- Zach Georgopoulos
I've been in search of Athenian (or even Parisian) style gyros recently, only to be consistently disappointed. At almost every gyro joint in town, even if the meat is right the trimmings are all wrong -- thin dry pita (or lavash, even!), rather than the thick, grilled and slathered with meat-drippings and oil stuff of my Athenian childhood; flavorless tzatziki, and usually too many Middle Eastern flavors (these may be excellent on a Schwarma, but don't call it a Gyro then). Anyhow, I was walking up Pine and thought I'd stop by Mykonos on Polk (@ Pine) figuring it was just the successor-in-interest of Steve's gyro place, a truly filthy establishment if there ever was one. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a full dinner menu and places to sit (and relative cleanliness), so I decided to forego the Gyro and try a full dinner. Good, though not inspired, stuff. The menu included a full complement of standard lunch-time-in-Athens fare -- Mousaka, Pastitso, Gemistes (stuffed tomatoes and peppers), roasted potatoes, Keftedes (little fried meatballs), etc... I had the night's special, Arni Kokinisto (lamb shank in a red sauce), which came with roasted potatoes and the ubiquitous "Greek salad" (pet peeve: nobody, but nobody, in Greece uses lettuce, or even knows what it tastes like -- why in hell are "Greek salads" over here always lettuce-based?). The lamb was well cooked and not too sinewy, but it lacked oregano and could have used more garlic; and the potatoes were quite nicely quartered and roasted with a mixture of spices -- something like my grandmother might have made (except she would have used lemon). While I was eating, the owner/chef (I've forgotten his name already) took a big tray of Pastitso out of the oven that made me wish I had ordered it instead, but I was still happy with the lamb (it just wasn't quite "Greek" enough -- really hard to say why). Wine selection was limited (the only Greek wine being Retsina), and service slow. Probably a good idea to order some simple appetizer to tide one over while the one-cook one-waiter combo do their slow thing. Most impressive was the Greek coffee afterward -- this is the only place I've been to in the U.S. that didn't make it with too much water! It was tiny (as it should be) and full of muddy grounds at the bottom (as it should be).
In all, a good, authentic experience. Not like Grandma's cooking (Mom just never was much of a cook, bless her), but a lot like the small, nondescript lunch-time restaurants in or around Athens (which are nothing like the much better restaurants on the islands). But, since my favorite hole-in-the-wall Athens Restaurant (on Taylor) is now defunct (something to do with fencing stolen goods, imigration violations, and other assorted crimes and misdemeanors -- Greek thugs are often very good chefs), and since the only other Greek places in town are a wee bit too chi-chi for my tastes, I will return.
Oh, the price: $20, including tip, two full glasses of Retsina, and the coffee, got me out of there. Basic food price was $8.95.
I actually had a Greek salad with no lettuce at Evvia in Palo Alto, though, as I'm sure you already understand, restaurateurs usually provide what they think customers expect rather than what their own native grandmas prepared.They probably fear American customers will feel cheated if they order a "salad" and it comes without greens, though why they can't offer two versions on the menu I don't know.
This fear by restaurateurs of losing business to authenticity has always been the bane of customers who are lovers of ethnic cuisine, though even I have to confess that certain health considerations have compromised my own search for total authenticty in recent years. And, in fairness, various local and federal regs also affect what kitchens can and cannot do.
re: Melanie Wong
I didn't actually try the Gyro, though that's what I was in search of when I wandered in. I'll give it a shot next time and let you know if it compares to the ones I remember so fondly from way back when...
As for the jail-bird chef at Athens -- I have a feeling he's likely to have been deported!
Thanks for the tip, Zach! I wanted to mention that Myconos has a decent (if not perhaps all that Greek) vegetarian plate with hummus, falafel, dolmades, etc. I went there with a bunch of friends last week, some of whom were vegetarian, and had a fine dive-y time. One last advantage of this restaurant: it's open till 11:30PM on weekdays, 3AM on weekends (although if you're in this neighborhood at 3AM, you're probably looking for trouble...).