Food is the direct line to my heart. It’s no surprise, then, that when I want to experience a foreign place, I focus on tasting its cuisine. Oftentimes, however, I don’t have the luxury of traveling the world when I feel like getting away.
Usually, when I get the urge to take a vacation at a time that doesn’t lend itself to traveling, I jump on the 7 train. It’s not even necessary to explore the whole of Astoria, Queens to get a taste of the Mediterranean there. If I don’t have enough time to wander the streets, my go-to stop is Taverna Kyclades, a specialty fish house that’s as close to the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas as one can get within New York City.
Taverna Kyclades is the real deal in terms of Greek fish houses. At meal time, it seems as if our city’s entire Greek constituency has flocked there. Every last inch of space in the small front corridor is occupied by eager customers spilling out onto Ditmars Boulevard. You’re lucky if you only have to wait an hour for a table.
But within the crowded venue, everyone is treated as a member of the restaurant’s extended family. The young hostess never fails to greet me with a smile no matter how many people are clamoring to get on her list. In a brusque, over exaggerated manner, she says, “Two hours!” Then she answers the phone, simultaneously sliding a legal pad toward me so I can jot my name down.
The waiters are similarly busy, and similarly smiley. I always hope that the cute one (whom I’ve dubbed Dmitri in my mind) is on duty to show me to my seat. As I walk by the frenzied kitchen in which cases of freshly caught fish take center stage, someone always looks my way, smiles, and shrugs, “busy night,” almost apologetically.
Just like the Greek families I know, including my own, the matriarchs and patriarchs of Taverna Kyclades are always happy to show off their skill in the kitchen, even when things are overwhelmingly busy. The whole staff at Taverna Kyclades fits the traditional Greek bill. For them service is a job to be proud of, so the entire staff seems more than content to present their culture to Astoria through the medium of food.
It’s not just the experience of dining at Taverna Kyclades that makes me feel like I’m a thousand miles away on the cobalt blue shores of the Aegean Sea. The food at Kyclades is truly that of motherland Greece. Seafood is their specialty and every time I bite into the perfectly grilled Branzino or impeccably seasoned Dorado, I taste a bit of Mykonos on my lips. No joke. All ingredients, including the delectable feta, are sourced daily and selected for authenticity. As in Greece, the food at Taverna Kyclades is brilliant in its simplicity. I’m pretty sure seasonings are restricted to lemon, salt, pepper, olive oil and oregano. Until the daily supply runs out, some lucky diners are presented with galaktoboureko, a delicious custard made at one of the neighborhood’s many old-school bakeries, as a complimentary dessert.
By the time I leave Taverna Kyclades, I feel the same way I used to when departing grandma’s: happy, and stuffed to the brim. Like a true Greek family, Taverna Kyclades takes you in and overwhelms you with a sense belonging while stuffing you to the gills. No matter your race, age, or gender, when you dine at Taverna Kyclades you are part of the family. And even if you have to wait two hours for a table, the experience is bound to prove worthwhile—and not just because they’ll supply you with free wine to keep you calm.
Taverna Kyclades, 33-07 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria, Queens. (718) 545-8666, Mon- Thurs 12- 11PM, Fri- Sat 12- 11:30PM, Sun 12- 10:30PM
Featured image courtesy of Sarita Dan