Like most people, my dad was a lot of things, for both the better and the worse: a great and loyal friend to his friends; a talented, creative person that, I think, could have learned anything he wanted to; but he was also a drunk and kind of a prick to his family. And finally he was Greek, full blooded, and a really great cook. It is because of him that I started to cook when I was very young. He made it normal for a guy to cook. And it is because of him that I grew up with Greek food. While that does not make me an expert, it does give me a background and a point of comparison when I eat at a Greek restaurant. I have never understood why Greek food isn’t more popular around here, why there aren’t more Greek restaurants. It baffles me, because Greek food can be like and very healthy. It can also be heavy and rib-sticking. I have only been to a few Greek restaurants, and have not been impressed. I have found one I thought served very good food, even popular restaurants, like Simply Greek on Piedmont Avenue. And then I saw Ikaros on Grand Avenue.
I must have passed by it a zillion times, and that is a lot of times. But last night, I decided I wanted to go and I took my friend Mark Fisher, who had never been to a Greek restaurant, ever. In fact, I believe the only Greek food he’d had up until last night was Gyros.
This place looks like a Greek restaurant out of a movie: blue and white and lots of Greekness all over the place, which isn’t bad, but it’s kind of amazing. It’s loud in a very good way, with people having a great time. We sat next to a table near the bar (beautiful bartender, by the way: I think I am in love) and next to a large table full of Greeks having a a lot of fun.
So we sat down and studied our menus. It was full of pretty standard (to me) Greek stuff: Mousaka, Pastitsio, grilled lamb chops, chicken with lemon . . . Mark, being adventurous, decided on a Gyro with fries. I wasn’t sure which way to go. I mean, I know what to pick the first time I go to a BBQ joint: ribs. I always judge a BBQ joint by their ribs. At a Chinese place I always order Mongolian Beef or Schezwan Chicken the first time. They may not be fancy or exotic or even particularly authentic, but they are dishes I am familiar with and ones that I know that I like. But I don’t have such a standard of comparison for a Greek place.
So I reached back into the past and chose something my dad made a lot of, something I make to this day and one of my all time favorite chicken recipes: Grilled chicken marinated in lemon, olive oil, garlic, oregano. I know this dish well, it’s light and easy to make. So if they screw it up, the place is not worth even reviewing. This dish is called Chicken Lemonato.
While I was making up my mind, I was getting all nostalgic, too, and I couldn’t let my friend get away without trying some of the dishes of my youth. So I ordered a keftedes appetizer and two cups of Avgolemono soup. I also had a Trumer Pils, which was brought over by our lovely bartendress.
The soup came first and it was thick and rich, with lots of chicken bits and rice in it. It was thicker than the soup I grew up with. That is not to knock this soup, just an observation. I would have liked a little more lemon, but this is their recipe, not mine and this soup was very yummy. Mark gave it his approval, which was very good. It is always nice when you share something that you love with a friend and they like it too. It is especially fulfilling when that thing has been part of your entire life.
So we had our soup and we talked. Well, I talked mostly, about growing up with Greek food. And then came the keftedes. These were different than the ones I grew up with. Again, not a negative criticism, just a personal observation. I grew up with seasoned mini-burgers that were dredged in flour and pan fried. These were little meatballs and deep fried (I think), and they came with what I believe was a kind of tzatziki sauce, though it tasted like it was made of cream cheese or sour cream rather than yogurt. If it did have either one of those creams, I am all for it. this stuff was rich and flavorful without being heavy-handed. So I had a meatball with some of this sauce and it was awesome, well seasoned and balanced and the meat stood up to the sauce very nicely. These guys got the Mark Fisher approval as well. So far, so good.
Next up, the main course. I don’t know much about Gyros. Confession: I have never had one. Which means that I now have to go try one. Mark said his was good. I don’t know, I didn’t try it. I was too happy with my chicken. It was great. The waiter brought a big plate full of food: half a grilled chicken, steamed veggies to the left and pilaf to the right (I had the option of pilaf, orzo salad or various kinds of potatoes).
The chicken was great: tasty, not over seasoned, not over cooked or under cooked. It was almost little dad used to make: he was a little more heavy-handed with the lemon. The rice in the pilaf was a little soft for my taste, but the flavor was really good and the seasoning did not overpower the flavor of the rice. The veggies were pretty standard, surf-and-turf issue veggies that ( I assume) come to the resto pre-cut and ready to cook. They weren’t bad, they just weren’t great and did not stand up to everything else.
I couldn’t finish all my main course, which is saying something, since I can eat a lot of food. So it got boxed up.
Mark and I finished the meal with the Greek coffee and a piece of baklava. I mean, you cannot go into a Greek resto without having baklava for dessert and their bakalava is pretty damned big. I mean, Mark and I split one piece. I have only had Greek coffee one other time and I cannot remember what it was like, only that I had it. So I really have nothing to compare this to. All I can say was the Greek coffee at this resto is an espresso cup full with two thirds coffee and one third grounds. I know that grounds are normal, but I am not sure how many are supposed to be there. Also, the coffee was not as strong as I was expecting: again, not a bad thing, as it was pretty string coffee.
Anyway, the upshot here is that I really dig this resto and am definitely going back. In fact, I already know what I want: Gyouvetsi meh Arni (orzo with lamb shanks). Another amazing dish my dad used to make. I’ll keep you posted. Oh, and next time I will take my iPod and take some pictures.