Story by Barbara and Manos Angelakis
Photos by Manos Angelakis
495 Sylvan Ave.,
Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632
Lefkes Estiatorio, a contemporary Greek Restaurant, is a welcomed newcomer to the Englewood Cliffs / Ft. Lee, New Jersey growing food scene. It is the US outpost of a successful restaurant company in Greece with very well regarded Lefkes restaurants in Athens and Santorini Island. The New Jersey Lefkes is located at the corner of Palisades and Sylvan Avenues and is convenient to the George Washington Bridge and the Palisades Parkway. It offers complementary valet parking. The sleek décor and stylized traditional Greek food and wine offerings make Lefkes a standout and well worth the trip from anywhere in the tri-state area.
The entrance features a large bar area with a few tables situated along an extended banquet next to a walk-in wine room. The restaurant is segmented into separate levels, including an upstairs area for overflow or private parties. The attractive two story high ceiling adds a level of sound vibration created by the spirited diners so it is a venue for good food with good friends rather than a quiet romantic dinner. To me the only jarring item in this otherwise posh restaurant is the TV located at the end of the bar. Past the bar there is a seafood display of the featured daily fresh fish and seafood options.
Our meal began with shots of Ouzo Barbayanni - a traditional Greek appetizer drink that is usually diluted with a couple of ice cubes and/or a dash of cold water which turns the anise flavored drink cloudy - it is a wonderful accompaniment to meze (hot and cold appetizers). Our selections were diverse, from the traditional lentil soup - here sprinkled with feta cheese – to sesame baked feta (2 triangles of feta cheese covered in sesame seeds and deep fried) served with a side of whole dark sour cherry preserves.
Not to be missed is the Lefkes crisps – zucchini and eggplant thinly sliced, floured and deep fried to a crispy finish - just like Mama used to make; ultra crunchy and delicious with the thickest of tzatziki laced with garlic and cucumber. We then switched to more contemporary offerings: tuna tartare, silky with avocado and ginger notes and super tasty, no doubt due to the freshness of the fish, and a Lefkes signature lobster sushi roll – avocado and cucumber covered with half a lobster tail.
As in most Greek restaurants the extensive meze dishes are so good, it’s hard not to fill up on a large selection and normally that’s what we’d do, but for a fair appraisal of the menu it’s necessary to taste mains as well as first plates. In the case of Lefkes, Manos ordered Paidakia i.e. charcoal grilled lamb chops, a traditional Greek dish found in every restaurant and taverna in Greece, here served with lemon potatoes, and I ordered Kritharoto, veal cheeks over orzo, a recipe that is not so traditional, more on the “nouveau” gourmet side of Greek cuisine.
Lefkes has rapidly become renowned for its fresh cooked-to-order fish dishes and like all Greek Chefs award winning Executive Culinary Director Anastatios “Tasos” Ntoumas has made fish preparation a state of the art. Chef Tasos has been named “Chef of the Year” for three consecutive years by the pan-Hellenic institution of high-ranking Chefs, Estiatoria.GR.
We ended the meal with Greek coffee, passing on the dessert offerings due to a surfeit of good food.
Editors Note: A 3-course tasting menu is available nightly consisting of a selection of appetizer, entrée and dessert for $39.00 or you can order from the much more extensive ala carte menu.
One of the interesting points of a Lefkes visit is the cellar of exceptional Greek wines, starting with traditional “retsina” (we call it the best tasting turpentine you’ll ever have). There is a large variety of white and red bottles, mostly wines made from indigenous grapes not found in other parts of the world.
Most of the best Greek producers are represented in the list and to begin with the whites you should try the Kapnias of Domain Hatzimichalis or the Malagousia of Gerovassiliou, Perpetuus of Nikos Lazaridis, the Avaton of Mount Athos of Tsandalis, the Robola of the Bazigos Winery and any of the Assyrtiko wines from three top producers in Santorini.
The Greek red list is just as interesting with a number of exceptional bottles from different parts of the country by the Tsandalis wine group – Rapsani Old Vines, Kanenas, Naousa Reserve and Nemea Reserve and Rapsani Grand Reserve, to name the better Tsandalis offerings. There are also bottles of King of Dreams by Nikos Lazaridis, Kapnias Red from Domain Hatzimichalis, Old Vines from Ktima Papaioannou, a Meth’imon blend of 7 varietals from Dougos, Amethystos Rouge from Domaine Kostas Lazaridis and Black Sheep by Nikos Lazaridis.
I have tasted all these wines in past Greek wine events and they all work exceptionally well with Greek appetizers and/or main courses.
There are also red and white wines from France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, and numerous California Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrahs and Zinfandels. But I would stay with Greek varietals since the food is Greek and wine is supposed to complement the native food it is paired with.
There is a cocktail list, wines by the glass, beer by the bottle including a very traditional Fix Lager (the beer most Greeks have grown up with), Heineken from Holland, Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic, three Vorcia varieties from Greece, Sam Adams Lager, Golden Monkey Ale and Blue Moon from the US, plus a few other varieties. There is also a large selection of Single Malts from the UK, American Whiskey and Ryes from the US, Tequilas from Mexico and 3 ouzo varieties, including the Barbayanni mentioned at the beginning.
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