By David Porat
George Capsis is even more at home now in his neighborhood with some classic Greek food almost around the corner and in the heart of the West Village. Brand new and looking quite put together, NISI Estiatorio opened in late October. I had the pleasure of dining there, by invitation, with George, my fellow writer, Caroline Benveniste, her non-Greek husband, and her Greek parents. The six of us previewed, tasted, and evaluated many plates, and the cuisine as a whole.
NISI Estiatorio is a sister restaurant to the relatively new and successful Korali Estiatorio in Carnegie Hill which has, according to the owner, a somewhat different spin. Uptown, you have classic fish dishes and a more traditional UES design. Downtown, they have incorporated some of those elements, but added a bit more culinary adventure. The room at NISI Estiatorio is pretty, with little expense spared. The restaurant was a week or so old when we dined but the service was very hospitable, genuine, and receptive to feedback.
Meze, or mezethes, as the Greeks like to say, are the antecedents to much of today’s small plate cuisines and often end up being quite satisfying—the meal. That was definitely the case here; the portions were generous and many of them hard to resist. The standouts for me were: the NISI Chips, perfectly thin and crispy fried zucchini and eggplant with some tzatziki; and the Spanakopita, freshly flavored and surrounded by a delicate homemade filo dough, which was sautéed for a gentle crunch. Also, the Shrimp Saganaki, from which I only scored a shrimp head, had a rich and robust shrimp and tomato flavor. The Kalamarakia featured calamari, octopus, spreads, and a particularly good Melitzanosalata. All were well received, particularly by Caroline’s mother who was quite discerning.
I convinced my fellow diners that, for journalistic pursuits, we had to continue eating. We did so by trying to order the Lobster Moussaka. It turned out not to be available due to the chef’s illness, which means that we must go back. It was a very good sign that the food coming out of the kitchen was as good as it was without the chef so early in the game.
We settled by sharing the grilled Dorade and lamb chops, or Paidakia. The fish was very clean and classic and, maybe, cooked a minute longer than it needed, for my liking. The lamb chops were beautifully presented and had a very good flavor but also could have been grilled slightly less, to achieve a medium rare temperature. An honorable mention goes to the side dish Spanakorizo—rice and spinach with a little not-so-classic tomato—which struck a great flavor chord for me, and could have been my dinner on its own.
Dessert was a bit forced on us in many editions. Even the Greeks who, to my surprise, were not big yogurt fanciers, agreed that the cherry-topped “Mousse” had everything right about it. The Karidopita, or walnut cake, was a bold and nuanced spiced cake—beautiful, moist, and, to me, completely satisfying.
Greek food for me is an easy dining option in a somewhat healthier and less fussy way than other cuisines. NISI Estiatorio achieves high scores for allowing diners to eat both simply and graciously.
NISI Estiatorio is located at 302 Bleecker Street, west of Seventh Avenue South. (212) 727-7463 / www.nisinyc.com.