Heads & Tales: Kefi in New York


During my stay in New York, my days were occupied by sightseeing (nothing too touristy) and the evenings were for dining and meeting new friends.

My stay in New York and the exploration of the Greek food scene wouldn’t be complete without tasting the creations of Michael Psilakis.

Michael has appeared on Iron Chef America and he currently is part owner of Anthos and Kefi. Anthos is on the high end of the menu scale and Kefi is smaller but in no way inferior, quality-wise.

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.

If you’re a Greek reading this, you know what I mean and to others…go out with your Greek friends and ask them to tell you when “that moment” of Kefi has been reached…maybe then you’ll understand.

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.

Constantine and I imbibed on a wonderful Vatistas Malagouzia and our other fave, the Pavlou P62 Syrah/Xinomavro with our parade of meze-sized dishes at Kefi.

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.

We sampled the Pork Sofrito medallions with shaved fennel, capers, olives and some orange slices.

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!

Matsata (Ματσάτα)
(serves 4)

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)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Place a mound of dressed pasta on each plate, place a piece of chicken on top and grate some fresh Kefalotyri cheese on top.
  7. Serve this warm, aromatic dish with a Pavlou P62 Xinomavro-Syrah.

© 2008,
Peter Minakis

. All rights reserved.

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42 Comments for “Heads & Tales: Kefi in New York”

Mary

says:

Peter, I’m going to have to start reading your blog later in the day. Cereal just doesn’t cut it after reading your food descriptions and seeing your gorgeous photos. I know I’m going to be hungry all day long!

Stacey Snacks

says:

Had the braised rabbit again Sat. night and it was EXCELLENT.
Prices are so reasonable. Go before they move the joint.

Love the shot of the 3 handsome Greeks!

Jan

says:

You pasta snob you LOL!! You know I’m only joking!!
I just love reading all about your trip. That’s a lot of lovely food you’re showing us – it’s making me hungry!
Ps; After reading your blog this morning (I’m a bit behind due to work) meat loaf is being made for tonight! I haven’t made a meat loaf for years but on seeing yours looking so nice I HAVE to make it!

Colloquial Cook

says:

Haha, so you did give in and buy a pasta machine!!!! I am so glad you’ve joined the pasta-snob gang! The joys of home made pappardelle! Good for you mon cher Peter!

Maria

says:

Wow, I didn’t even know tht Kefi existed … will have to make it a point to eat there soon. Your dish looks great. I am wanting a pasta machine as well. Maybe Santa will have a spare tucked away i nhis sleigh.

Núria

says:

Kefi… Mmmmm I like the word and the meaning :D. Boy, you should see how it is here in Spain with good company, good wine, good food, good views… We also reach ecstasy in these conditions ;D

Hey, bravo for you with the pasta :D And that chicken looks sooooo sabroso with that thick and rich sauce.

Judy@nofearentertaining

says:

Looks incredible Peter! Try getting a rooster or (Capon) at an Italian market. I can get them here and if I can here…well you get it!

I would love to try making this at home!

Rosa's Yummy Yums

says:

I’m drooling! All those dishes look wonderful and especially yours! That chicken recipe is soooo scrumptious sounding!

Cheers,

Rosa

Rosa's Yummy Yums

says:

I’m drooling! All those dishes look wonderful and especially yours! That chicken recipe is soooo scrumptious sounding!

Cheers,

Rosa

Rosa's Yummy Yums

says:

I’m drooling! All those dishes look wonderful and especially yours! That chicken recipe is soooo scrumptious sounding!

Cheers,

Rosa

Rosa's Yummy Yums

says:

I’m drooling! All those dishes look wonderful and especially yours! That chicken recipe is soooo scrumptious sounding!

Cheers,

Rosa

Rosa's Yummy Yums

says:

I’m drooling! All those dishes look wonderful and especially yours! That chicken recipe is soooo scrumptious sounding!

Cheers,

Rosa

Rosa's Yummy Yums

says:

I’m drooling! All those dishes look wonderful and especially yours! That chicken recipe is soooo scrumptious sounding!

Cheers,

Rosa

Rosa's Yummy Yums

says:

I’m drooling! All those dishes look wonderful and especially yours! That chicken recipe is soooo scrumptious sounding!

