NEW YORK – Amali, 115 East 60th Street in Manhattan, is one of the city’s most authentic and stylish Mediterranean restaurants, serving New Yorkers for about eight years now. The National Herald met with James Mallios, owner of the restaurant, for a discussion about food, his life and future plans, and, of course, about Amali.
Mallios was born in Flushing, Queens, and traces his roots to Epirus and even further back to Constantinople. His grandfather after the war, and shortly before North Epirus was ceded to Albania, immigrated to New York. Mallios’ parents were not what we would call the classic case of immigrants involved in the restaurant business, and he studied law and then worked for about six years as a lawyer. His family was surprised when the young lawyer left behind the law for the restaurant industry.
Today, besides being a co-owner at Amali, Mr. Mallios also co-owns Calissa, located in the Hamptons, and a restaurant in the Rockaways which will open next week with his associates. He told TNH that the general idea of the new restaurant is derived from the French Mediterranean. “We are always trying to preserve the Mediterranean character, but also to change the theme of every restaurant,” said Mallios.
TNH: What makes Amali stand out from other local restaurants?
James Mallios: I think two main reasons. First of all, the extensive wine list from Greece. We have a collection of 400 different wines. Then I would mention sustainability. I remember my grandmother, when we first came to America, would cook flounder which is found here in abundance. We did not have the choice to eat a Mediterranean lavraki. I think that if you are Greek in your heart, you eat what is local, where you live. That we at Amali always choose sustainability is something that the public and the press have recognized.
TNH: How would you characterize the clientele of the restaurant?
JM: I always wanted to have strong ties with the neighborhood. We have many professionals who work around here but also permanent residents. At weekends, we often have tourists. At Calissa, of course, we serve more Greek than we do here, though many Greeks who go to the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity often come to Amali.
TNH: In what category do you place the restaurant, and what is the style of its kitchen?
JM: When we first came up, we had to raise prices because people thought our prices were very affordable for the area we are in. Regarding style and prices, we would call us upscale casual. We are definitely more economical than many restaurants in the neighborhood. Amali is influenced by both Greek and Italian cuisine.
TNH: What inspired the name of the restaurant?
JM: Amali, in the years of the Ottoman Empire, was a short name for Roumeli.
TNH: As an employer, do you believe in strict staff inspection, and do you have enough free time for yourself?
JM: Strict inspection is a way to do things, and for some it can work, but it’s not the only way. I want to leave my colleagues the freedom to do their job. I also want to be able to work with good people. In terms of leisure time, and if it is enough, if you asked my wife, she would definitely answer you no (laughs). I like the challenges of work and working hard.
TNH: How do you see the future of the restaurant?
JM: Very positive. I also love the contact with the public. It’s one of the reasons I got into this job. Our kitchen in Amali is open and we used to invite and organize dinners for interesting people of various specialties, who in turn were interested in food and wine. Many good things arose from these dinners. I would like us to begin to do those again.
TNH: What do you think about the future of Greek cuisine in the United States?
JM: I would like to have Greek restaurants in cities in America where they currently do not exist. I would also like Americans to go beyond the stereotypes and see that Greece has a gastronomic tradition that varies and is very rich from region to region.
TNH: In your opinion, what would be the perfect dinner at Amali?
JM: I like dinners served family-style with people sharing food. It would certainly include mezedes, salad, and octopus. We would start off with a drink, something light, for example an aperitif. Because I like pasta, there would certainly be a pasta dish on the table. For the main course, I would serve salt baked fish and I would pair it with a Chardonnay from the Domaine Katsaros.