Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Reason to Shout "Opa!"

Move over, Greek Lady: Uncle Nick's in New York, NY, proves that Greek cuisine is so much more than gyros and souvlaki.

Nothing much has changed since Uncle Nick's first opened its doors in the 1980s, vowing to bring fresh, moderately priced Greek food to the island of Manhattan. The menu boasts a mix of familiar and exotic Greek specialties with plenty of carnivorous and vegetarian options to boot. Family-size portions are large and can easily be shared, making this a true "big fat Greek" experience!

While the meat selection--sliced directly off the spit or pulled straight from the grill--is succulent and flavorful, Uncle Nick's does its seafood best.

Since the true stars of this meal take about 30 minutes for the kitchen to prepare, appetizers are key. Swirling tentacles and chunky rings of barely-dusted baby squid take a dip in the fryer, ready to be popped into your mouth at a moment's notice; the accompanying marinara sauce is an unnecessary addition to these light bite-size pieces. The inherent smokiness imbued in the tender grilled octopus harmonizes well with the sweet and tangy notes of an inky balsamic dressing. Thick slices of fried peppers and eggplant grace the top of a heap of scordalia dip, a a savory potato- and garlic-based blend studded with kalamata olives. The biggest spectacle by far, though, is the Saganaki-Tiri, a wedge of sharp goat's milk cheese that is lit on fire before being placed ceremonially on your table. Perhaps more for theatrics, the cheese is still decadently rich and the perfect warm, creamy spread for the standard bread basket.

What makes the seafood at Uncle Nick's so special is--perhaps surprisingly--the inherent simplicity: your fish of choice for eating; lemon, oil, salt, and pepper for taste; and a charcoal grill for cooking. Fillets and steak cuts of fish are readily available (and excellent choices), but the best way to experience Uncle Nick's is to truly "order a fish": head to tail, skin, bone, and all. As if that wasn't enough food, the gargantuan platter of fish is joined by plates of potatoes, mixed vegetables, and rice. Picking the buttery-soft flesh from the fish bones is half the fun; simply dine on the meat on one side, cleanly remove the spinal cord, and finish it off! For a true delicacy, nosh on the fish's cheeks, which offer the most tender and succulent meat. Devouring the delectable feast makes up the other half. Each bite evokes images of Greece's cerulean coastline, brightened by a sunny sparkle of fresh lemon. The species of fish also contributes its own unique flavor, from the the mild and delicate red snapper to the robust and hearty swordfish.

After cleaning your plate, you surely won't be left hungry, but you'll be ready to come back and try another of their authentic dishes. With two locations in New York (one in Hell's Kitchen and one in Chelsea), there's no excuse to not check out Uncle Nick's.

Check this out for more pictures from my dining experience!


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