The Walman Report®
Featuring Travel Restaurants Entertainment & Wine By Nancy Walman
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GREEK CHIC: AMMOS BRINGS THE GREEK ISLANDS TO THE ISLAND OF MANHATTAN
Location: 52 Vanderbilt Ave. at 45th Street
Phone/Fax: 212-922-9999 / TBD
Cuisine: Greek Seafood
Owners: Jack Trantides, Charlie Trantides, George Trantides and Nick Neocleous
Executive Chef / Partner: Christos Christou
General Manager: Anthony Pilarinos
Interior Design: Demetris Charalambous
Seating Capacity: Total seated capacity of 150
Hours of Operation: Monday – Sunday, Noon – 5:00 PM
Signature Dishes: Mezedes: Ambelofila, Koupes, Pestrofa, Psaropita, Htenia, Kolokithokeftedes
Salads and Entrees: Ammos Salad, Cypriot Salad, Salangi, Barbounia
Desserts: Galaktoboureko, Ek-mek, Loukoumades, Kormos
Price Range: Appetizers: $9-$16
Alcohol: 2 Page List of International Wines by Bottle, price range: $30-$415. 12 By glass, price: $8-$13.
Full bar, with signature cocktails, Including a Kalamata Olive Juice “Dirty Martini.”.
Credit Cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover
* * *
mmos, the Greek word for “sand,” instantly transports diners to the islands of Greece via an upscale menu of regional seafood specialties rarely sampled outside their country of origin. Chef/Owner Christos Christou’s (Avra, Molyvos, Milos and Trata) menu pays tribute to his native Greece, featuring authentic dishes culled from various regions throughout the country. For their first Manhattan venture, co-owners Jack Trantides, George Trantides, Charlie Trantides and Nick Neocleous (Ammos Estiatorio and Central Restaurant Bar Lounge, both in Astoria, Queens) decided to create a place dedicated to the traditional dishes of their mothers and grandmothers – simple yet unusual preparations that allow the fresh flavors of fine ingredients to shine.
Upon entering, visitors encounter a wall hung with a school of metal fish, wisely detouring away from a fisherman’s net. The entryway is lined with tiles made of Thassos, a Greek white marble, as is the handsome bar that lies directly ahead. The restaurant’s airy, open design is rendered in shades of sand, driftwood and Mediterranean blue and a bank of windows allows the sun to light the interior. Accent walls and pillars feature a mosaic of weathered, rough-hewn sandstone blocks resembling a seawall, and the floors are dark hardwood. Leather banquette seating in shades of sand and wood blend organically with the room.
Christou’s menu allows diners to island hop through Greece, sampling authentic fare from locales such as Macedonia, Attiki, Halkidiki, Mykonos, Crete, Santorini, Epitanisa, Thessalonica, Kerkira, Epirus, Cos, Piraeus, Kefalonia, Athens, Cyclades and of course, the chef’s own beloved Cyprus. Because of his strong ties to Greece, the chef has been able to import many fine ingredients directly from that country, such as sea salt, dried oregano from Mount Paygetos, capers and caperberries. In addition, many of the staples used in Ammos dishes -- like olive oil, honey and the halloumi cheese his mother makes by hand -- are produced by Chef Christou’s family farm in Cyprus.
Diners may wish to begin with one of the distinctive Ammos signature cocktails such as The Dirty Greek, the restaurant’s playful twist on the traditional “Dirty Martini” substituting kalamata olives and juice for the usual green olive variety. Those seeking something a little more exotic might try the Triandafilo, Bombay sapphire shaken with rose water syrup and garnished with candy rose petals, or Metaxa, Metaxa brandy laced with triple sec and a dash of tart orange syrup. There is also a short, smart and well chose international wine list. A delightful choice would be the sprightly Basque white, Txakoli 2004 ($45). Txakoli is one of the world's great novelty wines. Produced in the breathtakingly beautiful Basque coast, the Txakoli winemakers have to fight the elements (salty, sea air, chilly temperatures, Atlantic winds) to make these zippy white wines that supply all of the bars in San Sebastian.
