Pylos (A Greek Odyssey in the East Village)

So you live in the East Village and you’re a punk rocker with a mohawk and a nose ring or let’s say you’re not, you’re Natalie Portman–not that she lives in the East Village, but let’s say she does–and you’ve never been to Greece but you suddenly find yourself craving a white sandy island surrounded by crystal blue water with olive trees and Greek gods throwing lightning at you. Where will you go? Look no further:

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Welcome to Pylos: home of one of the most transportive restaurant experiences I’ve had in recent memory. I was in the East Village during the week last week, a bit hungry, and walking past Pylos I thought, “Why not?” and in I went. I wasn’t expecting to be tele-ported completely across the Atlantic, yet that’s precisely what happened.

The first thing you’ll notice when you sit down at Pylos is that there are ceramic pots hanging over your head:

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This has been widely reported–most reviews of Pylos mention the pots–and when I read about those pots, before I went, I didn’t know what to think. Now that I’ve been there, I still don’t know what to think. It certainly adds drama to the room. And it also adds a nice color: with the white walls and the natural light coming in, you do feel like you’re in some kind of Greek bungalow next door to Lauren Bacall. You are Natalie Portman, after all.

Part of the transportive experience is owed to the decor, the other part is owed to the atmosphere: there’s fun Greek music playing and the waiter is Greek. He tried to get me to order wine with his heavy Greek accent, but I kindly said no. I wanted the Greek salad with grilled calamari.

I’ve never had a Greek salad with calamari. But it was one of the cheaper options on the menu and it sounded intriguing. When the waiter brought it out–about 15 minutes later–I was totally glad I ordered what I did:

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The smell was pure ocean, pure Mediterranean. Balanced with everything else in the bowl, it was like booking a trip on Orbitz without the expense. The calamari was grilled a perfect amount (following Mario Batali’s rule that calamari should be cooked for two minutes or a full hour, but nowhere in between). The stuffed grape leaves were the best I’ve ever had: fresh mint made them refreshing and pleasant, as opposed to the mealy, gnarly specimens you get at cheap diners.

I didn’t plan to go to Greece the day I had lunch at Pylos, but go to Greece I did. And if you live in the East Village, or even if you don’t, even if you live in Citrus County Florida (hi Bill! (see the comments)), you’ll find yourself transported when you get yourself to the East Village for lunch at Pylos. Natalie Portman would agree.

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