By Isaiah Negron
When it comes to hospitality, the team behind Midtown’s fine dinning modern Greek restaurant Nerai on East 54th Street knows it’s not just an art; it’s tradition. Honoring the warm history that Greek hospitality is known for, restaurateur Spiro Menegatos and Executive Chef Chris Christou combine their distinct talents and experiences to create a contemporary, sophisticated Greek eatery in the townhouse that was formerly Oceana. “Hospitality is very important to the Greek culture. You’re always treated like a special guest every time you go to someone’s house in Greece,” Spiro says. “We want to try and provide the same thing here. We treat every guest as an individual and make them feel special.”
With the partnership of his lifelong friend Constantine Youssis, Spiro set out on a culinary journey when he and Constantine decided to experiment and open a restaurant. “My father is in the food industry and Constantine’s family is also in the restaurant business, so it’s already in our background,” Spiro explains. “We felt there was a gap in the Greek dining space that we could fill. Something between going to Grandma’s and a fine dining experience.” As his first restaurant endeavor, Spiro sees Nerai as a chance to not only create great food, but also create a unique ambiance for each guest. “We wanted to get away from the traditional clay pots and columns,” he confesses. “We want people to feel like they’re on an exotic escape eating in, say, Mikonos each time they visit.”
Nerai’s Executive Chef Chris Christou has a long history of creating culinary experiences, after opening his first establishment at 20 with his father, a small fish and chips shop in his native South Africa he went to culinary school. “Restaurant people know modern greek cuisine is hard to find,” says Chris. “I’ve cooked in a lot of kitchens and now I’ve been able to create my own menu.” After spending three years working as a cook at Gordon Ramsey’s Savoy Grill, Chris since has worked at Corton with Paul Liebrandt, as Sous Chef with John Frasier at Dovetail and opened Ai Fiori under Michael White before testing his mettle as the Chef de Cuisine at Buddakan, one of Manhattan’s busiest kitchens. “I’ve always thought of my background as finer dining, but at home I cook Greek comfort food,” Chris admits. “So every time I create something for Nerai, it has a mix of the two, making something to have a finer cut but not forgetting the home flavors.”
Nerai nails its mission to capture the nostalgia of authentic Greek cooking, while also elevating it with the team’s extensive cosmopolitan training and creative vision. Between the billowy linen décor and the tantalizing dishes, you’ll feel like you’ve hopped a plane and landed right in Santorini.
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