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Note: Click here for a review of Kefi in its current location. This is a review in its former location.

I was a big fan of Onera, Michael Psilakis’s haute Greek restaurant on the Upper West Side. It was one of the few very good restaurants, in a neighborhood where great ones are in short supply. But I guess there’s a reason why the Upper West Side isn’t a fine dining destination: yuppies with strollers prefer casual cafés and take-out.

The new interior

Cuttlefish, Spinach & Manouri

Braised Lamb Shank, Orzo, Root Vegetables

Walnut Cake, Walnut Ice Cream

So Psilakis converted the formal Onera to the casual Kefi. Anyone who visited Onera will recognize the space. But the white tablecloths are gone, and the décor is much more informal. Reservations are not accepted.

Prices are astonishingly low, with appetizers $4.50 – 9.95, pastas $9.95 – 11.95, main courses $13.95 – 15.95, and desserts $4.95 – 7.95. Most wines by the glass are only $6, and cocktails are only $7. (I can’t remember the last time I had a cocktail below $10.)

Even at these prices, a three-course dinner for two, including drinks, is likely to go above $100 with tax and tip. So we were irritated to find that Kefi doesn’t take credit cards, and we noted other patrons taken by surprise. If McDonald’s can take credit cards nowadays, why can’t Kefi?

I started with the Cuttlefish ($8.95), which were grilled, stuffed with spinach, and perched atop warm tomatoes. It was an ample portion, and impressive at the price, as it must be a fairly labor-intensive dish.

For the entree, I had the Braised Lamb Shank ($15.95), which was just as tender and flavorful as you could ask for. It compared favorably to versions of the same dish that upscale Greek restaurants sell for twice as much.

I was also quite pleased with dessert, a moist walnut cake with walnut ice cream.

We were sad to see Onera go, but there’s no denying Kefi is more in keeping with the area. It’s doing a brisk, if not crowded, walk-in business, and also offers take-out. I hope it survives and thrives.

Meanwhile, the concept of Onera remains very much alive. Psilakis is planning a similar restaurant called Anthos at 36 West 52nd Street near Fifth Avenue, a neighborhood where high-end Greek dining should find a much warmer reception.

Update: Kefi will be moving to 505 Columbus Avenue near 84th Street, sometime around July 2008. The new space will seat 200 and will accept both reservations and credit cards (the current restaurant takes neither). Chef Michael Psilakis hopes to open a new restaurant in the existing space — “something I haven’t done before.” Psilakis gave the exclusive to a practically breathless Frank Bruni, who loves the place, although he never bothered to review it.

Kefi (222 W. 79th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave., Upper West Side)

Food: *½
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *½

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