Care. If there’s one word to summarize my experience at Avaton Estiatorio, it’s Care. It’s evident in the effort they put into their fresh food, welcoming atmosphere, and great hospitality.
Great date spot; good selection of beautifully-plated food; pleasant atmosphere. Cozy bar for happy-hours or chats while waiting for a table, and plush inviting seating area. Extra seating upstairs can be reserved for private parties of up to 35. Enticing display of fresh fish. Try the sangria, daily drink special, seafood, and the rack of lamb. Love sushi? Get the tuna tartare. In a nutshell: imagine Landmarc at Time Warner Center, but with a more intimate, Greek vibe.
Avaton opened in May of 2015 and you can feel its warmth even before you walk inside. Wood paneling greets you as you enter, host stand on your left and bar on the right. Happy-hour is from 3PM until close, which is nice. The downstairs dining area is simply decorated and the tables are elegant and comfortable to sit at. Upstairs can seat 35 and has its own bathrooms—which were clean. The night I went to Avaton, they were also hosting a speed dating event, which amused me to no end. (Have you ever seen the movie Hitch?)
The bartender is wonderful. She’s a good conversationalist and was excited about mixing special drinks. Avaton, as a higher-end restaurant, fulfills its duty of offering better cocktails. It’s not a speakeasy that offers couture drinks, but they do turn fresh ingredients and creativity into intoxicatingly tasty elixers. Speaking of drinks…
The first things I tried were the Sangria, the ginger margarita, and the drink-special. The bartender uses her own sangria recipe and it’s very good: rum, red and white wine, apples, and honey make for a pleasantly punchy drink that’s mildly sweet and the opposite of watered down. It’s flavorful and worth ordering.
If you’re like me and adore ginger, you’ll enjoy the margarita tingling your tongue with its abundance of freshly squeezed ginger and generous pour of alcohol. The drink got better as it mellowed during the evening.
What was fun about the drink special was watching the glimmer in the bartender’s eye as she brainstormed a name for it with the other staff. After straw-tasting it, I nodded approvingly; it was delicious. In short: tell this bartender what you like and let her take care of you. She’s great.
Had I wanted to sample the wines, their extensive selection would’ve had me there all night. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of Greek wines they had, too. Prices ranged from around $50-$200 per bottle.
Bread and Cheese
Once we had our drinks, my date and I sampled bread, white cheddar cheese, and flavorful Kalamata olives that were drenched in olive oil—as they should be. At this point, my stomach was singing sonnets and throwing puppy-dog eyes at me, excitedly nudging us toward our table. To get there, we had to walk past a glorious (and strategically placed) display of seafood on ice.
Glorious Fresh Fish
How do you know seafood is fresh? It doesn’t smell like seafood. Avaton’s fish were practically twitching (actually, a clam really was).
Dip Trifecta: Melitzanosalata, Htipiti, and Tzatziki (left to right)
Being Lebanese may bias me, but I loved the Tzatziki which features fresh dill, garlic, and cucumber chilling in yogurt. My date’s favorite was the Htipiti, orange-colored because of the roasted red pepper creamed with feta cheese and spices. It had a definite spicy kick, but wasn’t overwhelming. I liked it too. The Melitzanosalata, made with roasted eggplant, still retaining a mild smokey flavor, sprinkled with tomato and onion. If you like grilled eggplant, you might enjoy it.
Rack of Lamb
Ladies and gents, this was one of the best dishes at Avaton. Beautiful, frenched lamb chops on a bed of cooked eggplant and tomato. The meat was expertly prepared: pink within, lightly seared outside, and tender. The chunks of fat helped keep it moist too, and they were delicious. This was one of the few dishes that was more liberally salted (as red meat should be). (See Alton Brown’s Good Eats episode on Steak.)
Have you noticed a trend in the food yet? It’s all beautifully plated and presented with thoughtfulnes and care. This dish was no exception. Langoustines look like a shrimp and a lobster had a torrid love affair. Their meat is firm and has the texture and taste of shrimp crossed with scallop. These were split down the middle and had a relatively strong char-grilled flavor, so if you enjoy smokey, this is the dish for you. Squeeze the fresh lemon wedges on the langoustines before eating; it brightens their flavor nicely.
Mushroom risotto was creamy and a great pick for mushroom lovers. Flavorful without being overpowering. I love this portion size because risotto is generally heavy and nobody wants to eat a pound of it in one sitting. Okay, maybe we want to, but we shouldn’t.
Look at those sublime chunks of feta, lounging on ripe red tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and cucumbers! Feta cheeses are all salty, but this one was relatively mild and not super tangy. Lightly dressed and perfectly herbed, it made for a refreshing, delightful salad. Dried olive was sprinkled atop it to compliment the brined olives underneath. I suggest crumbling the feta and mixing it a bit before serving. Again, note the care put into the food: because it came unmixed, it’s a hint that the salad was made-to-order and wasn’t pre-mixed hours ago in the kitchen.
Stunningly gorgeous tuna tartare? Yep. I was salivating long before taking a bite. Topped with greens and seaweed, the sushi-grade tuna lays on a bed of avocado. Minced onions were perfectly proportioned with the rest of it. Please, please, dip each bite in the balsamic reduction on the plate; it added an element of sweetness and was fantastic.
The Dorade Royale was excellent. As with any whole fish, beware of the thin bones. The waiter kindly offered to filet ours or to leave it whole. Our white fish was perfectly cooked (tender, juicy, flaky meat). Mildly flavored, it paired well with the Assyrtiko Santorini white wine which was very dry, with no noticeable sweetness, an initial acidic bite, and citrusy notes. The wine was great with the tuna tartare as well. Lemon butter sauce came on the side which was appreciated. I’d recommend using it sparingly or adding a little salt to balance the tanginess. I wonder if they use it for all their seafood or just the fish, because it would taste good with anything I can think of.
From the bartender to the waitstaff to the head chef, the service was impeccable.
One thing saddens me, though: I can’t review the service. Since they knew I was writing about them, I got special treatment. When I gush about how incredible the service was, you’ll know it’s biased. And the service was stellar. The gentleman who described the seafood was knowledgeable and articulate. The food arrived in good time, with the servers describing each dish and presenting it well, and the people running the restaurant were friendly and upbeat. The highlight of the evening, however, was meeting the head chef.
You know when you feel an instant connection with someone? That happened with Chef Yoanne Magris and I because she’s so passionate about food and about people enjoying themselves. She speaks fluent French and we had several nice conversations as the evening progressed. I’m told she runs a tight kitchen and develops the talents of the other chefs. She cares. She’s the heart of Avaton and when you eat there, you’re like her family.
Even though my account of the service could be biased, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy your experience too. How can I be sure? Because everything about dinner was done well. Yes, people do try harder when they know it matters, but they can’t control every detail of an experience. I’m good at paying attention to detail, so I’ll wager that Avaton’s a winner and I hope they stay that way. Go. Take a date. And let me know how it was!
–Mark Feghali (MFF)