How has the pandemic changed your role?
Amali was closed for six months, reopened fall 2020. I was lucky because two days before they closed the borders, I escaped to Greece. It was locked down but the cases were lower back then. I did some visits to Macedonia and the northern part of Greece. When we restarted, there were always challenges with the capacity.
When I came back, we got busy and we were able to extend our wine list by like ten more pages. The last time I was in the poll, we had 26 pages and now we have 35. People were more interested and more willing to get bottles of wine and to drink wine. We have a very talented young chef, Alex Tubero. He kept the Mediterranean cuisine that we have and also added some Middle Eastern elements. He keeps the menu simple but delicious, and we change it every three months, depending on the season. It was a big hit to present something a little different [than everyday American fare], so we changed our wine list to focus more and more on the Mediterranean.
How has that changed your buying?
From April 2021 we started to see we were getting busy; people were starting to go out and we started back up, investing on our wine list. Adding more Greeks, more Mediterranean, more Sicilian, even Switzerland. We were going by the volume of business. We added a lot of orange wines that people were very interested in and kept asking for. But to be honest, we haven’t bought much wine.
We added more dessert wines; people were asking more for dessert wines besides the ones we have by the glass. It was very productive for the wine program at Amali. A lot of private events, wine dinners—we had to expand our large-format list. We poured a lot of by-the-glass from magnums. We wanted to try something different and people just love it—they love to see things from magnums. We have corporate dining during the day but at night we are a neighborhood restaurant, with regulars coming in two to three times a week. It’s nice to be able to offer people a lot of different things to try. We keep track of the guests and what they had before.
It was sad because a lot of people were getting sick and we didn’t know what was going to happen one week to the next. At some point, we were working like four people front of the house for 50 covers under restrictions. Then, before Omicron, 120-130 covers a night. We had another person to assist on the wines to help me because we also have two rooms upstairs for events. Before December we were very busy. Then it got very slow for Omicron. Then February 2022 reminded me of January 2021 when things started to get very busy again.
What are some new wines that have been successful for you?
We added Château Musar from Lebanon—all the whites and the reds—which went really well because people don’t really know the château or that Lebanon makes good wine. We started working with orange wine at [sister restaurant] Calissa in the Hamptons in the summer, then we started adding some at Amali by-the-glass and people were asking a lot of questions and were happy to taste and we were able to offer them a taste from our glass pour and then they were getting bottles. Some people with appetizers and some as an after-dinner wine. Some of the selections were from Italy and from Greece. From Tinos, from Lefkada, the Hoof and Lur from Troupis, from Peloponnese, from France. We try a few regions, Paolo Bea from Umbria. That was a big hit. Now that it is spring, we will bring in more.
You mentioned in your survey that Domaine Nerantzi Koniaros has been doing well for you.
The koniaros has been on our list forever, and also the syrah and assyrtiko from Domaine Nerantzi. They’re wonderful people and they’re doing great, great work. They’re the only domaine that has this grape, koniaros. It’s so different to sell a wine when you visit and you meet the winemakers and spend the day with them, you have more passion. Because who knows koniaros and why should they spend $135 on a bottle when they could be getting a Burgundy or a Barbaresco or a Bordeaux. But selling Greek wine and introducing people to the Greek wine world—that makes me feel really, really good. They are getting the whole experience of trying the food and getting to know the wine and they always want to know the story behind it.
This story appears in the print issue of February 2022.
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