I was attracted to Nisi after a press release came in about their Easter weekend special: lamb on a spit. I’ve been around many pigs and cows on spits before but never a whole lamb, so I jumped on the chance to partake during one of the biggest Greek religious holidays of the year. For some reason, I had a picture in my head that we’ll be on New Jersey greenery whiling away our Sunday afternoon with drinks in hand. Not so. The lamb were definitely roasting on spits just outside the restaurant, but they were along a busy main road next to the parking lot. We didn’t really spend any time outside watching the lamb cook because it seemed silly to be standing on hot concrete when there were white tablecloths waiting inside the spacious and airy restaurant. I was disappointed, for sure, but I soon got over my expectations when the food started to come in.
The grilled sardines were superb with capers and only a drizzle of lemon juice and good olive oil. Grilled sardines made me happy when I was in Tunisia–the closest I’ve ever been to the Mediterranean–and I can’t wait for the day when I finally go to Crete and someone’s grandma will feed me the same dish on the beach. The octopus was so tender, it disappeared in under five minutes.
The magiritsa, a soup made of lamb offal, was the most delicious soup I’ve had in a long time. Thick from the avgolemono, or egg-lemon mixture, and rich from the lamb parts stewing for several hours, it made me want to have the flu just so I can eat a whole pot of it. It’s that kind of soup that would make you feel so much better if you were under the weather. The sweetbread was soft and rich and we couldn’t get enough of the carp roe mousse with ground almonds and the roasted eggplant spread.
When the roasted lamb was finally served, we were glad to see some of the best parts on our plates. It was amazing to me how the lamb was cooked evenly just outside the restaurant. I grew up experiencing roasting animals as a part of a bigger event and I was pretty impressed that this could be done at Nisi without the hoopla of an entire village partaking in the process.
I have to mention something about the service. When we first walked in, we were taken aback at how formal everything looked. We felt out of place because we were the only couple in the entire restaurant; everyone else was seated with their big families. Our waiter, however, made us feel relaxed. He gave us tidbits about Greek food: the red egg on the traditional braided bread, or tsoureki, symbolizes the blood of Christ and the renewal of life, while the magiritsa is eaten to break the 40-day fast undertaken by Greeks during Lent. He was also very helpful in guiding us through which Greek wines matched our meal. He encouraged us to order per glass since we expressed our limited knowledge in Greek grapes and he happily poured us small tastes to steer us towards the best-tasting ones.
We might not have danced or screamed opa! that weekend, but because the food harmoniously came together, we felt like we had our own celebration of Greek Easter at Nisi.
Nisi Estiatorio is at 90 Grand Avenue in Englewood, New Jersey. Call them at 201/567.4700 and ask the next time they roast lamb outside.
Nisi Estiatorio roasted lamb photos on Flickr
See the kind of hoopla I’m talking about with Filipino animal slaughter
Grilled sardines the Tunisian way
It’s not the first time I’ve spent over $50 on a cab ride just to get to a restaurant