When Maria Loi — frequently referred to as the “Martha Stewart of Greece” — shuttered her eponymous, Upper West Side restaurant last June, there was little doubt that she would eventually stage a grand New York comeback. And in fact, Loi has managed to do just that in record time, launching the sleek Loi Estiatorio only last month in the former Seasonal space.
And like its predecessor (not to mention Loi’s most recent cookbook, centrally showcased on the bar by the front door), the restaurant preaches the gospel of the Mediterranean diet, which means olive oil, bread, yogurt, seafood, greens, grains and lots and lots of wine. If you’re not especially familiar with Greek varietals, wine director Taylor Katz and team are happy enough to take the lead and keep your glass filled, so you can concentrate on picking and choosing from an assortment of (100% butter-free) appetizers, entrees and sides. Needless to say, octopus is a must, so don’t miss the Htapodaki Shin Shara; tender, grilled coils of tentacle, draped over a bright yellow mound of mashed fava, and spooned with red wine-macerated onions, capers, almonds, garlic and herbs. Garides Santorini (oven-baked shrimp with tomato sauce and feta) is another classic shellfish dish, but Htenia — Seared Diver Sea Scallops — proves a much more interesting order; pebbled with lamb bacon and positioned over sweet parsnip puree, they betray the European influence of chef de cuisine, Arno Mueller, the sole holdover from Seasonal.
It’s rare to find rooster on restaurant menus around these parts, making it hard to resist the Kokoras Krassatos. Fall off the bone tender, simmered in a sauce redolent of cinnamon and cloves, and served over Loi’s special hylopites (tiny bites of pasta similar to spaetzle), the dish is positively Sephardic; bringing to mind our favorite Passover repast of sweet, melting brisket. And considering the room is dominated by a panoramic seascape of the Nafpaktos port, it only seems right to go for whole fish; so skip Salmon and zone in on the firm-fleshed Branzino instead, squeezed with lemon, served with crumbly diamonds of cornbread and a pleasantly bitter sauté of chicory, and anointed at will with swirls of emerald olive oil from a tiny, accompanying pitcher.
If eating Greek could make us as exuberant and ageless as the restaurant’s ever-present proprietress, we’re totally sold on Loi Estiatorio.