"Katharos" is a Greek word that means pure, clear or clean, and it is a particularly apropos way to sum up Amali, the Upper East Side's newest Mediterranean restaurant. "The food from that region is all about taking humble, fresh ingredients and making the most of what is available," explained owner James Mallios. "I thought the materials used in the space should also reflect that." Just like the rustic, farm-to-table fare served at Amali, the eatery's finishes are minimal in number but masterful in their combined effect. And although the intimate resto has only been open for about a week now, it already has about a thousand tales to tell. We visited Amali this week to hear the stories for ourselves, check out the newly revamped dining room created by architect Caleb Mulvena and, of course, sample the food. Step in for a taste of what we saw and savored.
Every aspect of Amali is sustainable and personal, from the story of the tabletops, which were crafted from 150-year-old pine taken from the ceiling of the establishment that preceded Amali, to the plush chairs (expertly reupholstered by the former restaurant’s dishwashers and waitstaff – if you’re confused about this part, we’ll come back to it in a bit), to the 20-year friendship between Mallios and Caleb Mulvena, the lead architect who designed the space, which is also what ultimately led to its eco-friendly features.
A partnership between restaurateurs Steve Tzolis, Nicola Kotsoni, and James Mallios, the former general manager of Resto, Amali is a departure from other UES restaurants, which tend towards the more buttoned-up, white tablecloth variety. We saw each guest greeted warmly by Mallios – in fact, he couldn’t help but pardon himself from the interview each time a new group walked in so that he could personally welcome them.
The decor, much like the temperament of the staff, is warm and without pretension. You won’t find gigantic floral arrangements or chichi accouterments at Amali, nor will you be met with the menu prices that would sustain such extravagances. Despite being locally sourced and farm-fresh, chef Devon Gilroy‘s appetizers will only set you back $7-$15 and dinner selections run between $12 and $36.
The affordable fare, which Mallios credits partially to knowing his suppliers well enough that they’re in constant communication about what is fresh in stock daily, might also be a reflection of the thoughtful design of the space. Mapos, the firm behind Green Depot, was called in to reimagine what began as a rather staid and outdated dining area. The choice was a natural one for Mallios, being that he and Mapos’ lead architect Caleb Mulvena have been buddies since they attended Cornell together, and, in the end, he couldn’t be happier with it.
At Mulvena’s coaxing (Mapos projects largely follow their philosophy of smart reuse), Mallios decided to recycle much of what was in the old space, rather than gut it completely. And we’re not just talking a sconce here and a chair there – the tables, the menu backs, the surface wood at the bar, the chairs, and even the floor are all recycled. In fact, the idea to make the tabletops from the over 150-year-old pine taken from the ceiling of the old restaurant came not from Mapos, but from Mallios himself, who, as Mulvena put it, “really started to have fun with it.” So much fun that he even got the old staff from the previous restaurant involved in the new build-out. Rather than have them be completely jobless while the space was being redone, Mallios employed some of the dishwashers and other staff to reupholster chairs and even plaster the walls.
What the old restaurant looked like – white tablecloths and all.
“The chairs are from the old restaurant and used to be a cherry mahogany with sort of a tacky faux leather,” explained Mulvena. “These guys [the dishwashers and waitstaff] actually learned how to upholster and my neighbor, who did the plaster on the walls, even taught them how to pour the plaster. I think it speaks to that concept of ‘teach a man to fish rather than just give him a fish,’ you know?”
But Amali’s interior isn’t the only thing that’s sustainable about it. Despite delivering an authentic Mediterranean dining experience, the food is from local purveyors in the tri-state area who practice responsible farming. So what did we have? Check out all of the mouth-watering photos as well as descriptions and prices in our gallery.
Amali is located in NYC at 115 East 60th Street (between Park and Lexington). For reservations, call 212.339.8363 or visit: http://amalinyc.com/menu