Cheers,

Rosa

Mediterranean kiwi

says:

of all the posts you have done on new york, i think this one surpassed them all – my favorite were the grilled lambchops. hope i get the chance one day to eat them ‘live’…

FOODalogue: Meandering Meals and Travels

says:

So glad you got to Kefi…too bad you didn’t meet Michael. He’s very gracious. I had the good fortune to go to a tasting dinner at Anthos last year and got a tour of the kitchen … ‘nuf said! P.S. Your pasta dish looks good enough for any menu!

Bellini Valli

says:

Onhe of my best friends name is Kefi and she is everything you describe. She is a pilot for a small company which says it all. Thanks for continuing to share your NYC experience with us:D

Zen Chef

says:

Pfewww… I just had a ‘kefi’ moment from looking at all this wonderful dishes. Am I okay? Wow. I think I have to make a trip to the Psilakis joint to explore this new world of possibilities.

I’m so glad you join the ranks of pasta snobs. Welcome Peter! :-) C’est une merveille!

glamah16

says:

I want a pasta maker after seeing your noodles. Thats the perfect comforting dinner in my book!

Nina Timm

says:

h when is this fun going to stop!!!! I am trying not to be seduced by these photos of food, but I am weak!!!!

Lori Lynn

says:

I am vicariously very much enjoying your trip to New York, Peter. Oh and there is more grilled octopus. I cannot get enough of that.
Your stew looks great, and the use of cinnamon, intriguing.

Peter G

says:

The braised rabbit does sound delicious Peter. We make stifado using hare but I prefer it with beef. Great pasta! Bring on the snobiness!

ΕΛΕΝΑ

says:

Matsata is a very tasty dish of course, but Peter I was impressed with the other dish,the grilled octopus on a bed of warm chickpea salad. I think is “xtapodi me revithia”, isn’t it??
Strange (for us) but nice combination.

Helene

says:

Peter, I was in Vegas and will be reading all the posts from your blog that I missed. You seemed to had a great vacation.

Proud Italian Cook

says:

Those pillows of pasta are beautious!! You’ve certainly earned the honor of being called a pasta snob!

Natashya

says:

Congratulations on your new pasta machine! It does take a couple of uses to get the feel of it, but you will indeed become addicted you your own, fresh pasta.
Looks like you had so much fun and good eats on your holiday.
Cheers!

noobcook

says:

Your posts about NYC are making me miss the place so much. Looks like u ate a lot of good food and met a lot of nice people. Think it’s time for me to save up ;)

History of Greek Food

says:

I believe that Psilakis and Lazarou (Varoulko) are the persons who totally reinvented Greek cuisine.
Love matsata with rooster, it is a wondeful dish isn’it?

Grace

says:

so apparently this is an appropriately-named restaurant! your pictures are simply delectable (except for the octopus…that one gives me the heebie-jeebies). :)

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen

says:

That sounds like a lot of fun Peter and a great night for sure. The food looks fantastic! Hopefully if we meet up in person, you can show me the meaning of Kefi!

The Short (dis)Order Cook

says:

Delicious recipe. I really have to get out my pasta machine and start cranking some noodles out very soon.

We Are Never Full

says:

i’m so excited that you posted about this! you totally have lured me in w/ this post… this is goign on the short list of places to go. i’m serious – it’s been on there for a long time but after hearing about that sweetbread app, i’m there.

Emily

says:

I can’t believe you went to Michael Psilakis’s restaurant! Or should it be Psilakis’ restaurant?
Anyway, I’m such a fan! I have a crush on him.

All of the food looks really good. I don’t know if I could eat the octopus, though. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like it.

Choosy Beggar Tina

says:

I didn’t know that you went to the Stouffville market! How have we not run into one another yet?!

elly

says:

I have seen Psilakis on a couple shows – glad to hear the food and atmosphere did not disappoint. Between your trip to NYC and Greece I really like what you’ve done with the blog–tying the recipes into your experience. It’s a fun read and you are rewarded by some homemade food at the end!

joe@italyville

says:

two things I absolutely love.. octopus and rabbit. I’ll have to impress my Greek friends next time I’m in NY and bring them.