An Aegean themed feast in Iris.
Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland
In this perilous and stormy time, when cooks and their restaurants are washed by waves and swept off the coast, it helps to be an adaptable jack-of-all-trades. Over the course of his long and varied career, John Fraser worked in large kitchens (the French Laundry and Le Taillevent), cooked delicious Greek cuisine (during the Snack Taverna era) and attempted (and failed) to ” introduce an haute West Siders to the joys of modern haute cuisine (at the Compass with long shutters and the Michelin-starred Dovetail). Over the years, with the passing of fashions, he has concocted top-notch neighborhood cheeseburgers (the Loyal), mastered the art of sumptuous hotel cuisine (with André Balazs at Standard) and contributed to the creation of the great craze (at Balazs’s Narcissa and the late Nix), which is still with us today.
Now comes the Aegean theme Iris, a restaurant so welcome and strangely unexpected that it looks, on a quiet summer’s evening, like a small island oasis sitting in the calm shoals of the city center. The outdoor space, at the bottom of a nearly empty Broadway office building below 56th Street, is furnished with umbrellas and lined with boxes of wavy green vegetation. The room inside was almost full on the evenings I spent, which is a bit of a miracle in this part of town, and with its beige and white color tones it feels like a dining room long ago, before cruise ships were the size of supertankers. There are potted plants here and there and round nautical-looking light fixtures on the walls. The waiters are dressed in navy blue jackets and white shoes, and as we studied our menus, the soothing clicks of shaken cocktails emanated from the bar.
Dinner inside at Iris.
Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland
“It’s nice not to eat curbside in an outdoor cabin,” one of my guests said as we sipped our festive, overly-sweet cocktails, which bore comedic cruise ship names like Melon of Troy (cantaloupe vodka) and Calypso’s Spell (tequila with mountain tea). The really good serving of dinner meze included mini hummus platters covered in sumac drifts and fennel pollen, and hand-wrapped grape leaf dolmas with discernible grains of rice instead of the usual mushy stuff. that you get from a box. There was also plenty of baked bread (try the slightly chewy sourdough pitas and Turkish teardrop-shaped flatbreads spread with lamb or squash blossoms), and kebab spits (glued with sweetbreads. or roasted quail), as well as what was arguably the best Greek Salad this unfriendly salad reviewer has ever enjoyed, made with cucumbers, chunks of fresh feta, and an abundance of late summer tomatoes.
Fraser grew up with Greek cuisine, but he now operates a small fleet of restaurants, and the man in charge of his kitchen team here is a widely traveled professional named Rob Lawson, who has a knack for reproducing familiar dishes with a slight gastronomic touch. . That staple of the Greek dining experience, the grilled octopus tentacle, was charred to perfect tenderness when I tasted it and was fragrant with a combination of citrus and lightly spicy lemon, Turkish chili and candied kumquat. You can get pieces of swordfish grilled the traditional way on a kebab or shaped into an elegant tartare with crushed pistachios and mint, and the eggplant options are great and plentiful (they are marinated with your dolmas, cooked in moussaka and whipped in a good baba ghannouj with golden raisins), but my favorite was the “fried” option, which the kitchen sizzles until a delicate crunch of tempura.
Not surprisingly, lamb also features prominently on Iris’s menu (provided you can afford the hefty price tag of $ 65, I recommend calling the lamb chops), however, as in the Most first class establishments along the Greek or Turkish coast, seafood is the real star of the show. In addition to the swordfish, we enjoyed a hearty and well-balanced Aegean seafood stew filled with Atlantic lobster and mussels, among other things, as well as a bowl of sweet scallops and shrimp dipped in plenty. of brown butter and placed on a polenta-like substance made with the old trahana grain. For larger and noisier groups, you have the choice between several whole fish (snapper cooked in vine leaves, sea bream and bar grilled by the pound) accompanied by a puff pastry of boureki the size of a melon that chefs stuff with Alaskan salmon and a spinach canvas and serve with spoonfuls of caviar.
As befits any proper cruise ship operation, you can have fun with all kinds of pleasurable potions and liquors in Fraser’s brand new restaurant (I counted 16 bottles in the ouzo-filled “Aegean Spirits” section. and raki), but you’d want to be wise to focus on the impressive multi-page wine list, especially the selection of crisp whites from Greece and Turkey. When I visited, an old-fashioned pastry cart wandered between the tables, filled with traditional sweets from the region. There is also a nice rice pudding and a basket of Mediterranean style soft donuts flavored with sesame and cardamom, but if you want to take the worries of the world away for a bit longer, I suggest the sticky and freshly baked baklava. oven. , which is brought to the table in a cut glass bowl speckled with pistachios and dipped in a pleasantly alcoholic cloud of what the menu identifies as ‘crème brûlée’.