Good fish ain’t cheap and cheap fish ain’t good,” reads a sign at the Hunts Point fish market in the Bronx, where chef Peter Panteleakis and his son, Nikos, shop before dawn for fresh seafood for their family’s restaurant, Oceanos, in Fair Lawn.
“Greeks in Greece are very fussy over the quality of ingredients,” Nikos, who manages Oceanos, told me on the phone after my visits. “It’s part of the culture, so we are fussy as well.” Indeed, the family imports its olives, olive oil, oregano and honey from a 300-year-old farm they own outside Krokees in Southern Greece, worked by tenant farmers.
Nikos, who has a background in architecture, is already at work on a renovation of the restaurant to begin in 2016. One thing that doesn’t need an update is the menu, which deftly combines tradition with modernity. One of those traditions is the daily feeding of the sourdough starter—which, having been brought from Greece in 1969, is the oldest living thing, other than the humans, that makes Oceanos Oceanos. Mixing sourdough with pumpernickel dough, chopped shallot, garlic, white onion and herbs de Provence produces the restaurant’s signature marbled loaf coated with sesame seeds on the bottom. The bread is so good diners often ask for a loaf to take home. Don’t be shy. The family is happy to oblige at no charge.
Modernity on the menu is exemplified by the excellent 10-ounce grilled filet mignon (served with a portobello mushroom cap, crispy pancetta and a lavender-peppercorn-cabernet demi-glace) and fried calamari (with a delicious sweet-spicy Thai chili sauce). There are superb crab cakes with Dijon aioli, crispy coconut-coated shrimp and mussels Lyonnaise sautéed in Dijon mustard, garlic and white wine.
Modernity even creeps into the $15 starter of four Greek spreads, all excellent. Taramosalata, made with whipped salmon roe; hummus; and roasted eggplant are classic. The fourth spread is made from feta, manouri and graviera cheeses puréed with roasted red pepper.
Some of the treasures fetched from Hunts Point receive modern treatment, such as Arctic char with lime and ginger beurre blanc and yellowfin tuna with ginger, noodles, scallions and soy vinaigrette. Yet for the most part, the family’s heart aligns with tradition. “We like to keep it simple, keep it Greek,” Nikos said. That largely means whole fish cooked on the wood-burning grill. Whole red snapper, brushed with olive oil and seasoned just with salt and pepper, was moist and flavorful, and came with a perfectly cooked medley of string beans and carrots.
A deservedly popular side dish (which comes with certain entrées) is lemon potatoes. Yukon Golds are sliced, marinated overnight in olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, then roasted. They emerge irresistible and almost buttery.
Not everything works. Shrimp scampi were overcooked, the garlic-herb butter sauce unaccountably sweet. Colorado lamb chops, cooked medium rare, as ordered, had a too-sweet herbed red wine and shallot sauce.
Fortunately, desserts were exceptional, especially ekmek (shredded filo topped with custard and pillowy meringue); galaktoboureko (a custardy cousin of bread pudding); and a cultural outlier, tiramisu, made with sponge cake instead of ladyfingers. Peter’s wife, Varvara, bakes wonderfully crunchy Greek butter cookies, free on request with a cup of coffee.Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:American - European - Greek/Mediterranean - Seafood
Price Details:Appetizers, $13-24; soup and salads, $8-$15; entrées, $26-62; sides, $8; desserts, $9.
Ambience:Elegant, spacious, romantic.
Service:Friendly, responsive, adept.
Wine list:14 by the glass, 130 by the bottle, including 4 Greek wines.