Loi Restaurant opened in October on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, bringing with it a major dose of celebrity chef stardom and authentic Greek cuisine. Chef, owner and cookbook author Maria Loi’s eponymous restaurant is tucked away from the main fray, but locals who visited Compass (formerly in the same space) will still love the roomy lounge and spacious main dining room. Read: no cramped tables! The restaurant differs wildly from Kefi, the other UWS restaurant with authentic Greek cuisine. Indeed, it could be a battle of the Greeks. Please, no jokes about the Greek economy!
Loi is upscale but not stuffy, with doting service and memorable food. The menu features traditional Greek fare, as well as fresh seafood and meats. The New York Times Dining section announced the opening and Florence Fabricant declared the moussaka and pastitsio as “distinctive.” Healthy eaters can rejoice because Chef Loi uses no butter in her cooking. Though the restaurant had only been open for five days, our experience was very good. I plan to add details to this post after visiting Loi again.
Chef Loi is generous with her time, making frequent trips to the dining room, chatting about her recipes and eliciting feedback from guests. She is lovely and very sweet, exactly what a high-profile chef should be. Ask her about the 2004 Olympics in Greece.
Based on the two types of amuse-bouche, we were off to a good start. Forget about the dry, tasteless stuffed grape leaves (dolmathakia) that sadly accompany Greek diner salads. These are full of flavor, delicate and tender. A “Greek bruchetta” with with feta on whole grain bread is mild and tasty too.
The grilled octopus appetizer with onions, capers, chickpeas, almonds and herbs (htapodaki stin shara, $19) arrives in whole pieces. Our server offered to cut the tentacles, which was a nice touch and we promptly took him up on the offer because we’re fancy like that. The tender dish will please anyone who has had the unfortunate occasion to taste rubbery grilled octopus. Roasted marinated beets ($9) are a solid side dish or light appetizer, with herbs and leeks adding layers of flavor.
My husband enjoyed the grilled rack of lamb and loin with mashed lemon potatoes (paidakia, $32), which was a nicely-sized portion. Served whole and deboned, the grilled sea bass (bronzino, $28) is moist and perfectly cooked. The fish is split on the plate which made it easy to eat. Charred seasonal vegetables are grilled to perfection and have a hearty fall flavor.
For dessert, the Greek version of tiramisu with rich coffee syrup and the dark chocolate cake are excellent. Dessert menus were not printed at the time of our visit.
Getting a reservation may prove tough, but the lounge area has tables suitable for casual dinner and cocktails. There were several groups enjoying nibbles and drinks. Don’t look for hipsters and a loud bar scene; think quiet cocktails and being able to hear the person to whom you are speaking. Greek wines are among those served by the glass. One disappointment was the lack of a bar menu; the bartender noted that it will soon be available. A bar-specific menu with smaller plates (and prices) will be a welcome addition.
Best seats: Far corner tables offer a birds-eye view of the dining room. Two small rooms within the main dining room are ideal for small groups or private dinners. Bar seats dot the front window, great for watching passersby.
Loi is located at 208 West 70th St., between Broadway and Amsterdam. Phone: 212-875-8600.
Above: Marinated roasted beets and grilled octopus
Photo credits: Chef Maria Loi at Loi Restaurant: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times; Food photos: Jennifer Maguire Coughlin]