Amali’s Eggplant With Calabrian Chili Honey Vinaigrette
I have to admit that I get pretty excited when a good restaurant opens anywhere north of 30th street. Sure, we have a few great ones uptown (Dovetail, Boulud Sud, and Marea), but we could always use a few more. I always a had a thing for Periyali, so I was happy to learn that the same owners had opened another civilized and sophisticated (code for pricey) Greek joint on the Upper East Side last year. It was called Persephone and it didn’t last long. The cooking and the space just didn’t have the same warmth or soulful appeal that Periyali does. I forgot all about the space until I read Adam Platt’s review of Amali in New York Magazine the other day. Amali is the owners’ second attempt, a do over of sorts, this time with a Mediterranean menu and an emphasis on sustainability.
So I called for a reservation that evening and was turned down, which is even more thrilling because it means that they’re doing something right. I went a few nights later and settled into the newly revamped room, modestly outfitted with reclaimed pine and steel accents, wood table tops and black & white photos along the walls. But neither the room is not the reason to go to Amali.
I would go for the Oven-Roasted Broccoli alone. (I really would!) Or rather for the beautiful char the chef manages to achieve on what can be an ordinary vegetable. Not here. This Broccoli Appetizer, gets tons of texture from hazelnuts and breadcrumbs, and flavor from Salmoriglio, that’s Italian for a pungent blend of garlic, lemon, olive oil and oregano.
Amali’s Oven-Roasted Broccoli
There’s a great cheese plate and a killer Burrata from Campagna, dressed as it should be, with nothing more than olive oil and sea salt. The steak was a grass-fed Dexter Cow from upstate, butchered in-house, and sliced over a bed of arugula. The meat itself was buttery soft and minerally — the kind of steak you feel good about eating. There’s a salt-baked Daurade, which was simple and fresh, but nothing to write home about. But my favorite dish of the evening was an appetizer of Eggplant, a dish that I oddly thought about for days to come. The eggplant gets roasted in the oven, then pan-fried for added crunch, and served over a few tangy dollops of Greek yogurt and sprinkled with sesame seeds. There’s one more factor that teases out wonderfully smoky, sweet and spicy flavors and that’s the vinaigrette, a blend of honey and Calabrian chilis. (I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.) For dessert, we had an earthy Spiced Squash Pannacotta, interestingly paired with a Balsamic Sorbet and Marcona Almond crumbled over the top. Sometimes, a makeover can be purely cosmetic, an effort to make something old and often stale seem new and suddenly exciting again. I’m happy to report this isn’t one of those reinventions.