Murray Hill’s newest eatery, Meli, honey in Greek, serves Manhattan diners authentic cuisines using the cultivated Greek flavors, traditions, and ingredients that have made the Greek-Mediterranean diet so popular among health nuts and foodies alike. The Konstantinos family, who has run multiple restaurants across the Aegean for decades, partnered with Greek Chef John Pilouras (formerly of Nisi and Molivos) to bring diners an authentic Greek dining experience by using the finest Greek imports available. An example of Meli’s penchant for authenticity is the Goges ($12). This traditional Greek pasta dish is made of hand-made pasta shells in a creamy sauce made of vlahotiri cheese and imported goat and lamb’s butter. If we know anything about Greek cuisine, we know this dish has got to be delish. According to my source of all things Greek, the best combination to make anything dairy-related of the Greek variety uses both goat and lamb’s milk.
When you stop in your local wine boutique you see wines from around the United States, France, Italy, Austria, Spain, South America, even Africa, but when was the last time you saw a bottle of Greek wine on a shelf? It’s been there all along, it was just kept as a “secret stash” for sommeliers and other wine connoisseurs who favor more “underground” varieties. In the wine department, Greece has got it goin’ on. There are over 300 indigenous grape varieties, a unique and distinctive landscape, and they’ve been winemaking for the last 4,000 years. So like the foundations of modern civilization, it is safe to say the Greek’s have got it covered.
Greece gets a lot of credit for creating democracy, philosophy, and modern medicine; but their foremost achievement is their culinary delicacies. Greeks, among the more negative things in the news lately, are accredited for their longevity and healthy lifestyles (minus their predisposition to chain smoke). The secret to this is simple, delicious, good for you dishes full of fresh ingredients and always plenty of olive oil. Here's a simple recipe to have your own Greek feast at home.
Skip the hazing and go Greek in the best possible way: eat it. Egg & Dart reaffirmed my lingering allegiance to Mediterranean cuisine. I painlessly became a pledge of this new Greek restaurant nestled on a corner of North Miami Avenue in the flourishing Miami Design District.Co-owners Costa Grillas (of the family behind Maria’s Greek restaurant in Coral Gables) and Niko Theodorou (whose family owns Sea Satin Market in Mykonos) made it very easy, personally welcoming you into their home - literally. This venture is a family affair through and through: Niko’s grandmother is the chef flown in from Greece, Costa’s wife, Maria, stints as the hostess, and the two young restaurateurs are practically brothers - a solid fraternity. With the success of Maria’s (named for Maria’s grandmother), the lads wanted to modernize the traditional Greek dining experience to reflect the design aesthetic of the location. The sleek, open white interior and the name - an architectural Greek moulding design of alternating egg and dart shapes - illustrate this goal more than the food itself. But this is not a bad thing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. “Rustic” (as they coin it) Mediterranean fare expertly executed with a no-frills attitude is exactly what Egg & Dart achieves. And the absence of stuffiness is welcome in a trending culinary scene peppered with fancy plating, exorbitant prices, tiny portions, and no bite to back up the bark. Egg & Dart hit the mark with almost every dish in my dinner smorgasbord - and the portions were refreshingly generous.
We were first greeted with their signature “Greek Salad” cocktail, which was essentially a gin -based Bloody Mary, tying in the Mediterranean with muddled cucumber and feta-stuffed Kalamata olives. While it could use a tweak in presentation (the brown color could be off-putting to some and the glass, plain-jane), it was a savory and refreshing concoction that intelligently instigated my salivation for food.
All nine of the appetizers ordered landed on our table at the same time, which I was initially not thrilled about. I usually enjoy a coursed meal but I quickly changed my mind as I began mixing and matching dish components, unintentionally creating new flavor profiles. I scooped the rich garlicky tzatziki that came with the perfectly fried Zucchini Croquettes onto my Salad of sweet beet and tart granny smith apple slices. (The accompanying goat cheese was quizzically not its usually pungent self and I am suspicious that the beets were canned). The heavenly tomato, ouzo feta sauce that marinated the jumbo Shrimp Saganaki were the perfect dip for those croquettes (and anything else; I’ll take a jar of that to go, please). And the tender chunks of simply charred Octopus (a requisite order of mine) enjoyed a healthy drizzle of the chilled cucumber soup which boasted the perfect kiss of cream and fennel (to which I am normally averse).
The steamed Ocean Dumpling dough balls stuffed with fresh shrimp and snapper swam in a lovely light saffron sauce, and the mound of Mussel mouths swallowed a slightly creamy white wine sauce with unapologetic cuts of fresh garlic and tomato. Let’s just say once the shells cleared the bowl, my spoon saw to it that the remaining “soup” did not go to waste.
Their popular Crispy Cheese Pie could certainly double as a dessert. The large rectangle of crispy phyllo dough encased a salty feta cheese patty and was gloriously brushed with sweet Greek honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The juxtaposition of sweet and salty never disappoints the palate.
The Pork Tips was the only dish I could live without. Appropriately touted a traditional “peasant” style dish, it felt like a messy after-thought. Flour-dusted shaved pork bathed in an unappealing muddy moat of oddly flavored sauce, and the fried onion nest topper did not provide a much-needed levity to the dish. Though it may be a historic homage, it’s one Greek staple I could not embrace.
It was not difficult to embrace, however, the gargantuan Lamb Shank and delicately baked Cod entrees. The lamb was braised to a perfectly pink inner hue in a rich tomato sauce with deep notes of warm clove. It was so expertly cooked (as was the accompanying linguine) that the juicy meat slid off the bone in effortless shreds. As decadently bold as this was, the fish special was a fabulously demure foil. The Bacaliaro Sto Fourono could not have been a more simple fillet of fork-flaking cod adorned with Greek herbs and softened onions and tomatoes. Sometimes simplicity yields success, and the dish was the perfect example. The subtly balanced flavors allowed the cod to truly shine.
As if satisfaction was not yet reached, owner Niko sent out his pick for dessert. And after I dangerously devoured it, I could see why. I never met fried dough I did not like and their Loukoumades were no different. Much like doughnuts but supremely better, Greek puff pastry is fried into palm-sized globes and drizzled with that delicious Greek honey, shaved walnut slivers, and powdered cinnamon. When you bite into the lightly crisped exterior, the airy puff deflates to a bready center that packs a satisfying chew. (Let the late-night cravings begin.)
By meal-end, my stomach was smiling, feeling amply satiated with the lingering flavors of Greece on my tongue. My Greco-philic tendencies were never realized via the college sorority, but something tells me this is so much better: basking in this restaurant’s rustic glory. Was the plating immaculate? No. Was our table wiped down and reset between each course? No. Did it matter? No, because all these menial things are easily forgettable when what you eat and where you eat it are exceptionally memorable. Egg & Dart takes aim with Cupid’s arrow and hits you straight through the heart, initiating what is sure to be a lengthy Greek love affair by way of your stomach.