The large menu begs for groups of four or more to really appreciate the chef’s prowess. To start, a diner may choose from a wide array of mezedes or small plates. House Specialty Mezedes are all seafood selections and include Octapodi Stifado, a stew of octopus braised till tender with tomatoes, onions and Mediterranean herbs from Santorini, Koupes, a Cypriot favorite of sweet lump crab meat and caramelized onions encased in a crisped bulgur wheat crust, and from the port city of Piraeus (keep squirting lemon juice in it as you munch), Psaropita, a light and savory country-style phyllo pie filled with shrimp, octopus, leeks, dill and kasseri cheese. Macedonian mezedes include Ambelofila, a seafood lover’s answer to the dolma that combines cod, trahana (a yogurt-wheat pastina) and fresh herbs in vine leaf parcels brightened with a squeeze of lemon, and Pestrofa, an unusual salad of smoked trout, boiled Yukon Gold potatoes, baby arugula and flavorful house-pickled quail eggs. And from Attiki comes Psarokroketes, irresistibly airy and crisp beignets of lavraki (Mediterranean sea bass, also known as Loup de Mer) served with skordalia (a puree of almonds, garlic and potato) and Xidata, a chilled seafood salad of scallops, shrimp and octopus pickled in red wine vinegar with celery, garlic and fresh herbs.
The Kiria Piata are an array of Chef Christou’s signature entrees, distinctively different takes on classic recipes served throughout Greece. Karavides Me Hilopita is a comforting, homey dish that hails from Epirus and pairs sautéed langoustines and hilopites or short, flat egg noodles, in a light Malagousia white wine broth topped with flavorful aged halloumi cheese. From Cyclades comes a dish called Salangi, grilled skate drizzled with saffron lemon sauce served on a bed of prasorizo (leek rice pilaf), which is a perfect complement to the fish, and Barbounia, small, lightly pan-fried Mediterranean red mullets served with a tasty garlic almond sauce and steamed beet leaves, which is often enjoyed in Epitanisa. Psari Plaki, oven-braised Chilean sea bass cooked in a clay pot with Vilana white wine, onions, tomatoes, zucchini and fresh sage, is an ideal choice to stave off the chill of winter days and a favorite any time of year in Crete.
Ammos also offers an array of Psito Psari, whole fresh fish by the pound served á la carte. Varieties include Lavraki (also known as Mediterranean sea bass or Loup de Mer), Tsipoura (Royal Dorado or Mediterranean porgy), Fangri (firm white snapper), Glossa (a thin Dutch fish), Astakos (grilled Maine lobster), Black Sea Bass and Karavides (sweet langoustines from Peloponnisos). All selections are grilled on an open flame and served with a piquant lemon-olive oil ladolemono sauce.
Ammos Pikilies are family-style samplers that are perfect for sharing and include crowd-pleasing favorites like the chef’s own superlative Greek Spreads, an assortment of fresh-tasting purées: Taramosalata (carp roe puree), Skordalia, Tzatziki and Htipiti (a purée of roasted red pepper and feta). The Grilled Pikilia is a satisfying mixed grill of octopus, shrimp, calamari and portobello mushrooms, while the Pikilia Tirion is a platter featuring the Greek cheeses kasseri, kefalograviera, halloumi and feta.
The Greek word for dessert is glyka and at Ammos the selections blend tradition with innovation, reflecting the chef’s fond memories of sweets made by his grandmother. Using his grandmother’s recipe, Chef Christou makes Greek yogurt fresh daily in earthenware pots imported from Greece. Topped with pistachios, warm dried fruits and just enough Greek honey to sweeten, the yogurt is a delicious finale. Other great finishes for a meal at Ammos are the delightful Athenian treat Ek-Mek, which pairs layers of toasted shredded phyllo lightly drizzled with vanilla syrup, a silky pastry cream, whipped cream and roasted pistachios, and the Cypriot sweet Loukoumades, light honey beignets dipped in thyme-lemon syrup and dusted with powdered sugar.
Ammos combines fine authentic Greek regional cuisine and relaxed coastal elegance for an experience that will bring diners just a little bit closer to the sunny shores of Greece, without ever leaving Manhattan.
