I’ve always been particularly terrible at delegating work, decisions or anything of the sort to friends or co-workers…especially when it comes to deciding where to eat. What if the person didn’t do their research on the place? What if there was another, better place we could have potentially gone to? What if I start craving something totally different right before, and have now lost all flexibility to change my lunch/dinner spot on a whim? What if this becomes a missed opportunity for a wonderful meal that will truly hit the spot? I’ll admit that there’s always anxiety involved, in a shamefully self-centred way, no matter how close and trusted the friend. I experience pre-meal angst nine times out of ten whenever I leave the restaurant ball in someone else’s court.
And then, thoughtful friends who understand food and understand my obsession with it will knock the ball out of the park by picking places like Snack Taverna, a cosy Greek haven in the West Village that Meghna suggested we try out for our lunch catch-up session a few weeks ago. In fact, the place was so good that I made a return trip, on a hungrier tummy, two days later to check out their dinner menu (I’d just been treated to breakfast at the Asiate, perched atop the Mandarin Oriental hotel on Columbus Circle. Asiate’s Japanese breakfast was one of those subtle gastronomic experiences that can only be appreciated as one does an exquisite work of art (hence uninterrupted by my pestering food photo shoots), whose tranquil perfection was aesthetically matched by the restaurant’s breathtaking views of Central Park on this gorgeously sunny morning.)
Back to lunch at Snack Taverna, I was an instant fan of our effusive server, who was clearly in love with the menu and could barely keep himself from recommending the specials, the perfect wine pairings, or his personal favourites on the menu. I always get wary when a server responds with an apathetic ‘hmm…everything’s good on the menu,’ or a non-committal ‘that really depends on your taste,’ so a server whose passion for the chef’s creations spills over onto my table always wins me over, whether or not I eventually go with his/her recommendations.
We tried the Avgolemono, a flavourful egg and lemon-based chicken soup, that nuzzled my throat with a warm, peppery aftertaste that could cure the flu, the Sunday blues, or frankly, any other symptom that I’d be willing to fake so that some sympathetic soul could bring me a bottomless bowl of Avgolemono.
The Horta Boureki entree, a filo-crusted veggie pie nestled atop a bed of creamy orzo grains, was equally delightful. I ogled shamelessly at the sight of my friend piercing her fork through the pastry, shattering its smooth golden filo crust into paper-thin crackling flakes, as she scooped out forkfuls of the inner hearty stuffing of swiss chard, leeks, feta, and currents. My covetous eyes finally forced her into offering me a tiny tantalizing morsel of this veggie-lover’s filo fantasy. That’s when I made up my mind to come back for dinner before I left the US.
As promised, I returned for dinner with my veggie-convert ex-roommate fellow-foodie-in-crime, a person whose food selection, appetite and cuisine analytical skills I sincerely admire. The menu was different than what I’d seen for lunch, with none of the delectable filo-crusted bourekis that had populated the lunch menu. We went with the Mushroom Yiouvetsi – Gioubetsi, a rich pasta dish that while not entirely original, was nevertheless delicious, with plump orzo grains that soaked up a bountiful tomato broth sprinkled with kefalotyri cheese and sour olive bits.
We ordered the two specials of the night, a spinach and feta Spanokopita and a veggie Moussaka. Once again, the Spanokopita with its crispy filo crust enclosing a moist and flavourful feta-spinach duo was perfectly executed, but nothing worth a standing ovation – especially since my roommate had created the exact same pastry in our beloved apartment kitchen over a year ago. Maybe it was wrong of me to expect Snack Taverna to come up with something profoundly different for a filo dish that routinely makes the menu of many a Greek restaurant – but hey, if they could do wonders with their chicken soup, was it totally unreasonable of me to expect some Spanokopita magic too, especially if it was on their specials menu?
The Moussaka was totally lacklustre – concentric layers of bland potato – or more likely, eggplant? – slices towering over a baked omelette pool that was somewhat pleasing to the eyes, but uneventful as far as taste was concerned.
Sadly, dinner at Snack Taverna didn’t live up to the phenomenal experience I’d had at lunch. Either that or we weren’t adventurous enough in our selections from the menu, which admittedly, we could barely read in the dimly lit restaurant at dinnertime. If I lived in NYC and had every day of the week to experiment with restaurants in the city, I’d probably give it a second chance. But for travellers like myself that have few precious opportunities to savour the best of NYC, I’d probably skip Snack Taverna for dinner and return only for the cosy, quintessential West Village lunch or brunch time experience.
Phone: +1 (212) 929-3499
63 Bedford Street New York, NY. USA