The Mediterranean Kitchen

Photographs by Douglas Friedman

Somebody once asked me what the restaurant business is like, and I said, ‘It’s like giving a dinner party every night,’ ” says Nicola Kotsoni, who owns the Village Italian stalwart Il Cantinori and Flatiron Greek restaurant Periyali with her husband, Steve Tzolis. “And I really like giving dinner parties.”

Growing up in a big family in Greece, people constantly rotated in and out of Kotsoni’s home. “In Greece, people are very hospitable. If somebody comes by and you’re about to have dinner, you insist they stay,” she says. At one of the couple’s other homes, in the medieval town of Patmos, Greece, Tzolis even keeps the door open so anyone is free to pop in. “Usually you don’t have anything to worry about, like burglars,” she says. “When people would wander in, Steve would ask them, ‘Do you want a drink?’ ”

When Kotsoni bought her 20-by-30-foot five-story Soho townhouse for $700,000 twenty years ago, she didn’t think she’d do a lot of entertaining. “The whole house was terrible!” she says, plus it felt small. She gutted the entire place, and turned the below-street-level bottom floor into a kitchen, filling it with tiles and a coffee table from Morocco and antiques from France and Italy. Then she found herself hosting parties for up to 100 people. Nine years ago, she extended the house twenty feet into the garden to accommodate more guests. “We entertain so much,” she says. “It’s a Greek thing.”

The top half of this two-tiered fireplace, one of eight in her house, is fully functional, but Kotsoni prefers to grill in the garden. Kotsoni does elaborate flower arrangements for her restaurants Il Cantinori and Periyali, so when she’s in the flower district, she grabs some blossoms for home, too. Photo: Douglas Friedman

The sink is original to the house and likely from the mid-1800s. Kotsoni has had its peeling enamel refinished multiple times. Photo: Douglas Friedman

When she entertains, Kotsoni likes to make a pasta and something Greek, like a spinach pie or a big Greek salad drizzled with lemon and olive oil. Photo: Douglas Friedman

Kotsoni imported this zellige tile work from Morocco after she fell in love with the style while researching design for her now-closed Moroccan restaurant, Chez Es Saada. “It’s little pieces of tile that are cut up into stars and placed in cement like a mosaic,” she says. Photo: Douglas Friedman

Kotsoni won this 1800s Anglo-Indian cabinet at a Christie’s auction. The French tables and chairs and Italian chandelier are from the forties and were purchased at Marché Paul Bert at the Paris flea market Les Puces de Saint-Ouen. Photo: Douglas Friedman

The Mediterranean Kitchen