“Krasi is the Greek word for wine, but to us it means much more than that,” says Krasi owner Demetri Tsolakis (Committee, Greco), on the verge of opening his new Back Bay wine bar and restaurant. “Krasi means love and life and a way to express yourself. In Greece, you’ll see a lot of people use wine to celebrate the better moments of life and also the not-so-great moments. ‘Here, let’s calm down with some wine, and let’s start talking.’”
Krasi is opening imminently (February 14, if final inspections go as planned) at 48 Gloucester St. in Boston’s Back Bay; it was the storied site of Cafe Jaffa, which closed last year after a nearly 30-year run. Cafe Jaffa regulars will find an entirely refreshed space, with a lighter and airier vibe replacing the bricks, dark wood, and colorful art and lamps of the former tenant. The long, narrow space now features an open chef’s counter, where chef and partner Theo Tsilipanos (Committee) and executive chef Valentine Howell (Locke-Ober, Mastro’s Ocean Club) will aim to make diners feel welcomed as if at home.
“That’s the whole purpose of the restaurant,” says Tsolakis. “Making people feel like they can come in as strangers and leave as friends. We want you bumping elbows with the people next to you. The seating is done that way for a reason, where you’ll strike up a conversation with someone you’ve never met before.”
In addition to Tsolakis and Tsilipanos, Stefanos Ougrinis (Greco) and Tasha Breshinsky (Committee) round out the ownership team.
Here’s a preview of the opening menu, from Krasi’s extensive Greek wine collection to fresh breads, imported cheeses, and plenty of meze.
The drinks: First and foremost, Krasi is a wine bar, featuring an exclusively Greek, natural, biodynamic list. It was no small feat putting together the list, getting Greek winemakers to commit to sending their wines overseas, says Tsolakis.
“Greek winemakers harvest based on quality, not quantity,” he says. “Their vineyards cannot produce thousands and thousands of bottles of wine, so we had to commit to cases beforehand. It was hard, it took a lot of time, and we had to buy a lot of things up front, but we got some really, really rare things on our list.”
“We have some of the first bottles ever produced by certain winemakers from 1995,” Tsolakis says. “We have the last production of Haridimos Hatzidakis, who passed away in 2017. We bought whatever was left of his wine in the United States; he was a well-respected winemaker and was the first to bottle monovarietals like aidani and mavrotragano from Santorini. His daughter has taken over and will no longer be bottling those grapes. We have the last of its kind. We have wine made by monks; we have wine that’s been submerged in the Aegean Sea for five years. We’re going to introduce grapes people have never heard of and probably can’t pronounce or spell, a lot of grapes Greek people don’t even know.”
Despite the rare selection, Tsolakis and his team really want customers to feel comfortable with unfamiliar wines. Like pinot noir? The team will see what you like about it and help you find something Greek that hits the same notes. “We have some great malagousias that people who really enjoy chardonnays will love,” Tsolakis says.
Krasi will open any bottle on its list if a table commits to two glasses of it. “I’m really excited about the wine program,” says Tsolakis. “It tells a story, and it’s really cool. Our wine list is a map of Greece; we can take you on a trip.”
Besides wine, Krasi is serving Greek spirits such as ouzo, tsipouro, mastiha, and tentura.
The fresh-baked breads: Not everyone outside Greece knows how passionate Greeks are about baking, according to Tsolakis, and the breads are not an afterthought at Krasi. All made in-house, the selection will change over time, but the restaurant is starting out with several options.
There’s lagana, a sesame flatbread that’s dairy-free, a nod to Lenten season in Greece. Charoupi — which translates to carob — is a gluten-free bread made of carob pods, with petimezi (pomegranate molasses) and sea salt. “A lot of places in Crete are known for using carob,” notes Tsolakis. And there are tiropita halloumi rolls from central Greece, where chef Tsilipanos is from; they’re reminiscent of Brazilian pao de queijo.
Krasi serves its breads with honey butter with sea salt, churned in-house, and olive oil. “I’m from The Peloponnese,” says Tsolakis. “We’re known for our olive oil.”
The charcuterie and cheese: “Since we’re not allowed to make our own charcuterie, we use New England Charcuterie,” says Tsolakis, “but they have our recipes and use Greek cooking methods. It took about six months to perfect it with them.” The opening menu includes selections such as loukaniko (pork, orange zest, and cognac) and brizola (beef, oregano, and olive oil).
