In the wake of Dona’s demise, Michael Psilakis is a man with a major challenge. He has two restaurants that currently only exist on a theoretical plane, and one actual restaurant, the Upper West Side’s Onera, that is underperforming. So as part of a grand retrenching and expansion effort, Psilakis has reconceived Onera as Kefi, a family-style neighborhood eatery. It’s a good idea. The neighborhood’s residents weren’t primed for Psilakis’s challenging food (his most memorable effort there was a multicourse offal tasting menu); nor, to be fair, was the room worthy. Psilakis, though, claims that Kefi’s more casual cooking has other benefits as well.
“It’s a lot of fun, because it allows you to not worry about the intellectual side of the cooking,” he told us. “This isn’t even about technique so much. If I were doing a lamb shank at Dona, it would have to be perfectly tied, and we’d have to sear it down, and the vegetables would have to be prepared 100 percent perfectly. Here, the vegetables are coarse-chopped, the lamb isn’t tied; we just put it all in a pot, just like my mother did.”
Will Psilakis be sorry to return to precision and technique when he opens the high-minded Anthos, which aims to put haute-Greek cuisine on par with the best French and Italian, in the fall? “It’s an extension of the same thing,” he says. “I like the food that makes you think about its inspiration, where it came from. Kefi and Anthos are just two different parts of the same thing.” Psilakis and company, of course, just hope both parts are profitable — and have ironclad leases.
Earlier: Dona Closing Saturday