Athena Grill Santa Clara...now we're getting somewhere
Tucked away in an industrial park, not far from the norhtern terminus of the San Jose airport runway, sits a most unlikley Bay Area rarity, a good Greek taverna style sit down restaurant. The outdoor seating area is charming, covered with a curved yellow awing with crawling plants covering its metal ribbed supports. The interior is classic Greek joint with white and blue table cloths, whitewashed walls, idyllic scenes of the Cyclades and goodies for sale including Vaso's family estate Kalamata EVOO and a wide range of desserts.
We got comped salads for having to wait a little while for our server and they were if not exactely authentic, they were very fresh with a sprightly vinegrette that dazzled the buds.
Also presented was a generous basket of toasted pita wedges and leavened bread slices that could be dressed with a complimnetary heaoing serving of taramosalta, the fish roe, oil whip that tastes wonderfully like fishy mayo. More importantly, I ordered the tirokafteri, a magnificent whipped concotion feta cheese, metzithra, ricotta, hot peppers and olive oil (described on the menu as spicy but mild---it is was neither) but it was good...very good and completely a unique flavor combination for me.
On to the main courses. Being the first time there we opted for combo platters so we could get a lay of the land. Highlites:
1. Mousaka-- a timeless towering temple of what is good in Greece all stacked up to taste in one bite. Meat, eggplant, potatoes, lemony bechmel, this was a good one
2. Pastisio-- even better than 1. It's mousaka minus the eggplant/potato and plus small tube pasta. I loved the dense meat ragu which left a reddish oil streak on the plate, great for mopping up.
3. Spankopita--usually a greasy, coalesced mess, this stood out as flaky, greaeless with very identifiable/ flavorful spinach and feta filling..lovely and quickly consumed
4. Dolmades--I love and can rarely find the meat and rice combo filling that these chubby winners had inside and the warm lemon sauce really helped things along.
5. Falafel..not strictly Greek but did a good job with crisp exterior and bright green fava bean interior...worth a try
Not so great: Biftekia ( overdone burger), loukanika (overdone sausage), gyro (seemd pre-prepared)
The desserts are house made and if you love Greek sweets they have top notch baklava, galaktoboureko (filo with custrd and lemon zest), ravani (almond cake) and greek cookies.
1505 Space Park Dr
Santa Clara, CA 95054
We LOVE this place. Lamb shank is a favorite of ours. Apparently the restaurant was the owner's retirement project, open originally for lunch and now open for weekday dinners. I hope we can convince her to open for dinner on the weekends. Incidentally, she bottles her own olive oil with olives she grows where she grew up in Messinia, and you can buy it there.
If you go for lunch, get there early. The owner was very friendly, and was concerned when we ordered our lunches to go because of the wait. The lamb shank and baklava were the outstanding choices.
Thanks for reminding me about this place. It put a bee in my bonnet to eat there today.
I last ate there about two years ago. The chicken (shwarma?) sandwiches back then were "good, but not amazing" (GBNA).
Today I tried the pastitsio ($8.95) which included a nice Greek salad, and a complimentary basket of pita and other breads. The bread basket included a "dip of the day," which was pretty bland, and even now I still am not sure what it was. (Clue to owners: make that dip of the day a nice tzadziki or a good garlicky hummus and I'll be back lots.)
I've made pastitsio and have ordered it elsewhere. This is the real deal with a perfectly creamy topping, and I did see the tell-tale red streak on the plate. I would definitely get it again; however, I wish the meat had a little more seasoning - some cinnamon would have perked it up. This was a very filling lunch, plus I got to take half of it home.
Athena is a charming oasis in the middle of an office park area, where you might otherwise assume that the only restaurant you'll find is some craptastic office deli. This place is decorated with all sorts of Greek tchotchkes and maps. There is also a lovely patio.
I almost forgot to mention they make great Greek fries (small $1.95/large $2.95). They come with a lot of the sandwiches, but are worth ordering on their own. They arrive with a purple dipping sauce (olives no doubt) that is addictive.
Sorry, one more thing - I tried the tirokafteri (the whipped feta dip) this visit and my last visit, and it's just much too rich and creamy for me. My friends really liked it and polished it off, but I preferred the bland Dip of the Day. Again, the bread basket needs tzadziki, hummus, or the purple stuff that comes with the fries.
If you enjoy good Greek food, skip this restaurant. Or, at the very least, skip ALL the dips/spreads. I went tonight after reading some glowing rec's here and through a few other sources. The spreads--served in the shape of the ice cream scoop from whence they came--were mostly inedible, ranging from flavorless to bland. Entrees were slightly better: my overcooked lamb was at least seasoned well.
Just a note to let people know that Athena Grill is still great some three years on from these initial reviews. We lucked out tonight that our favorite dip, tirokafterí, was the dip of the day. The lamb shank special with tomato sauce and orzo was just wonderful and went great with a glass of Nemea. The swordfish was another winner, paired nicely with a glass of Moschofilero. There was no galaktoboureko available tonight, but we tried the ekmek for the first time and that was another delicious dessert.
1505 Space Park Dr, Santa Clara, CA 95054