Boston fine-dining veteran Michael Schlow closed his Italian restaurant Via Matta in the spring and reopened it in late September as a Greek restaurant with a bit of New England flair.
Doretta Taverna & Raw Bar is a small-plate-heavy restaurant that offers a rotating menu of five meat and five seafood entrées. Located in the seafood-loving city of Boston, it also features a raw bar.
Schlow discussed his reasons for going Greek and his approach to seafood at the 150-seat restaurant with Nation’s Restaurant News.
Is this your first Greek restaurant?
It is. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. We had an opportunity to do something with the Via Matta space, which was coming to the end of its lease, and I approached my landlord and said, rather than re-up it and continue with Italian — there are lots of Italian restaurants now around our neighborhood, which wasn’t the case when I built it all those years ago — let’s do something new and different, and he was all for it.
We don’t have a Greek tavern in Boston. We have restaurants that call themselves “Mediterranean,” and they’ll have some Greek dishes on the menu, but not unabashedly Greek.
Now we’re not that blue-and-white, Acropolis-style Greek restaurant. This is our take on [Greek cuisine].
Not that there haven’t been Greek restaurants here before. We’ve had a couple mom-and-pop places, and there was a very high-end one called Omonia that lasted for a long time. But it closed maybe 15, 20 years ago, and I don’t think anyone really took up the torch after that.
Really the genesis of doing this comes from my wife. She’s Greek. Her family’s from Sparta, and when we looked at all the foods we loved, this was the food we couldn’t really get in Boston.
This is food that really is not looking for my inventiveness to make it better. My job is to source beautiful products and leave it alone — cook it in a very simple Greek tradition.
What’s the food like at Doretta?
Like most of Europe, the Greeks cook what they see. If you want the best fish, you go to the islands and the water. If you want the best meat dishes, you go inland and to the mountains. In Boston, if I look one way we’ve got the water, and if I look the other way we’ve got the mountains. So I did both. The restaurant is really split down the middle between all the local seafood — I bring some stuff from the outside also, but it’s a lot of local stuff — and a lot of local meat. It’s our personal expression of a Greek taverna. So there’s a raw bar, because I have all these beautiful fish here — my local oysters, and mussels and scallops.
And Bostonians like raw bars.
Oh, they love it. I don’t know of a raw bar here that isn’t busy, to be honest with you. Again, it’s that idea of eating what’s close to you. So we have an open seafood display and we do all the shucking at the raw bar out on the dining room floor. All the heavy-duty cooking is still in the back kitchen, but there’s a lot of pretty and fun stuff being done out front.
The menu is basically broken into five categories. It’s got a raw bar, a series of spreads — which is one of my favorite things to do after shellfish. We [serve the spreads with] this really nice homemade, whole-wheat flatbread that we bake to order. It’s somewhere between a pita and a flatbread. It’s got a little air to it, but I find pita to sometimes be a little dry. This one is somewhat more moist.
Then we have a series of small plates. You could absolutely make a beautiful communal meal from those things, but then if you want to go a bit further, every night I have five to six different fish and five to six different meat dishes. We’re trying something a little bit different in that we’re offering them, price-wise, per person. So we can bring out branzino for six — we’ll bring a couple of whole fish out. Or if you want to do lamb shoulder for eight, we’ll bring out a whole lamb shoulder that’s been roasting for 15 hours. It’s intended for how I think Americans are enjoying their dining experiences right now — sharing a lot of different food. But if somebody does want a singular plate, we’ll absolutely offer it to them.
Do you think there’s much of a demand for Greek food in Boston?
I’ll tell you, an interesting thing is that this whole community, from a retail and wholesale perspective, has come out of the woodwork for this opening. I get emails and calls every day from people saying, “I bring in Greek honey,” or, “I bring in Greek candies,” or, “I bring in the best feta.” I had no idea they even existed. And while we may be first [in Boston], I think once people see what we’ve done, I know that this is the type of food that is very much in demand around the country, and I think that once people here try this it’s going to resonate, and we’ll see more restaurants like this open up.
More from Schlow
What kinds of small plates do you serve?
We have grilled octopus, of course, which is sort of standard to have. It’s just done with some sweet onions and capers, lemon and olive oil. I have an interesting dish that I’ve learned that’s sautéed shrimp with a lemon emulsion — just lemon [juice] and olive oil, emulsified — a little bit of dill and, when it comes out of the pan, a little bit of hot peppers, and crispy, crunchy breadcrumbs as it comes out, before it goes in the bowl, and then I toast it, so you get this very interesting textural contrast with these crunchy breadcrumbs.
A little bit like clams casino?
A little bit. That’s a good one. We do zucchini chips with tzatziki, lots of vegetable dishes. There’s a couscous dish — couscous is not traditionally Greek, necessarily, but they do use it, and we have a Greek-style couscous. They call it sour couscous. It’s a little fermented, just like in place of vinegar or lemon. So we use it with caramelized cauliflower, mint, currants and almonds, and it’s really delicious.
Do you ferment the couscous or does it come that way?
We buy it that way from one of our Greek purveyors. We also have beautiful Brussels sprouts that are done with loukaniko sausage that we make, jalapeños and honey.
What’s loukaniko like?
It’s got orange zest and leeks in it. We cut it up into small pieces, we caramelize it a little bit, we toss it with the Brussels sprouts and toss jalapeño, honey and sherry vinegar. It’s a really pretty dish.
How about the raw bar? Is it a typical Boston raw bar or are there Greek elements there, too?
It definitely has Greek aspects to it. We do have local oysters every day, and that changes based on what I can get my hands on. They come with a cucumber mignonette. We also have sliced yellowtail with crushed green olives, dill and a spicy lemon sauce.
That sounds Greek.
It’s really good, and it’s more popular than I thought it would be. People are really gravitating to it. We’re doing a dish of Prince Edward Island mussels out of the shell tossed with tomato, fennel, chickpeas and smoked paprika.
The mussels are cooked, but it’s a raw bar dish, just like you get lobster and shrimp at a raw bar.
We also have a gorgeous lobster dish that’s poached claw and tail, cooled, and done with lemon emulsion and a scattering of beautiful fresh herbs — little bits of dill and oregano and mint. So each bite’s a little bit different. That’s gone over very very well.
We have a play on shrimp cocktail. I mean, we have cocktail sauce if anybody wants it, but we put a little chile and citrus on it [instead]. They’re all very simple and very clean. When I eat at a raw bar, I don’t want a lot of complicated flavors. I just want it to be fish or seafood and a little something to highlight it.