Entries in Michael Psilakis (19)


Fish Tag

The history of chef Michael Psilakis has become the culinary equivalent of “The House that Jack Built.” Every time he opens a new place, you need to tell the story of all the previous ones, to understand what is going on.

His newest, Fish Tag, is his fourth on the same site that was once home to Onera (very good), Kefi (good), and Gus & Gabriel Gastropub (awful). He has also done five places with the restaurateur Donatella Arpaia, including Anthos (excellent, but closed), Dona (not bad; now closed), Mia Dona (where he is no longer involved), a larger version of Kefi (mediocre), and the restaurant Eos in Miami.

Where those restaurants failed, Psilakis’s cooking usually wasn’t at fault. (To go into the reasons, Jack’s House would become a whole subdivision.) Onera, Anthos, Dona, and Mia Dona, all got two stars from the Times, and Anthos should have had three. Kefi was good before it moved to a space far too large for its own good. That leaves Gus & Gabriel as Psilakis’s only outright failure (though he claims it will be reincarnated in Brooklyn), amidst a long line of successes.

At Fish Tag, the chef is once again in his sphere. It offers mainly a seafood menu—not overtly Greek, but in the same imaginative modern Greek style that was successful at Onera and Anthos. It’s more elaborate than the former, but less fancy than the latter. The layout was gutted and replaced with a sleek, elegant design that’s the best I’ve ever seen it. The dining room now seats 60 (it was formerly 75). There are now three separate bar counters that seat 30 between them.

Psilakis is hedging his bets, so Fish Tag doubles as a wine bar. To that end, many of the wines are available in three-ounce, six-ounce, or half-bottle pours, and the menu includes plenty of cheeses and cured meats for bar patrons who might not want a full meal. On the main menu, the entrées top out at $26, and there’s the ever-present $16 burger that shows up in most restaurants these days.

There are some blunders that could cost Fish Tag a whole star. After you sit down, the server utters the seven words most dreaded in the Western culinary canon: “Let me explain how our menu works.” But you really need the explanation this time. Although Fish Tag has traditional appetizers and entrées, they aren’t so stated on the menu. Instead, the items are arranged from “lightest” to “heaviest,” with appetizers in red and entrées in black.

Groups of menu items are lassoed with large curly braces, next to which are written the spirits (wines, beers, scotches, etc.) that purportedly go with them. As if this wasn’t enough to learn, some items are marked with a “§” sign, which means (a footnote tells us) that they may be ordered “simply grilled” with potato and broccoli rabe.

You might think this was enough complexity, but there’s more. While the wines are listed on the back of the food menu, a separate menu lists the hard liquors, ice creams, coffees, teas (“please allow five minutes for stepping”), cheeses, cured meats, and “appetizing.”

Appetizing? That’s the Jewish word for the food usually served with bagels, such as lox and other smoked fish. At our table, we received two copies of the food menu, but just one of the cheese-meat-appetizing-everything-else menu.

The good news is that once you’ve figured out how to order, Fish Tag becomes a delightful restaurant.

Young Pecorino “Saganaki,” or Sheep’s Milk Cheese ($12; above left) with lemon, garlic, and almonds, comes sizzling in a cast-iron skillet. It’s wonderful; yet, we could easily have missed it: it’s the bottom entry on the cheese menu.

Smoked Sable ($9; above right), one of ten choices from the appetizing menu, has a rich, smokey taste. 

Branzino Stuffed with Head Cheese ($26; above left) is a stunning creation, and dare we say, critic bait. The menu doesn’t say whose head it’s made with (presumably lamb), but once you get past the “ick” factor it’s a brilliant dish—vintage Psilakis. Striped Bass ($23; above right), simply grilled, is a less elaborate creation, but excellent nonetheless.

The wine list is delightful, with plenty of good buys at the $50-and-under level, my benchmark for this type of restaurant. Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France is an appellation I’ve never seen before. The 2008 M. Chapoutier “Occultum Lapidem” ($45; label at right) has a light, fruity taste not unlike some Burgundies, making it a terrific red wine to go with fish. It was one of many that we could have had by the glass or the half-bottle, but we went ahead and ordered a full bottle.

