Like a lot of us, I used to be (and still am, to an extent) confused about what Mediterrean food meant. Greece and Italy, right? And maybe....southern France? The fact that the sea also borders Israel, Lebanon, Tunisia, even Egypt never occurred to me. Until I started to see the secret subtexts connecting all these cuisines. And now I eat them as much as I can.
The final word in Greek seafood, or maybe even just seafood, in New York, Milos is a restaurant dedicated to the noblest of culinary goals: taking the best product that can possibly be had and doing as little to it as possible. Milos takes this to an extreme, serving impeccable seafood jetted in that day with just some lemon and salt, if that. It's an ultra-clean, ultra-light, ultra-delicious experience -- and ultra-expensive.
No one talks about it anymore, but Molyvos reigned for a long time as the city's best Greek restaurant. And maybe it still is. Certainly the place took Greek cooking and modernized it before anyone else has. The food is elevated by homey and the room always comfortable and the service tight. The price is right too; a great choice in midtown.
This legendary appetizing store is so far from Manhattan that it's half way to South Amboy, but it's still well worth the trip: nobody does these kind of middle-eastern specialties like they do, from the vegetable mezes to the various spreads, to the amazing prepared foods.
Few places could be cozier or more special than the cellar of this first-rate Brooklyn osteria, which is crude and rustic in a way similar places often try (and fail) to be. Look out especially for the remarkable selection of port wines. They're too good to have just as after dinner drinks.
Turkish food guru Orhan Yegan created this casual restaurant as a platform for his homey, understated cooked dishes, but it's the mezes that steal the show, brilliantly simple and dressed with just some lemon and olive oil.
What are universally regarded as the city's best falafel is served at all the locations of this popular Israeli chain. Why are they so good? Honestly, nobody knows. They are just just fresher and crunchier and more vivid, with better white sauce, than their rivals.
A big, airy space with a pan-Mediterranean menu, Barbounia has found a niche for itself serving very fresh, tasty and pointedly unchallenging food . Everything is scrupulously light, including the bill, which is pretty reasonable for this neighborhood.
A distinctly modern and urbane version of middle-eastern / meditteranean food, the brilliant Phillipe Massoud's Lebanese-inflected small plates restaurant achieves a level of cool usually beyond the reach of hummus and mezes.
Star chef Michael Psilakis aimed to take Greek food into the American mainstream; and with Kefi to some extent he succeeded. It's always crowded and the fine food and modest prices are obviously the reason why. If there were more Kefis octopus might be as popular as veal.
Where restaurants like Mile End and Kutshers have reimagined Jewish food from the eastern European side, Balaboosta attempts to do the same thing with Israeli food, and with similar success. Don't go expecting hummus and lamb; this is real New York cooking, with its aim a lot higher than the middle-eastern grub we tend to take for granted.
Greek restaurants are generally homey affairs, and even when refined tend to work from the same basic taste palate, but Amali breaks the mold. The menu is largely American (with some Greek inflections) and utterly committed to small farm sourcing and nose-to-tail cooking. It's also one of the only good restaurants in a somewhat barren neighborhood and makes an ideal place to go after shopping at Bloomy's.
It does a disservice to this imaginative kitchen to call it a kebab place. This is some of the most creative and heartfelt Egyptian cooking you'll ever eat -- although even calling it "Egyptian" is too limiting. Just go.
French superchef Daniel Boulud extends his culinary reach (or at least that of his proxy chefs) into the far reaches of the Mediterreanan here, combining French technique and ingredients with the flavors of North Africa in a refined and elegant way.