Classic dishes make diners
dance in the Greek aisles
Ithaka takes quality,
cordiality, clay pot cookery uptown; don't forget
Published on January 12,
Harry Hatziparaskevas. Can there be any doubt that a
man bearing such a name is one of great stature?
Just signing autographs would tire mere mortals. That
may be why Harry doesn't. He is a star chef who stays in
the kitchen, doing what he has done for many years:
cooking Greek classics as well as anyone can.
Chef Hatziparaskevas stoked the savory fires of
Ithaka during a successful seven-year stint on Barrow
Street. After deciding that it was time for a change, he
learned that the location of Estia, a venerable Greek
restaurant/nightclub on East 86th Street, was available.
HH joined forces with Tim Vlahopoulos, a man who has the
same tenure in the service of food as the chef has in
Their new Ithaka is a deep and roomy restaurant with
clean lines, exposed brick walls-painted white as you
progress into the interior-and a stone floor whose white
grout provides bold contrast on the surface. Recessed
ceiling lighting at the rear of the room is filtered
through white fabric. Then there are the hard-bottomed
The pleasures of Ithaka's table are so delightful
that you will sit there for a while. It isn't that the
menu is full of surprises, but rather that every dish
has remarkably consistent quality. Chef Hatziparaskevas
always coaxes maximum flavor from each facet of a dish.
I could happily spend hours on Ithaka appetizers ($5
to $10). There are five dips, based on cucumber,
eggplant, fava beans, garlic or fish roe. Aware that
many restaurants buy some of these premade, I asked if
the taramasalata (fish roe salad) was blended in-house.
You bet, and what's more, HH prepares it for the
International Foods market on Ninth Avenue, a noted
Other first-course old favorites sing with fresh good
taste. Char-grilled octopus is fork-tender, bite-sized
and irresistible. Similarly grilled Greek sausage called
loukaniko is uncommonly tangy, as fresh herbs and spices
combine with orange zest. Saganaki, cheese fried or
flambeed in lemon and butter, is a mouthful of rich and
The list goes on, with crisp-edged lamb patties in a
spicy tomato sauce, red wine-marinated quail served over
arugula, and green peppers stuffed with three cheeses
and drizzled with olive oil and lemon. Fine ingredients
and execution make conventional salads stand up and
shout. A firm block of first-rate feta cheese and large,
dark and succulent olives are but two elements of the
When it comes time to shift into second, the cordial
waitstaff trots out a platter brimming with the catch of
the day. Expect to select from the likes of red snapper,
branzini, porgy, loup de mer, bass and giant freshwater
prawns. All may be simply grilled with a basting of
lemon, oil and fresh herbs ... unless they are destined
to be baked in Ithaka's clay pots,
Snapper baked with fresh tomatoes and garlic and
served over aromatic orzo is one delightful way to go.
The jumbo prawns--blue points farmed in Texas--get the
same treatment, plus a splash of ouzo and a topping of
Chef HH's clay pots also lend homey character to baby
lamb, as well as a rabbit stew to remember, replete with
pearl onions, tomatoes and layered seasonings permeating
the exceptionally tender, lean meat.
Ithaka's grills sizzle with rib steak, pork and lamb
chops, and whole or breast of chicken. The restaurant
also offers a pasta item: fettuccine with shrimp, prawns
and crab legs in fresh tomato sauce.
Greek desserts are often predictable and boring, but
not here. Baklava is good, the phyllo-wrapped custard
called galaktoboureko is better, and loukoumades, golden
dumplings glazed with honey and walnuts, are great.
We're talking $4 items, including an almond-semolina
cake and an unnecessary creme caramel.
One modest nit, foodwise: The scallops in a dish
called youvetsi were soggy.
At this writing, a full bar license is expected
almost any minute. Ithaka is serving wines and beer; the
wine list includes fairly priced bottles from Greece and
around the world. Host Vlahopoulos--who earned his spurs
at Aureole, La Côte Basque, The Carlisle and
Periyali--is a worthy guide to pleasing pairings of wine
with specific dishes.
* * ½
choices, seven by the glass
Dress: No code
Noise Level: Moderate
Wine Markup: 100%-260%
Cards: All major
Hours: Dinner, seven days,
4:30-11 p.m.; Lunch/Brunch, weekends, 11:30 a.m.-3:30
**= Very good
BITS & BITES
Pit master on fire: Adam Perry Lang, whose Daisy May
BBQ USA is a runaway takeout hit, will hit the road with
chili carts. He has retrofitted six pushcarts and plans
to have two of them in the Wall Street area and other
population-dense sites in a week. Owner/chef Lang is
also looking to establish a number of other Daisy May
locations in New York.
Just a little longer, folks: Yet more finishing
touches are being applied to a trio of eagerly awaited
openings. The big Spice Market on Ninth Avenue is on a
late-January track, while Riingo and Vento appear
focused on February fanfare.
Going suburban: Robert Trainor, former executive sous
chef at the Waldorf-Astoria, is new top toque at the
highly regarded Hilton Short Hills in New Jersey. Nuevo
Latino expert Rafael Palomino and longtime partner Moe
Gad are taking to Portchester, N.Y., or vice versa.
They've opened seafood-themed Pacifico, five minutes
from their Latino operation, Sonora.
He's out! Jerry Casale, Red Sox
pitcher-turned-restaurateur, has shuttered Pino's
Restaurant in Murray Hill after a 28-year run.
Sundown: Sunny East, a Chinese stalwart in the
garment district, reviewed here Aug. 22, 1988, has
Copyright 2004, Crain Communications,