It’s easy to find cheap good food in the city. Every neighborhood has a hole-in-the-wall serving up bowls of curry or dumplings or spaghetti and meatballs or a cheeseburger for under $10. In return, they are often cash only, with tables crammed together and a BYOB policy. Hey, that’s the tradeoff.
What is rare, and therefore much more valuable, is finding a fresh place like Kefi. This Greek restaurant, owned by Donatella Arpaia (Anthos, DavidBurke and Donatella) recently expanded into a much larger bi-level space along Columbus Ave in the Upper West Side. Appearances are deceptive: the bright, bustling spot whose tables are filled with well-dressed UWS’ers looks like a nice mid-price restaurant where if one saw the lamb chops go by would reasonably expect that this is a place with $26 entrees.
Here’s the shocker: not one item from the extensive menu is over $17. What makes this so shocking is the incredible quality of the food. Delectable meatballs were filled with roasted garlic, olives and tomato ($6.25) and I had one of the best octopus dishes ever: grilled and served over a bright, zesty bean salad ($9.95).We had plump mussels fragrant with white wine, garlic and parsley ($6.95). Of the pasta dishes, the sheep’s milk dumplings with tomato, pine nuts, and spicy merguez sausage was an absolute steal at $13.95. For entrees, I have never had lamb chops as succulent and so delicately seasoned as Kefi’s, and I could eat their pork medallions with spicy peppers, capers and lemon ($14.95) every single night. The most expensive item on the menu is a delicate branzino, grilled and served simply with potatoes, olives and tomatoes, and it’s $16.95. Dessert proves to be a problem in that you will not have room for dessert, but if you can, I highly recommend it. A walnut cake is spicy and served with ice cream, creamy, not-too-sweet rice pudding is dotted with raisins and a dash of cinnamon. It was Mediterrenean food at its best.
All too often an inexpensive restaurant means the diner must be prepared to concede certain things like inventive and fresh food, good service, a civilized atmosphere. Kefi compromises none of those elements, and I truly see this spot as a gift to people who appreciate good food. The whole experience left me with a serious case of neighborhood envy, and upon seeing Donatella, who likes to work the room on many nights, I begged her to open a Kefi downtown. I can only hope.
Kefi: 505 Columbus Ave, between 84th and 85th. Visit their website.
Kefi is great for any occasion: casual date, family dinner, or group dinner where budget should be considered.