In speaking with Spiro Menegatos, partner at the upscale restaurant Nerai, at 55 E. 54th Street, NYC (212-759-5554), we find out that “when Constantinos Yousiss, Dinos Gourmos, and myself began working out the cuisine, concept, and overall guest experience, it was clear to us what our niche would be. Our main focus at Nerai is to elevate the perception of Greek cuisine and captivate our guests with filoxenia. Many people associate Greek cuisine with a folksy atmosphere and a nonchalant style of service. At Nerai [a shortened version of neraida, meaning “mermaid”], we provide a stimulating Greek dining experience in a sophisticated setting in the heart of New York. We serve classic recipes and seafood-focused dishes prepared with a contemporary twist, stripped down to their simple essence and then presented beautifully. Our polished service team pays attention to each individual guest, striving to make their experience outstanding. We provide our guests with an energetic escape from the predictable, while simultaneously elevating expectations for Greek dining.”
The establishment’s executive chef, Chris Chris Christou, not to be confused with Yefsi’s Chris Christou, was born and raised by Greek immigrant parents in South Africa, and his interest in cooking led him to enroll in culinary school. Soon after, he landed a spot in Gordon Ramsey’s prestigious Savoy Grill in London. Ramsey then brought Chris to New York to be his sous chef at The London. Since then Chris has worked as a cook under Thomas Keller at Per Se, at Corton with Paul Liebrandt, as sous chef with John Frasier at Dovetail, and with the opening team at Ai Fiori under Michael White. In 2010, asked by a friend to interview at Buddakan, Chris accepted the position of chef de cuisine and adapted the artistic techniques he’d learned in one of the busiest kitchens in Manhattan. He was approached by the Nerai team in 2013 to pair his culinary experience with the traditional Greek recipes he grew up enjoying.
“That being said,” concludes Menegatos, “opening a restaurant in the heart of Manhattan is extremely challenging even for an experienced and talented chef such as Chris. I believe that in order to establish a successful business, you must inspire your staff and instill your business’s mission in them. Our mission is to emulate what it feels like to experience Greek life. All occasions in a Greek household,” he says, “are celebrated around a large table of food; so naturally the dining experience is at the forefront when guests are welcomed into our homes. Filoxenia means “the love of strangers,” and is quite possibly the single most defining attribute that Greeks identify with. We work relentlessly to ensure that every guest is touched by our filoxenia and feels like the guest of honor here.”
As to whether there are any plans to expand within New York City or branch out into other areas of the country, Menegatos says, “Plans for expanding the Nerai brand are already in the works. Stay tuned for more.”