I photographed the label (right) after the sommelier explained that, in honor of a former blind resident of the estate, all of the wine labels from this producer are printed in braille.

At times, Fish Tag seems just a tad too precious for its own good. Tap water comes in clear glass jugs, the size of one full glass, each with its own rubber stopper, which the server removes just before setting it on the table.

But even more precious is the collection of white porcelain cake plates, which are used for serving many different items, including the smoked fish. It looks impressive, but it’s a bit awkward to eat off of an elevated pedestal.

Those idiosyncrasies aside, the service and wine program are in very good shape for a month-old restaurant. The general manager and wine director aren’t credited on the menu, nor is anyone credited at ChefDB, but whomever Psilakis hired is earning their keep. The restaurant was full, and running smoothly, at 7:00 p.m. on a Saturday evening.

Even if Fish Tag is a bit over-thought (particularly the color-coded menu), we were impressed with the food—the way we had been with Psilakis’s earlier restaurants, before he lost his way in the last couple of years. Will Psilakis stick around long enough to ensure Fish Tag remains relevant? Or will he hop to a new project after the reviews are in? Ryan Skeen is assisting in the kitchen, but no one expects that to last: it’s the serial job-hopper’s seventh restaurant in three years.

Let’s hope that Psilakis has learned his lessons well, and that he’ll make Fish Tag his main focus. This is where he belongs.

Fish Tag (222 W. 79th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave., Upper West Side)

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


Review Recap: Mia Dona

Did you ever meet someone at a football game, who shouted, “Even I could coach this football team?”

It happens with restaurants too. Donatella Arpaia was in partnership with two very talented chefs, David Burke and Michael Psilakis. She split up with both, so that she could do the cooking herself, despite having no training as a professional chef.

Turns out, it’s not so easy. So says Sam Sifton in a withering zero-star review of Mia Dona:

And so here is the new, chef-less iteration of Mia Dona: exactly the sort of decent, middlebrow, red-sauce Italian restaurant you’d relish if you found it in a town near the town where you grew up in the suburbs of New York. Within the five boroughs of New York City, we call that sort of restaurant satisfactory.

“Satisfactory” is Times-speak for mediocre:

The main dishes, however, go off the rails. That eggplant parmigiana is almost totally free of taste or character, a sandwich interior taken from a deli in Anywhereville. The roasted baby chicken with peppers and sweet-and-sour cipollini onions, meanwhile, has a corporate tang, a hint of mild depression: a charity-dinner entree made for 200 people.

There is competently prepared branzino, boring as protein out of a can marked “farmed white fish,” and unremarkable mussels in a sauce made of white wine, with tomato and pancetta. You’ve had that before.

And for those who have only experienced tripe-ish excellence at restaurants like Casa Mono or Momofuku Ssam Bar, Mia Dona’s version of tomato-braised beef tripe with garlic toast can serve as a complete explanation why some consider tripe to be spongy and horrid. It is both.

This was technically a demotion, as Frank Bruni had awarded two stars to Mia Dona when Michael Psilakis was in the kitchen. But after Psilakis’s departure Mia Dona became, in essence, a brand new restaurant. And according to Sifton, no longer a very good one.

We gave one star to Mia Dona, but truth be told, it was at the lower end of one star. We have no argument with Sifton’s decision to give zero.


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?


Mia Dona (Act III)

Note: Mia Dona’s luck finally ran out. The restaurant closed in August 2011.

Mia Dona is a luckier restaurant than most. With the talented but attention-deficited chef Michael Psilakis behind the stoves, and the talented but over-committed owner Donatella Arpaia running the house, there was always a danger that it would seem like a throwaway.

Amazingly enough, Mia Dona was a very good restaurant. We gave it two stars, and far more importantly, so did Frank Bruni in the Times. Thus ended Act I of our story.

Having launched the restaurant successfully, the danger was that Arpaia and Psilakis would direct their attention to other projects, and the restaurant would drift. Sure enough, it did. Upon a re-visit a mere months later, we found Mia Dona far less exciting. It was now serving “the kind of generic upscale Italian food that could show up on dozens of menus around town.” Thus ended Act II.

