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Kokkari has indeed gone down hill

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I meant to post about this when I went a few weeks ago, but forgot.

However, when I saw Michael Bauer's review in the Chronicle today, I felt I should probably post, as a lot of people will probably be shocked when it gets removed from the top 100.

To me, Kokkari is now like the Slanted Door. Absolutely incredible ambience, but you're paying extra for the ambience, nothing I got there was anything I couldn't have gotten for far less at your average quality Greek place.

On top of that, the dessert was inedibly sour.

The service was also quite rushed

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  1. Based on my most recent experience a few weeks ago, I would disagree.

    On my last visit I felt that the food was consistently as good as it ever was. The friends we took loved it, and if Kokkari has lost any mystery and amazement for me, it is only because of the number of times I have eaten there. -Even then, there is always something succulent and delicious which I am inspired to re-create at home.

    I read Bauer's review. He got poor service mostly. This may sound harsh, but with these boards, yelp etc, Bauer does not sound much more qualified than a chowhound or yelper. That said, if his criticism makes them step up their game to stay on top, I am for it, as I really like this place.

    1 Reply
    1. re: roster

      It's certainly possible that my and Bauer's experiences were the exception.

      However, what I don't get is how a restaurant like Kokkari that is so PR-savvy and image conscious could not recognize Bauer.

    2. I've had mixed experiences with service that has ranged from downright condescending to impeccable, although I will admit that the impeccable service resulted from going with someone who was a regular.

      I'm really sad that Kokkari's food has gone down hill, although I will admit that my last visit there were definite indicators. First off, friend's chicken was dry. It was her first visit and an occasion, so she didn't mention it until prodded if she had enjoyed her meal after we had left and I felt absolutely terrible as Kokkari would have definitely taken it back. That same visit, I ordered the grilled calamari that is stuffed with feta and served with fennel shavings, citrus supremes, and olives. I order this on every visit, but the last time I went the orange had not been cut into supremes and were just segmented. It may sound picky, but believe you me, the textural contrast between grilled calamari and citrus membrane is not at all appealing. This dish went unfinished.

      If anyone says the steak has gone down hill, sign me a heart broken Hound.

      1 Reply
      1. re: adrienne156

        I was at the bar by myself, and they didn't bother to ask me for more bread, and took away the yummy olives I was eating with it; little did I know, my plate was about to come out, less than 5 minutes after I ordered it, which was also very disturbing it.

      2. I never thought it had an uphill.

        What was the sour dessert, out of curiousity?

        6 Replies
        1. re: susancinsf

          Yiaourti Granita

          1. re: susancinsf

            >>I never thought it had an uphill.<<

            Well saud. I also agree with OldTimer that this town has been almost bereft of "real" Greek places. I think my student days in Montreal spoiled me, or at least set an expectation about affordable, delicious, homey Greek food that I gave up looking for here long ago. The food I've had a Kokkari was more creative, more impressive, more stylish... but it left me wishing we had better Greek options here.

            1. re: BernalKC

              San Francisco may not have great homestyle Greek, but Santa Clara does this very well at Athena Grill.

              I think upscale and Greek can go together very well, but it's just not done well here. I've never been to Kokkari, but the sibling restaurant Evvia is more Cal/Greek to me - delicious, but different. Go to a place like Molyvos in New York and you'll see how good an upscale Greek place can be in the USA. (Though I guess New Yorkers must argue over their favorite upscale Greek, as they have so many of them.)

              Michael

              1. re: mdg

                I also think it is possible to have great upscale Greek, but Kokkari just never did it for me. Would love to try Molyvos sometime...

                1. re: mdg

                  PS. - 6:30 this evening, there were no tables available at Evvia for the rest of the night. They must be doing something right.

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    Evvia does a lot of things right in my experience, but it's a Cal/Greek type of thing. There's good reason to like it, but it's not an exemplar for upscale Greek. You have to travel outside of the Bay Area for that. And no, Dio Deka doesn't do it either - it's an Evvia knockoff with higher prices and lower food quality.

                    Michael

            2. It has always amazed me that San Francisco has not had a "real" Greek resstaurant in years. I have never been to Kokkari, but it is too upscale to be "real" Greek, like Parthenon in Chicago, many in Detroit, or even run of the mill in Tarpon Springs. Minerva was close, but I guess they are no more. Greek food cries for eathy simplicity...maybe that is the problem.

