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May 10, 2010 08:51 AM

Ithaki, Ipswich MA

DO you want the good news or bad news first?

OK, the place looks great - new semi-circular bar with maybe 20 - 24 seats, nicely appointed with contemporary finishes and TV tuned to Boston sports...and music piped in is contemporary adult soft rock hits. A few tables are set in and around the bar area, which is now about 1/3 of the establishment.

The dining room - nice nice nice too.

Unfortunately, I think I liked to old Ithaki better. Everything from portions, quality and service are in need of improvement.

1. Service

The same bar music is piped into the dining room. Hey I love rockn'roll put another dime in the jukebox baby...but when I am dining and wanting a romantic, quiet dinner, need I hear "Lost in the Supermarket (Clash), "All I wanna do.." (Sheryl Crow) or anything by Billy Idol? To make matters worse, our server could not hear my delicious dining companion over the speaker which was right over our table.

My wine glass ran empty for 10 minutes AFTER I asked for a refill so I ate my salad without any wine to accompany. I let the Maitre De know; he said to 'give us a break we just opened'.
But the bill reflected 2 glasses and not the 3 I drank so....OK, I can let it go. Still, the place was NOT busy and they should have been more attentive. The server re-set the table after the salad and placed 4 new pieces of silver and said "excuse me, excuse me, excuse me, excuse me" as she placed each one. Very odd.

A neighboring table was loud; one patron was holding court on a variety of subjects (I am well-versed in factory-farmed chicken, thank you very much) I wished to hear no part of (he WAS an idiot IMO) - not entirely the fault of management, but the dining room is rather large so perhaps the couples in for a quiet meal might appreciate the larger parties being seated on the OTHER side of the dining room? Just a suggestion.

2. Food

Well, the Greek salad (for two) which used to be splendid and plentiful, was neither. It came with a large, flavorless tomato ( better tomatoes can be found at WF or Costco!) in the center of the plate which was sliced only part-way through, which left me to my own devices with a butter knife to make the final cuts to so serve it up. It came with a minuscule (maybe the size equivalent of a small wooden matchbox) piece of unremarkable feta cheese, 4 olives, three razor thin sliced of yellow bell pepper and about 4 forkfuls of dandelion greens. The dressing was forgettable. I wish a had a picture of the salad they used to serve versus the one they serve now.

The grilled octupus, while delicious seemed to be much smaller in portion than the same app when I ordered it before the renovations. It took forever to arrive; again they were not busy at 6:30 on a Sat night. The garlicky mayo came in a tiny plastic cuplette; who thought of that? Takes away from the presentation. And lots of the dressing gets stuck in the corners - so for 'fine' dining, its a little awkward to be digging it out.

My DC ordered the Moussaka; I had a taste and it was pretty good. She seemed to enjoy it.

I had the braised lamb shank; no complaints there either.

I do miss the old menu which had a great pasta dish - their version pasta and clams - which had a tagliatelle style pasta with three kinds of clams in a briny broth. The new menu has specials section called "Inspirations" which I passed on, feeling uninspired overall. There was a crispy-fried whole black back flounder ($27) that might have been good but it seemed rather steep for fried fish. In fact when I read the new menu, I closed it, then re-opened it hoping to find something I really wanted to eat. When my DC asked me what interests me, I said "let me look again". ( We were STARVING after a day of yard work and long walk with the dogs....they say hunger is the best sauce but.....)The lamb shank in Greek place is always a safe bet and I enjoyed it but something seems to be missing from the new menu but I can't say exactly what. Depth?

Well, I hope they tune it up. Bigger salads, better ingredients, better service, less rock'nroll in the dining room and a more interesting menu. I used to love this place and I will in fact go back in a few weeks next time I feel like dropping $145 on dinner for two....and it better be much much better that it was. I think this is what happens when a great restaurant hires consultants - expand the bar scene dining/drinking, raise prices, serve smaller portions in a lite rock atmosphere. All I can say is that was BAD ADVICE.

