Whether the concept of serving Greek street food in a restaurant setting is intentional or not, it is executed superbly at bZ Grill in Astoria. Don't look for casserole-style main courses like moussaka or pastitsio here. Such items, as well as seafood platters, roasted chicken and lamb, and other typical Hellenic restaurant dishes, are conspicuously absent from the menu.
The variety of Greek and Cypriot meat offerings is by no means austere, however. While our original mission was to investigate bZ Grill's "New York's best gyro" contention, we ended up sampling that speciality and a lot more with the Mix Grill for two ($25.72), an overflowing plate comprising Chicken and Pork Gyro,
Bifteki Gemista (a "Greek burger" made with seasoned ground beef, stuffed with goat cheese),
Seftalia (a homemade Cypriot pork sausage with hints of fresh mint inside),
and Loukaniko (a Greek sausage marinated with red wine and leeks)—all heaped upon a pile of outstanding french fries. (Greek cooking takes both the flavor and texture of its potatoes seriously.) Tzatziki and taramasalata spreads, along with sliced tomatoes and onions, and a stack of warm pita rounded out our sampler. The meats, all processed at bZ's own plant, were authentically spiced and deliciously satisfying. (For an additional grain of authenticity, there was even a shaker of Kalas Greek sea salt, albeit iodized, on the table.)
Also tasty was our Greek Salad ($9.61) of tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, peppers, and olives, topped with slabs of feta imported directly to the restaurant from Greece. The outstanding quality and flavor of the cheese, enhanced by sprinkles of olive oil and oregano, made us forget that tomatoes were out of season, a rare achievement this time of year.
One curiosity was that the hallmark meat element one expects in a gyro was nowhere to be found: spiced ground lamb (usually blended with ground beef) rotating on a vertical spit. BZ Grill's spits instead offered marinated chicken and pork with plenty of fat remaining. The latter is plated with slices of absolutely irresistible crackling pork. The resulting gyros are among New York's best.
To accompany our mixed grill, we enjoyed a bottle of Hatzimichalis Erythros Red 2007, a smooth and pleasant Bordeaux blend that tasted more like a California interpretation of a Rhône. It lacked the hard spice and lean tannins usually associated with Greek and Cypriot dry reds, suggesting, perhaps, that Greece exports wines tailored to the American palate, while it retains its "typical" wines for domestic consumption.
Although the sunken dining room is somewhat spare, it afforded a comfortable indoor setting in which to enjoy mouthwatering outdoor comestibles. Greek street food has found a good home at bZ Grill.
27-02 Astoria Boulevard (27th Street)
Astoria, N.Y. 11102-1926 (map)
Watch: The busy bZ grill
Comestiblab: What do a Greek sliced-meat dish and a framed-disk apparatus have in common? Both the gyro and the gyroscope owe their names to gyros (γύρος), a Greek word meaning "turn" or "revolution." Thus, gyro meat and the disk inside a gyroscope are said to gyrate around an axis.
While gyro is pronounced "YHEE·rho" in Greece, the word is commonly pronounced "JYE·roe" in New York and in most of the United States.