By Rory Winston
Jackie O – story upon story. We grew up on them. My mom and her generation gossiping about the former first lady’s marriage to Onassis long after the shipping magnate had died. It was America’s first paparazzi-induced excursion overseas since Grace Kelly’s marriage; the renowned pictures of the super yacht, Christina O, covering the tabloids like so much in the way of jetsam. There they were in Monaco, then suddenly it was Martinique, then, a few issues later, back again floating peacefully in the Aegean. Richard Burton – scallops; Frank Sinatra – Calamari; Princess Grace with her passion for red snappers; and Elizabeth Taylor with langustines, swordfish, lamb, arugula and whatever else she could pile on. All of them were there. Filled with the bounties of Thalassa – the Greek goddess personifying the Mediterranean Sea – the renowned tycoon’s ship became the site on which to affix our own reveries. It was the site wherein our own aspirations were played out as we sailed between the ports of our imaginations in a timeless sea where Hollywood legends and mythological creatures ate together beneath the stars. It was this memory that washed over me as I sat there in the company of my mother and my good friend while indulging in a copious feast in Tribeca’s Greek restaurant, called – appropriately enough - Thalassa.
The association was not strained. After all, the now opulent three-floor restaurant had once been a shipping warehouse where Greek Olives and cheeses had been stored. As for the present design by the much-lauded architect Jean-Pierre Heim, it certainly did its best to echo the seafaring experience. With overhead sails running across a bar whose marble derives from the island of Thasos, flower-filled urns from Tripoli, handmade Iroko tables from Mykonos, and a seafood display that looks like it was gift wrapped and dropped off from any number of Mediterranean ports of call, the restaurant is a twentieth century shipping tycoon’s version of a culinary Odyssey.
Imported from Greece, Spain, Portugal, Hawaii, New Zealand and West Africa, the seafood used by Chef Raphael Abrahante allows for a five star voyage through a timeless archipelago. Christening our ship with the most exclusive Greek wine list in the city, we embark upon our journey with some fine Meze born of the shore: Zucchini Fritters, veal keftes, assorted Greek dips – each taunting us with delightful textures and aromas. The shrimp youvets with orozo and the tartare trio of Royal Dorado and tuna with truffle oil is a final reminder that earth’s finest treasures are at the mercy of the incoming waves.
With the shore receding, we enter an unknown world where whole shrimps swim in a sea of robola wine sauce alongside a reef of baby clams and mussels wading in a bay of tomato. Likewise, kataifi filo - with a volcanic center of sea scallops - surrounded by an ocean of sheep’s milk butter and kalamata balsamic reduction is a taste of the islands that’s hard to forget. Of course, nothing beats deep sea diving for the elusive Octapodi- that hand-massaged creature grilled to perfection. As one day blends into the next and first course turns to main course,
From the comfort of our leather chairs, we had charted a course through an epic poem disguised as a meal. Sitting across from me, my friend burst into a thick godlike laugh as if he had just overheard a joke on Olympus, while my mother continued to cautiously sip her wine while glancing intermittently in the direction of Jackie and Aristotle. To each his own legend and time period, I thought as I drank the remains of my espresso. Still I was certain we had been there – both in the ancient world of the gods and on board the renowned Christina O. Thalassa was not an orthodox attempt at a Greek restaurant. Neither overtly ethnic nor in the throes of fusion for its own sake, Thalassa was how the other half lived – the other half being those that still ate from the cornucopia of the gods, and those that sat with Aristotle Onassis watching the sun set on the Aegean Sea.
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