Hungry for the flavors of the Mediterranean? You do not need to travel far. The Gramercy Park neighborhood has plenty of Mediterranean restaurants to choose from. Whether you prefer classic Italian dishes, small plates to share with a large group, or time-honored Middle Eastern ingredients used in new ways, you will find a restaurant redolent of sun-warmed landscapes and salt-laced sea breezes.
55 Irving Place (between East 17th and 18th Streets)
Named after the ancient port area now known as the Turkish city Antalya, this restaurant offers all the mezes you would expect from a Mediterranean eatery, from hummus and tzatziki to grilled octopus and stuffed grape leaves. You can opt for a smattering of entrees too, including grilled salmon with a lemon vinaigrette and lamb chops with potatoes and asparagus. Some of the selections are decidedly not Mediterranean in origin, such as cheeseburgers, buffalo wings, and fish tacos. The bar selection is not limited to Mediterranean options either, with a solid selection of everything from Macallan 18 to Rémy Martin VSOP to McKenzie’s Black Cherry cider. The brick walls, wood-beamed ceiling, and floor-to-ceiling front windows make Adalya an inviting spot to share plates—though you might want to keep the baklava all to yourself.
250 Park Avenue South (at East 20th Street)
Credit: Gerben Fine Art
While Adalya was named after a seaport, Barbounia was named after a type of fish that has long been popular in Greece. Though the namesake red mullet is not on the menu, other seafood is, such as Atlantic salmon shish kabob and a Moroccan tagine with sea bass, peppers, zucchini, harissa (a red chili paste), and saffron broth. Pescatarians are not the only ones who will find plenty to choose from, however. Additional entrees include a duck shawarma with wild mushrooms and pearl onions spiced with sumac and house-made gnocchi with cauliflower, mushrooms, sunchokes, and black truffle paste. Barbounia’s weekend brunch makes for a delicious change from the usual omelets; you can feast on numerous mezes including taramousalata (a pâté made with salted fish roe), falafel, and fire-roasted eggplant, shakshoukas, and khachapuris, a distinctly shaped bread baked in a taboon and here made with the likes of creamed spinach, mozzarella, and Parmigiano Reggiano and topped with a poached egg and Hollandaise sauce.
52 Irving Place (at East 17th Street)
Located side by side, these sibling establishments let you indulge in your greediest tapas dreams, and they share an exhaustive wine cellar of nearly 600 varieties. Casa Mono, the more formal of the two, has earned a Michelin star every year since 2009. Along with small plates that offer vibrant updates to classic dishes (salt-cod croquettes with orange aioli, sobrasada with quince marmalade, piquillo peppers stuffed with oxtail), the menu features a handful of entrees. Made with organic meats butchered in house, these include five-spice lamb chops with moussaka and goat confit with avocado queso, smoky scallion ash, and pistachios. The Bar Jamón tapas are somewhat simpler though by no means simple in flavor: smoked trout with charred parsley and capers, calamari with olive tapenade, beets with Valdeón cheese and blueberries.
179 Third Avenue (between East 16th and 17th Streets)
As you sit at one of the rustic wood tables in Follia’s farmhouse-style dining room you might have a view of the kitchen’s wood-fired brick oven. All the handmade pizzas are baked here, from the traditional margherita to variations such as the Honey Pie, which tops tomato, mozzarella, spicy soppressata, and basil with a honey drizzle. Follia is no mere pizzeria, however. You can start your meal with crostinis, cheeses, salamis, oysters, mussels in tomato broth, several salad options, arancini, truffled polenta, and other Italian standards. The pasta options are similarly classic, including house-made pappardelle with a braised pork ragù and rigatoni with lamb sausage. The baked eggplant parmigiana with ricotta, mozzarella, and sautéed spinach will please vegetarians, while the grilled flank steak with fingerling potatoes and a veal reduction will delight meat-lovers. Along with wines and beers from Italy and beyond, Follia has a full bar and seasonal house cocktails such as the Basil Margarita, made with house-infused basil tequila, and the Park (Ketel One vodka with pomegranate, lavender, and lime).
