Twenty-five years ago, Dmitri's, the Greek stalwart in Queen Village, was the place for grilled octopus. Nowadays, the creature's tentacles are everywhere. But few can match the ones that emerge from the wood-fired precincts of Vernick Food and Drink.

Our meaty cords of Spanish octopus there recently had been through a day-long boot camp, arriving demurely sweet, juicy and unimaginably tender. A crunch of pickled fennel added contrast; a smear of black-olive mayo, a layer of flavor.

Chef Greg Vernick favors hefty, five-pound octopuses, going through 40 pounds a week. They need some tough love. They're poached two hours in herbed olive oil, then marinated for three more hours with lemon peel before being grilled (to get a little char) to order.

There's a secret, too: The chef adds wine corks to the poaching liquid, an Italian grandma's trick, more folkloric than scientific. But on his first try they seemed to work like magic and he has added them - as a lucky charm - ever since.

- Rick Nichols
Grilled octopus small plate, $16 (can be shared), Vernick Food & Drink, 2031 Walnut St.