My friend and I have often walked by Periyali on W. 20th Street, always on the way to somewhere else. Periyali has been a bastion of upscale Greek cuisine since 1987, long before it was fashionable. It’s one of those restaurants that flies under the radar — a place that can usually wait for another day. Last night, we decided to give it a try.
Coincidentally, we both landed on identical choices: the fried calamari to start ($11) and the braised lamb shank ($26). The breaded calamari was competently prepared, but I found the garlic dipping sauce and accompanying green salad totally forgettable. The lamb shank was a hefty portion and beautifully done. You hardly needed a knive (always the test with braised meats). The accompanying orzo in a light tomato sauce was a welcome bonus. Homemade bread with olive oil would be welcome on my table any day.
The wine list is a mix of Greek and world wines (mostly France and America). I didn’t trust my ability to pick a Greek wine, so I chose a Francis Coppola Syrah at $40. I don’t usually buy wines named for celebrities, but this one was a winner. In this kind of restaurant, I’m always happy to find a good choice available that doesn’t ask for a major investment.
The space at Periyali instantly transports you to the Greek islands, with its billowing white fabrics on the ceiling and colorful banquettes. I would highly recommend it for a romantic getaway. The storefront is narrow, but goes very deep. It was not full (we were seated immediately without a reservation), but clearly doing a strong business on a Thursday night. There’s an outdoor garden (which I didn’t check out), but on this unusually balmy November evening the French doors at the front were open, and a large party was dining outside.
Service was just fine. I can’t remember the last time a manager made so many trips to the table to check if we were happy. He must have checked up on us at least three or four times.
Eighteen months ago, Frank Bruni wrote, “Nothing at Periyali proves hugely intriguing. Nothing wows,” but awarded two stars, adding that “the little touches add up slowly and nicely.” He suggested it was a forerunner to Molyvos and Thalassa. Maybe, but those other restaurants have surpassed it. Still, Periyali does a competent job, and it’s worth a look if you’re already in the neighborhood.
Periyali (35 W. 20th Street between Fifth & Sixth Avenues, Flatiron District)