Having lived in New York for 13 years, I have a lot of favorites. A favorite part of Central Park (the miniature boat pond), a favorite work of art to visit at the Met (Jackson Pollock’s “One”), a favorite latte (at Cafe Pedlar in my new neighborhood), a favorite walk (Central Park South, running from 5th Ave to Columbus Circle). I could go on and on. Still, I struggle to answer the favorite restaurant question. I need it to be narrowed down: by neighborhood, cuisine, atmosphere, time of day, and I have an answer–several!–for each category. But if pressed to pick an absolute favorite, the restaurant I have loved longest and best is a little Greek place in Morningside Heights called Symposium. It’s nothing fancy and it certainly isn’t on any hot can’t miss culinary lists, but I love it. So much so that I have a copy of the menu hanging on my kitchen wall:
I started going in the fall of my freshman year, when I was hating all of the food at school so much that I was dropping weight. Everything at Symposium was delicious and tasted truly home cooked, and the space was so cozy that eating there was nourishing in more ways than one. Over the years my friends and I went more and more, for birthdays and special dates and eventually even our graduation party. I stayed uptown the longest, so I’ve had the luxury of going back the most. When I visit now, it feels a little like going home–the headwaiter asks after my old roommates by name, and always wants to know how my family is. If you’re really special to me, I take you to Symposium.
The menu hasn’t changed over the years, but my order has, in phases. In the beginning and for the longest time it was lamb souvlaki. Then pasticio, which tastes like Christmas to me. Now, before I can even open my mouth to order, the waiter asks me, “shrimp santorini?” And the answer is yes. Shrimp sprinkled with feta and baked in a delicious tomato sauce, my consistent order for the last several years. So when I saw a recipe for Shrimp with Feta on Dinner: A Love Story, I instantly pinned it. But I wasn’t inspired to actually make it until a few weeks ago, when I came across a recipe for Greek-Style Braised Green Beans on theKitchn. The recipe looked great, but it was this comment that sold me: “thank you! i miss the braised green beans from my favorite greek restaurant in nyc, symposium. they tossed in some peas and okra, too.” Kismet.
I invited Molly to join me for an at-home Symposium night, since we’ve eaten there together more times than I could count. The two recipes fit together really nicely: the green beans braise for 45-60 minutes, so I got them going and then used many of the same ingredients in the shrimp. The beans smelled fantastic pretty immediately, and it was lovely to have them simmering away while I kept working. Just like theKitchn commenter pointed out, Symposium does add peas, and so did I (tho I skipped the okra). Other than that small addition, I stuck like glue to the recipe, and was really pleased with the way the beans came out. They had a nice deep flavor that felt really close to the original. I can see making them again and again, even when I’m not having a Symposium night.
Tho my original inspiration was the Dinner: A Love Story recipe, I googled around and got ideas from several others for both shrimp santorini and shrimp saganaki, trying to recreate the Symposium flavors. I think I came pretty close! It’s not quite as rich as the original, but it’s a good place to start. I might consider swapping red wine for the white I added next time, to see if that would give a little more depth. I would have liked to get the cheese a little more brown and bubbly, the way they do at Symposium, but fitting my skillet into my broiler was never going to happen. I’d experiment with a different pan next time to see if I could change that up.
Beyond a little onion and garlic chopping, each recipe is fundamentally just an add and stir and leave alone affair, which made it nice and easy for a weeknight company dinner. Molly and I ate our servings up and went back for seconds, which I think is a sign of success. She very sweetly said that my versions came close to the restaurant tastes, and I did think they were good (and simple) enough to make again…but there’s no beating the originals.
I ended up with a lot of sauce left over once I had scooped out and finished all the shrimp–it’s great over pasta or rice, especially when combined with leftover green beans.
symposium style shrimp santorini
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
28 oz can of tomatoes–I used crushed, because the Symposium dish is really saucey, but a lot of recipes recommend using a drained can of diced tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon oregano
as many shrimp as you want to eat!
2 handfuls crumbled feta
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven at 425. In an oven-proof skillet, saute the garlic in olive oil til soft. Add the tomatoes, wine, and oregano and simmer til sauce reduces a bit, around ten minutes. Add the shrimp and cook til pink, just 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle on the feta, and put in the oven for 5-10 minutes, until the cheese is nice and melty. If the pan will fit, a quick minute under the broiler would probably be great. Add salt and pepper to taste, and finish with a squeeze of lemon if you happen to have one lying around from your green beans. Serve with lots of crusty bread to scoop up the sauce.