Taverna Kyclades Lives On
A lunchtime crowd gathers in a vibrant hum of conversation beneath the grapevine-draped awning outside Taverna Kyclades. There is even a waiting list on this rainy Tuesday afternoon. Kyclades doesn’t take reservations; this 95-seat restaurant doesn’t need them. It is always buzzing, even as neighboring establishments along Ditmars Boulevard scramble for business.
With so many new restaurants sprouting up and wilting, how does a veteran establishment not only thrive in such a finicky culinary climate, but remain at the top of their game for entire decades? The first Michelin-rated restaurant in Queens and Zagat list-topper for Seafood, Greek cuisine and Food (in general) has no gimmick, per se. When asked to reflect on the secret of long-term success, chef-owner Ardian Skenderi lights up. “I cook with my heart.”
The former professional basketball point guard from Athens stands an intimidating six-and-a-half-feet tall, but wears a smile that could melt titanium. He knows several customers by name, many of whom dine at Kyclades multiple times a week, sometimes twice in the same day. “When I give [someone] a dish, I can always say ‘this is the very best I can do,’ and if they tell me I can do better, then I am going to learn.”
Room for improvement would be difficult to find. The sole chef, Skenderi is in the restaurant daily. He also gathers seafood before sunrise at the Fulton Fish Market in Hunts Point two to five times a week.
“We have no specials on the menu,” boasts the beloved chef, “because everything here is special.” Grilled swordfish kebabs duet with glistening beets or saffron rice. Whole red snapper is prepared to juicy perfection, carved tableside and served with a ramekin of warm lemon oil. Challenging dishes, like Spanish octopus and steamed horta (dandelion greens), are tenderer at Kyclades than anywhere else in Astoria. Portions are the size of Skenderi himself, but the price point, remarkably, is lower than his Manhattan competitors.
Under Skenderi’s ownership since 1999, Kyclades has overcome many obstacles. Most recently this celebrated
Greek restaurant has fallen victim to landlord greed, forcing Skenderi to seek a new location. Surrounding businesses will likely miss the traffic and exposure Kyclades brings to Ditmars, but customers have nothing to worry about. The new space, designed and built from scratch, will open next year just a few blocks away at 35th St. and 20th Ave. The bi-level building includes more seating—“with much better air conditioning,” chuckles the chef—along with banquet facilities and a garden. As for the regulars who enjoy taramosalata and the standout Greek salad multiple times a day, they won’t have to go without. Skenderi plans on keeping the current location open for a brief period of overlap to ease the transition.
3307 Ditmars Boulevard
Astoria, NY 11105