The Martha Stewart of Greece, Maria Loi, is on her way to creating her own Greek empire. The official Ambassador of Greek Gastronomy recently opened her latest self-titled eatery, Loi Estiatorio (132 West 58th Street; 212-713-0015), in the midtown space that once housed Michelin-starred Seäsonal. But that’s not all the celebrity chef has on her plate; she’s currently working on additional restaurants, cookware, and her own line of Greek products that will soon hit grocery store shelves.
With fresh white walls, simple wall-length bar, sleek brown leather booths, and panoramic photos of the Greek coast, the interior of Loi Estiatorio is straightforward but inviting, not too dissimilar from the menu.
Seäsonal chef Arno Mueller still oversees the kitchen as chef de cuisine, but Loi presides over the restaurant, smiling and visiting guests — it’s no wonder she was appointed ambassador — as they eat original dishes like htapodaki stin scara ($19), tender pieces of octopus with red wine, onions, bell peppers, and capers over fava purée.
There are about a dozen selections of nutritious Greek appetizers, to begin. The roka ($14) salad with arugula, walnuts, candied figs, Kefalograviera cheese (a hard sheep’s-milk variety), and a honey-balsamic vinaigrette is an excellent and light option, slightly sweet with crisp acidity. But the htenia is incredible. Succulent scallops are topped with salty house-made lamb bacon and served with a rich parsnip purée. “There’s a lot of beans, a lot of vegetables, a lot of fish,” says Loi. “It’s flown in directly from Greece, from my friend. I get a care package every day.”
Many of the old Greek reliables are present on the entree side of the menu. There’s lavraki, Loi’s personal take on the traditional branzino, with chicory, lemon, and olive oil. Psari sto alati ($62) features the same accoutrements with a chef’s pick of whole fish. It’s not just fish, though — the kokoras krassatos ($29) combines rooster with red wine, tomato, cinnamon, cloves, lemon, and Loi’s own hylopites (a customary Greek pasta). Likewise, the excellent paidaikia ($42), lamb chops with red bliss potatoes and arugula, is accompanied by Loi yogurt from the chef’s soon-to-be released line.
Make sure to save room for dessert; just over a half-dozen authentic options are well-prepared. Ekmek kadaifi ($10) is composed of shredded phyllo soaked in honey, topped with a layer of custard, then finished with toasted nuts. There’s a flourless chocolate cake, as well, sokolatopita ($10). And for a chance to sample Loi’s new dairy product on its own, the yaourti me meli features the Greek yogurt with Attiki honey and toasted mixed nuts.
For beverages, a nicely curated selection of Greek wines pair well with the food. A handful of Greek-inspired cocktails are also offered, including a Greek Fashioned ($18) with rye, mandarin orange, and tsipouro, a pomace brandy from Greece. The Aegean Sea Shore ($17) combines lemon-infused ouzo with curaçao.
She hasn’t divulged a date yet, but Loi yogurt and pasta, which is made in Greece and imported, will be offered in stores in the next two to three months. We were told Whole Foods is slated to carry one or the other, at the least. (For the record: We didn’t get to try the pasta, but the yogurt was far superior to most store-bought options.)
That’s not all the amicable chef is up to, though; in early March, she’s debuting a line of cookware at the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago. “I have everything for the kitchen,” says Loi. “Silverware, knives, plates, pots, frying pans: what you need in your house to cook Greek food.”
On top of all that, Loi is also working on some additional restaurant concepts. While she’s keeping mum, for the most part, Eater recently reported one will be a high-end uptown eatery and Loi Taverna will be a casual downtown spot. Loi did allow that “We’re going to have free shots of Greek olive oil at the bar, before anyone drinks. It’s really good for your health and it protects you from getting drunk.”
Opa to that.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.