A Cretan Dinner in Astoria

May, 2007

 

By Hillary Cooper

This month’s outing had us traipsing out to Astoria, Queens for the finest in Greek cuisine – Cretan cuisine, to be exact.  By 8pm the table was set (with cloth napkins and everything!) by our gracious hosts Barbara and Kostas Lambrakis and the Gastronauts came trickling in.  Once almost everyone had arrived Curtiss gave the order to let the food begin!

The first course was a tripe soup, and it was to die for (literally – the butter, cream, and egg based broth definitely raised our cholesterol levels to dangerous heights).  However, despite the artery clogging it was quite delicious.  The tripe was prepared in a way I had never had before – rolled up and stuffed in a casing, probably also part of the intestine.  They were small and tender, perfectly cooked.

After that impressive beginning, the real eating began.  We started with the Patrementi salad which was delicious, though a bit tame for our group.  Next was the grilled squid, marinated and served with a potato/beet side dish that was a huge hit.  The waiters then brought out the calf livers, which most of us agreed were quite tasty (although more than three and it was a bit much for most of us).

So far, so good.  Other than the fact that there was an insane amount of food on the table, everyone was looking quite smug and confident.  Liver and cooked squid?  Piece of cake!  Dandelion greens drowned in olive oil?  Pshaw!  We were ready for the good stuff.

Out came the Sweetbread… yum, thyroid glands!  They were breaded, seasoned, and lightly fried.  Everyone agreed that they were fantastic.  Then the Headcheese, which was an interesting blend of every internal organ you can imagine (and some you can’t) rolled up and served in a bizarre gelatinous mold.  Each piece was a bit different, which left us pondering what we really had just eaten…  and wondering if a person can overdose on offal.

The next item on the menu was definitely the biggest hit, not only for the taste but also for the numerous jokes that were had at its behalf.  Lamb testicles!  These little (no offense to the lamb) nuggets were also lightly breaded and fried, and were very tender.  One person commented on how they actually tasted like lamb, which of course led to some speculation that I don’t think I will go into right now… needless to say, it was quite an amusing course, and despite the Lorena Bobbit references and some nervous looking male members of the club we practically polished them off.  I think there were only a few balls left, which we took to go.  Testes to Go.  It really doesn’t get much better than that.

And then… the Grand Finale…

The Whole Head of Lamb!

This dish was possible one of the most gruesome that I have come across in all my months of Gastronaut dinners.  This head had it all – eyes, cheeks, hairy jaw, you name it.  And if that wasn’t enough, our hostess Nancy gracefully showed us how to get to the rest of the good stuff by gripping the skull with both hands and cracking it open to expose the brain.  Mildly disturbing, but I was not about to argue with her after seeing that demonstration.  The actual meat was not bad – the cheeks were pretty good, reminding some of us of dark turkey meat.  The jaw didn’t have much in the way of edible pieces, but man was it fun to pose with those little dentures!  The brain got mixed reviews.

By this point we were all stuffed and drunk on Greek wine… but we managed to finish off the meal with some succulent melon, a fried dough thingy that I didn’t get to try cause I was too busy yapping with the Greeks, and of course the homemade Grappa brought over from Crete by our host.

It was truly a memorable evening.

 

S'AGAPO

34-21 34th Ave. 
Astoria, Queens
Tuesday, May 1, 2007

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RESTAURANT: S'AGAPO