A Grecian delight in the Big Apple

A random dinner at a New York hotel saw LAURA MILLER discover the delights of Molyvos, one of NYC's best modern Greek restaurants

The last thing I expected to see amongst neon-lit diners and gaudy tourist shops flogging any item that the phrase, ‘I love NY’ can be printed on, was a fine Greek restaurant.

But, that’s exactly what I found during a recent stay in the Big Apple. Molyvos is named after the town on the Greek island of Lesvos.

The menu offers up so many luscious options, you will struggle to stick to just one appetiser and main. The menu options are reasonably priced and generously served, so you can indulge without the guilt.

Owned by the Livanos family, Molyvos opened in 1997 at a time when Chef Jim Botsacos says, “People only knew Greek restaurants as Greek salad, baklava, mousaka and souvlaki.

That was it. We started introducing new things and were criticised a bit because most people didn’t think it was Greek because the knowledge was so narrow, but things have changed now.”

Considering that the restaurant was packed out both nights that I dined there, things certainly have changed. The contemporary New Yorker wants authentic Greek food with a modern twist and that is precisely what Molyvos offers.

The dishes belonged in a fine restaurant in Athens because it was in this city that many of the methods used by the cooks today were developed.

After leaving Blue Water Grille (the restaurant that Botsacos opened when he was in his 20s) Botascos was looking for his next challenge and that’s when he met the Livanos family. “Next thing you know I’m in Greece with Nick Livanos,” he says, laughing.

Botsacos and Livanos travelled through Greece with cookbook author and food historian, Aglaia Kremezi who took them into households where they learnt traditional Greek cooking methods.

Then, after picking up the ingredients from local markets, they would return to Kremezi’s flat and while looking out at the Acropolis, they would re-create the dishes they had seen cooked in the households.

Kremezi played a pivotal role in shaping the cuisine that can be seen today at Molyvos.

During their time in Greece, she encouraged experimentation, which helped Botsacos develop his attitude toward food.

“I wanted to see the way it was done classically, but as a chef you don’t really want to be handcuffed; you want some creative licence. So, even when you’d think you wouldn’t be able to use an ingredient, she’d say, ‘you know, they used fenugreek in ancient times to cure pastourma.’ You find out all these things that people don’t usually associate with Greek food.”

It was this attitude of taking creative licence and an open attitude to cooking that led Botsacos to develop his signature version of the sweet Greek favourite, loukoumades.

These delectable made-to-order bites are bathed in thyme honey from Crete, which is laced with orange and lemon peel, and cinnamon.
They are then flavoured with ouzo, which adds a Hellenic touch of anise.

This culminates in what can only be described as an exquisite eating experience.

Luckily, they come in servings of eight, so you can make the moment last.

Being a third generation Greek-American/Italian-American, Botsacos points out that while some of the traditional cooking methods have been lost over time, many of his happiest childhood memories centre around food.

“A common meal for us would include lots of different types of Italian and Greek starters and then we’d always have a pasta dish and some sort of assorted meat. It was always [about] food.”

For Botsacos, it still is. He says that often he will dream about a dish and then create it for the restaurant. Each item on the menu is prepared by cooks who have practised making the dish until it is perfect. An item will not be made available to customers until Botsacos and his team are satisfied with its quality.

It is this passion for food and the determination to only serve the finest meals that takes Molyvos’s cuisine to the next level and makes dining there an unforgettable experience.

You will find Molyvos at 871 Seventh Avenue in New York City. For more information, go to www.molyvos.com.