Greek food and haute cuisine are not phrases you often see in the same sentence. But at Anthos, a sleek new restaurant across from the “21” Club, chef Michael Psilakis is serving dishes such as hamachi with ouzo-marinated cherries, rabbit hilopita with snails and black truffles, and a “deconstructed” baklava. I doubt anyone eats like this in Greece (nor, I imagine, have many of the patrons on the other side of the street, where Rome still rules the day with steak Diane).
Anthos takes its name from the Greek word for “blossom.” It’s co-owned by Donatella Arpaia (a partner at David Burke & Donatella) and is located in the space that used to be her brother’s restaurant, Aqua Pazza. Now it’s been redone in a feminine palette of pink and chocolate brown. The walls are decorated with framed Japanese prints of cherry blossoms, and a vase of cherry blossoms sits on the bar, which features a backlit mural of pink blossoms. You can wait here for your table over a Cyprus highball made with metaxa and ouzo (or a glass of Greek wine—Mr. Psilakis has sought out little-known vintages from small vineyards, and they are very reasonably priced and good). The dining room is spacious and comfortable, with a recessed ceiling that helps absorb noise.
Ms. Arpaia, who has created a string of successful restaurants over the past few years, is the consummate gracious hostess. Last spring, she went into partnership with Mr. Psilakis, who’d already made a name for himself with Onera, his progressive Greek restaurant on the Upper West Side. Together they opened Dona on the East Side, serving a fusion of Greek, Italian and Spanish cuisines. Dona was one of the best new restaurants of the year, but it was forced to close when a hotel developer bought the building. Over the winter, Onera became Kefi, a simple cash-only spot serving Greek home cooking. Meanwhile, Mr. Psilakis decided to set his sights high with Anthos, where he planned to take his cooking one step further. His new food is exciting and risky, but the ingredients and the Greek flavors work. For instance, rabbit braised in black truffle juices on hilopita, a flat noodle, with snails cooked in Assyrtiko (a dry white Greek wine) and light, creamy manouri cheese, sounds baroque, but it’s terrific.
“The chef wants you to taste the things that would be served in his mother’s home,” said the waitress as she set down a wooden platter of meze: smoked ham, olives, lamb keftedes in yogurt sauce, taramasalata, and skewers of fried cheese. She explained to us the order in which we should consume the wonderful little dishes of crudo, a Psilakis specialty, beginning with a square of red tuna topped with mastic oil and lemon confit, on to hamachi with fennel pollen and tart, ouzo-marinated cherries, then a sea scallop with pomegranate and pistachios, and winding up with a bite of lamb terrine.
Mr. Psilakis likes trios of small things: Tasmanian crab comes with tzatziki made with sea urchin and topped with trout roe; an oyster is sprinkled with romaine jus and pink peppercorns. In another elegant combination, raw botan ebi (prawns) are served in a clear tomato consommé with dehydrated tomatoes, crumbled feta and spicy basil. Doesn’t sound very Greek? It’s a riff on the classic baked shrimp in tomato sauce with feta cheese.
The first time I came here, the dining room was half empty, and we had a three-star meal (I would come back just for that turbot with fried eggplant and cipollini in a rich, aged balsamic sauce, and the grilled octopus with olives and an orange purée.)
Another night, the restaurant was full and, judging by the unevenness of the dishes that came out, the kitchen felt the pressure. Whole grilled fish, which arrived cut in boneless chunks, was overcooked. It was sent back and gracefully replaced with olive oil–poached john dory. When I’d tasted this dish before, the fish was perfect under a crunchy golden seal, served with morels and American sturgeon caviar in a subtle ramp broth poured from a café filter pot. Tonight, though, the john dory was dry.
Overcooking also marred the small chops that accompanied a miraculously tender pork loin cut in pink, juicy slices, flavored with fennel and lemon. Lamb chops were nicely pink, but they came with a curious moussaka that was at once lumpy and watery, topped with a slice of undercooked parsley root (and expensive at $44).
Pastry chef Bill Corbett’s desserts were outstanding, especially the sesame ice cr
eam with a sweet-salty sesame paste that’s like halvah, and the goat-cheese cheesecake with poached kumquats. Don’t miss the trio of baklavas, either—pistachio, honey custard and a brown-sugar tuile, and a piece of walnut cake. After dinner, chocolate truffles, small squares of sesame paste, and a lovely tangerine pâté de fruit arrive at the table.
As I walked down the block one evening, I noticed that all the cars parked on either side of the street had chauffeurs waiting for customers from “21.” Aside from the relative bargain of its prix-fixe lunch, Anthos is just as expensive as its clubby counterpart across the way. But the service is consistently first-rate, professional and enthusiastic (and the waiters look nifty in their white shirts with cufflinks, double-Windsor-knot silk ties and waistcoats). It may be a happening, friendly Greek restaurant, but no one is going to toss the china—much of it Limoges porcelain designed by the chef Thomas Keller. Haute Greek comes at a price.