The restaurant that I’m about to write about is a true gem on the Upper East Side. Korali Estiatorio is situated on 3rd Avenue between 93rd and 94th Streets, and it serves some of the best Greek food I’ve ever tried. Actually, it’s given me one of my favorite dining experiences in this neighborhood, period. The fresh seafood dishes are sensational, and the ambiance is charming and romantic.
Due to our upcoming trip to Santorini in September, I’ve been dying to get to a good Greek restaurant in the city so that I can familiarize myself with some classic dishes and compare the two experiences. I know, I don’t actually believe that I can get a full understanding of American Greek food by going to one restaurant, but it’s a start. And it’s been difficult because Matt is weirdly resistant to going with me as soon as I mention a Greek restaurant that I want to try! Probably because it’s not something that he (or myself) is super familiar with. But I think that will probably change now because our meal was so good I still drool when I think about it.
I was able to convince him of Korali because it’s right in our neighborhood and we were completely at a loss for where we wanted to eat that night. After enough begging on my end he agreed to walk with me to check out the menu. As soon as he saw the lemon chicken he was immediately sold (lemon chicken is his favorite). Going inside, you can see that the interior is really beautiful. It’s two stories — dimly lit by uplighting over exposed stone walls, and all the tables and chairs are white. It’s something that I would imagine would be essentially Greek!
We decided to sit at the bar, and we ordered two glasses of wine made at a vineyard in Santorini! Maybe we’ll get to tour the actual winery while we’re there. The menu comprised of Greek appetizers like tzatziki, spanakopita, and other spreads and dips, and also fresh salads, a variety of seafood appetizers and entrees, and also “land” entrees like lamb and eggplant dishes. It only took us a second after looking at the menu to know that we were going to get the grilled octopus as an appetizer. The octopus is served over a puree of split pea, and was cooked with cherry tomatoes, scallions, and capers.
Man. Oh. Man.
My initial thought when I took a bite of the octopus was “tastes like chicken”. Actually though, what I was tasting was the delicious char of the grill and the perfect balance of spices that was reminiscent of chicken. However this octopus was so, so, SO much better than a lousy piece of chicken. It was so melt-in-your-mouth tender, and with a little lemon juice squeezed over and the pop of the tomatoes and capers, I was in absolute heaven. I think I’ve got a new craving that’s going to need to be satisfied frequently. I can honestly say this was the best octopus I’ve ever had.
After looking at the menu for our main dishes I was torn between the Yiouvetsaki (seafood orzo) and the Melitzanes Imam (stuffed eggplant with tomatoes, onion, and feta). I ended up choosing the greek orzo because I’m a sucker for seafood pasta and it sounded too good to turn down. Matt did end up getting the lemon chicken, served with rosemary garlic mashed potatoes.
While we were waiting, the nice bartended gave us a tzatziki appetizer that must have been an accident in the kitchen. Hey, I’ll take it! Good thing too, because I wanted to show Matt was tzatziki was, since he’s usually wary of “white sauces” but we’ll be sure to encounter it a lot in Greece. As predicted, he loved it and we both gobbled it down.
By the time our entrees came I was feeling that horrifying feeling of being almost-full. But when my orzo came I literally forgot all about it because of how amazing it looked.
It was my dream come true: A big heaping portion of orzo mixed with a perfect amount of tomato sauce, practically stuffed with fresh seafood, and finished with a sprinkling of delicious and salty feta cheese. I just shoved big heaping spoonfuls of it in my mouth and savored the incredible flavor. There was also no shortage of tender mussels, shrimp, and calamari throughout the pasta. It was such a large portion that I started to get full half way through and had to admit defeat. Of course I got it wrapped up and started dreaming about lunch the next day.
Matt thoroughly enjoyed his lemon chicken as well. Not gonna lie, it looked pretty darn good.
To give you a better sense of just how obsessed I was with my orzo, get this: I forgot it the next day when I left for work (I was going to eat it for lunch), and I actually made the 45 minute commute all the way back to my apartment, and then all the way back to the office, so I could eat it that day. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
Korali Estiatorio gets 4.5/5 stars!