Most similarly situated restaurants would either be dead, or would begin a long slide into mediocrity and irrelevance. But at the end of September 2009, Arpaia and Psilakis had an amicable divorce (though they are still partners in three other restaurants). She closed briefly for some much needed renovations, softening the original kitschy, overwrought décor. Most curiously, she re-opened without a named chef, choosing instead to hire cooks she trained herself, along with her mother and her aunts. Thus begins Act III.

The cuisine is that of Apulia, in southern Italy, the region Arpaia’s family is from. She says that this is the cuisine she always wanted to serve at Ama, a restaurant in Soho that she was briefly associated with about four years ago, and that has since closed. As restauranteur and de facto chef at Mia Dona, she finally gets to do it her way.

If you are looking for the thrilling creations that made Act I of Mia Dona such a compelling restaurant, you will be disappointed. They don’t exist. What you get is a safe list of Italian classics that are well made, along with a service team that is far more polished than before.

With Mia Dona now being primarily a neighborhood place, the staff cannot afford the arrogance and slapdash service we have occasionally experienced at Arpaia’s restaurants. The crowd is younger than we remembered it, and they are not treated as if they are oh-so-fortunate to have the privilege of dining here.

Ms. Arpaia was not there personally on the Friday night we visited, and we suspect she seldom is; but the folks to whom she has entrusted the restaurant seem to know what they are doing. As before, she keeps prices remarkably low, with the maximum entrée price at $19. That is a bargain nowadays.

Neither the Meatballs ($9; above left) nor the Seafood Spaghetti ($17; above right) was especially memorable; they were done correctly, that is all.

The same is true of the Eggplant Parmigiana ($17; above left). We loved the Baby Chicken ($17; above right): the whole bird cooked simply but perfectly.

We had no trouble getting a reservation the same day, but the place filled up in a hurry. There seemed to be only one server for the entire front room. Fortunately, she was extremely competent; Donatella had hired wisely.

We doubt that we’ll be back to Mia Dona unless we happen to be in the neighborhood, but we are happy to report that it is friendly, dependable, and apparently successful in its newly minted, much lower ambitions.

Mia Dona (206 E. 58th Street between Second & Third Avenues, East Midtown)

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


Review Recap: Gus & Gabriel Gastropub

According to Pete Wells at the Times, Chef Michael Psilakis has his first fail with Gus & Gabriel Gastropub, which receives a devastating FAIR rating in today’s paper:

The anglicized Gastropub of the name is a red herring. Gus & Gabriel’s menu reads like the one at countless casual American pubs, with a few nods to T. G. I. Friday’s and all the strip-mall P. T. Pennyfathers it spawned.

Mr. Psilakis intended to improve mainstream food — fried mozzarella, spaghetti and meatballs, barbecued riblets — by making it all from scratch. The tortilla chips in nachos are fried in house; the ice creams in the shakes and floats are made at Anthos.

This may strike some people as pandering. But the problem with Gus & Gabriel is not that it aims low. The problem is that it fails to achieve even its low aims.

This was the paper’s first FAIR rating since William Grimes’s tenure. Frank Bruni never gave a FAIR. He once said that two kinds of zero—POOR and SATISFACTORY—were enough. The trouble was that most of his SATISFACTORY reviews didn’t convey much satisfaction. If a restaurant is this bad, then it isn’t satisfactory.

Gus & Gabriel is Micheal Psilakis’s seventh New York restaurant in five years. Three have closed (Onera, Dona, and the original Kefi), and this week he severed his ties with another, Mia Dona. The transferred Kefi is a disaster, and so apparently is Gus & Gabriel. That leaves the acclaimed Anthos, but heaven knows if he is actually paying attention to it—it doesn’t get much press these days.

It’s time for Psilakis to stop tossing out ideas like so many bullets out of a machine gun, and focus again on getting them right.


Review Preview: Gus & Gabriel Gastropub

Record to date: 10–3

According to @pete_wells, “This week full reviews return to NYT Dining with a writeup on Gus & Gabriel Gastropub done by some guy named Pete Wells.”

