Dinner at Kokkari Estiatorio (long)
After hearing the pros and cons about this place here and elsewhere, I figured I'd see for myself. I was mostly driven by curiosity and wondered what the food would be like.
I decided to go at an off-peak hour - today (tuesday) around 8:30ish. Walked in and got a table almost right away. The copper-toned restaurant is divided into two rooms, a more boisterous and loud room in the front, and an ever so slightly tamer room with the open kitchen at the back. There's a little corridor that joins the two rooms together with a few tables that might be a bit more shielded from the rest of the diners there.
I got lucky and got a table with a partial view of the kitchen; and because I was seated right next to that corridor, I could watch the dishes go by.
There were a couple of Greek reds by the glass and since I know nothing about greek wines (and only a little of wines in general), I asked for a recommendation and got a glass ($9) of the megas oenos from the Skouras winery. The waiter even took the time to sketch a map of Greece and point out where the vineyards were. When I asked, he told me that grape was Aghloritiko (hope I got the spelling right) - also called St George's grape. Maybe those more knowledgeable about wine can say something about it. I liked the wine though - medium bodied and very smooth rich fruit, maybe comparable to some of the syrahs I've had.
I picked the salt cod appetizer but couldn't decide on the entree (quail or moussaka or rabbit special). The waiter was very patient and broke the tie by saying "when was the last time you had rabbit?" (It was over a year ago!)
The salt cod appetizer was almost gratin like. It was baked with mashed potatoes and lots of dill with small bite-sized chunks of the fish throughout. I liked it because the fish held together and was slightly resilient instead of being overly flaky. There was also a generous amount of salt in the dish as it should be - it's salt cod afterall. The little triangles of warm pita bread that came with it was good and the spinach salad on the side was even better, punctuated by juicy ripe bursts from cherry tomatoes.
The rabbit was also a good deal. There were 3 cuts of meat - a slippery and juicy leg, a similarly textured shoulder and what I believe to be a deliciously gamy saddle, moist but with coarse meaty fibers, rolled up into something the proportions of a large sausage with the skin outside to keep the moisture and fat in. This came in a basil and red wine sauce on a bed of colorful mix of beans, all of which worked well with the gamy meat.
Dessert was an obvious chocolate trio, not the most creative choice on my part but met expectations. The presentation was delicate and beautiful. A small scoop of rich chocolate ice cream sat on a minature cookie. Next to it is a darker, more bitter chocolate mousse (couldn't taste the honey in it as the menu claimed) on a chocolate flower wafer. The wafer flower is a good thing because it shatters in the mouth for a great textural counterpoint to the thick soft mousse. Lastly, there was a chocholate baklava - with more nuts than filo or choclate and laced with honey. Good - but a but more filo would have provided a better tactile balance.
We've heard about the horrible service someone got here once, and I just want to mention the great service that I got today. Waiter was patient and very competent. He was down-to-earth with no airs or attitude, but he was professional. He gave good recommendations, and checked at every course to make sure everything was fine. When someone else brought me the salt cod appetizer, he came by the table quickly to warn me that it was hot. When my rabbit came, he slipped me a half glass of Cabernet Sauvignon on the house, saying it was a better pairing with the rabbit than the greek red that I got (and indeed it was). I also spied him handling the check split on two credit cards ("please put the wine on my card") at the next table without batting an eyelid, remembering to make sure who was who so that the wine was charged correctly. He introduced himself as Savvas. I'll definitely ask for him the next time if it's at all possible.
So all in all, I had a good time. The food was well prepared and the service was fantastic. I suppose whether you would merely like the food or love it or find it acceptable depends on your tastes. There are no outstanding culinary inventions here. The style is quite rustic, despite the upmarket settings and prices, but the portions are also generous. It wasn't cheap, and it's not the most delicate culinary sensation I've had, but there was enough hearty honest goodness that I would consider returning.