By Marianne Zarcadoolas
Special to the Hellenic News of America
This stunning Greek steakhouse opened in the Flat Iron District about a year ago. It is the result of a passion between two people that started over 50 years ago, when they fell in love in a small mountain village in Greece. Renee and Andreas Typaldos wanted to create a restaurant that departs from the typically conjured images of blue and white fish taverns. Believe me, they have hit the mark! The lighting is low and warm, the ceilings high, the walls brick, the music contemporary Greek, the booths spacious, all lending an air of old New York meets the soaring mountains of Homeric lore. The back room, used for dining and private events, is completed by a welcoming fireplace, which was lit on this cool, mid-September evening. From the moment you arrive, the servers and staff welcome you in the manner of the mountain villages of Greece, where hospitality is a religion.
“We wanted to bring to New York the excitement of the mountain cuisine of Greece and the long traditions of meat eating in our country. We have a lot of heavy meats in Greece, it’s not just all fish and vegetables. So we opened the first Greek steakhouse in NY. You can’t go anywhere else in this city to get authentic, spit-roasted meats on a rotisserie. Every day of the week we roast a baby lamb and chickens and on special occasions, we roast a whole pig or a goat. The best time to eat the meat off the spit is between 7:00-8: 30 pm,” explained the manager, Thanos Christodoulou. The open kitchen floor plan exposes the rotisserie which is fascinating to watch.
There were several vegetarian options on the menu, but we didn’t partake in many, although I was tempted by the vegetarian moussaka. To be honest, we came here with our incisor teeth sharpened and raring to tear. The plates arrived seamlessly and disappeared magically. We dug right in, family style (the Greek way.) The Keftedes, small beef meatballs, were light and fluffy ($16), grilled Halloumi cheese with evoo, was seared to perfection ($16), Loukaniko, pork sausage, medium spicy served with a tangy mustard sauce ($19), Mac ‘n’ tiri a three Greek cheese treat ($12.) We paired these “lighter” dishes with Evharis White Syrah ($15 p/glass.) This white wine has an herbal, earthy nose with a full-bodied, buttery, long aftertaste. It has spicy herbs in the mouth and a balanced acidity to cut through the fats.
The entrée courses included a very special dish, which chef Tassos Ballas calls, Kleftiko, which means “thieves” in Greek. This signature dish was inspired by the bands of Greek revolutionaries, during the war of independence of 1821. They roamed the mountainsides, stealing livestock from the occupiers in order to feed their own families. The bandits would take the stolen meat, dig a hole in the ground with a slow burning fire, and then cover the hole over. The meat would roast all day, the scents and smoke went undetected by the invading Turks. Eventually, the klephts (thieves) would return to enjoy their meal. Kelftiko, consists of lamb, stewed to tender perfection with melted cheese, nestled in a round, hollowed out kaveli bread shell. It is a “must do”at Merakia, Order one for the table or have it as your main course and imagine what it must have been like to be huddled with your comrades under the stars, and break open this swaddle of steamy, stewed lamb. Heaven.
Setting aside the White Syrah, we moved to a Nemea Lafazanis ($16 p/glass), a single variety Agiorgitiko, from Nemea, the largest wine producing area of Greece. Similar in characteristics to Pinot Noir, this red wine expresses cherry and passion fruits in the nose, with a full-bodied, long buttery aftertaste. It has a velvety consistency with soft tannins. It was perfect with the selection of meats before us.
We continued our carnivorous odyssey, with the flavorful, spit-roasted tender lamb topped with crunchy, crisp skin ($48), free-range, roast chicken rubbed with Greek oregano, served with potatoes and spring vegetables($26/$48), and of course the beef dish, a 28 day, dry-aged porterhouse steak (m/p). These heavier meats called for a more full-bodied wine and our host suggested a bottle of 2008 Platanon Oros, aged for 18 months in oak, from an altitude of 2700 feet, in Central Greece. It is 100% Syrah. This complex, ten-year-old, dry red wine has aromas of red and black pepper, mixed with herbs. It has hints of cherry marmalade, with a warm, sweet, spicy finish in the mouth. The tannins and acidity are in perfect balance, providing the quintessential accompaniment to the steak and the lamb dishes.
Yiannis, our server, was very knowledgeable about the preparation of the food and took pride in explaining all the dishes. Merakia has many wines from Greece, which I strongly suggest ordering as they pair perfectly with these Greek dishes. Many can be ordered by the glass and your host and servers will happily make excellent suggestions.
An impressive array of traditional desserts, in not such traditional packages, arrived to top off the meal: baklava, walnut-infused sponge cake, and butter cookies were among the guilty culprits. Non were particular standouts but all were deliciously representational. Not a morsel remained on the dish.
I would be hard pressed to say what dish was my favorite. As Thanos said, when we asked for his, “Why should I have a favorite when I can have all of this.” Indeed!