The restaurant is named for Chef Michael Psilakis’s father (Gus) and his son (Gabriel), because “he intends the restaurant’s cooking to appeal to the kid in every adult.” It’s perhaps a slightly more sophisticated version of the comfort food that the Upper West Side is known for: salads, burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, meatloaf—that sort of thing.

According to the online menu, most of the food is below $15. It’s the kind of place that would originally have fallen to the $25 & Under critic, back when that column contained real restaurant reviews.

Pete Wells has no history of doling out stars, but we can’t imagine that this place is better than the subject of Frank Bruni’s parting review, The Redhead, which earned one star. So that’s our guess for Gus & Gabriel: one star.


The Payoff: Kefi

Yesterday, Frank Bruni dropped a star on the underwhelming Kefi. No review better demonstrates the debasement of the New York Times star system. One star is supposed to mean “good,” but in Frank’s hands it usually means “mediocre”:

A friend and frequent dining companion often complains of palate fatigue, that deadening of all response when too many of a restaurant’s dishes have too little nuance and a surfeit of the same bold — even bullying — notes.

During some meals at Kefi, a madly popular Greek restaurant on the Upper West Side, what I experienced was more like palate mononucleosis… .

The all-Greek wine list is as price-sensitive as the food, and the atmosphere is pleasant, if Greek-restaurant predictable: a white-and-blue color scheme, decorative ceramics, that sort of thing. Try not to sit at a table by the bar, where the human traffic is most snarled.

And know that the scale and manner of the cooking Mr. Psilakis is doing here differ from what he’s done elsewhere around town — or what he did at the original Kefi. There, many of the same dishes were executed with more precision and restraint. It was a lesser stage, but it was a greater one.ed to mean “good,” but Bruni constantly gives it out to mediocre places:

We and Eater both took the one-star bet, winning $4 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $116.50   $137.67
Gain/Loss +4.00   +4.00
Total $120.50   $141.67
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 54–25   56–23

Rolling the Dice: Kefi

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Kefi, the new Michael Psilakis/Donatella Arpaia Greek dining barn on the Upper West Side. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 20-1
One Star: 4-1 √√
Two Stars:
Three Stars: 55-1
Four Stars: 50,000-1

The Skinny: Frank Bruni clearly has a hard-on for this place. For a guy who has never taken much to blogging, his breathless panting over the new Kefi has been remarkable. And he really loves Michael Psilakis, having given him two stars on four occasions (Onera, Dona, Anthos, and Mia Dona). We are on vacation this week, so we are too lazy to insert links to those reviews, so you’ll have to google them yourself.

Anyhow, you can bet that Bruni walked into Kefi wanting desperately to love it. Nevertheless, we agree with Eater that to the extent there are “rules” for getting two stars, Kefi breaks an awful lot of them. Bruni has been less inclined to follow those unwritten rules than his predecessors, but he tends to break them for earnest “family” places, not for the kind of assembly-line food served at Kefi.

I would add that we hated Kefi, though that is not influencing our judgment one bit.

Eater mentions the Ssäm Bar exception, where there are currently three NYT stars, despite a zero-star atmosphere and one-star service. Despite our occasional carping, we do know Ssäm Bar. Ssäm Bar is a friend of ours. Kefi, you are no Ssäm Bar. We suspect, or at least hope, that Bruni will recognize that Kefi is not going to feature the kind of constant innovation that could justify a two or three-star rating for a path-breaking restaurant like Ssäm Bar. The two just aren’t comparable.

The Bet: We agree with Eater that Frank Bruni will award one star to Kefi.





[Kreiger via Eater]

If you’re an ethical food blogger—don’t snicker, that’s not an oxymoron—what do you do when a restaurant in its first week is a disaster? Do you assume the problems will eventually be worked out? Or do you call it like it is?

As of today, the new Kefi is a disaster—a blunder by two smart people who should have known better. The question is, how much can they improve? We figure that Michael Psilakis and Donatella Arpaia—chef and restauranteur respectively—will do their best to get it right. Yet, much of what is wrong stems from a misguided concept that is not easily fixed.