              15 Replies
              1. re: OldTimer

                As a Detroiter, I've been saying this for years. Upscale and Greek might not be mutually exclusive, but I don't think they're too comfortable together.

                1. re: mrs bacon

                  I don't know since Gus took over the corner space next store Hellas looked upscale to me.

                2. re: OldTimer

                  Of course, the originator of the food at Kokkari (and also responsible for Evvia) was a highly talented French chef. In spite of marketing efforts to create an impression that he had some form of Mediterranean connection,
                  http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi...
                  it didn't seem that he was all that passionate about "real" Greek cuisine. We sometimes went to the same parties and when talking to him in private, you would get the impression that he felt that any decent French chef should be able to do traditional Greek with one arm tied behind his back. I always thought it was quite entertaining to hear the chef of a three-star Greek restaurant scoff at Greek cooking in a French accent. I wonder if a "real" Greek place could ever get a three-star rating in the Chronicle.

                  1. re: OldTimer

                    Actually, the food at Kokkari is closer in flavor to "real" Greek cuisine than the sort of "Greek Town" places you find in Chicago or NY. Fresh, seasonal ingredients are what make the difference. While the "Greek Town" style is good, it's the Greek equivalent of the Spaghetti and Meatballs approach to Italian cooking. I agree that Kokkari is not particularly traditional in its approach, but the dishes are far more reminiscent of the meals I've had in Greece than anything else I've tried here (or NY, or Chicago. Can't say as I've been to Detroit...).

                    1. re: Zach Georgopoulos

                      Zach, is that a general comment on Kokkari's food, or were you talking about recently. I don't doubt that Kokkari was authentic at one point.

                      1. re: vulber

                        I was last there in November, a mere 4 months ago.

                      2. re: Zach Georgopoulos

                        The standard joke about Kokkari used to be that it was successful just because it wasn't "real" Greek, never had a Greek executive chef, etc. While this joke was probably unfair, I think it's undeniable that the restaurant has been run by chefs with excellent cooking credentials but not much Greek on their resumes prior to Kokkari.
                        http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi...
                        http://www.kokkari.com/about/staff.ph...

                        1. re: nocharge

                          These types of comments seem rather provincial. A person's nationality or prior cooking experience has nothing to with their ability to channel the culinary culture of a nation. Are you going to tell me that Rose Gray (RIP) from the River Cafe was not able to cook very authentic regional Italian cuisine because she was British? If so, you have no idea of what you are talking about. My husband is of Greek origin and he was in fact born in Athens and arrived in the U.S. when he was two. We have gone to visit family many times (last time 2 years ago) and modern top restaurants in Athens are cooking in a styles like Kokkari. I have not been to Kokkari in about 12 months so can't say if it is a good today as it was then, but assuming that service and food consistency has remained the same, then the I agree with Zach that food and emotive style that Kokkari conveys is more reminiscent of what we have had an like of modern Greek cuisine. Saying that Greek food has to stay stagnant and be like "down home" restaurants in Chicago or New York is no different than saying that Incanto or La Ciccia are not valid expressions of Italian food because they are not doing red sauce Jersey style Italian. How many of the top Italian chefs in America (White, Canora, Consentino, Batali, Stoll, etc., etc.) are born in Italy rather than the U.S.? That is right zero!

                          1. re: Amy G

                            I'm not suggesting that you have to be of a certain nationality to be a good cook of that nation's cuisine. What a totally ridiculous suggestion! Trivially, there are too many counterexamples of such a naive idea. What I'm saying is that the chefs that have run Kokkari don't seem to have a deep background in Greek cooking prior to Kokkari. As for modern, top restaurants in Athens, have you considered the possibility that they may have incorporated international influences and that they might not be 100 percent greek in a traditional sense?
                            Are you considering "real" Greek to be what the top modern restaurants in Athens are currently serving?

                            1. re: nocharge

                              If you're looking to have a restaurant with "down-home" food, I think you do have to be of that nationality. You can't be taught that.

                              If you're looking to do your interpretation of a certain cuisine, nationality is not important at all.

                              1. re: vulber

                                I think it's a matter of degree. A highly skilled chef should be able to do a riff on a certain cuisine without that much effort, but you would assume that doing more genuine stuff would require a lot more study. One of my favorite Italian places, Perbacco, has a Swedish chef who grew up in Sweden. He's good, but then he's been cooking Italian food for several decades prior to opening his restaurant.

                                1. re: nocharge

                                  "It can't be taught" is a testable hypothesis.

