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Axia Taverna
GREEK
18 Piermont Road
(201) 569-5999
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TENAFLY
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Most entrees more than $25
Full bar
Open 7 days a week
Al fresco dining
Credit cards accepted
Handicapped accessible
Lunch served
Private room available
Reservations accepted
Take-out menu
Categories key
WORTHY NEWCOMER
By Susan Leigh Sherrill; Photo By Ted Axelrod

Every so often, a restaurant opens that truly makes us sit up and take notice. Axia Taverna is such a place. Designed by the super-cool Tony Chi, whose distinctive interiors grace contemporary hotels and restaurants worldwide, the three-level space evokes the feel of Greece with nary a bright blue tile or hanging fish net in sight. Instead, the mood of the light-filled Mediterranean isles is created by whitewashed walls accented with craggy gray stone and shelves holding simple clay pots, and by sleek, blond wood tables with surprisingly comfortable wooden chairs. A cylindrical, zinc fireplace acts as a focal point and radiates warmth, while garage doors facing the street can open the space up to a raised outdoor patio. A temperature-controlled glass wine case stores bottles lengthwise on narrow metal rods and serves as a divider between the bar and main dining area.

Chef Alex Gorant's food is as exciting as the design. The menu is divided into "small plates"and "big plates," with a selection of charcoal-grilled meats and fish and an enticing mix of authentic Greek salads, soups and sides. To start, we dug into smoked eggplant dip, baked haloumi cheese with orange sections, honey and mint, crispy tomato and fennel fritters with a cooling yogurt dip, a trio of grilled sausages and Axia's taramosalata - creamy, briny fish roe dip studded with bits of lobster meat. A "small plate" standout is steamed mussels, their slightly spicy, tomato-laced broth subtly scented with ouzo.

While Gorant bucks the recent Greek restaurant trend of displaying its seafood selection on ice, Axia does offer whole fish like branzini, simply grilled with lemon, olive oil and fresh herbs. Other "big plates" featuring fish are equally as successful. Coriander-crusted tuna loin was a reminder of warmer days - served with a tomato caper vinaigrette and tabbouleh. Skate wing had an appealingly crispy crust and perfectly moist interior, matched well with a tangy sauteed baby artichokes and smooth, roasted lemon mashed potatoes. Monkfish medallions were meaty and rich, plated with a tangle of flat noodles and a sensuous brown butter sauce. Lamb dishes are equally inspired. Roast leg of lamb was pink and beautiful, stuffed with a heady combination of figs, feta cheese and caramelized onions and served with a pile of garlicky greens. Grilled porterhouse of lamb was well seasoned, tender and as sexy as a similar cut of beef. Another winner was pastichio - the Greek take on lasagna. Layers of pasta, ground lamb and creamy bechamel were beautifully presented as a round, individual portion cradled in a crisp phyllo shell.

With the exception of a cinnamon-scented rice pudding, desserts at Axia were not as terrific as the rest of the meal. The restaurant's all-male wait staff, attired in denim shirts, are attentive and knowledgeable about the mostly Greek label wine list; they steered us to delicious and appropriate choices. Axia in Greek means "value," "merit," or worthiness," and the staff's expertise was yet another indication that this dazzling newcomer lives up to its name.

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