Let’s be blunt: this is their third restaurant together, and more are coming. Psilakis and Arpaia were both in the house on Saturday night, but that won’t last long. After the critics have come through, they’ll both be spending their time elsewhere.

In at least 10 visits to her various restaurants, this is the first time I’ve ever seen Arpaia. And in my experience, her restaurants do not improve with time. She has too many of them, along with other projects, to give the loving attention they need, and apparently she cannot find, or has not found, the right staff to manage them in her stead.

Here’s the background: Psilakis opened Onera on the Upper West Side, a Greek take on haute cuisine that critics liked, but wasn’t suited to the neighborhood. He turned it into an inexpensive casual place called Kefi, which didn’t take reservations or even credit cards. Meanwhile, the haute Greek idea was reborn as Anthos in a fancier midtown location, earning a Michelin star in its first year. Those aren’t the only restaurants Psilakis and Arpaia have been involved in, or rumored to be working on, but we’ll leave the history lesson there.

Kefi was a big hit. We were impressed. So were the critics. Peter Meehan filed a rave in $25 & Under. There was lots of love on the BruniBlog. But Kefi had a problem: it had only 70 seats, and waits to get in were interminable. So Psilakis and Arpaia decided to move several blocks away, where they could triple the space, and where they could finally accept reservations and credit cards.

I appreciate that Psilakis and Arpaia hated turning customers away. Yet, there was a grave risk that, in moving to a space 200% larger, the concept would lose its charm. That is exactly what has happened: stadium dining at its worst. The new Kefi feels like a theater district barn, geared to churn out hundreds of meals at a breakneck pace. The only difference is that Kefi doesn’t slow down at 8:00.

There are four rooms on two levels, each with its own design personality. (In this, it resembles Mia Dona, another Psilakis/Arpaia property.) This choice was supposed to “keep Kefi’s intimate appeal,” but it doesn’t work that way. The host station is inexplicably near the back of the first floor, so you have to navigate the clotted bar just to ask for your table.

This unfortunate intersection is adjacent to the kitchen, so runners with food and busboys with dirty dishes have to fight their way through the same space where diners not yet seated are forced to congregate. Staff and customers must also share a narrow winding staircase that leads to two downstairs dining rooms, and also to the restrooms. Anyone who works here will get plenty of exercise. This restaurant really needed a dumbwaiter.

Our adventure did not start well: they had lost our reservation. “We’ll accommodate you,” our hostess generously offered, after conferring with Ms. Arpaia. A better response might have been, “We apologize for misplacing your reservation.” I know that customers are sometimes mistaken or even deceitful about bookings they claim to have made, but a new and obviously disorganized restaurant might want to consider giving the benefit of the doubt.

Kefi was packed when we arrived, and it was packed when we left. It had the usual problems of a restaurant suddenly serving triple the number of guests. Runners were frequently confused about where to deliver food. This happened not just at our table, but everywhere. Most dishes came out not quite warm enough. This, too, happened repeatedly. Kefi is tightly packed, so it was not difficult to overhear the complaints. Plates were dropped off without silverware. Appetizer plates were cleared while leaving dirty silverware behind.

House-made sausage ($7.50; above left) was the best thing we had: tender, a bit spicy, and served at the right temperature. Greek salad ($6.50; above right) was pedestrian. Meatballs ($6.25; above right) had potential, but they were served lukewarm.

For the main course, I ordered the braised lamb shank ($15.95), as I had done at the former location. The plating last time (above left) is more careful, with the bed of orzo covering the plate and flecks of green on the shank itself. The version of it served on Saturday (above right) was a much lazier try, with the food carelessly dumped on the plate. The lamb shank itself was just fine, but with sufficient brazing any meat naturally would be.

Moussaka ($11.95; above left) and  Creamed Spinach ($5.50; above right) were both average. Neither one was served quite warm enough.

Dessert was alleged to be Sesame Sorbet ($3.95; above left), though it sure tasted like ice cream to us. Whatever it was, it was too tart.

