By Connor Beach
An executive chef with New York City dining expertise, is also serving up decadent Greek delights on Long Island, at the recently-opened Ara in Commack.
Opening in the shopping center at 2 Henry St. last October, Ara Greek Kitchen and Bar is headed up by executive chef Steve Koutsoumbaris, who hosted a dinner for members of the media last Thursday.
Koutsoumbaris’ menu is full of his version of Greek food that mimics the flavors of the Greek Isles that he learned from his family.
“Everyone does Greek food a little differently depending on where in Greece they’re from,” Koutsoumbaris, of Garden City, said.
Ara’s décor mirrors the Mediterranean themes of Koutsoumbaris’ dishes, with blues and whites of the ocean evident on both the walls and on the plates.
Along with the good looks, the delicious and hearty dishes pay tribute to traditional Greek family dinners.
“This is the way that we normally eat in Greece,” Koutsoumbaris said. “Everything here is fresh and cooked to order because Greek food is all about freshness.”
To start, Koutsoumbaris prepared grilled octopus ($19) served with cucumber, yogurt and ladolemono. The nicely-charred octopus together with the sauce creates lightness to the dish that combines well with the cucumber for a traditional Greek flavor.
The Tri-Color Orzo ($14) features grilled shrimp served with tomato, spinach, feta and a garlic and oil sauce. The sauce weaves together the seafood flavor of the shrimp with the earthiness of the vegetables and rice.
For cheese lovers, the Saganaki ($12) is a pan-fried graviera cheese topped with lemon compote and thyme. The crunchy fried outside gives way to a firm, milky cheese on the inside that almost calls to mind a refined mozzarella stick. The dish is simple yet delicious.
Koutsoumbaris called the pizza program at Ara is “a little different.” The Spanakopita Pie ($14) is a deconstructed version of the traditional Greek spinach pie. A soft and airy pizza crust is topped with spinach, scallion, mozzarella, ricotta, feta and dill for a unique modern twist on a classic dish.
Koutsoumbaris said Greek food relies heavily on harvests from both the sea and surrounding rugged landscape. The salads on Ara’s menu rely less on lettuce, and more so on resilient vegetables grown in Greek soil.
The beet salad ($12) is visually stunning, with pickled red and yellow beets tossed among baby arugula, red onion, ladolemono and yogurt. The harsh flavors that are often associated with beets are replaced by an almost sweet, fruity flavor that makes the salad vibrant.
For entrees, the lamb chops ($38) are grilled and served with a citrus lemon sauce and a compliment of pork sausage with leeks and fennel. The citrus from the sauce brings out the flavor of the perfectly cooked lamb chops, and the pork sausage is bursting with flavor that makes the dish surprisingly bright and complex.
Another traditional Greek dish, the Moussaka ($18) is layered eggplant, Greek meat sauce, béchamel and graviera cheese. The dish is reminiscent of an Italian lasagna, but is instead full of Greek seasonings that add an especially traditional taste to Koutsoumbaris’ version of a Greek Bolognese sauce.
Lastly, the red snapper ($40) is cooked whole and served as is or butterflied with capers and a lemon sauce. The beautiful white meat fish is served with the skin on to lock in the moisture and fresh flavor. The stunning presentation and great taste exemplifies the dedication to freshness and traditional Greek cooking at Ara.