Oh So Nisi
One of America’s star chefs opens a new restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.
Chef Joshua Wahler glides through his new Greek restaurant, Nisi, circulating among diners, welcoming newly arrived guests, talking animatedly with his hands and smiling the smile of someone who loves where he is and what he is doing. With nearly 200 seats, nearly all tables are taken on a typical Saturday night, with a buzz of conversation punctuated by plates of flaming cheese that whiz by in a flurry of activity that includes tableside presentations of fresh salt-encrusted seabass from the ice-packed raw bar on which they are displayed.
Together with partner Andreas Tsavos, Chef Wahler has transformed the former Thasos restaurant into a culinary paradise, with a mixture of Greek influences and global flavors he knows from childhood. “Chinese, Japanese and Italian are my comfort foods,” says the New Jersey-born chef, who’s retained a hint of an accent with all the exuberance one would expect from a Jersey boy. “My grandmother Gloria had me eating sushi and sashimi at age 8, and continuously expanded my palate throughout childhood. In high school, I was her dinner date to experience some of the best restaurants Manhattan had to offer.” His face lights up when he talks about Grandma Gloria, who lives in the area and will no doubt become a Nisi regular.
“She always had a love for good food and taught me at a young age that excellent food was worth the experience,” he says.
Nisi is Chef Wahler’s first foray into restaurant ownership and has the former Hell’s Kitchen contestant and veteran of celebrated Gramercy Tavern, Spice Market and Nobu restaurants channeling years of culinary passion to create dishes that burst with flavor. A common Greek salad becomes an uncommon highlight, with fans commenting they would come back for that dish alone. Flavorful appetizers include The Nisi Grilled Octopus, tender Mediterranean octopus in a gigante bean purée; Shrimp Saganaki, wild American shrimp, grated tomato sauce and melted feta served in a cast-iron pan; lightly fried Zucchini Chips accompanied by tzatziki; Marinated Anchovies with crostini, grated tomato, lime essence, micro cilantro, fresh ground pepper and garlic oil, Faroe Island salmon tartar with cucumber ginger salsa and wasabi aioli, and the clearly popular flaming Kefalograviera cheese that seemed to fly by the table every few minutes. Appetizers are varied and abundant, making them perfect for those with lighter appetites or for a night of sharing à la Greek family dinner.
The kitchen is a flurry of activity, with Chef Wahler accompanied by a team that includes Greek natives who have shared their family recipes, as well as Chef de Cuisine Tiffany Yuken, who makes the most mouthwatering olive Ciabatta bread that’s brought to the table with olive oil at the start of every meal.
Entrée highlights include fresh wood-grilled Australian lamb chops with lemon-roasted potatoes, and crispy skin Faroe Island salmon that is pan-seared and served with quinoa tabbouleh. The marinated Amish chicken skewers are beautifully seasoned, accompanied by Crimini mushroom, sweet baby peppers, red onion and aromatic orzo. The locally and internationally caught fresh fish from the raw bar is a must-have and can be served either grilled, pan-fried or the Nisi specialty—baked in a sea-salt crust, then skinned and deboned tableside with flourish and finished with parsley, lemon and olive oil if so desired (the gentleman whose specialty seems to be this delicate dance with knife and napkin will ask about adding the finishes). Not only is the fish exceptionally fresh and flavorful, but a guilt-free night out for workout buffs averse to additional oils or calories.
Desserts are an abundance of traditional Greek sweets with a modern spin, including the light yet richly flavored Galaktoboureko— orange-vanilla semolina custard wrapped in phyllo dough.
Nisi’s impressive wine list features more than 170 bottles of well-priced varietals from Greece, New Zealand, France, Lebanon, Germany, Chile, the U.S. and more global wine-producing regions. Cocktails use ingredients such as lavender, thyme and chamomile for a burst of refreshing and natural flavor. A favorite, the Mediterranean Tea, is an elixir of Absolut Wild Tea vodka, lavender, simple syrup, lemon juice and fresh ginger.
Stepping into Nisi is like stepping into a stylish Greek villa, complete with amber lights seen from exterior cut-out window squares. Created by famed Greek designer Angelos Angelopoulos, the interior is a mixture of polished concrete floors, white-washed wood planked walls and woven chairs, punctuated by dramatic design elements including a seashell chandelier, a driftwood sculpture and a massive cluster of 35 inverted baskets lighting the 25-seat bar, behind which old black and white Greek movies captivate with silent yet dramatic conversations. The welcome is warm and inviting, setting the tone for evenings of Greek cuisine that is light, fresh, healthy and filled with variety to tempt many return visits.
Nisi is located at 3330 East Oakland Park Boulevard, just one block west of A1A, and serves dinner Tuesday through Sunday. The restaurant opens at 5 p.m. each evening and closes at either 10, 11 or midnight depending on the night. Valet parking is complimentary. Reservations are recommended by calling 954-200-6006.