Entries in Anthos (4)


I Don’t Get It: Psilakis Done at Anthos

Update: Anthos has closed. Owner Donatella Arpaia sold the space, which will become a steakhouse run by the Ben & Jack’s family.


Frank Bruni, back on his old beat, reports today that Michael Psilakis is out at Anthos, where he was chef–partner with front-of-house guru Donatella Arpaia.

This is the third split in their long-protracted divorce, with Arpaia having previously backed out of Psilakis’s Gus & Gabriel Gastropub, and he in turn having left her Italian restaurant, Mia Dona. Both of those moves made some sense, as Psilakis wasn’t really an Italian chef, and Arpaia probably felt she had little to add at Gus & Gabriel.

This time, I don’t get it.

Anthos derived its prestige from Psilakis’s name. Like many high-end restaurants, it is surely suffering during the recession. But given that it is remaining open, Arpaia is better off with Psilakis than a chef no one has heard of. It will probably lose its Michelin star, as restaurants normally do when a chef leaves.

Similarly, Psilakis has now lost the only good restaurant in his portfolio. Such places are seldom money-spinners in themselves, but their cachet leads to other things, like cookbooks and TV deals, and they lend gravitas to the chef’s lower-end places. Think of how much Jean-Georges Vongerichten gets from sprinkling pixie dust on his large collection of restaurants, with his flagship as a loss-leader.

Instead of being a Michelin-star chef, Psilakis is now just a guy turing out mediocre comfort food. What does he do for an encore? Sling burgers?




Note: This is a review under chef Michael Psilakis, who left the restaurant in March 2010. Anthos closed in August 2010. It is now the Empire Steakhouse, from the Ben & Jack’s team.


Anthos is the latest creation of Greek wonder-chef Michael Psilakis. For a self-taught chef, Psilakis has made a remarkable name for himself in just a few years. First he opened Onera on the Upper West Side. I loved the place, but the space was admittedly a bit dismal, and the location worked against it. And maybe the Upper West Side wasn’t ready for an offal tasting menu.

Then, he opened Dona, an Italian/Greek hybrid with comely restauranteur Donatella Arpaia. I wasn’t quite as infatuated with Dona as some other people, but there’s no question it was a big success. But then, Psilakis and Arpaia lost their lease, and Dona was no more. Around that time, he closed Onera and re-opened it as the more casual Kefi, and it’s now a hit. Then came Anthos (“blossoming”), which was meant to propel Greek cuisine to the three-star heights that Onera and Dona both missed.

anthos04.jpgThe question is, did they succeed? Both Adam Platt in New York and Frank Bruni in the New York Times didn’t quite think so, both awarding two stars, though Bruni thought Anthos came awfully close to three. He pronounced it better than either Onera or Dona—both of which had won two stars from him—and several of his complaints seemed petty: “fussy tics” and “self-consciousness” (both recurring turn-offs for him), as well as “drab” décor (a complaint several critics have noted). He added, “Pauses between courses are too long, and not everything that arrives is worth the wait.”

We found Anthos to be just about everything a Greek restaurant could hope to be. Perhaps some of the early rough spots have been smoothed out. Or perhaps a Saturday in August, with the restaurant only half full, didn’t provide an indication of what service would be like when traffic is busier. We had no complaint with the purportedly drab décor, which seemed to us comfortable and appropriately restrained.

Canapés came first (above, left), followed by an amuse bouche (above, right). The server describing them had a heavy accent, and was difficult to understand. The latter—a smoked Halibut, I believe—was about one inch square. My girlfriend didn’t much care for it, but I thought it was successful. In any case, it must have set a record for most ingredients in a small package.

The menu at Anthos is re-printed daily. Both the appetizer and entrée I ordered aren’t shown on any of the online menus, and I don’t have exact descriptions. A Skate Salad (above, left; $16) was excellent, but I was especially impressed by Cod wrapped in zucchini (above, right; $33).

To start, my girlfriend ordered Sheep’s Milk Dumplings ($16), which were beautifully executed. But the highlight for her was the Roasted Chicken (above; $28), which was impeccably prepared, tender, and very attractively plated.

anthos05.jpgThe wine list is a tad over-priced, but we found a wonderful Greek white wine at $55 (label pictured above). Curiously, the sommelier tried to steer us away from Greek wines—we weren’t sure why—but the choice we finally landed on was excellent.

Mileage may vary, but we left Anthos more impressed than we have been with any restaurant in quite some time.

Anthos (36 W. 52nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, West Midtown)

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


The Payoff: Anthos

As expected, Frank Bruni awarded the deuce to Anthos. It was as enthusiastic as Frank gets at the two-star level, and he implied that the restaurant fell only a whisker short of three:

[Anthos is] the restaurant you might get if you triangulated between Onera and Dona. It has the former’s resoundingly Greek soul. It has the latter’s fussy tics and more sophisticated wine list, with sommeliers who can guide you through the impressive advances of Greek winemaking.

It’s better than its predecessors, although it doesn’t come together quite smoothly or sharply enough to loft Mr. Psilakis and Ms. Arpaia to the level they clearly aspire to and will almost certainly reach.

The review marks the return of Fussy Frank. As we’ve often remarked, Frank does not like fine dining—a peculiar deficiency in a critic assigned to cover high-end restaurants. And “fussy” is his favorite word when he feels he’s been pampered too much.

The precise reasons for the two-star rating border on incoherent. He says, “Much of the cooking is inspired, and much of it is excellent.” What’s the Venn Diagram for that statement? Is some of the food inspired, but not excellent? Excellent, but not inspired? Later on, the servers’ exuberance “communicates a self-consciousness that only a few of the dishes are transcendent enough to justify,” and “not everything that arrives is worth the wait.”

Later still, “the ratio of hits to misses is better at Anthos than at Dona” (a restaurant he loved), but he wishes “the kitchen’s efforts” were “just a little more selective and straightforward.” Good luck making any sense of that smorgasbord of “almost…but not quite” sentences. The one thing he makes clear is that he likes this restaurant better than any Arpaia/Psilakis production to date, but in the end, lands at the same two-star rating given to the rest of them.

Eater and I both placed identical $1 winning bets on Anthos at 2–1 odds, so each of us wins a hypothetical $2.

          Eater        NYJ
Bankroll $28.00   $30.67
Gain/Loss +$2.00   +$2.00
Total $30.00   $32.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 12–2   11–3

Rolling the Dice: Anthos

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews the haute Greek restaurant Anthos, the latest collaboration of chef Michael Psilakis with the comely restauranteur Donatella Arpaia. Eater’s official odds are as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 7-1
One Star:
Two Stars: 2-1 √√
Three Stars:
Four Stars: 25,000-1

The Skinny: All indications point to two stars. Frank Bruni has already awarded that rating to two other Psilakis restaurants, Onera and Dona, and he seems hopelessly besotted with Arpaia.

At one point, we thought Anthos could be headed for a trifecta, which was no doubt Psilakis’s intention when he closed Onera, and announced he was going for something more upscale. But no critic so far has been wowed by Anthos, and Bruni isn’t the type who says a restaurant is better than everyone else says it is.

We agree with the Eater oddsmakers that one star is more likely than three, but that would be a very significant slapdown. Bruni’s affinity for Everything Arpaia will save the day.

The Bet: We agree with Eater that Frank Bruni will award two stars to Anthos.