BY ELENA MANCINI
The wise sea captain of Greek mythology was all too aware that the collective will of seafarers on board would be no match for the bewitching song of the sirens so that his only defense against it was a preemptive one: to deafen his crew to it. But what if the sirens had been apt in the kitchen? They might have snagged a meal or two from Thalassa’s Chef Ralpheal Abrahante, and those bold seafarers would have surely been goners.
Just what is so tantalizing about Thalassa? Foremost it starts with the freshness and the high quality of the ingredients with which each meal is rigorously constructed. What is the guarantee behind such a claim, you might be wondering? Well it just so happens that Thalassa’s founders and owners– the Makris family– have also been responsible for importing the freshest high quality ingredients from Greece through their leading food import company, Fantis Foods, for over a century.
Such is certainly the case with Thalassa’s Lavraki, a whole branzino cooked in lemon juice, olive oil and capers, imported from Greece. The subtle flavors of this deliciously light and flaky white fish (priced at $33) are enhanced by its simple preparation, making it a no-brainer for fish lovers and the un-initated alike. But by no means does it end there. Fish is also imported from Portugal, Hawaii and New Zealand.
During my most recent visit, I enjoyed the grilled langustines. It was no task to gently prod the moist, velvety tender delicately flavored meat that was bulging out of the rough crustacean structure. This elegant dish came with two langustines, a half lemon wrapped in a cheese cloth, a side of steamed and lemon-zested Swiss chard and a garnish orchid. The Royal Dorado (sea bream) is another direct and highly recommendable route to unadulterated Mediterranean flavors.
While Thalassa, as the name itself indicates (it means goddess of the sea) is a seafood lover’s paradise, its menu also caters to the hearty palates of land-loving folk with Filet Mignon and Slowly Braised Lamb Shank as well as an array of imported artisinal cheeses and vegetables to choose from.
While I’ve led with the sea food in this review, the best way to begin a meal at Thalassa is to sit down at its spacious ivory marble-topped bar and enjoy a glass of boutique wine imported from Greece (Yes!– such wines can be had by the glass at Thalassa– and the knowledgeable bartenders will be able to match one to your tastes) and allow the wine and the airy, candlelit soothing ambiance to transport you nautical miles and miles away from the stress of your day.
Proceed at a table in the lush main dining room area characterized by a casual, sophisticated maritime decor replete with flowy drapery and full-grown olive trees. If you’re lucky, a live jazz guitar player will provide enjoyable, non-intrusive music. Start with a Horiatiki (peasant Greek salad), and a few mezes, and by all means an order of the diver sea scallops, wrapped in ketaifi (phyllo dough) topped with a light and flavorful sheen of sheeps milk butter and a kalamata balsamic red wine reduction dressing. This dish is sublime! Complex flavors and textures merge and harmonize triumphantly on the palate. The grilled octapodi is enticingly fresh, grilled and flavored to perfection and butter-like tender. Pair it with a bottle of wine that’s to your liking and you’re ready to take flight, or to dive into the broad cornucopia of seafood that Thalassa has to offer, as it were.
There is a vast collection of imported and domestic wines to choose from, many of which include distinct wines from Greece that can be ordered by the glass. To get a sense of how vast this collection is, I recommend taking a visit down to lower level which hosts a charming, more rustic dining area and several wine galleries, which hold approx. 12,000 bottles of wine and 700 labels. I have sampled a number, but am particularly partial to the Assyrtiko, a dry, citrusy white wine with a light minerality from the isle of Santorini. It’s a lovely refreshing aperitif and pairs wonderfully with fish.
Complete this sumptuous dining experience with dessert from a wide assortment of traditional Greek specialties as well as inspired contemporary creations. All are masterfully prepared by Chef Ralpheal. Having enjoyed them several times, I can assure you that the Manouri Baklava and the Ravani (semolina cake) will not disappoint.
Whether you’re looking for an easy escape from the harsh pace, demands and prices of quotidien Manhattan, or a transcendent dining experience in a warm, sophisticated and relaxing ambiance at accessible prices, Thalassa fits the bill.
For an added cultural experience, check out Thalassa on a Sunday evening for its $35 prix fixe dinner with live bouzouki music!