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250 Park Avenue South (at 20th St.)

: Mediterranean
VIBE: Festive oasis
OCCASION: Take a Mediterranean vacation
GO WITH: A group (birthday) or date
DON’T MISS DISH: Octopus meze
PRICE: $50
HOURS: Lunch & Dinner, Sun & Mon 5:30-11:30;
Tu-Th 5:30-12; Fri-Sat. 5:30-12:30 PM
FINAL WORD: Sink into a pillow & go fish.

Even a gourmet junkie, like myself, can get tired of eating foie gras foam and other molecularly-altered edibles night after night, which is why Barbounia may be the perfect vacation not only from post-modern fare, but also from the city itself.  In fact, Barbounia seems to embrace a “recline & dine” Mediterranean philosophy.

Upon entrance, waves of creamy fabric draped from a soaring ceiling evoke a dine-by-the-sea feel.  From an oddly feathery chandelier to pillow-stuffed banquettes, Barbounia beckons weary New Yorkers in with pampering arms, a welcome relief from the starkly modern (and often uncomfortable) seating at the latest barrage of industrial chic restaurants.  Still beyond the sea of lively tables, stands centerstage, a grand open kitchen, where Greek & Turkish delights are busily being churned out.

Where the food might seem an accessory to the trendy scene (the music’s just a tad too loud), Barbounia delivers a unexpectedly satisfying eating experience.  The menu highlights meze (small plates), souvlaki (skewers), and entrees as well as a stand-out whole fish selection: baked, grilled, or broiled.  First, my night began with an “olympia” cocktail, a seductive (not too sweet) elixir of champagne, pear, Beefeater and fresh lemon juice.  Next, I sampled an exceptionally tender and sweet charred octopus, gently tossed with lemon zest, plump grape yellow tomatoes and fava beans with the perfect kick of sherry vinaigrette.  The lamb gouvetsi was a tasty stew of savory minced lamb, tomato ragu and risotto, but much too rich a dish to order as an appetizer (I dare suggest it be relocated to the entree section).

Think fish when it comes to your main course.  I tried a delicate yet crispy-skinned red snapper sharply accented by artichoke hearts, olives and sweet red peppers.  The branzino (I got it grilled) was expertly prepared, a fresh, flaky meat with a touch of lemon and olive oil.  While the desserts stumbled, I decided to cap off my visit with a brandied apricot cocktail, a toothsome end to my Barbounia vacation.

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl

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