“All our cheeses are imported, and we have some very, very rare cheeses that I haven’t found anywhere in the United States,” says Tsolakis. Currently on the list: graviera, a hard and nutty sheep’s milk cheese from Sitia; domokou, a soft and salty goat’s milk cheese from Domokos; manouri, a semi-soft and creamy sheep’s milk cheese from Macedonia; and more.
The dips: “In Greece, we have a lot of dips,” says Tsolakis. “We dip anything we can, whatever’s left at the table, into a dip. We’ll dip a dip into a dip.”
Dips are accordingly an important part of the Krasi menu. Most notably, there’s tableside tzatziki service (much like tableside guacamole at a Mexican restaurant), where diners can watch it being made and provide input on the level of garlic used.
Krasi is also serving htipiti, a whipped feta and pepper dip from northern Greece, with a bit of a twist: fried chicken skins instead of pita chips. It fits right into one of the current eating crazes in Greece, says Tsolakis — gluten-free.
A third dip on the menu is taramosalata, something found around Greece but with variations in each region. “It might be pink, it might be whiter, it might have a seafood component,” says Tsolakis. The Krasi team is leaning toward Tsolakis’ Peloponnese region on this one, mashing up mullet roe and hardened bread with a lot of olive oil until it turns into a thick, creamy, fishy dip. “We put a shrimp cocktail component to it, kind of like the idea of shrimp and horseradish,” says Tsolakis. It’s served with horiatiko bread (village bread), made in-house and grilled.
The meze: The bulk of the menu is nearly two dozen meze. A hungry group of about four to six people might opt for the Feast of the Gods, one of every meze, as well as the breads and dips, for $349. “Add wine and booze and it’s a whole Greek experience,” says Tsolakis.
Like the rest of the menu, the meze are strongly tied to specific regions of Greece — or at least the hidden nooks and crannies throughout. These aren’t the generic dishes “that you’d see on My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” says Tsolakis. “People think we eat lamb every day; we don’t. We don’t eat much lamb at all. [Greek food] is not just lamb and spinach pies.”
The seasonal salata, for example, currently includes hazelnuts — ”We use a lot of nuts when we cook in Greece, especially in the north,” says Tsolakis. “A lot of people don’t know that.” — and a dressing made of diktamo, a pungent herb found on the island of Crete.
The gigantes, Greek butter beans, aren’t tied to a specific region, but they’re not something a tourist would find in the well-trodden areas. “You have to go to the villages,” says Tsolakis. “Grandma’s house. On any off-the-beaten-path road that leads you into a village, you’ll find gigantes. They’re very hearty and warm, a great thing to have in the winter, especially with a nice glass of red wine.”
The manti comes from the Pontiac region of Greece, something wives used to make for their husbands to put in their pouches and snack on at work. On a recent trip, the Krasi team saw a lot of vegetable versions of manti, so the restaurant is serving a version made of celery root (there’s that gluten-free focus again), stuffed with purple potato, topped with metsovone (a smoky cheese), and garnished with carrot puree and pickled raisins.
There’s also the sofrito, a dish specifically from Corfu, one of the biggest islands after Crete. It’s a dish of veal with a sauce made of white wine vinegar, parsley, shallots, and garlic. “They’re really sauce-heavy in Corfu, and they do a lot of braising,” says Tsolakis.
And then there’s the fricassee. “You won’t find this in restaurants anywhere in Greece,” says Tsolakis. “You’ll find this in grandma’s kitchen — this is your Sunday food. It can be chicken [as it is at Krasi] or lamb or any other meat. The sauce is made with avgolemono, the traditional Greek soup made of egg and lemon. It’s this wonderful comfort food dish that all the Greek moms and grandmas know how to make.”
Overall, Krasi’s food is meant to be ”a regional approach to Greek cuisine with traditional cooking methods,” says Tsolakis. “You’ll taste that the food is heartier, it’s warmer, and it’s something you’re not going to find in main cities like Athens. You’d have to go to the villages, to the islands, to the valleys, grandma’s house.”
Krasi is set to open to the public on Friday, February 14, pending final inspections. Stay tuned for news of Krasi’s sibling and neighbor, a downstairs cocktail bar called Hecate, which will open later in 2020.