A new restaurant specializing in Greek cuisine is opening downtown this summer.
Earth + Ocean Restaurant Group, which operates other popular restaurants in Hyde Park and Downtown, will introduce a new concept to Cincinnati with Okto, slated to soft-open in late July.
The decision to focus on Greek cuisine began with mass surveys to Cincinnati residents, explained Anthony Castelli, the Marketing Director at E + O Restaurant Group.
He said they wanted to deliver something that could make everyone happy, and the overwhelming responses to the surveys included fresh Mediterranean food, with healthy vegetarian, and vegan options.
The ownership at E+O loved the idea, Castelli said.
"We consider ourselves a very family-oriented, family-run restaurant group. Two of our owners are Greek, and their heritage is significant to them. There are aspects of Greek culture, customs of celebrations and family and sincerity and togetherness that everyone can love," Castelli said.
Then began a nationwide search for an executive chef to bring the concept to reality.
Castelli said they were blown away with Chef Wissam Baki whose worked in top restaurants in different countries.
Originally from Lebanon, Baki got his start at a Mediterranean restaurant in Beirut, eventually working as a chef in Dubai, focusing on Greek and Italian cuisine.
He also opened a steakhouse in Canada before going to Miami to work at Estiatorio Milos, a well-known Greek restaurant, and then ASTRA, an Italian restaurant.
"We were very thrilled to bring him on the team," Castelli said.
Baki said he believed in the vision for Okto and loved how the team at E+O truly felt like a family, which sealed his decision to move to Cincinnati.
While coming up with menu items for Okto, Baki said it was essential to work with fresh ingredients, make things in-house and offer healthy options that work for everyone.
"He blew our minds with all the different options he had and the way he puts dishes together. And what's important to us is to have fresh and approachable food," Castelli said. "That doesn't mean we won't play it safe with menu items, we'll serve things like Octopus Carpaccio, but it's going to be pushed to you and represented to you in a way that's very approachable."
Octopus Carpaccio, one of Chef Baki's signature dishes, features thinly sliced octopus marinated in a special house-blend served with pickled onions, capers, lemon oil, radish, and peas.
Castelli said presentation is a big part of enhancing people's dining experience, so patrons can also expect exciting options like Flaming Saganaki, lit table-side, and table-side de-boned Branzino.
The drink menu offers a wide array of Greek wines and cocktails infused with fresh honey and topped with edible flowers. Castelli said drink options will range from strong and boozy to non-alcoholic for those who just want something fun to sip on.
He said Okto will offer fine dining in an upbeat environment where everyone can feel at home.
"We're known for a relaxed, semi-traditional dining experience. And we like to say about 9 p.m. the lights go down and music goes up. And that inspires people to stay longer," Castelli said. "It's just a great place to be. And you can get amazing food, great drinks in the process, and have a good time and feel like everyone around you are friends and family."
E+O Group is looking to open Okto on July 28 with limited reservations until the grand opening in late August.
Before the grand opening, those who want to visit the restaurant will have to call ahead to secure a reservation.
There are also plans to eventually open Okto during lunch with lighter menu options.
"We're here to offer a great experience. At E+O, the person is important to us. We get to know people's names, and it's beautiful when people can feel special and at home at our restaurant. That's what we want to do."