I had been having the hardest time finding a truly superb restaurant close to home since I moved to Long Island a few years ago. Knowing I’m a foodie (yes, and a fashionista…they can mutually exist) friends often tell me, “Oh you have to go try this place or that place” and frankly, after coming from NYC they just aren’t that good. OK, I’m a bit of a food snob. I admit it. So when my little sister from another mister, Michelle Medoff told me I must try Lola Mediterranean Restaurant in Great Neck, NY I trusted her. Why? Well we are technically the same person with a few decades separating us and she lives in LA but Lola is her go-to restaurant when she is in her hometown visiting her family.
On a Saturday night a little over a month ago my husband and I found ourselves with cancelled dinner plans, with a sitter. I was not going to let that opportunity go to waste so I texted Michelle for a dinner recommendation and she said, “Let me see if I can get you in to Lola” (she knows people who know people). Sure enough we secured a hard-to-come-by reservation and were sitting at the bar enjoying a cocktail by 8:30pm.
Once seated at our table, we were greeted by Executive Chef Lenny Messina (wow, Michelle has pull) and I told him to guide us on what to order. I really wanted the brussel sprouts but my husband hates them so we settled on the evening’s special hummus which happened to be served with a mound of delicious brisket in the center along with freshly baked warm pita bread. Lenny also sent out an order of the cauliflower salad and my husband who usually does not touch cauliflower helped me finish it…it was that good. For our main dishes we shared the Lamb Malawach which is basically a pizza with spiced ground lamb, tahini, onion, pine nuts and cilantro. All pizza should taste this good and it was honestly one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten. Since I knew Lola was known for foie gras I ordered the roasted organic chicken with seared foie gras (you can add a slice of seared foie gras to any entree for $10, and you should). It was outstanding but my husband and I could not eat even half of the main courses so we brought the rest home and fought over the leftovers Sunday night.
Did we have room for dessert? No. Did we order one? Hell yes! I would have to find room in my stomach for a mouthful of the Halva Parfait which is made of tahini, Silan date honey and shredded halva which is indescribably addictive and unlike any dessert I have ever had before. Needless to say I had a few bites.
I left so thrilled (and stuffed) to have found a stellar restaurant a mere 15 minutes from my house and knew I’d have to come back soon with a bigger group of people so I could taste more on the menu. I started bugging Michelle that we have to go together the next time she is in town.
The meal reminded me of a restaurant I went to when I was a teenager on a family trip to Israel. It was also the first time I ever had fioe gras in my life. It was such a memorable meal because I had no idea Israeli food could be so good and it was also the gateway to a life seeking out foie gras. Therefore I did a little research on Lola when I got home.
Lola Mediterranean Restaurant BACKSTORY
Owner and chef Michael Ginor is also co-founder, co-owner, and President of Hudson Valley Foie Gras and New York State Foie Gras which is one of best Foie Gras producers the country. All the duck, chicken and Foie Gras served at Lola is is free-range and organic from their farm.
Even though Michael is US born (and graduated from Brandeis University and has an MBA from New York University) he chose to join the Israeli Defense Forces in 1988. He served as a Captain in the Gaza Strip, as a patrol commander and as the Israeli Defense Forces spokesman. It was in Israel that Michael discovered the potential of modern-age Foie Gras processing and the possibilities of better production so he came back here to do so. Michael actively pursued his dream by establishing what is today a major world force in Foie Gras production. By 1998, the company distributed its moulard duck products through a network of 75 domestic distributors extending throughout the United States, and beyond to Argentina, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Venezuela. Hudson Valley Foie Gras has received numerous prestigious awards. Both Michael and his partner were inducted into the James Beard Foundation 2001 Who’s Who of Food and Beverage.
Today Michael is very involved in the culinary world and travels all over the world creating and organizing gourmet and charitable events, workshops and demonstrations. He is also very involved in The James Beard Foundation and serves as a member of the National advisory Board as well as The Culinary Institute of America, New England Culinary Institute, Meals on Wheels,The Robert Mondavi Master Chefs Program, The Television Food Network, The Masters of Food and Wine, Taste of the Hudson Valley Festival, and the Zurich Food & Wine Festival among numerous others.
Even with his busy travel schedule he opened Lola 9 years ago in Great Neck, NY where he resides with his family. When it first opened Lola was known as a high-end, quality concept restaurant where you went for special occasions and large tasting dinners. Two years ago, Michael brought on Executive Chef Lenny Messina who won the American Culinary Federation Student Team National Championship and worked at restaurants in NYC and The Hamptons. When Lenny came on board they decided the restaurant needed to go in a different direction. They closed for a bit to revamp and reopened with still a high quality menu but one that is lighter and serves small plates that are meant for sharing. The vibe is more hip like that in NYC and since the menu changes at least once a season (sometimes twice depending on the seasonal ingredients the chefs want to feature) there is always something new to taste prompting loyal customers to come back often. Their goal is to be innovative, high quality, ever changing and always on the forefront. In fact, I learned the restaurant now has a very strong customer base (which is why it can be hard to get a reservation). That’s OK, you can eat at the bar.
Lenny is always there (in the kitchen and out greeting the regulars) but Michael is in the kitchen whenever he is in town and is very much involved in the menu. It is a collaborative effort.
MY SECOND VISIT
Last time Michelle was in town I asked her when we were going to Lola and she said “I’m going with my family tonight, come with us!” So I did. Hey, with a larger group I would get to try more items on the menu! In preparation I ate practically nothing that entire day and did not drink alcohol (even wine, I KNOW) with dinner so I could consume more calories (and drive). So get ready to see what we ate!
Luckily Michelle’s family is not only awesome and made me feel like one of their family, they order much like my own family does…one of everything and all must share! We basically left the decisions up to Lenny with only one caveat, there had to be brussel sprouts! So out came dish after dish and one was better than the next.
In conclusion it took a little over 3 years but I have finally found “my restaurant.” My mother is now dying to try the restaurant that reminds me of that fabulous meal in Israel (and we will go the next time she visits). Or if you ever want to take me out to eat near me…well I welcome you to Long Island. It’s well worth the trip.
113A Middle Neck Rd.
Great Neck, NY 11021
Photos: Fountain Of 30