If there’s a bright spot at Kefi, it’s the all-Greek wine list. There are tasting notes for each bottle, which is thoughtful of them, as these appellations will be utterly unfamiliar to most diners. Many bottles are very reasonably priced For $48 I was pleased with the 2001 Grande Reserve Naoussa Boutari (above right). If it were French, restaurants would sell it for twice as much.

Prices remain the saving grace at Kefi. We had three appetizers, two entrées, a side dish and a bottle of wine for just $105.60, before tax and tip. That’s a bargain by today’s standards, though it is still no excuse for serving lukewarm food in a charmless atmosphere. The new place still has Kefi’s name, but none of its appeal, other than low prices.

Ms. Arpaia came downstairs multiple times during our visit. But we never noticed her stopping at any table to ask how it was going. “She doesn’t look happy,” my girlfriend said. We passed her coming down as we were leaving. You’d think she might have said, “Thanks for coming.” Naturally, she did not.

Perhaps Psilakis and Arpaia will be able to whip this place into shape, but I doubt it. They have too many other projects, and too many of the problems are design flaws that are virtually impossible to fix. Even if they ace it, this place cannot duplicate the original Kefi’s charms. They should not have sullied its good name.

I am not going to pronounce Kefi a failure after just six nights of service. This chef and this owner have earned the right to prove they can do better. They have their work cut out for them.

Kefi (505 Columbus Avenue between 84th–85th Streets, Upper West Side)

Food: good, when it is served warm enough
Service: confused
Atmosphere: a dining stadium
Overall: incomplete


Mia Dona


Note: This is a review under Chef Michael Psilakis, who has severed his ties with the restaurant.

A group of six food-board acquaintances had dinner this week at Mia Dona. We’d all been before and were impressed with Michael Psilakis’s inventive take on Italian cuisine.

Alas, Mia Dona has regressed to the mean. Between us, we tasted sixteen dishes. They were all competently done, but mostly routine—the kind of generic upscale Italian food that could show up on dozens of menus around town. There was nothing, say, to live up to the Calf’s Tongue appetizer I had last time, the kind of dish that makes you want to shout, “You have to eat here!”

Prices have inched up too, though that was to be expected. Mia Dona is still inexpensive by today’s standards, but the center of gravity for the entrées, formerly about $20, is now in the mid-twenties, and there’s now at least one entrée in the thirties. Dinner for six came to about $100 a head, including tax and tip. That included wine, but not a particularly expensive one.

It surely doesn’t help that Psilakis and his partner, Donatella Arpaia, are juggling about half-a-dozen projects apiece. The server said that both drop by frequently, but the point is that they’re only dropping by. Day-to-day, the restaurant is in less capable hands.

It also didn’t help that there were about three dishes on the menu they were out of or no longer serving—and that was at 7:00 p.m. on a Tuesday evening. One of our companions quipped, “What about spinach ravioli don’t you have, the spinach or the ravioli?”

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Out of our first batch of dishes (above), I liked the Bigoli (bottom left) best, with sausage, broccoli rabe, lentils, and peccorino romano. A version of this has been on the menu from the beginning. Stuffed figs (top middle) weren’t bad.

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Among the second batch, a Grilled Trout (bottom left) was the best. The skin was crisp, the fish tender, and the beet sauce elevated it above the typical treatment for this kind of fish. Lamb chops (top left) and hangar steak (bottom middle) were both solidly done, but unmemorable. Gnudi (top middle) were chewy. The server initially didn’t want to serve us Spiedini (bottom right), as they were out of some ingredients, but they whipped up an acceptable substitute.

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We had two side dishes, but neither lived up to the terrific spinach we had last time. Among the two desserts we tried, a Panna Cotta (2nd from right) was pretty good, but again, fairly typical of modern-day upscale Italian restaurants.

If you happen to be in this section of East Midtown, Mia Dona remains a solid choice, especially as it’s still a pretty good bargain, even after the recent price increases. But it’s no longer a dining destination. For that, you’ll have to visit Anthos, or wait for the next Psilakis/Arpaia project.

Mia Dona (206 E. 58th Street between Second & Third Avenues, East Midtown)

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