SFLS #21 Greek Food Festival Chowdown
On Friday, solly rounded up the lunch hounds to check out the opening hours of the San Francisco Greek Food Festival (www.sfgreekfoodfestival.org). The upper left picture shows the eager chowhounds at the head of the buffet line. The lower left shot is my own tray with moussaka, pork souvlaki, dolmades, and a little cup of skordalia. The upper right photo is Dereks tray loaded down with pilaf, pastitsio, lemon roast chicken, pork souvlaki, rice pudding, taramasalata, skordalia, Dutch crunch rolls (!), and diet Coke which set him back nearly $30. The lower right quadrant depicts baklava and the honey cookie. The church volunteers prepared the food.
As others have mentioned, the food from the buffet line was rather disappointing and mostly under seasoned. The filling for the spanakopita was a bit tired and listless. We liked the tiropita, which had almost too much cheese filling, better. The chicken could have been good but had lost something being held in a warming oven and on the steam table. The béchamel sauce topping on the pastitsio and moussaka had a nice nutmeg note. I liked the moussaka until I got to the potato layer on the bottom that was strangely sweet. The pastitsio was nice and meaty but lacked something. The taramasalata had an acrid, sour note.
Luckily, we overheard a woman at a nearby table rave about the stuffed bell pepper and we sent our late arrival, Malik, for a sample. This turned out to be the consensus favorite. Also good were the braised Romano beans, infused with savory flavors, that Alex had the good sense to order. The skordalia was nice with sweet garlicky goodness.
Besides the desserts depicted below, we also had galaktoboureko, kourabies, and the cylindrical thingie wrapped with fine birds nest filo. The chockfull of nuts baklava was the pick of the litter, and the others did not invite a second bite.
At lunch time, there's no admission charge even if you have a coupon. But the gyro, grilled lamb chop, and loukoumades stands were idle. Maybe those offered tastier treats in the evening.
A couple special guests, my parents, joined us for lunch. The Salinas Greek community keeps them supplied with pastries at Christmas time and they have enjoyed their hospitality (and whole lambs roasted on a spit) at the church picnic. My mother would agree with Richie that the phyllo offerings, baklava and tiropita, were the best items. After last week's emergencies, I wanted the hounds to see the happy ending to the drama.
well i stayed til the bitter end friday nite, powered by ouzo fumes and the music of 'mediterranean soul'. i was happy to find that ouzo does improve my dancing (from my perspective anyway).
much earlier in the evening, i called in to chow central to get the intel report, and was directed towards the stuffed bell pepper. unfortunately, i found that it was actually underseasoned for my taste, and i had the same complaint with my first couple lamb ribs. but i was full, and let the rest of the ribs cool too much. so i went back out to the grill, and the man was nice enough to put them back on the grill and give me two fresh, sizzling hot ones. these were much better. i assume they were sitting in the marinade that much longer, and the flavor was henceforth improved. they were also grilled darker, which i like, especially on this kind of rib which is not 'frenched' (i don't know why people 'french' lamb ribs. the meat/fat/gristle ratio out on the bone there is perfect!).
this was probably the best value too. five meaty ribs and a bit of pasta salad for ten bucks. for some reason, (probably the chilly breeze) everyone seemed to bypass the outdoor stands and spend the whole evening inside. big mistake.
and i'd agree that the desserts were generally good, and the wine tasting was interesting also. six wines were poured in a souvenier glass for $8. there was a greek white varietal, a chardonnay, two versions of a greek red varietal, a cab, and a fortified muscat. all weren't bad and relatively cheap, but i was most impressed with the muscat and the reserve of the greek red.
finally, the sierra club folks i was hanging with were led by a greek festival regular, who told me the oakland fest was a little better, and the sacto one on labor day was the best. it's in some huge indoor hall, and the dancing is supposed to be fabulous.
I've been to the Sacramento one. It's in the convention center. A huge space but it's actually pretty empty in terms of vendors and booths. The variety of food everyone has described at this SF festival sounds better. Although they did have a really fantastic dessert in Sac; I forget the name but it's basically little fried donuts covered in honey. I think I was there on the last day in the afternoon so maybe it was winding down by then. But it really didn't seem like anything special and I don't plan on returning.
Thanks for the reports everyone. Up next: Zuni Cafe and Yunza.
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loved the lamb, too, and i agree about leaving them un-frenched. it makes for a far greasier and delectable treat. the guy at the grill seasoned ours with oregano (with his impeccably clean hands!) and lemon before serving, and i thought that was a nice touch.
we also had the fried saganaki (sp?)/kasseri cheese. flamed with metaxa and served with some pita, this was a new addition to the sf greek festival.
i also picked up some taramosalata, kasseri, fresh figs, and greek olive oil at the greek market.
i usually find the outdoor booths more tasty and enjoyable than the buffet inside, although it was a little windy on Friday night.
we brought home some of everything from the to-go counter as is our custom each year. pork skewers were a little dry, but the veggies were nice. moussaka and pastitio were quite good... very nutmegy. The tyropita had a shatteringly flaky and buttery crust with just enough cheese. Chicken was o.k., but a little dry. got a super gyro, too... really good.
did you try the ouzo martini? ayah!
I'm sorry to have missed the more interesting repast at night, as well as the dancing. Now I'm more than curious about how well you might samba if we could ply you with a few caipirinhas. (g)
I left without tasting any of the wines. Solly reported today that the Samos muscat dessert wine was the favorite of the lunch crowd. Did you have a chance to try any Greek reds made of Xynomavro? Don't know if it was available, but the Boutari Grande Reserve can be wonderful - reminiscent of Nebbiolo.
Fwiw, I'll share my mom's take on the hounds she met as I told a few people at today's chow lunch. She referred to them as my "bachelor friends" and finally I asked her why. Apparently from the excited chatter about recent restaurant meals and the "Friday casual" attire, she surmised that the "bachelors" had no one at home to cook or take care of them. (vbg)