NEW YORK — To be a celebrity chef without a restaurant in New York City must feel like being an Antarctic explorer confined to the equator. Some celebrity chefs resist the urge for years to open in New York City, but eventually most of them cave in. Last month, Michael Symon, who is a well-known chef in Cleveland and a culinary star for the Food Channel, debuted with the restaurant Parea in the Flatiron district of Manhattan.
Parea explores the cuisine of Greece, the ancestral land of Mr. Symon's family, and is smartly designed with immaculate white stucco walls that have giant waves, wood floors and an airy ceiling decorated by leafy designs.
The front part of the restaurant is quieter, and the long bar and center communal table are meant to attract a sleek young crowd. Downstairs, there is also a honey lounge fashionably stacked with jars containing the precious bee product.
The menu is rich on meze both hot and cold. Although priced modestly at $7 each, they're rather small and I suspect that at least two or three per person must be ordered to adequately start your meal. Mr. Symon conforms to New York culinary trends by offering some raw fish meze that have been popularized in New York City by the restaurant Onera on the Upper West Side.
Some of his meze are remarkably similar to the ones I tasted at Onera, such as scallops marinated in Greek yogurt, while some are rather original, such a pickled octopus. Unfortunately, none of the flavors are very vibrant and all the fish preparations are easily forgotten shortly after they are ingested. Hot meze fare even worse. The crispy lamb brain salad tastes like an overcooked morsel of unidentifiable meat, and the crispy gnocchi is nothing else than fried dumplings with a very skimpy stuffing.
Incidentally, the best appetizers come in the form of house cured lamb and pork accompanied by some terrific pickled vegetables that cut through the richness of the meat. However, these dishes are priced in the $12 range and are rather puny.
Main courses navigate more familiar waters and they are well executed. The halibut is moist and delicate, but the avgolemono sauce, contrary to its name, lacked lemon. The more simple meat dishes are the most satisfying. Grilled hangar steak and leg of lamb are perfectly cooked rare, and flavored by superb garlic and oregano marinades.
Unfortunately, the wine list does not reflect the incredible progress made by Greece in the production of red wines. There were few exciting choices among wines from Nemea or Naoussa, the two great red wine producing regions of Greece.
Desserts are offered as small portions to give diners the option of tasting a few. The walnut and chocolate cake and the yogurt sherbet are my favorite, rich and dense but not cloying like the rest of the desserts.
Parea is still relatively new and might improve after Mr. Symon gets more experience in the New York restaurant world. We'll just have to wait until his frequent flyer miles finally kick in.
36 East 20th Street (Between Park Av. & Broadway)
New York, NY
All major credit cards accepted
Main courses: $25 to $50
Email John Healy at email@example.com