That’s the word that first comes to mind when I think about my dinner the other night at the bustling Kefi Restaurant. There’s been a lot of chat about Chef Michael Psilakis and restaurateur Donatella Arpaia's latest expansion, for good reason. Kefi's prices are very reasonable for NYC; the food delicious and the chef is top notch which equals a winning combination. That’s all great but what’s more important to us, the food allergic community, is the level of professionalism that this kitchen employs and which directly translates to their ability to handle special requests, even on a busy night.
How it went down:
Before our reservation last week, I did my "Cheers" thing, including going early in the week. We had a Tuesday 830pm res, not usually the busiest night of the week, even in NYC. I arrived early and there were diners outside Kefi Restaurant waiting for tables and more inside; rows and rows of tables filled with chewing diners and filled plates and wine being poured. It was orchestrated happy restaurant chaos. With a little over 200 seats, Kefi typically does about 500 covers a night; during restaurant week, they did about 700, I heard. That’s serious biz in a good economy but during a recession, it’s the stuff of potential restaurant legend. However, that kind of ordered chaos was a little stab to my allergic heart, especially last week when I was Reactive Girl (probably due to oral allergies). I thought to myself, “Oh brother. How am I going to stay safe?”
To start with I was with two of my safe-girls: Francine and Shari, both food industry stars and both AG supportive. Yes! When Francine arrived, she knew the manager and introduced me. Get this, he recited my allergies back to me. Double yes!
How it sounded:
"Hi Kostos, lovely to meet you. I’m Allergic Girl and I called ahead to let the kitchen know about my allergies. But I wanted to check in with you as well."
"Yes, you’re allergic fish, shellfish, nuts and dairy and wheat intolerant. No problem, we’re ready for you."
How it felt:
Wow. The little stab melted into a pinch. I still had the server to talk with, the food to order and eat but what a fantastic start. I felt special but not “special” and most of all, I felt my requests were heard and I was a welcome patron.
We sat down at a cozy downstairs table. The room has a rustic, taverna-feel and the noise level was not as deafening as the ground level. Sweet Gianni introduced himself as our server; I gave him the AG run-down in a polite, friendly and easy-going manner, carefully spelling out my needs. He answered, “I’m your guy; I specialize in allergies.”
More yes! I gave him my AG list and we had some detailed back and forth about the ingredients of different dishes and cooking techniques, e.g. the meat is cooked on same grill as fish. Gianni was super knowledgeable about the intricacies of Executive Chef Michael Psilakis’s creations and thus able to expertly guide me to a dish that would be AG safe and easy for the kitchen to turn out with the other 200 orders they were cooking simultaneously.
I ordered the lamb shank with a side of plain steamed white rice and I could have licked the plate--lamb shank is a favorite of this former vegetarian. All that was left was the bone. As you know, I don’t usually order dessert, even sorbet, because very often the spoons/scoopers are not 100% clean. Gianni sent out some comp’d sorbet for dessert, explaining that he personally scrubbed the scooper to ensure that it was AG safe. Thanks G!
Everything was handled so well I said to Gianni, “So what should I order when I come back next and you’re my server?” As this was toward the end of service, about 10pm, Gianni went over the entire Kefi menu, dish by dish, with me. The Cypriot sausage sounded particularly scrumptious. Who passed by at that moment but the sausage maker and grill guy, Chef Dave. He told me ALL of the ingredients of my future dish, all AG safe sounding.
In short, on this inaugural visit, Kefi Restaurant impressed this hard-core restaurant veteran, foodie and life-long Allergic Girl. Every step was professional. The staff communicated clearly with me and obviously was communicating with each other. I felt welcomed and cared for; the atmos was warm, the food was delicious and inexpensive. It was a good reminder how a professional kitchen should work and what we should expect as diners with special requests.
505 Columbus Ave
New York, NY 10024