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Santorini in Merrick: Seeking the golden mean

At Santorini in Merrick, saganaki (melted Kasseri cheese)

At Santorini in Merrick, saganaki (melted Kasseri cheese) comes to the table aflame. (April 2, 2013) Credit: Newsday Erica Marcus

Since 1993, Santorini has been serving Greek food to Merrick and environs. A few months ago, the restaurant expanded into the neighboring storefront and did a complete renovation. The new dining room is now a sleek update of the classic blue-and-white Greek restaurant interior, and very attractive at that. At a recent dinner, service was caring and efficient, servings were generous, prices were reasonable (appetizers are well under $10; most entrees well under $20).

And yet. At all but the most rarefied, expensive Greek restaurants on Long Island (I’m thinking of places like Limani in Roslyn, Alexandros in Mt. Sinai), I am confronted by the sad fact that “Greek” food here bears very little relationship to what you find in Greece. There’s none of that stark simplicity, nor respect for the seasons, very little dependence on what is probably the most critical ingredient in Hellenic cooking: great olive oil.

Santorini’s own website states that the island for which it is named serves a cuisine “dependent on locally grown produce, fish, and, seafood from the Aegean Sea.” Of course I don't expect a moderately priced Greek restaurant on Long Island to serve only local produce and fish, but Santorini (Merrick) doesn't even nod in that direction.

Here’s what we had for dinner: grilled sausage that had been unaccountably topped with an onion jam, two huge scoops of too-firm taramasalata (fish-roe spread). Better were the grilled octopus and the saganaki, a casserole of melted Kasseri cheese that came to the table aflame. How can you not like something that comes to the table aflame?

My whole grilled branzino was fine if a bit overcharred. A huge slab of pastitsio, pasta casserole, was somehow dry and mushy at the same time, and way over-cinnamoned. Lamb kebab was on the tough side, and overcooked as well. Every entree came with a big pile of yellow rice and big spears of tough broccoli. We all shared an enormous salad of iceberg lettuce topped with onions, pickled peppers, anchovies, onions, tomatoes and stuffed grape leaves.

“Seek moderation in all things,” said Aristotle.

Santorini is at 133 Merrick Ave., Merrick, 516-867-5175,

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