Wine On Line®Nancy Walman, Publisher
Copyright 2006 by Wine On Line® News Syndicate
IT’S TIME FOR WINE
MONTY and SARA PREISER
By definition, we suppose, a
valley must be surrounded on at least two sides by mountains, and so it is with
In fact, there are no less than
five separate mountain appellations in
Because of the consistent climate in the Valley and its environs, wines from each the mountain appellations might have similar characteristics each year, allowing many devotees to confidently swear by one mountain or the other. But in reality, the mesoclimates and microclimates not only vary from vintage to vintage, but one area might be the undisputed best one year, and worst the next. Microclimates are just that unpredictable. And when one throws in the varying techniques of winemakers (who move from winery to winery quite like major league baseball managers), you are as likely to prefer the wines from a winery on Spring Mountain in one year, while gravitating toward Atlas Peak the next. There are innumerable wines from which to choose.
Today we feature wineries on two
mountains which impart vastly different characteristics to the fruit harvested
thereon. These distinctions are the greatly the result of many natural factors
(as opposed to human intervention) – the type of soil, the length and angle of
sunlight, the effects of fog, and the temperature, to name a few. So let us
visit two aptly named wineries -- Spring Mountain Vineyard on
We begin by heading up the winding
and ever-narrowing road that begins in downtown Saint Helena, and will, if
followed to its end, crest at the top of the mountain where the mighty Pride
Mountain Cellars sits almost as a guardian to what lies on the downside – the
We were fortunate to not only
spend quality time with the staff, but to be able to taste the wonderful 2001
reds. This vintage allowed for long and steady maturation, which embodied the
grapes with great flavor, color, and concentration. The
Moving through the barrel room with winemaker Jac Cole was an experience in and of itself. Usually those who escort writers and tasters on these excursions feel compelled to praise literally everything that is sampled. On this afternoon, while what we tasted in barrels was in fact praiseworthy, we appreciated the more candid analysis offered by Jac. This block, he might opine, had too much fruit, or another might be a candidate for a stand alone, yet not enough was produced. We vividly recall savoring the deeply concentrated and luscious Petite Verdot, which, according to Jac, was “almost too vibrant,” and would need judicious blending. There was little to say about the outstanding 2003 Pinot Noir, however, except that if you like nuances of smoke and bacon, this will be your wine.
In the bottle, we started with the 2003 Sauvignon Blanc ($28), a 100% stand alone from the La Perla and Miravalle blocks. One block provides flinty and mineral characteristics, and the other lends melon and citrus. The integration of flavors with a creamy texture makes for a classic Sauvignon Blanc, and at a fair price.
We liked the three reds we tasted, too, and felt the 2001 Syrah ($50) and 2001 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) warranted the suggested retail. The former, again a 100% varietal, showed flowers and bright cherries, along with smoke and oak nuances. The latter is nicely layered and shows off some Merlot (15%) and Petite Verdot (5%). As you might guess, the wine has structure, vibrancy, and smooth tannins. The final red of the day was the winery’s reserve wine, the 2001 Elivette ($90). Again boasting some Merlot (8%) and Petite Verdot (3%), this big red is easily drinkable while maintaining its backbone. However, with due respect to the winery, we thought it a bit overpriced.
We aren’t the only ones who appreciate the newly designed and revamped Spring Mountain Vineyard. In November of 2005, the Global Network of Great Wine Capitals awarded the winery its Best of Napa Valley Tourism Award.
On the other side of the Valley,
sitting not only at the foot of the mountain that rises above the estate, but
also overlooking an other-worldly up lifted valley, is Atlas Peak, a venerable
winery now rejuvenated under the winemaking leadership of Darren Procsal, and
vineyard management under the watchful eye of chief viticulturalist Tony
Fernandez. Wine historians know that
The vineyards at
Though we have not said it, you
have probably surmised that one of the new projects at
For this year, however, all that was ready for us to taste in bottle was the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon ($38), which proved to be a good representative of the power of the vintage. With significant overtones of blueberry, firm tannins, and an undertone of vanilla and tea, we could picture this wine accompanying a well marbled piece of beef for the next 3 or 4 years. We are also looking forward to tasting next year’s vintage, really the first to be totally under the control of Procsal and Fernandez.
A treat was sampling the yet to be
The 2003 Sangiovese exhibited a
velvet texture which gave body to dark cherry flavors. As Darren had hoped,
this wine did not have a light, almost too acidic finish. It was richly
structured and, as the team hoped, mature. We know there is some excellent
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