Saturday, August 23, 2008

Kellari Taverna -- let your imagination take flight

It's time for me to wrap up my Celebration of Food in honor of the hungry. The purpose of this feature was to celebrate food not as a commodity, but as a special joy of life -- something that helps us to stop and appreciate beauty and taste, relationships, and moments in time. Food is more than just sustenance; it is culture, family, and art. It is the stuff of lifelong memories.

Unfortunately, many people around the world can barely afford even the most basic foodstuffs because of the global food price crisis. My aim with this series was to raise awareness of that fact and encourage my readers to do what they can to help. Even if you only have a few dollars to give, that money can make a real difference, especially in the developing world.

For my final piece, I will tell you about one of my favorite restaurants in New York City, the Greek seafood restaurant, Kellari Taverna --

I believe it was fall 2005/winter 2006 that I first caught a glimpse of Kellari Taverna. I often would walk down 44th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues, on my way to work, as I liked to pass by the historic Algonquin, as well as the other fancy hotels on the block. At that time, I noticed a storefront past the hotels and closer to 5th Avenue was under construction.

As the days and weeks went by, details started to emerge. First there was the light-colored wood of the facade. Then the large windows started to reveal a black marble bar with blonde wood shelves and wooden wine casks overhead. I was fascintated. Just the hint of this place spirited my winter-weary mind to fantasies of a Mediterranean island.

A sign appeared: "Kellari Taverna," as well as gauzy white curtains at the windows, and a plaque above the door reading "Enter as strangers and leave as friends." When the restaurant finally opened, I passed by after work and saw it in action. I peeked in the door and saw candles, light wood, white walls and curtains receding into the back of the restaurant. At the bar were heaping trays of olives and cheese. I could just imagine the cool taste of a cocktail, sitting there at one of the bar stools.

Even before I ever ate there, Kellari Taverna was a feast for my mind. It was as if, when I passed this tiny pocket of New York, I was no longer even in the US, but rather in a dreamy state where you could imagine the sea and the pleasure of relaxing the evenings away with beautiful people speaking foreign tongues. On my way from Kellari to the bus, I would spend some time in this dream state and think about how I could plan a trip to the Greek islands.

I finally had my opportunity to dine at Kellari Taverna in March of 2006, when I took my Uncle Charles here for his birthday. I don't remember exactly what we had, but I do know that it was delicious. The meal started out with little snacks for the table, including olives, radishes, and a dip for bread. We had a prix fixe meal, and by the time dessert arrived, I could barely fit it in.

The owner came by and asked how we were enjoying our food. He gave us his card, asking us to please contact him if we ever needed anything.

At that time, the restaurant had recently opened, and it was relatively quiet that night. So my uncle and I took some time after we ate to walk around and look around the space in detail. I remember seeing the lavish display of fresh fish by the kitchen, the reds and silvers of their scales glistening on a bed of ice. Aside from the bright light here, everything in the restaurant was bathed in a cozy, yellowish glow. It was indeed that magical place I had imagined. If only I could stay on and on.

I have gone back for drinks and a few lunches since then, including one with my dad a few weeks ago. It was just as good as I had remembered. This time I had the delectable vegetable moussaka, and my father had an elegant salad with grilled shrimp. The only thing was, now this place has been discovered, and it is quite busy.

The prices make Kellari Taverna a special treat, rather than an everyday splurge. But that experience of walking by, peering in the windows, and letting your imagination take flight is both free and priceless.


If you enjoyed my Celebration of Food the past two weeks, I ask you to please consider making a donation of money or time to your favorite hunger-related charity. Thank you for reading!

1 comment:

alexlady said...

wow, i've been working with kellari since they opened!! i really need to get out more, we'll totally check this place out!