25 Hammatt St, Ipswich, MA 01938

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  1. Oh, dear. I'm sad to hear this, as I love Ithaki (although I went for lunch rather than dinner to avoid the crowds). Thanks for your detailed report. It's funny, we almost went there for lunch on Sunday before we remembered that it would probably be packed for mother's day. I guess I'm glad we didn't go!

    1. Thanks for the detailed review, even though it made my heart sink. Ithaki has been one of my favorites for many years, and I'm really hoping your experience was just a glitch.

      I'm disappointed, too, to hear they've dropped the pasta with three types of clams. That was a really delicious dish, and a $13 half-portion was a good bargain - plenty of food for dinner with an appetizer.

      Now that they've re-opened, I think we'll try them out for a Saturday lunch, and see how it goes.

      2 Replies
        1. re: ipsofatso

          Well, we finally got to Ithaki for lunch this past Saturday. Overall grade: B- .

          First of all, none of you mentioned that they moved the front door! It took us a couple of minutes to find the new door. We later watched another couple go through the same confusion.

          The main dining room was closed - they were only serving lunch in the bar area, which was mostly full. We ordered things we'd had before the renovation, to try to do an apples-to-apples comparison.

          They still serve the same bread, red pepper and feta dip, and excellent olive oil when you arrive. No change there.

          We shared an order of the meatballs to start. They were as good as ever, and Ithaki's tzatziki remains world-class.

          For lunch, my wife had the Greek salad with a grilled chicken breast. The Greek salad remains as you described in your OP, although I would not call the portion size small. The tomatoes were fully ripe, bland, mealy winter tomatoes - for which there is no excuse this time of year. My wife commented on the blandness of the feta cheese. I tasted it, and if blindfolded, probably never would have identified it as feta. The marinated chicken breast was slightly over cooked, but still very tasty.

          I had the chicken gyro. It, too, came with an overcooked but tasty marinated chicken breast, delicious tzatziki, and winter tomatoes. The portion size was as large as ever.

          They used to serve very good oven roasted potatoes with the gyro. They've changed that to shoestring french fries, which tasted of old oil. I much preferred the oven roasted potatoes.

          My wife noted that there were flowers in the closed dining room, but none in the bar area.

          The service was friendly, but a bit on the slow side. Before the renovation, Katrina always seemed to be our server for Saturday lunch, and we certainly miss her.

          As I mentioned above, overall I give the experience a B-. I'm ready to try dinner at Ithaki now, and hope for the best. I'm not rushing it, though...

      1. die-hard itahki lovers will be disappointed with the new, not so improved ithaki.
        the top notch bartenders are long gone (bring back katrina!) the chefs are long gone, the intimate charm and coziness, gone. menu is also different, and the tvs at the bar change the
        whole ambiance. if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

        11 Replies
        1. re: ipswich8

          Did you actually try the food? I remain hopeful they can right the wrongs. If the food is stellar all else can be forgiven.

          1. re: ipswich8

            yes.....i tried the food...and no, its not chefs, average food. all is not forgiven.

            1. re: ipswich8

              I agree,Katrina was great! Does anyone know where she went.? Maybe she is living the dream in Europe somewhere.

              1. re: LeRique

                Yes, please let us know if anyone locates Katrina.
                We went to Ithaki this weekend. Disapointing on all fronts. New decor - just so so, and not the cozy feel of the old. No Katrina! That was hard to recover from.
                Service - unprofessional and scattered.
                The food was very pub-like to me and did not have the refinement/Greek influence of the old. This was based on only one entree, so it may not be fair, but I was not impressed and neither was my DC.
                Will wait a few months or so to return and give the place a second chance.

                1. re: snowcone

                  i have heard that katrina relocated to a restaurant in gloucester that she had worked at several years prior....i am on the hunt and will post if/when i locate her!

