Estia lacks the direction needed to compete at the top level in Yorkville


Image: Yvonne Tsui

NAO is no more.

The high-end Yorkville steakhouse from Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji has been replaced and reinvented by them and their very talented executive chef, Ben Heaton (the Grove, One) as Estia.

NAO never really seemed to take off possibly due to a winter opening in a summer location or perhaps residents never took to its non-traditional steakhouse style, and in the end, it was eclipsed by the more traditional U.S. import STK, which opened just down the street. 

Estia specializes in Mediterranean fish and seafood and skews to the high side in price.

Wood-fired bread and za'atar-spiced pitas fresh from the oven, smoked melitzanosalata (eggplant spread) and feta cheese are all house made and accompanied by warm olives at $6 for a half order, which is, trust me on this, plenty of bread and spread for up to four people. This bread course is the menu’s one nod to value.

The other appetizers priced close to $20 each are also for sharing, and portions are a bit less than generous. The clams and the octopus were the standouts, with the clams, steamed in a buttery white wine and fennel sauce, clearly the better of the two.

Salads are large and easy to share. At $9 a half order, the asparagus salad is a nice change from traditional greens. Long ribbons of fresh and roasted white and green asparagus are tossed with a sherry vinaigrette and topped with Parmesan petals and crushed roasted hazelnuts for texture. 

The set mains run the gamut from pasta to lamb to wood-fired chicken. 

However $55 for a chicken is pushing the boundaries of my food-costing tastes. I suggest steering towards the massive list of fresh fish and calamari all cooked in the wood-fired oven and available with your choice of seasoning.

Snapper cooked with salsa verde and pepperoncino is the standout. On this night, a pound-and-three-quarters piece costing $64 could feed three people well. It arrived at the table already filleted and was expertly plated by our server. 

For sides, the grilled broccolini with almonds and romesco was well executed. The Yukon fries spiced with wild oregano served with a house feta aïoli seemed more of an obligatory potato dish than anything else.

So what's the skinny on Estia? Sadly, the whole concept seems soulless. Messrs. Khabouth and Harji don't skimp on the decor or the ingredients, but their Yorkville restos, starting with La Societe, NAO, and now Estia, have somehow missed the mark. 

The lack of a full-time dedicated head chef in each location works fine for downtown watering holes Patria and Weslodge and their true shining light: Byblos. 

However, when you come uptown and compete in Yorkville against the likes of Keith Frogett's Scaramouche or Doug Penfold's Chabrol, you need a steady, inspired hand on the tiller every single night. 

You need someone adjusting specials and using fresh ingredients on the fly. 

And you need to give well-heeled Midtown foodies a sense that the restaurant they have chosen has a mission and a soul. 

Estia will never compete at this level without one.

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