Thursday, July 21, 2011

Into the Boroughs: When Do We Ever Go Outside on the Subway?

Dolmades Yialantzi -- Agnanti Meze, Queens, New York
Agnanti Meze

Let's be honest: We are not outer borough aficionados.

We don't really know how to get to them, and we very rarely find the need to figure it out.  In fact, when trudging down the sidewalks of Astoria in search of Alex Guarnaschelli's favorite UNDER WRAPS  Greek dish, Ginger can be heard muttering, "You mean to tell me that there are no better stuffed grape leaves to be found IN MANHATTAN?"

And so goes our day in Queens.
All in the Name of a Couple of Grape Leaves
We are in Astoria primarily because Ginger wants to see the Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of Moving Image.  Never one to forget their main purpose in life (to eat excessively), Vodka discovers that a Best Thing I Ever Ate choice resides mere subway stops away from the museum.  By some miracle, we successfully arrive at first the museum and then Agnanti Meze with very little incident (save for Ginger managing to offend half of our subway car by greeting Vodka with a model-like display of "This is my Queens outfit"). 

Continuing to find it astounding that the subway actually travels outdoors when out of Manhattan proper, we look out the window like kindergarteners on the Disney World monorail once we reach the sovereign nation of Queens.  And later that afternoon, as we trek ten long suburban-ish blocks from the last stop on the N-train to Agnanti, we are no less perplexed by our self-appointed itinerary for the day.
Next Stop: Athens
Confusion reigns as we reach Agnanti, as we are incapable of finding the entrance, and our efforts to discern the location from a busboy results in only a vague hand gesture.  Seating ourselves outside, Vodka, who, as previously stated, considers the sun to be her own personal nemesis, insists on taking a seat under both a tree and a misplaced beer "tent" to protect herself from the rays. 

While we are here for the dolmades yialantzi, we are more concerned with procuring some alcohol, and stat.  Vodka is perplexed by the fact that the menu appears to be a calendar, so Ginger picks up the slack in ordering a large carafe of white wine, which is delivered to us minutes later in a watering can.  A watering can sans spout.
Gardening with Liquor
This lack of spout proves to be a problem when the waiter manages to dump half a glass of wine onto the brown paper table cloth in an effort to pour it.  Too humored to complain about the fact that $4 worth of house wine is now drifting under Vodka's glass, we laugh so heartily once our waiter departs that most of Astoria looks suspiciously at the interlopers in their land.
Somebody Get Me a Straw to Drink Off the Table
Not to be outdone by the wine watering can, our waiter returns with a disconcerting bread basket -- disconcerting because the bread looks like something scraped off of the bottom of Zeus's shoe and is wrapped in what Vodka proclaims to be a "schmatta" (think Hera's used handkerchief).  Desperate for calories, the presentation does not stop us from consuming the bread at rapid fire pace (strangely, there is no butter or olive oil to be found, but we make do). 
Shady Bread
Shadier Schmatta
By the time the object of our desires, the dolmades yialantzi (stuffed grape leaves) arrive, we are both in an absurd mood.  Vodka has proclaimed that "If I had a three-bedroom apartment, I would never even date," while Ginger's glasses are complimented by none other than the identically bespectacled bus boy.  Taking a minute to compose ourselves, we examine the wraps before us.  Five stuffed grape leaves pinwheel a clump of mayonnaise with a lemon on top.  While we're pretty sure that Alex Guarnaschelli received at least double this amount on Best Thing I Ever Ate (false advertising!), we dig in expectantly.  After all, if Alex sent us all the way to Queens to eat these things, they must be unbelievably delicious, right?

Where's the Other Half of Our Serving?
The dolmades yialantzi are fine - they're lukewarm (as is just about all the food and drinks at Agnanti), so we're unsure if they're meant to be served hot or cold.
Mild-Mannered Grape Leaves
Stuffed with chewy rice, they have an overbearing lemon-dill flavor, which is combatted somewhat by the mayonnaise that we scoop on top.  Thankfully, they are not slimy or mushy, as Ginger had feared, but they are also simply not that outstanding.  They are okay, and they are definitely not worth the trek into Queens.
Clearly, We Have No Knife Skills
The rest of our meal is similarly average.  The Greek salad features large chunks of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion, and while it is good because anything featuring feta cheese has a leg up on other dishes, but it is nothing to write home (dear sweet Manhattan) about.
Are Those Tomatoes Supposed to Be Bite-Size?
Vodka orders the cheese savagli (phyllo dough stuffed with "various cheeses") and Ginger, the Bourek (pastry "pie" stuffed with chicken), both of which we feel should taste better than they do based on their concepts (though admittedly, the more of our watering can of wine we drink, the better they taste).  Indeed, if the two dishes could be combined in some way, we think they would benefit, as the cheese savagli is in need of some protein and the Bourek of some rich flavor.
So Much Potential
Cue the Opening to "Mrs. Lovett's Meat Pies"
Alas, this Greek cuisine is not doing much to impress us today, and not just because we already feel half a world away from our homeland.

At the end of the meal, we receive a complimentary dessert plate with two kinds of cake, yogurt, and marinated grapes.  We soon realize why the plate has been sent gratis, as the cake is so dry and presumably stale that we're certain it was used to help take down the Roman Empire.
Cake In Need of a Good Moisturizer
Packing our things, we retreat back to the underground subway system of Manhattan, more assured than ever that we should not cross the East River again for a long, long time.

Agnanti Meze's Dolmades Yialantzi: 3 stars

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