It was a day of Greek unexpectations: marching in the Greek Independence Day Parade (representing the California Greeks - Holler!), walking around Manhattan with a stunner shade wearing Greek Orthodox Priest, and eating Greek baby shark.
After the parade Greeks from all over New York and New Jersey flocked to Astoria for some Taverna time. Stamatis, an Astoria institution, was of course, packed. But the priest, who is also my friend Pano's father, worked his magic and we got a table sitting with some of his parishioners who were about to leave. Sneaky priest.
Fresh fish ... and somewhere lurking, a baby shark
Men at work
We started off with the traditional offering of toasted chunks of bread drizzled with olive oil. During this time the priest found baby shark on the menu and sealed the deal for an order with our waiter.
Real deal Greek village bread
And some of the smooth, food friendly, house red.
Good for washing down baby shark
Our mezze plate of melitzanosalata (eggplant salad), tzatziki, taramousalata (fish roe dip) and tirokafteri (spicy cheese dip) arrived next. I was relived to taste the freshness and pureness of the melitzanosalata. No trace of mayo in sight! The taramousalata was creamy with a nice hue of the sea. I wish the tirokafteri was a little spicier but then again, Greeks don't like spicy food so I can see why Stamatis keeps theirs tame.
Followed by a Greek salad with lots of fresh herbs. It was nice to see big rings of red onion and lots of fresh dill.
Greek salad, did you expect anything else?
After the salad, the baby shark, lightly battered and fried with skordalia arrived. The priest explained this was one of his favorite dishes, as he showed us how to remove the middle spine cartilage, squirt with lemon, pat with some garlicky skordalia and insert into pie hole. The shark was incredibly tender and mild. I loved it!
Baby shark gets attacked by US
And a ladera vegetable platter with gigantes (giant beans), okra, peas, eggplants and green beans was a hearty variety of traditional Greek veggies melted in a warm olive oil bath. I usually hate okra, but decided to face my fear and try it again. There are worse things.
Greek style olive oil stewed veggies
My BFF, the octopus, arrived looking like daddy long legs. We were a little shocked to see extra vinegar on the plate since traditional charred octopus is served in just a puddle of olive oil.
A pair of legs!
Panos then rolled up his sleeves and got to work on our purple friend, spending tedious minutes fixing it the "Matsis" way, while priest father looked on approvingly. It was incredibly soft meat with a good amount of smoky char flavor and crunch on the outside. It was stellar. Stamatis does not mess around with their octopus.
Operation Matsis Octopus
This is a family secret, but it does involve extra oregano which the waiter kindly brought for us. I was shocked to see real oregano brought out per our request. Looks like the bootleg stuff my aunt sends me home coming back from trips to the motherland.
We don't need no stinkin' spice shaker
2909 23rd Ave.
Astoria, NY 111005