In the wake of Dona’s demise, Michael Psilakis is a man with a major challenge. He has two restaurants that currently only exist on a theoretical plane, and one actual restaurant, the Upper West Side’s Onera, that is underperforming. So as part of a grand retrenching and expansion effort, Psilakis has reconceived Onera as Kefi, a family-style neighborhood eatery. It’s a good idea. The neighborhood’s residents weren’t primed for Psilakis’s challenging food (his most memorable effort there was a multicourse offal tasting menu); nor, to be fair, was the room worthy. Psilakis, though, claims that Kefi’s more casual cooking has other benefits as well.
Here we thought that Michael Psilakis was on top of the world, with a critically acclaimed restaurant on the Upper West Side in Onera, an even more critically acclaimed restaurant with Donatella Arpaia on the East Side in Dona, and a jump on A-list celebrity-chef status. (Psilakis is going to Yale to speak on Greek food Wednesday.) But his biggest plan, apparently, is still in the works.
When we heard that Periyali, the much-admired Flatiron Greek restaurant, was closing for a six-week renovation, we wondered if the food would be changing too. After all, the restaurant may have been the final word in high Greek cooking back in the Clinton era, but a wave of superb Greek restaurants including Thalassa, Estiatorio Milos, Molyvos, Onera, and Dona have opened in the intervening years. Would Periyali risk tarnishing their superb menu to adjust? The place reopened this week with new mirrors, a marble bar, and a big mural of Greece, all apparently in hopes of acquiring a younger, hipper crowd. But happily, Periyali is still serving the same very fine, if familiar, moussaka, grilled salmon, grilled lamb chops, and other classics foods which, as Rob and Robin point out, "can still surprise and beguile with their cultivated polish," even if the restaurant lacks the up-to-the-minute sex appeal of some of the newer places. We honor Jim Botsacos's head-on prawns with hot pepper at Molyvos and Michael Psilakis's sheep's-milk dumplings with spicy lamb sausage and dandelion greens at Onera. But for a simple rabbit stew, we'll first visit Periyali — no matter what the bar is made of.