Have you been to Molyvos latelty? Once at the vanguard of the city’s Greek dining scene, in recent years it had fallen into irrelevance, seldom mentioned, a scene for revelers and tourists. Of course, any decent restaurant near the Theater District is going to have customers, but Molyvos surely considered itself better than that.
I don’t know if it was the lack of press or a paltry 19 rating for décor on Zagat that made the owners finally take notice. On my last visit, I don’t remember disliking it. But I recall it was dark and and kitschy, dominated by amphorae and other Greek bric-à-brac. (There’s a slideshow of the old décor at New York.)
The space is now brighter and less cluttered, more in Aegean blues than archeological browns. This isn’t a bid to reclaim the three-star rating the restaurant once had (from Ruth Reichl) when it opened in 1997, before Eric Asimov knocked it back to two, five years later. It remains a Theater District restaurant at its heart, turning out food at too hectic a pace to be as careful and as luxurious as it should be.
But this is still very good Greek cuisine, a genre under-represented in Manhattan, and the wine list is fabulous. The website claims the most extensive selection of Greek wines in the United States: 400 bottles, with no bail-out for timid drinkers hesitant to order labels they don’t recognize. I have certainly never seen more Greek wines on one list. There are nearly 40 wines available by the glass, and should you find yourself at sea, the staff know the list well and give sage advice.
On the menu, there’s a separate category of about a dozen Mezedes, or small plates ($7–10) for the bar crowd. Appetizers are $12–18, entrées $22–36 (most $30 and up), with a separate list of a half-dozen whole fish by the pound, perhaps a trap for the unwary.
I’ve no basis for comparison with older menus, but there’s continuity here: the same executive chef, Jim Botsakos, has been around from the beginning.
I didn’t sample the Soupia (cuttlefish) on a bed of orzo ($24; above left), but both my guests said it was far too salty, and it was left half-uneaten. Arni Kokkinisto ($30; above right), a slow-cooked lamb stew, was tender and full of flavor, but an unimpressive presentation at the price.
I loved the Barbounia ($30; above left), four whole fish with a rich, wood-grilled flavor. You would expect the fish to be excellent here, as the same owners also run Oceana, midtown’s best seafood restaurant without four stars; and Abboccato, where the seafood is likewise a strength. A side of spinach ($7; above right) was quite good, as well.
Molyvos isn’t suffering for business at all. At 6:30 p.m. on a Monday evening, there was a large banquet at the back of the restaurant. By the time we left, most tables were taken, and there was a lively bar crowd. Post-renovation, Molyvos no longer looks old-fashioned, and its wine list has quietly grown to the best of its kind in New York. The menu must be carefully navigated, but I suspect the whole fish will never let you down.
If you haven’t gone in a while, Molyvos deserves another look.
Molyvos (871 Seventh Avenue between 55th & 56th Streets, West Midtown)
Food: Very good classic Greek cuisine and whole fish
Wine: 400 bottles, 40 by the glass, all Greek; the best of its kind in New York
Service: Knowledgeable and attentive, bearing in mind the size of the place
Ambiance: Bright, modern, less touristy than before
Why? For the incomparable wine list and the excellent whole fish