Restaurant Review: MP Taverna in Irvington
The “MP” in MP Taverna doesn’t stand for “Mostly Perfect,” but it might as well.
PHOTOS BY CATHY PINSKY
The lamb burger is juicy without being greasy and is accompanied by stellar twice-fried potatoes.
An entire beer was dumped on my head. No, we weren’t at a Yankees-Red Sox game—we were dining at MP Taverna in Irvington, chef and restaurateur Michael Psilakis’ latest in a string of successes. The waiter must have slipped; his tray was directly over me when the bottle made a spectacular tumble from the top of my head onto the bridge of my nose before landing on our table, foam gushing out and pouring into my lap.
We all know mistakes happen—it’s what you do with them that counts.
The waiter apologized sincerely and profusely; the manager immediately brought over his card and said he would take care of all damages. And he told us the meal was on the house. They couldn’t have been more earnest or sincere; they handled it beautifully.
Beer dump or not, well handled or not, the meal still had to stand on its own merits. It certainly had on a previous visit. The lively and upscale-casual atmosphere managed to just avoid being too noisy; the food was consistently good and often even great; and the prices are…drumroll please…fair!
We can’t remember the last time we had roasted chicken this good—and for $15! Beneath the crisp, golden skin, redolent with garlic and lemon, lay tender meat juicy enough to soak into the neighboring roasted fingerling potatoes. Whole grilled dourade, also simply flavored with lemon, was similarly moist and tender. Grilled Arctic char was just as good—spectacular, really. Again, the fish was grilled and topped with butter and lemon juice. As with the other two dishes, well-chosen ingredients were handled simply and with expertise.
More complex preparations were equally good. An appetizer of three large sea scallops masterfully bound together flavors of the sun, earth, and sea. Scallops, cooked to just this side of done (seconds less and they’d have been cool in the center rather than warm and moist), formed a foundation of sweet, faintly briny ocean; browned butter lent rich, nutty flavor and dried tart cherries added bright, sunny spunk.
Spacious booths line the walls at MP Taverna.
Many restaurants have one dish for which they become known—the scallop dish was one of several that could be signature dishes for MP Taverna. Another might be the smoky, tender grilled octopus with crisp, slightly charred edges, which was served atop a chickpea salad that flaunted all that was good about the octopus—and stood out on its own for its lovely starchy-acidic balance.
Avowed carnivores might order the gyro-seasoned sliders, an appetizer of three small burgers that combined the best of a moist, messy burger with compelling gyro flavors. Yes, it is a fun idea—but here it is turned into a dish that could make the restaurant a destination. Or, you might come here for the lamb burger. It is served with fried, smashed, and refried potato wedges that may be the best “fries” this county has seen, but stands on its own as a juicy (not greasy) burger with more meaty flavor per square inch than most burgers have in three quarters of a pound.
And still, those are not the best of MP Taverna. The dish that captivated our food-lusting souls is listed on the menu as “dumplings.” Picture light, ethereal ricotta gnudi dressed with a robust sauce of sun-dried and fresh tomatoes, spinach and feta cheese, and hints of spicy, intensely savory flavor from lamb sausage—and now top the whole thing with buttery toasted breadcrumbs. That is a signature dish. (By the way, imagine paying only $15 per nice big plate of these so-called dumplings. Makes it even better, doesn’t it?)
As with all the menu items, dessert was generally a matter of executing classic Greek dishes very well, often adding a creative flourish, and not calling these dishes by their usual names.
At our table, dueling spoons dove into the galaktoboureko parfait, a dish that deconstructed and tweaked the traditional semolina custard pie. The addition of smoked almonds, orange, honey, and crispy kataifi only made this beloved dish better, and we will forevermore prefer it in a glass.
As much as we loved the galaktoboureko, top prize is a tie between the baked apple baklava Napoleon and the outrageously simple Greek yogurt with honey and seeds. Yes, the latter sounds like breakfast—but it tastes like more like something that happens at midnight. Rich, thick, mouth-coating Greek yogurt—nothing like the supermarket version—is sprinkled with a generous helping of seeds that sound too healthy to be tasty, but truly are, then doused with sexy, aromatic wildflower honey. It is big enough to share, and you should. Trust us when we say this dish is nearly pornographic.
In the great war of desserts, the apple baklava Napoleon is a worthy adversary. Metaxa-spiked whipped cream, toasted almonds, and homey apple compote were sandwiched between three layers of crispy, golden phyllo, and finished with a sprinkling of coarse salt.
If you love beautifully and expertly executed food the way we do, we think you will now understand that even if it hadn’t been handled as absolutely perfectly as it was, that spilled beer might not have been enough to deter us from returning to MP Taverna.
MP Taverna ★★★★
One Bridge St, Irvington
(914) 231-7854; michaelpsilakis.com
Hours: lunch, Mon to Fri noon-3 pm; dinner, Sun to Thurs 3 pm-10 pm, Fri & Sat 3 pm-11 pm; brunch, Sat & Sun 11 am-3 pm
Appetizers: $8-$13; entrées: $13-$22; desserts: $5-$8
★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good