Ethnic Restaurants: What mistakes can they get away with?
I was involved in a discussion regarding Kouzina Estiatorio in Dedham on ethnic restaurants. I felt the place was good even though the salads were only perfunctory because the actual greek dishes were great, their mousakka and pastitsio were very tasty and rich and seemed to be taken seriously. Luther W argued that supermarket tomatoes made the whole place not so good.
I'd be curious to see what others felt.
If I were looking for good mousakka or pastitsio I would still try this place based on your review. I would not go there for souvlanki and salad; but we then live near a Greek restaurant and shopping destination strip and never go out for these dishes, as we prefer to go to our favourite butcher and spanakopita place and when tomatoes are in season, make our own village salad, and thus eat very good Greek meals at home.
It does bother me, for example, to see a decent restaurant featuring a tomato salad on their blackboard specials menu in April, but there are certain dishes non-CH people expect from Greek restaurants and the crappy iceburg salad is one of them, so I am willing to believe your place have some decent dishes.
I rarely order salads in restaurants anyway as it's just a matter of combining raw ingredients and I can do that quickly and easily at home.
Unfortunately, Greek restaurateurs are commonly guilty of putting out less than authentic versions of traditional dishes, and using inferior ingredients. Most Greek restaurants that I've seen (all in the U.S.) follow more of a diner type of model as far as the quality of ingredients, staff, and location. Often, they charge too much for the food also, because some people are willing to pay for it, and that's a shame, because they're not often getting what they pay for. Case in point: I live very close to both a small Greek restaurant and a small diner/ice cream shop. Who do I patronize more often? The diner. Why? because the quality of the diner food (typical American burger, fries, tuna melt type of place) is just as good as the Greek place (gyro, souvlaki, dolmathes, pilafi place), but the food costs half as much. Some of these Greek resto owners think that they are catering to the American crowd by doing things like using less garlic in the tzatziki, and putting together salads with iceburg lettuce. I agree with Luther. The photo says it all. Souvlaki isn't supposed to be made with veggies on the stick along with the meat. In fact, every dish in the picture makes me believe that they're trying to save a buck, and cater to those who don't know any better/don't care. It's not that this "Americanized" type of Greek food can't be good, It's that it's disappointing to see, because the authentic (more accurately; non corner-cutting) versions are infinitely better.
Don't let this negatively influence your opinion on such places, though. I've found that places like this have at least one or two gems on the menu which are worth the money, you just have to find them, and know what to avoid.
Dubya is right: bad or indifferent ingredients are a bad sign. I ate at a couple of Chinese restaurants here in Colombia until one served sliced white bread. Never have eaten Chinese in this country since (not forgiven). The Wednesday night sushi place here is OK (saves me work and the cost of ingredients), but their plating is horrible--the people doing the sushi have clearly never been served sushi by anyone remotely Japanese (forgiven).