                                  The Food Channel's "Smackdown" series investigates exactly this issue. Died-in-the-wool 30++ year experience versus a widely experienced chef who has learned many styles.

                                  While I won't vouch for the FC's scientific method, it seems that often the challenger can outperform the "native", so simply growing up with a food doesn't make you the best cook for that food. Chefs taught to *learn* and *adapt*, and taught general skills, might have an edge.

                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                    yes, but in that case, the challenger is doing their own take on the cuisine, not trying to replicate homecooking

                                    as i mentioned earlier, anyone of any nationality can do their own take on a cuisine

                              2. re: nocharge

                                My point is that modern Greek and food found in a little taverna in Athens are BOTH real Greek food and yes you can be taught to do any kind of food, even "down home" food. (Is food by Arzak less Spanish than Pintxos simply because one is modern?) All you need is immersion into a culture and a language. See my example of Rose Gray. She cooked down home Italian regional cooking. Stefan Terje was cooking great Italian food in the same vein he does now very early in his career. So in sum, what Kokkari does is just as valid as what a little place does. Mezze in the Marina is owned by Greeks and the cooks are Greek. It is good but the food is not as well prepared as Kokkari. Seeing that whole lamb roasting in the fireplace evokes so many powerful memories of home for my husband that I cannot even begin to explain.

                                1. re: Amy G

                                  I agree -- Kokkaris' style is actually closer to "down home" cooking in Greece than what might be considered "down home" Greek in the U.S. Growing up, my grandmother (on the island) cooked with extremely fresh, seasonal ingredients, and the flavors at Kokkari remind me of her cooking. In Athens, we'd eat all sorts of stuff year-round, and that is what I'm reminded of when I have "down home" Greek cooking in the U.S. Mind you, this was back in the '70s. During my most recent trips to Greece, I've found that restaurants in Athens are now harking back to the fresh cooking of the islands from some years ago, partly because of a pathological nostalgia that Greeks are experiencing under the tyranny of the EU (long story). But the reality is that the trend in Athens is not towards emulating international cuisine, but rather getting back to actual Greek roots, and Kokarri is in keeping with that trend.

                      3. I was surprised at the review, especially since I just had dinner there last Thursday night. We had a tasty and varied assortment of appetizers. This is the first time I'd ordered like that; generally I'd been with groups where everyone had their own entree. It was fun to have an assortment of Greek dishes to work through. Service bogged down a bit toward the end of the meal, but no major complaints. I enjoy the dining room and the stylish clientele it attracts. Bauer's review should do little to dissuade the crowds that Kokkari consistently attracts.

                        Aaron
                        http://www.thesluicebox.com/

                        1. Totally agree especially with the comparison to Slanted Door. These two restaurants have just gotten too successful over the years.

                          1. I personally never agree with Bauer’s reviews. He must have very different taste from mine. I don't trust his reviews at all. Critics, whether food, wine, music, etc. are just people with their own subjective tastes (and often huge egos). Bauer is one critic I never agree with.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Ridge

                              Agree completely. See my comment on Bauer near the top.
                              But all the discussion here has focused on authentic or not, rather than recently downhill or not.
                              I just got done tracking down good eats with the Micheline Guide on a road trip through Spain. Anything listed as a "Bib Gourmand" was listed as a place that was consistently excellent with a good value for money (relative, I know). Kokkari is listed as a Bib here in SF. -So someone did a consistency check on this place before they went to print....I trust this more than Bauer.

                              1. re: roster

                                We walked past there the other night when we were in the city and thought we really need to go back there. I will go back sometime soon and try it again and report back here. We had a fantastic meal there last summer. To me Kokarri is a culinary beacon for a fancy night out or special occasion meal because it is different than the usually frenchy meal you get at most fancy restaurants. Not only different but to me more satisfying.

                                I have loved the food at Kokkari. Greek food tends to be simple. Greeks don’t use very much seasoning except for lemon juice and oregano. Oregano and lemon tastes great on everything except for hamburgers that my family made growing up. Many of the dishes at Kokkari are authentic Greek food: The grilled fish and spit roasted meats certainly are. Their mousakka is not really authentic but it’s a delicious version, if a bit on the rich side.

                            2. I haven’t been to Kokkari since last summer but had an amazing meal then and always enjoyed my visits. I’m of Greek heritage. While I lament the lack of a good downhome Greek restaurant in the bay area, I always loved the innovative upscale take on Greek food at Kokkari, and I always experienced good service there.