Chef Maria Loi wants you to look and feel like a Greek god or goddess.
Who could resist that proposition? Especially when it comes with the promise of delicious food and wine.
At her new restaurant, Loi Estiatorio, a block south of Central Park, Loi whips up dishes that stand on the tradition of Greek cuisine, heavily influenced by her grandmother’s repertoire but in spirit descended from 2,500 years ago.
“It goes back to Hippocrates, who said food is our medicine,” she said. For Loi, who doesn’t frequent doctors or hospitals, food is a panacea.
Loi, who authored a book about ancient Greek cuisine for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, writes about the pillars of a healthy diet, such as yogurt and olive oil, in her recent book, “The Greek Diet: Look and Feel Like a Greek God or Goddess and Lose Up to Ten Pounds in Two Weeks” (HarperCollins, 2014, $25.99).
Her approach is not Spartan but rather centered squarely on the “pleasure principle” and foods and drinks (wine and coffee are included) that are not only nutritious but also delicious.
If you want to find out what this tastes like, there’s no better place than Loi Estiatorio.
Dining at Loi Estiatorio
To start off, no bread and butter here—olive oil runs through Loi’s veins, and butter is banned. Instead, the complimentary amuse-bouche is wrapped in a transparent cooking film, which rustles just like a gift bag. It’s unwrapped at the table, emanating enticing scents: feta, yogurt, oregano, olive oil, and confit tomato with warm pita bread signal good things to come.
The Roka salad, with arugula, candied figs, and walnuts, makes for a fine starter.
Don’t miss Pikilia, the traditional Greek spreads ($19). The tzatziki is refreshing, in an unusual ratio that favors a bountiful amount of cucumber over a light dose of yogurt. The eggplant spread is smoky, garlicky, and topped with walnuts. These are rounded out with delicious hummus and cheese spreads, and served with strips of warm pita bread. All of them are compulsively addictive.
But save some space for what’s to come.
Loi, who didn’t eat octopus until about 15 years ago (she had stepped on an octopus on her doorstep as a child), makes a terrific octopus dish. Marinated in red wine, the octopus is grilled, and sliced onto a bed of fava beans ($19). The octopus is tender, tangy, set off wonderfully against the earthiness of the beans. Loi insists on using fava beans from Santorini, for the nutrition derived from the island’s volcanic soil. It easily ranks among the best octopus dishes I’ve had.
The salmon is pan-seared beautifully, but the dish is most notable for its pairing. It lies on a bed of potato purée emulsified with olive oil. Unlike Loi, I love butter—I used to daydream about sleeping on croissant pillows—but this emulsion of potato purée and olive oil was a revelation. I would take it over mashed potatoes and butter any day—far more flavorful and creamy, and the bright bits of Kalamata olives send it into orbit.
The presentation is characteristic of fine dining, but the flavors are rustic and comforting. Ravioli and meatballs, for example, are deconstructed with meatballs lying side by side with the unfilled fresh ravioli, but close your eyes and there’s something of a taste of home there ($28).
There’s an extensive list of wines from Greece, featuring native varietals.
If you still have room for dessert, yogurt, which Loi makes in-house, is decadent and receives a topping of honey and walnuts ($10). It’s so rich and thick that should you turn the spoon upside down, it stubbornly refuses to obey gravity. The only way to get it off the spoon, as Loi said, is to take a bite.
There are other desserts too, like Ekmek Kadaifi, shredded phyllo with custard and almonds ($10).
You can’t go wrong with the dishes at Loi Estiatorio. And best of all, you’ll walk out feeling light and energized, as if your shoes had sprouted wings.
132 W. 58th St.
Lunch: Monday-Friday noon–3 p.m.
Dinner: Monday-Saturday 5 p.m.–11 p.m.
Sunday Brunch: 11 a.m.–3 p.m.
Sunday Dinner: 3 p.m.-8 p.m.