Restaurant Review: Neméa Greek Taverna in Mamaroneck
Neméa Greek Taverna is Greek chic.
Photo by Cathy Pinsky
Neméa’s interior is far trendier than that of a Greek diner.
The path toward fine Greek restaurants has been a tough one. Greek restaurateurs had so thoroughly infiltrated American diners and coffee shops—and quietly introduced Americans to Greek salads, souvlaki, and gyros along the way—that Americans felt they knew Greek dining, and it was a “cheeburger cheeburger” hybrid. Only very recently, with the advent of high-style restaurants by Michael Psilakis, the Livanos family, and a few others, have we seen Greek restaurants elevated beyond mom-and-pop shops. Mamaroneck’s Neméa, recently debuted by the team that founded Niko’s Greek Taverna, is of this new breed of Greek restaurants.
The décor couldn’t speak any more plainly: This is not your mother’s gyro joint. Neméa could be any chic restaurant in any modern city. The only visual cues to Neméa’s Hellenic identity lie in each table’s trio of Greek olive oils, each left in their original bottles fitted with pourers. When baskets of warm pita hit the table, it’s fun to compare the oils and dream of the sunny Greek regions of their origins—which is so much more instantly gratifying than looking at the wall-mounted map of the Attic Peninsula found in old-fashioned souvlaki-teria. Don’t overlook gratis snacks of Kalamata olives that have been tossed with a dice of floral, salty-sour preserved lemons. Neméa is a great spot for leisure; service is attentive, yet relaxed. That means that you might as well unwind with a cool Greek beer or a crisp glass of Moschofilero as you tuck into pikilia (salad sampler) and peruse your dinner choices. We were fans of Neméa’s impossibly luxurious tzatziki and a sharp, shallotty taramasalata, whose mouth-filling dairy lushness was punctuated by the salty pop of carp eggs.
Starters ranged from good to very good, with the win going to a beautiful, rustic dish of grilled octopus—it was miraculously tender, sweet, and still smoky from a wickedly hot fire. Also excellent were triangles of lemony, super-fresh-tasting spanakopita, and carnal- satisfying sections of loukanika, or house-made Macedonian lamb sausages. Plus, I don’t know many who can resist the salty, bouncy bite of grilled halloumi cheese. Here, it’s served over an ample, though (on one occasion) sodden, arugula and lemon-juice salad.
Executive Chef Sterling Smith was the talent behind New Rochelle’s sadly defunct Sterling Inn. While Smith’s New American cooking has always been technically proficient and cosmopolitan, it’s fascinating to see him take on Greek cuisine. His moussaka and pastitsio are classicists’ versions of the stick-to-your-ribs Greek casseroles. Both dishes at Neméa were fragrant with a heady blend of tomatoes, eggplant, lamb, and cinnamon. More unusual was Smith’s tart marinade for lamb souvlaki. It offered a modern brightness to a sometimes-heavy classic and gave the rich lamb chunks a lemony bite that only made its partnering super-rich tzatziki more appealing. Every fish that we ordered was perfectly executed and delicious. Highlights included a slippery, coral-tinged salmon served over spanakorizo (a fluffy rice-spinach pilaf, delicious in its own right) and a smoky, crackly skinned, grilled branzino, minimally and beautifully punctuated by lemon, fresh herbs, and oil.
Photo by Cathy Pinsky
Fish dishes, like the branzino, are stand-outs.
Neméa departs from its old-fashioned Greek forbears with democratic dishes like a hamburger (and a lamb burger) and lemony roasted chicken. In that all-pleasing vein, there is a melting lamb shank braised in Nemean wine that could easily pass for cloven-hoofed osso buco but for its sides of chickpeas and artichokes. Not everything is perfect. We were served French fries that were so overcooked and bitter that no amount of oregano and sea salt could save them. The same very un-delicious fries marred an otherwise appealing gyro platter—which is a heartbreak, because slices of the gyro’s pressed meat were painstakingly seared and deliciously caramelized. Opt for the lemon-roasted potatoes instead.
Desserts are not Neméa’s strongpoint. There was a bland, curdy galactiboureko, but a better honey-soaked baklava with fragrant cinnamon. If your sleeping schedule can handle it, don’t miss the strong, briki-brewed Greek coffee. Braver folks might wind up with piney retsina or ouzo, but Neméa also offers a diverse selection of whiskeys and digestifs. Sidewalk seating might make such lingering even more appealing. In short, Neméa offers a welcome vacation from workaday Westchester life.
Neméa Greek Taverna: 3 Stars
599 E Boston Post Rd, Mamaroneck
(914) 698-6600; nemeataverna.com
Hours: Mon to Fri 11 am-10 pm; Fri and Sat 11 am-11 pm; Sun 11 am-9 pm
Appetizers: $6-$15; entrées: $18-$30; desserts: $6
4 Stars—Outstanding 3 Stars—Very Good
2 Stars—Good 1 Star—Fair