Nerai is located just a few steps from Madison Avenue on 55th Street, and no doubt it caters to an extensive "Madison Avenue" expense-account clientele. Our visit was for a special occasion. We enjoyed our dinner - and the overall experience - very much, from reception to dessert.
Our reservation table was not available when we arrived, but the manager promptly made other arrangements. We had asked for a quieter table, away from a busing station, and the hostess and manager had already noted that request. We were escorted upstairs to the more secluded (but still quite lively) dining area. Seating was on very a comfortable, uncrowded leather banquette. Our table was spacious, elegant and well-lighted.
A slightly-too-eager sommelier inquired about wine, presenting Nerai's extensive list. We chose individual glasses ($16) rather than a bottle on this occasion. We were not in a hurry.
Although we considered Nerai's prix fixe multi-course dinner options, we were attracted to enough other choices that we decided to order a la carte. We shared two appetizers, Spanikopita ($16) for 3 round 1.5" "parcels" containing spinach, artichokes, dill and feta... and a nice fig-and-greens salad delightfully combining both colors and flavors. Both appetizers were delicious and beautifully presented.
Our main dish (not called a main dish on their menu), "Orzotto Thalassino" (seafood orzo $36), was wonderful. A generous selection of octopus, shrimp, mussels and calamari nestled atop a tender pile of golden-white, perfectly cooked orzo. Our mushroom risotto ($29) was also excellent, including porcini, cremini, beech and shitakes. ("Main" dishes, which we did not try, included chicken, duck, filet mignon, lamb, scallops and four kinds of fish. $34-$44)
Desserts were pieces de resistance. Seriously. We ordered two desserts (unnecessary) because we couldn't agree on a choice. Beautifully presented and generously portioned (easily shareable), our white chocolate mousse ($16) was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Our "Saragli" ($15) turned out to be a multi-feature small dessert platter containing two heavenly honey baklava rolls, a small ball of pistachio gelato, a delightful slice of sesame-honey brittle, and a portion of sweet tahini, on a plate dusted with pistachio crumbles. Every component was heavenly.
Service at Nerai was absolutely attentive, as it should be in an establishment of this caliber, but never intrusive. Used plates silently disappeared with permission, silverware replaced and dishes served never too quickly. Our table was "captained" by an attentive waiter and served by prompt assistants. Evidence of the high level of service: our "captain" mentioned that there was a "special" available that night, but he said he would not describe it, since he was aware of our shellfish allergy (pre-noted-in-our-reservation). Kudos for not only observing that information, but even getting it to the server at our table! We were not rushed at all through our meal, and had the feeling no one was in a hurry to turn the table.
Overall, Nerai was an expensive, but commensurately pleasurable experience, both in terms of ambiance/service and quality and presentation. We would definitely visit again when the occasion warrants. Or if we were on an expense account.