drink guide Konstantine suggested we meet at Kefi, located on West 79th (Upper West Side) and sample an array of the dishes.
Michael Psilakis was not here on this night but the staff accomodated us immediately with a table despite the packed lobby and lack of avaialable seating. Kefi will be moving to a new location soon and this problem should be resloved soon.
What does Kefi mean? The literal translation is “fun” but that really doesn’t describe Kefi. Kefi is spirit, triumph, joy, adrenalin, the state of being aware of experiencing a good time, a celebration of being Greek, with good friends, food and drink, laughter, emotion, sentiment and finally…something only a Greek can really feel.
From the waiting area to the farewell, Kefi’s ambiance was laid-back, down-to-earth and unpretentious. The dining area is small and below street level but with such close quarters, one makes easy friends with the table beside you and conversations on food & wine can be easily engaged.
For in New York or some of you who would like to enjoy some Greek food in the area, Kefi will offer you the greatest bang for your buck out of all the Greek establishments in Manhattan. Do not think in any way think that quality or portions are compromised.
Remember, this is a Michael Psilakis joint…the dishes were traditional but offered wonderful Greek twists with the ingredients. One dish after another was relished by Konstantine and I and a highlight of the night was the braised pulled rabbit meat tossed in hand-made pasta with a sauce reminiscent of a Rabbit (or hare) Stifado.
The first dish to arrive was the fried sweetbreads in creamy wine sauce with spinach, sage and crispy fried onions. The sweetbreads were paired wonderfully with one of Konstantine’s new brands…a Vatistas Malagouzia from Monemvasia. Malagouzia is another grape varietal that’s unique to Greece and I’ll be touching upon this wine in a future post (it was awesome).
Next up was the grilled octopus on a bed of warm chickpea salad.
Grilled lamb chops were ordered on the insistence of our server and boy was I glad he recommended these!
The crowning glory had to be the Pulled Braised Rabbit on a bed of homemade pasta which turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to our Pavlou P62 red.
This Syrah/Xinomavro took on a whole new aroma and taste when paired with the rabbit in a aromatic, spicy Stifado sauce. A stifado’s has a noticeable presence of cinnamon and when paired with the P62, for the first time I was smelling notes of chocolate and black cherry in the wine…remarkable experience!
My evening at Kefi was a smash…wonderful food, good conversation at the table (and with the table beside us), unforgetable wine pairings with the food and laid-back but prompt and cheerful service from the staff.
This week, I had to re-experience that zen-moment when I ate the Braised Pulled Rabbit and sipped on the Pavlou Estate P62. I’ve recreated a dish that packs much of the flavours I experienced in Kefi’s version but I used a whole chicken to make a Stifado.
A Stifado is a Greek stew that is tomato based, has the presence of red wine, an array of spices that almost always includes cinnamon and the usual suspect in the dish is rabbit or hare. Other popular stifados are made with rooster, beef or veal and octopus.
The other dominant ingredient is onions…plenty of onions which play very well when slow cooked with the meat of choice, blending with the spices to perfume your kitchen & home into something remarkably intoxicating and transporting you and your home to a Greek kitchen.
The dish I’m about to show you is usually made with a rooster but I’m no where near a farm and Stouffville Market is only open on weekends. This dish is inspired by my evening at Kefi and it’s also reminiscent of a popular dish from the Greek island of Folengandros called “Matsata”.
Imagine trying this dish on the island…farm fresh rooster, wild thyme from the mountains of the island, Greek red wine and spices that entered Greek cuisine from the time that Greek mariners ruled the Mediterranean and the spice trade in the area.
Finally, this may sound cliched but the pasta in this dish was homemade by myself after finally splurging on my own pasta machine. After fumbling the first few times with the machine, I finally was able to produce long, elastic ribbons of fresh egg pasta that cooked in minutes and truly heightened the dish. I may become a pasta snob!
1/3 cup olive oil
1 whole chicken (or rooster), cut into pieces
1/2 onion, grated
1 cup of pearl onions
2 large onions, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1 some grated nutmeg
1 heaping Tbsp. of tomato paste
2 cups of pureed plum tomatoes
1 cup of dry red wine
2 tsp. of fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste
fresh made broad pasta
grated Kefalotyri cheese (Romano is fine)
- In a large skillet, add your olive oil to medium high heat. Add your pearl onions and quickly saute until they have slighted caramelized. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. Now season your chicken pieces with salt and pepper and brown off your meat over medium heat and then reserve.
- Now grate add your grated onion, sliced onions and garlic and saute over medium-low hea for about 7-10 minutes or until softened. Now add the balsamic vinegar and stir to lift up the brown bits and coat all the onions. Reduce for a minute or two.
- Now add the bay leaves, whole cloves, cinnamon stick, tomato paste and red wine over medium heat. Now bring up to a boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add your tomato paste, pureed plum tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add your fresh thyme and your reserved chicken pieces, pearl onions and reduce heat, cover (slightly ajar) and simmer for about 45-60 minutes, sitrring occasionally.
- At this point, you should have a thick, aromatic sauce. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, grate some fresh nutmeg and set aside and keep warm.
- Boil some fresh, broad pasta and when cooked to al dente, strain toss with some of the tomato sauce, tear some meat off the bone and mix in with the pasta and the sauce.
- Place a mound of dressed pasta on each plate, place a piece of chicken on top and grate some fresh Kefalotyri cheese on top.
- Serve this warm, aromatic dish with a Pavlou P62 Xinomavro-Syrah.
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