Thalassa, tucked into three levels of an historic Tribeca building, just down the street from Nobu, totally transcends its “modern Greek seafood” label. Yes, pristine seafood is served; yes, it is owned by the Makris family, quintessential Greeks who also own Fantis Foods, and have been Greek food importers for almost a century. But this is no neighborhood Greek food joint. Anything but. A feast for the eyes as well as the palate, Thalassa, open since 2002, offers elegant and sophisticated food — from first course to last — in a stylish and serene setting.
The soaring bar and dining areas looked especially attractive with their tasteful Christmas decorations, as did the downstairs Wine Room – adjacent to a 5,000- bottle wine cellar — where a corporate party was taking place. I ordered a glass of dry white wine from Greece, Assyrtiko 2011 (all wines by the glass are Greek), that I so enjoyed it remained my wine of choice throughout our Tasting Menu.
Fresh fish – nothing farmed – is imported on a daily basis from around the world and local independent fishermen. That includes Wild King Shrimp from Africa and King Langoustine from New Zealand. However, our Tasting Dinner, courtesy of Thalassas, did not feature any of those delicacies.
We began with an assortment of Mezze (small plates), two of which were outstanding: in particular, the chef’s humble Cod Fritter Amuse was amazingly light and delicate; and the lightly fried Zucchini and Eggplant Chips ($24) – artfully assembled and drizzled with Tzatski sauce and Saganaki Graviera cheese– was fabulous. The traditional Mediterranean dips – beautifully presented – were excellent, as was the bread, but not on the same level as the other two. And if I had to choose my absolute favorite, it was definitely the Chips.
Grilled Octopus ($25) is a signature dish of Thalassa and it’s easy to see why. It is probably the best grilled Octopus I’ve ever tasted. A four-step process – from boiling to massaging – tenderizes the flesh and produces a chicken-like texture that melts in the mouth. Topped with a smattering of Micro Greens, bathed in a red wine Vinaigrette, plated with a touch of Fava Bean puree, it was a real winner.
For the Second Course, Chef Ralpheal Abrahante chose Maine Diver Sea Scallops wrapped in Kataifi Filo Dough, nestled in Sheep’s Milk Butter accented with a touch of Kalamata Balsamic Reduction ($22). For me, the scallops were the highlight of our entire meal – a stunningly original dish – light, crunchy, and meltingly delicious. I’ve never tasted anything like it before, and I’m already looking forward to ordering it again.
Our main course, a moist, tender Branzino from Greece was simply executed and excellent ($36 for the whole fish), though less memorable than preceding courses.
I don’t usually associate fine desserts ($12 each) with a Greek restaurant but Abrahante, also the Dessert Chef, proffered an array of exceptional choices – any one of which, depending on what went before, would be a splendid end to one’s meal. My two favorites were the traditional Baklava – Filo layered Toasted Greek Almonds and Walnuts drowning in Honey, and the Valrhona Molten Chocolate Cake, perfectly executed, which is to say, firm on the outside and gushing chocolate on the inside. My idea of heaven. The Sheep’s Milk Yogurt with Toasted Walnuts and honeyed sweets, and the Panna Cotta topped with caramelized pear and fresh berries were close seconds.
Situated close to the financial district and World Financial Center, the restaurant is only open for dinner Monday through Saturday (5:30 – 11:30 Mon- Thurs; 5:30 -12:30 Fri-Sat), but does offer Greek Meze and half price on cocktails and select Greek wines by the glass during its Happy Hour (5:30 to 7 PM, Mon – Friday). An extra attraction on Wednesdays, between 7 and 11, is the presence of Spiros Exaras, a Greek guitarist who quietly plays popular classics and adds to the general pleasure of the evening.
Thalassa is the kind of restaurant where you can go with a bunch of friends, order an assortment of mezze, first courses and desserts, and not break the bank. Or you can have a leisurely, major meal in a quiet setting, where conversation can take place without fear of being overheard because the tables are spaced so far apart.
Given our noisy, bustling city, Thalassa’s serenity and outstanding food are a welcome luxury.
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag
179 Franklin Street (Between Hudson and Greenwich Streets)