While experimenting with a new restaurant can have its risks, dining at the new Pyramida Grill is a pretty safe bet. To be accurate, this Mediterranean Upper East Sider is new in location and scale only. Co-owners and chefs Matthew Koven and Roger Ramkissoon wanted to "do something big" when, less than three months ago, they moved from their small take-out spot on 78th Street into a spacious, full-service restaurant at the corner of 73rd and Second Avenue. Their new digs are inviting, as are the food, the service, and the prices.
Sticklers for quality, Matt and Roger pride themselves on using fresh, homemade ingredients only. Their menu is the same for lunch and dinner and offers healthful items that suit appetites both large and small. It features a wide array of starters, sandwiches, wraps, salads, and mains, as well as a number of vegetarian plates. (A weekend brunch menu was introduced recently.) Nothing I tried disappointed.
In addition to familiar appetizers such as Hummus, Babaganoush, Tabouli, and Tzatziki, Pyramida tempted me with some unique diversions. Pumpkin Gloria, for example, is a very popular starter made from calabaza, a type of sweet squash often called West Indian pumpkin. Named for Roger's mother (the recipe's originator), the dish is seasoned with onion, garlic, and cumin—no additional sweetener is used. Though available throughout the year, it seems custom-made for autumn.
Some of my other favorite starters include Baigan & Aloo (sautéed eggplant and potato), Sweet Pea Purée, and Curry Cabbage Salad with pistachio and pine nuts. I've saved one of the best for last, however. The New York Times described Pyramida's as "first-rate falafel." The spherical deep-fried ground chickpeas—seasoned with garlic, cumin, and pepper—are extremely good indeed. It seems The Gray Lady got it right. The majority of starters and sides are priced $5.95 for a small portion; $8.50 for a medium one. Should a single appetizer not suffice, any three salads or spreads may be combined to create a custom Appetizer Sampler for $11.95.
Most of the main courses are priced under $20. Though I tend to prefer fish, I find Pyramida's meat plates irresistible. Subtle yet flavorful, the dishes don't require aggressive seasoning to taste good. For instance, a major factor in the delectability of both the chicken and lamb Shish Kebab ($17.95 and $18.95, respectively) is that their spices aren't allowed to overwhelm the natural flavors of the meat. The same is true of the Kofta ($17.95), a tasty minced beef preparation. If I had to single out a favorite, however, it would be the exquisite Lamb Gyro ($16.95). Succulent, well-prepared, and, yes, perfectly seasoned, this dish is simply delish! But for those unable to settle on one particular meat, I'd recommend the Ultimate Meat Combo ($19.95).
Should it be necessary to "fire up your food," there's Roger's Homemade Hot Sauce—a mixture of Scotch bonnet (a relative of the habanero), garlic, lemons, carrots, pumpkin, and salt. (The use of lemon is a welcome departure from the vinegar often found in other piquant sauces.) "Tell us how hot you want it … on a scale of 1 to 10. 10 being burn your face." While Roger's sauce may be quite hot and peppery, my visage managed to escape immolation.
There are very good side dishes as well. For example, Pyramida's version of Peas & Carrots spices up an old workhorse with delicious results. Furthermore, I found Matt and Roger's preparations of Lentil and Saffron Rice to be perfect.
With Pyramida's beer-and-wine license just days away, I tried their famous Freshly Squeezed Lemonade ($4.50). Zesty, frothy, refreshing, and not too sweet, it's no wonder New York Magazine named it "NY's best lemonade" three years in a row. The recipe is simple: fresh-squeezed lemons, a little sugar, and water. This is how lemonade should taste.
I'm not sure whether I'd saved enough room for dessert, but I indulged anyway. Everything except the ice cream here is homemade. With two types of baklava ($6.95 each), it was hard to choose. Both the Classic (almonds and walnuts) and the Cashewlava (cashews only) delivered a satisfying finish without being overly sweet. It may seem odd, but the latter's flavors reminded me of a baked brie.
Baked to order and served hot, the Outrageous Warm Chocolate Truffles ($8.95) are an encapsulation of a cacao lover's dream. "No fork! And don't squeeze too hard," insists Roger as he instructs me to use my fingers to roll each truffle in confectioner's sugar and then pop it into my mouth, whole. My gentlest bite released a veritable chocolate explosion! These truffles are what is meant by a melt-in-your-mouth dessert.
Though Pyramida's tasty homemade dishes are still available for take-out and (free) delivery, their expansion into a full-service restaurant is a welcome addition. Matt and Roger's commitment to freshness and quality are evident in everything they prepare. And with a grade of A from the New York City Department of Health, the new Pyramida is a pretty safe bet indeed.
1402 Second Avenue (SE corner 73rd Street),
Upper East Side, Manhattan
By train: 6 to 77 Street
By bus: M15, M72