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May 13, 2021

JUST CALL CHEF JIM “GREE-TALIAN

Growing up with kitchens infused of the aromas of both Greek and Italian food, Executive Chef Jim Botsacos may be known as a “Gree-talian American”. How do you put these culinary talents to use? Enter, the Livanos family, who partnered with him at two Manhattan restaurants: the Greek Molyvos and later the Italian Abboccato, both located just around the corner from each other. .

Chef Jim brings “New Greek Cuisine” to Molyvos that emphasizes fresh ingredients, presentation and intensifying flavors. What does this all mean? I recently dined requesting a “tasting” having already made my taste buds to Abboccato.

Communal dining is not an uncommon experience in the Mediterranean. Having an influx of restaurants that serve “Tapas”, the small-bite plates in Greece are known as “Mezedes and are usually accompanied by an Ouzo, the famed anise based liquor.

Hot Mezedes included: Spanakpita – spinach, leeks and feta cheese wrapped in crispy phyllo (add a bit of fresh dill, mint and some grated kefalotyri cheese); Keftedes me Saltsa Domatas - spicy meatballs with red wine, tomato and cumin; and Spicy Garides Saganaki – Gulf shrimp with chiles, tomatoes and feta in a lemon mint broth (I needed a spoon for this).

Let’s get to the Cold Mezedes of: Melitzanosalata – wood grilled eggplant salad with such tasties as garlic, yogurt, tomatoes, and olive oil; Tzatziki – sheep’s milk yogurt with cucumber, garlic, mint, dill and lemon juice; Ouzo Cured Solomos – ouzo house cured Scottish salmon, sumac (a red berry that comes from a bush in the Med usually purchased whole or ground that gives an astringent citrus flavor) and onions accompanied with a chickpea cake; Taramosalata – a caviar mouse. The flare of this one is it being prepared not just with the common carp roe and olive oil but also some finely chopped almonds, and potatoes. Almonds give an added crunch while the other ingredients take away from the usual heavily salty flavor of the roe. Incidentally, a basket of small triangles of pita bread along with slices of olive bread aid in soaking up some of these morsels.

Let’s pause to wipe the drool from your face. Okay, now I’ll continue with one appetizer, the Octapodi Skharas better known as Grilled Octopus. Baby octopus with olives, fennel, lemon and oregano and a caperberry. It’s on to the entrees. Grilled baby lamb chops were pretty good unto itself, being served medium-well, the way I love it. The chops came along with a potato kefte, melitzanosalata, frisee and red endive. The grilled fish of the day was a Med sea bass served with baked gigantes (creamy white beans), wild greens, green olives and dill.

We (did you think that I did this alone?) had to sample a few desserts. The Baklava had rolled layers of phyllo with walnuts, pistachios and a spiced honey syrup. It was one of the best baklava I’ve eaten being just sweet and soft enough…excuse me while I pause for some of the leftovers…okay, I’m back…forgot about the candied walnuts. Then there was the Bougatsa, a phyllo treat filled with a warm semolina custard.

As if the food isn’t impressive enough, our waiter, Jorgy, was able to describe each item in detail, including how it’s cooked, as if he had memorized it from a book. Speaking of that, Chef Jim Botsaco has a book called “New Greek Cuisine”. Oh yeah, take a bit of time to check out the décor of Molyvos.

It appears that the Livanos family thought that Chef Jim’s Italian ancestry should be looked into. Thus, and adding another foodie partner, Paul McLaughlin, begat Abboccato, a 75-seat restaurant with another “stepped up” cuisine.

I dined at the “terrace”, a more intimate area. Tapas or Mezedes are referred to as Chicetti and have selections such as: Fritti (Polenta Coated Crispy Seafood served with Lemon Aioli), Arancini (Wild Mushroom with Aborio rice and Truffles) and Grilled Shrimp Oreganata (served with Herb Bread Crumbs and Garlic infused Olive Oil).

Casunziei, ravioli with beets, gorgonzola, butter and poppy seeds was my pasta choice. It was actually a toss up between that and the Sicilian Gnocchi with eggplant tomato and ricotta. Lamb chops again, though different. These babies were accompanied with potato croquette, arugula, artichoke and pecorino cheese. For a change of “piece”, the Free Range Chicken was ordered. The chicken, a combo of white and dark meat, was quite juicy and escorted by sweet peppers, tomato and Gaeta olives.

It should suffice to say that dessert was part of this dining. And now for some delicious information. Both Abboccato and Molyvos have a fixed prix 3-course menu for dinner due to the Broadway theatre district as well as being so close to Carnegie Hall. Molyvos does it pre and post.

Abboccato is located at 136 W. 55th St. (212-265-4000). You’ll find Molyvos at 871 Seventh Ave. between 55th and 56th. (212-582-7500). There’s always the internet…so…www.livanosrestaurantgroup.com

December 04, 2008 - Queens Times

 


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