Thursday, November 3, 2011

Zenon Taverna

Is Vegetarian Astoria ageist?

To date, all the restaurants I've reviewed have been relatively new additions to the neighborhood: joints that have been open for less than 10 years (and in some cases, less than 10 months). So when my pals Nick and Nora (not their real names) came to visit with a hankering for Greek food, I jumped at the chance to kick it old school at Zenon Taverna.

Detail from mural (NSFW!)

The current owner has been operating the place since 1988, and doesn't seem to have updated it at all. But hey, who doesn't love a little Reagan-era Queens kitsch? Witness this close-up from one of the many murals of Greece painted on the restaurant walls.

In an effort to cram in as much variety as possible, Dr. Science and I ordered the Nistisimi Mezedes, or Vegetarian Mezes: an assortment of 14 different dishes. Zenon, it turns out, is one of those places that considers fish to be a vegetable. But you know what? We were kind of OK with that. I've been holding off on disclosing this, at the risk of losing all veggie cred, but Dr. Science and I dabble in the disgustingly trendy eating style known as flexitarianism. We don't eat meat at home or in restaurants, but if we go to your house and you're serving pork chops, we don't make a big deal out of it. We also eat some fish, especially if it gets the green light from Seafood Watch.

Anyway, about those Nistisimi Mezedes: the cold ones came first. Here they are, in rank order:
Funky cold mezedes
  • Skordalia (a garlicky cold mashed potato dip). Perhaps the best I've ever had.
  • Potato salad. Perfectly cooked wedges of potato mixed with sliced onions and peppers in a tasty vinaigrette.
  • Seafood salad. Mostly squid, but not at all rubbery, as these things can often be.
  • Cypriot salad. Lettuce, olives, feta. Nice enough
  • Tahini. Imagine hummus minus the chickpeas. Yeah. A little went a long way.
  • Taramosalata (fish roe and potato dip). If I'm going to cheat on vegetarianism, it has to be more rewarding than this. It lacked the salty tang that I normally love in this dish.
  • Beet salad. (Shuddering.) Nora was happy to take this off my hands.

Per our server's instructions, we gave her the high sign when we were midway through the cold dishes. A few minutes later she arrived with the hot stuff. Again, in rank order:

Grilled halloumi

  • Grilled halloumi. Really well prepared. This Greek cheese sometimes has the texture of a flip-flop, but not here.
  • Lemon potatoes. Again, some of the best I've had: slightly chewy on the outside, completely soft inside, and, of course, lemony.
  • Fried calamari. Tender and only slightly greasy (which is fine in my book).
  • Grilled zucchini and yellow squash. I found these bland, but Dr. Science enjoyed them.
  • Unidentified steamed greens. With a little squeeze of lemon, these were all right. You really don't want to see photos, though.
  • Roasted mushrooms and olives. Olives are always a pleasure; the mushrooms, however, were utterly flavorless.
  • Vegetable keftedes (fritters). As Homer Simpson once said after eating a rice cake, "Hello, taste? Where are you?" I could detect only oil.

Nora ordered the night's vegetarian special, a generous portion of eggplant stuffed with peppers, olives, mushrooms and tomatoes. It was probably the hit of the entire meal. Nick went all carnivorous on us and ordered the lamb meatballs. 

Stuffed eggplant (photo credit: Nora)
After sampling so many dishes, we were all too stuffed for dessert. That's a shame, because they looked delicious; I've got my eye on the spongecake for our next visit. Dinner for four with wine and a beer came to $120 including tax and tip.

While some dishes stood out – mmm, halloumi – I found Zenon largely underwhelming. I feel bad about disrespecting what seems to be a neighborhood institution, but it probably won't become part of my regular dining circuit.

Zenon Taverna
34-10 31st Avenue

Veg friendliness

Food quality


1 comment:

  1. I would happily go back here just for that halloumi. Seriously, where the halloumi has that been all my life?!?

    (Oh, I guess I just sort of outed myself as Nora. Well whatever, I loved my eggplant!)