Food Writer's Diary
A cuisine that's fetching surprisingly high prices in New York

A cuisine that's fetching surprisingly high prices in New York

You will not be surprised to see me write that New York City has some expensive restaurants. Tasting Menus at fine dining establishments with strong French influence like Per Se and Eleven Madison Park can easily set a customer back $500 or more, with alcohol, per person. The same is true at Japanese places such as Masa and Kurumazushi, as well as at Masa’s sister restaurant, Kappo Masa, which New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells recently gave zero (0) stars, in large part because the prices of some items were flabbergasting, like a fatty tuna sushi roll topped with caviar that was $240.

But actually, some of the most expensive restaurants in the city are Greek.

New York City has a lot of Greek food, and probably even more fake Greek food — griddled slivers of reconstituted beef or lamb or a combination thereof, scooped into a pita with lettuce and tomato and squirts of “white sauce” or hot sauce or both are called gyros and are available at “halal” carts on many street corners in Midtown Manhattan for $4-$5. They generally suck. They’re soulless and barely resemble a proper gyro, which is supposed to be dressed with tzatziki, which in my opinion is one of the best condiments on earth, made with yogurt, garlic, cucumbers, olive oil, lemon and often dill.

The New York Daily News recently reported that the white sauce is really a sort of watered down mayonnaise.

There’s also a lot of good, reasonably priced traditional Greek food, particularly in Greek neighborhoods such as Astoria in Queens.

Whole fish at Limani: It will set you back

Greek chefs, most notably Michael Psilakis, have updated traditional Greek food at restaurants such as Kefi and MP Taverna, where entrées are in the teens or low 20s and you can eat sandwiches or hamburgers if you like.

But then there’s Milos, which serves breathtakingly fresh Mediterranean seafood at staggering prices comparable to those at Per Se and Eleven Madison Park. It’s all based on the market price of the seafood, so it’s hard to pin down specifics, but Milos does have an appetizer of fried eggplant and zucchini served with tzatziki and kefalograviera cheese. It’s possibly the best appetizer I’ve ever eaten. Each thinly sliced chip of eggplant or zucchini is fried individually and cooked perfectly. They are stacked on top of each other and served hot. For $33.

Honestly, if you have $33 burning a hole in your pocket, that’s not a bad way to spend it, but it’s still $33.

And New York has a new terrifyingly expensive Greek restaurant, Limani.

Like Milos, which also has locations in Montréal and Miami, Limani is a chain. Well, it’s a chain if you count two units as a chain (here at NRN we actually usually draw the line at three units). The original Limani is in the wealthy Long Island town of Roslyn, but last fall it opened a new location at Rockefeller Center, across from Del Frisco’s Grille.

One of the best bites of food I’ve had in years was at the new Limani. It was the head of a Carabineiro, a large Mediterranean prawn from Spain. It was served with a shot of Oloroso sherry that I was instructed to pour into the head, once I’d ripped it off its body, and then suck the whole thing down.

It was good advice. I’m pretty sure I heard angels sing. I wondered what was happening to me, and why I had been wasting my time ever eating anything else.

The reason I ate other things was because a single Carabineiro was $85.

Limani was kind enough to have me dine in the restaurant as their guest, probably because they knew that as a journalist I didn’t have $85 to spend on a large shrimp, or even the cash to enjoy some great halibut at $40 a pound — you have to buy the whole fish; you can even pick it out, pristine and gorgeous on a bed of ice.

Mezze: $22

I suppose I could have swung the $25 octopus appetizer, or the roasted beets and skordalia (another of the great condiments of the world, made with garlic, olive oil and some kind of starch such as potatoes or bread), for $13, which is pretty much what things like that cost in Midtown.

But my point is that fine dining — even the very highest end of fine dining — has branched out beyond the traditional cuisines that fetch the startling prices that can be commanded by chef-driven mostly French restaurants and ingredient-focused Japanese places.

I wonder which cuisine will make the leap next.

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