208 West 70th Street
October 2011 opening,
The scent of Spanakopita straight from the oven, freshly wrapped grape leaves and the sweet aroma of Baklava wafts its way onto West 70th Street, as one of Greece’s top chefs, Maria Loi, works her magic in the kitchen at her new restaurant . . . Loi.
Formally Compass, the well reviewed venue with a bevy of revolving chefs and menus, Loi has garnered attention from some of the city’s most well respected foodies and critics alike.Chef Loi aims to offer guests a blend of her warm personal charm combined with her modern approach to authentic Greek cuisine in a casually elegant setting starting with a trendy bar with twinkling votive candles, followed by two glass-enclosed private rooms, leading to the square bi-level main dining room,with its comfortable seating and earthy beige color scheme. The space has subtle lighting and is sectioned with high pillars of beige and purple. Terracotta floors, striped fabric armchairs and walls hung with pictures of sea-scenes complete the picture. Maître d’ John oversees the operation with obvious professionalism.
At a chef owned and run restaurant (well co-owned in this case with managing partner Don Evans),food is an extension of the cook’s persona, and should be the focus. And so it clearly is at Loi. While perusing the menu, you are served gratis stuffed grape leaves with a zesty yogurt sauce and assorted bread to dip in fragrant olive oil. The breads are addictive (especially the homemade flat bread and a thick, grainy wedge with a hint of sweetness). The Dolmades (grape leaves) are the best we have ever tasted . . . and that includes experiencing them in numerous trips to Greece.
Other small plates that deserve signature acclaim, include Maria’s ahini sea urchin appetizer. Beautifully presented on a series of large porcelain spoon, in a heady lemon-oil sauce, they are divine. More earthy and described as baked meat “patties,” keftedaika meatballs,In Caramelized Tomato Sauce With Feta Mousse Sauce were honest and delicious.
In the entrée department chef Loi’s “traditional” moussaka, delicately prepared with Eggplant, With Minced Meat, Topped With Bechamel Sauce, and Slow Cooked is a must. It was light and very much like the contemporary Greek food one would have experienced at trendy, restaurants in Athens.Indeed, much of the food is updated to today’s taste, and fortunately, flavor is never sacrificed. We also enjoyed Braised Lamb Shank With Anthotiro & Kalabokisio (Corn Puree), which tasted rather like a refined version of grits. Roasted, marinated beets were very good and although we didn’t get a chance to sample the Fresh Fish, Baked in Sea Salt “For Two” Accompanied With Charred Grilled Seasonal Vegetables, the people at the next table ordered it and appeared delighted.
The formidable wine list of Compass has been replaced with a shorter, mostly Greek version offering well priced bottles, many in the $40 to $60 range. Our waiter suggested a chardonnay from chef Loi’s personal selection: a 2009 Karapidis, from organic grapes and aged 6 months in oak ($75). It was delicate, with subtle fruit and great balance. Probably the best buy on the list. Brothers Lazaros and Pantelis Karipidis began their wine venture as a hobby in 1985. Their decidedly cosmopolitan wines and upmarket image have made them leaders in the industry.
Don’t miss the desserts. Besides the obligatory Baklava, go for the unusual Ekmck KatJifi. Ek-mek Ka-tai-Ifi: Shredded Phyllo Soaked in Honey Topped with Custard, Toasted Nuts and Light Crème. Reminiscent of a Greek tiramisu, we loved it..Finish with wonderful Greek coffee and an ouzo and you have the ideal dinner.
The Giveaway Stuffed Grape Leaves (Above) Set The Stage
Other Appetizer Teasers (Below)
Until recently, Maria hosted her very own cooking show, which ran for years, on Greece’s most successful morning program, and the country’s leading TV network, Mega Channel. She is also the author of several cookbooks, including the highly coveted “Ancient Dining,” the official cookbook of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. She visits each table, during the evening and stopped at ours briefly.
Small wonder Loi has quickly become a neighborhood favorite and is a destination worth seeking, out, for those seeking elevated, Greek cuisine with a personal touch. Our visit preceded Easter and there was a lamb on a spit, cooking in front of the restaurant. It was a Saturday evening and business was booming. The fragrant lamb must have been a metaphor for the sweet smell of success.
Interestingly, of all Manhattan’s luxury Greek restaurants, Loi offers attractive value. There is even a pre fixe dinner (5 to 6:30 PM) for $40. Reserve well in advance. It’s standing room only.
Copyright 2012 By Punchin International. All Rights Reserved.