Two Lexington Avenue (between East 21st and 22nd Streets)
Located in the Gramercy Park Hotel, Maialino has the feel of a time-honored trattoria. It specializes in Roman cuisine, so you can expect a stellar cacio e pepe, the unofficial dish of Rome. First, though, you might want to start with radicchio accompanied by apple, mint, and Parmigiano or fried hake, prawn, and octopus enlivened with lemon. Besides cacio e pepe, pasta options include other classics such as spaghetti alla carbonara and mushroom cavatelli. Or head straight to the secondi such as roasted suckling pig (Maialino is Italian for “piglet”), dry-aged duck breast with roasted Cipollini onions in balsamic vinegar, and brodetto, a spicy seafood stew. The lemon custard tart with almond crust is a wonderful way to end your meal.
102 East 22nd Street (between Lexington Avenue and Park Avenue South)
Another trattoria, Novitá has given many of its traditional dishes a modern twist. The funghi ripieni, for instance, is made with shiitake mushrooms; the grilled shrimp salad includes avocado as well as crabmeat, radicchio, and baby lettuce. The pasta dishes, which can be made with gluten-free alternatives, include a bolognese with Kobe beef, though the homemade strozzapreti served with pesto and the penne with fresh tomato, basil, and mozzarella show that the kitchen knows not to mess with centuries of perfection. Roasted rack of lamb with a mustard crust, veal Milanese, and grilled salmon with crispy potato carpaccio, sweet onions, and black olives are among the hearty entrees. Be sure to leave room for the trio of homemade gelati (salted caramel, dark chocolate, and pistachio honey), a profiterole, or mascarpone cheesecake with raspberry coulis.
123 East 18th Street (between Irving Place and Park Avenue South)
If you are looking for an old-school traditional Italian restaurant, the sort where you feel like a regular even the first time you enter, Paul & Jimmy’s is for you. Celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2020, this family-owned eatery offers all the tried-and-true Italian-American dishes: starters such as minestrone and fried calamari, primi including homemade cheese ravioli in meat sauce and Neapolitan-style lasagna, and entrees such as chicken cacciatori and saltimbocca alla romana. Desserts such as spumoni, tortoni, and cannoli continue the comfort-food theme. Equally comforting is the decor, from the white tablecloths to the mural of an Italian seaport.
34 East 20th Street (between Park Avenue South and Fifth Avenue)
If your knowledge of Middle Eastern cuisine is limited to hummus and falafel, Nur will be the epiphany your taste buds deserve. The flavors of the region—olives, datas, za’atar, mint—are used in unexpected combinations and with atypical companion ingredients to produce dishes that are unmistakably Middle Eastern but far from conventional. Among the star appetizers is smoked eggplant carpaccio, made with feta, tahini, dates, pistachios, and rosewater; panipuri, a deep-fried flour, potato, and chickpea snack from India, is here made with yuzu buttermilk and topped with tuna ceviche, dried apricots, almonds, and habanero. Entrees include a vegetarian couscous made with tershi (a Libyan pumpkin dip) and pan-roasted octopus with tahini, roasted-garlic confit, fried cauliflower, yogurt, and pine nuts drizzled with kaffir lime oil and given a tamarind glaze. Israeli and Lebanese varietals are well represented on the wine menu.
226 Third Avenue (at East 19th Street)
Family-owned Sal Anthony’s has a similar vibe to that of Paul & Jimmy’s, down to the snow-white tablecloths and the low-key decor. Here too you will see plenty of familiar dishes on the menu, from eggplant parmigiana and mussels in marinara sauce to veal piccata and shrimp fra diavolo to spaghetti and meatballs. Trends are all well and good, but when you want a meal you know will satisfy your appetite and soothe your soul, Sal Anthony’s will not disappoint.
The Mediterranean Comes to Gramercy