As childhood friends Spiro Menegatos and Costa Youssis ate their way around New York City, they frequently lamented the state of the town’s Greek restaurants. “Greek hospitality got lost,” says Youssis. “And these restaurants have been stuck doing traditional recipes for the last ten years.”
So the pair enlisted third partner Dino Gourmos, and industry veteran, and began planning to change that. They unveiled the results of their efforts last week when they opened the doors to Nerai in the old Oceana space at 55 East 54th Street.
“The landlord really wanted a Mediterranean concept in the space, so it was by accident that we ended up here,” says Youssis of the spot’s address. The partners decked out the high-ceilinged space in a fashion Youssis describes as “casual-elegant,” with white furnishings and dark woods
The team brought on chef Ioannis Markadakis, a native of Greece, to execute a high-end take on Greek fare. “He’s trying to twist up the traditional recipes,” says Youssis. The core focus of the menu is on the whole fish offerings, which can be ordered by the pound and are de-boned by the kitchen before serving, supplemented by composed appetizers and entrees. Dish highlights, says Youssis, include the grilled octopus served over chickpea and roasted red pepper salad, the grape arugula salad, and the shortrib youvetsi, a take on a traditional Greek dish that usually combines beef, tomato, and orzo. “Our chef does it almost like a risotto with shortrib,” explains Youssis. For dessert, he says, try the lavender mousse, infused with lavender-thyme honey.
The cocktail list is steeped in Greek flavors, incorporating fig, orange, and honey into many of the offerings. Youssis cites favorite options like the Icharus, a play on the Aviator, made with gin and creme de violette, and the Date, a vodka concoction imbued with honey and cardamom. The spot also boasts a wine list that’s nearly 40 percent Greek.
Ultimately, the group behind Nerai hopes to bring warmth back to the Greek restaurant equation. “We would love to have the kind of place where hospitality is part of the culture,” says Youssis, “because hospitality is part of the Greek culture.”
The new place is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday and dinner on Saturday. Flip the page for more photos of the food and space.