New York's Big, Fat Greek Food Revival
by sylvie bigar
Amali is serious about seasonality
“Greek cuisine has come a long way in the US over the last few years,” says chef Michael Psilakis, who runs Kefi, a rustic Greek restaurant, and Fishtag, a casual seafood establishment, both on the Upper West Side. “A lot of education needed to happen, but diners have realized that the cuisine isn’t as unfamiliar as they once thought, and is very healthy.”
Psilakis can be credited for pushing the boundaries of Greek cuisine when he won a Michelin star with Anthos (sadly now closed). However, today he’s not alone in encouraging epicureans to rediscover the thrill that comes from seasonality and simplicity paired with the freshest local ingredients—the true essence of Greek cuisine. In recent months, several Greek restaurants have opened their doors including Village Taverna and ForgetMeNot downtown, and Loi on the Upper West Side, while perennial favorites like Thalassa are expanding (the restaurant recently added a new meze lounge).
Traditional Greek cuisine typically featured such ingredients as feta, grape leaves, and figs, accompanied by the natural bounty of land and sea—tomatoes, olives, octopus, and lamb. Those staples are elevated in today’s newer restaurants, such as Boukies, the latest establishment from Christos Valtzoglou (Pylos), opening this month. At Boukies, consulting chef Diane Kochilas—author of The Glorious Foods of Greece: Traditional Recipes from the Islands, Cities, and Villages (William Morrow Cookbooks)—has developed a menu with more than 30 appetizers or small plates, including a yellow split pea purée served with house-marinated anchovies and roasted peppers, and a potato stuffed with creamy spinach and shrimp.
At Molyvos, which just unveiled a complete renovation this past January, chef and partner Jim Botsacos believes diners are ready for what he calls “my soulful Greek cuisine,” a lighter take on the classics, while at Amali, corporate lawyer turned restaurateur James Mallios takes seasonality so seriously that he refuses to feature tomatoes in winter. “In our version of a Greek salad, we use a reduction of grape agrodolce,” says Mallios, who teamed with Steve Tzolis and Nicola Kotsoni (Periyali, Il Cantinori) to open Amali.
When diners scan the discreet QR barcode on the Amali menu, they receive information on which farm delivered the ingredients they are about to devour. The nutty lamb, for example, is sourced directly from top Pennsylvania purveyor Elysian Fields Farm (chef Thomas Keller is a partner), where animals are raised humanely, without hormones or antibiotics. “We order whole steers and always find a way to use the entire animal,” says chef Devon Gilroy. Lamb sweetbreads and cheeks come on a lemon purée, while braised shoulder becomes a moist and tasty ragù.
Even multi-starred French chef Daniel Boulud decided to veer toward the Aegean when he opened Boulud-Sud to great acclaim. “I could have just featured Provençal cuisine, but I wanted to include all the character, the vibrancy that can be found around the Mediterranean,” says Boulud, whose menu features luscious rabbit porchetta; fragrant, garlicky soupe de poissons; and lemon-saffron linguini topped by briny, shaved bottarga.
From seafood-centric Thalassa to fine food purveyor Milos Estiatorio, it seems as though Greek cuisine is here to stay. “The Mediterranean diet is not a fad,” says Botsacos. “It’s a way of life.”
photography by william brinson; food styling by ed gabriels for halley resources