                  1. re: ipswich8

                    Katrina is at the Rudder in Gloucester and doing better than ever. Go see her!

                    1. re: sungoddess

                      sungoddess--thanks for the katrina info--i am going to go see her this weekend!:)

                      1. re: ipswich8

                        Chef Alec Maxon, who was the original chef when Ithaki opened in 1998, and was brought back for the re-opening in May has been fired. Good thing, as the food took a HUGE turn for the worse after the renovation. Hopefully they will move on and return to old form.

                        1. re: GOD

                          Thanks, GOD. Lets hope some Divine Intervention will make a difference.

                          1. re: ipsofatso

                            strike 2 on ithaki. waited 2+ months to give it a second chance. the night began with waiting at the reception desk for 5 minutes before finally being acknowledged and seated. and this wasn't from the place being busy-it was dead quiet in the bar area-on a saturday night. that must be a direct result of the food, which continues to be sub-par at best, even with rumors of a new chef haven taken over. get it together ithaki and work to get back the successful venue that you had, with personable, welcoming staff and excellent mouth-watering food. long way to go for that to happen. one more strike and......

                    2. re: ipswich8

                      Katrina is now working at the Rudder in the Rocky Neck area of Gloucester. Can't wait to go see her! It's too bad the owner of Ithaki (and I believe it's still the same guy) couldn't leave well enough alone.

            2. Just had lunch at Ithaki today for work. So, so sad. Just as everyone here mentioned. BIG bar in the main room taking up all of the space - thankfully the new TV at the bar wasn't turned on.

              We got the calamari to start. Small portion, nondescript pepperocini peppers right from the jar, salty coating for the calamari. Was crispy though and served with a red pepper sauce. The old version was so much originally had some much nicer pickled peppers, capers, and a lemon sauce along with plenty of lemon wedges - and much larger portion. For our meal we both got the Greek salad with shrimp and stuffed grape leaves. The greek salad's dressing consisted of olive oil and salt and pepper. It certainly needed something to perk up the flavor. The veggies were very fresh - but quickly got wilted under so much olive oil. The shrimp were tasty. But again, the pre-renovation Ithaki gave more stuff with the salad (stuff meaning - cheese, olives, shrimp). Seems like they're cutting corners. The stuffed grape leaves were ok. Made with canned grape leaves, which for this time of year is a real shame. And, should have been made with lamb - not beef.

              My companion mentioned that they had been sold - it did indeed feel like a different restaurant - lacking even the beautiful flowers that used to be so abundant in the restaurant (and even the rest room). For me, this place has unfortunately become a work only place (ok when work is paying the tab). Again, so sad.

              9 Replies
              1. re: nlg

                This is sad to hear. Use to love Ithaki, and went when we could.

                1. re: nlg

                  "My companion mentioned that they had been sold"

                  Is this speculation, or a fact? If it's true, it would explain a lot.

                  1. re: srgoodman

                    my dining companion lives in Ipswich; however, I don't know her source of the information other than it being the word around town. The lack of spectacular flower arrangements in the restaurant did point to a change in ownership. I think the owner's spouse had a flower shop in town...

                    1. re: nlg

                      i believe that ownership has not changed--still petros, who also owns a flower shop in town. sad that even the restaurants flower arrangements have changed for the worse:(

                    2. re: srgoodman

                      No the same person owns it . I guess he had a lapse of good judgement.

                      1. re: annieco

                        According to my sources, the chef left and the owner is back in the kitchen. He has a relative rookie in there with him, but the restaurant has lost its creative edge.

                    3. re: nlg

                      Ithaki has been disappointing in the last few years, and we've given them lots of chances. There are still some things they do well (the olives, the traditional salad, and the lamb shank with orzo). But most of their lunch offerings have a specific problem. The gyro used to have juicy meat on fresh baked pita, now it's dry meat on pita that tastes stale. The lamb sandwich is also dry. It all tastes old. On more than one occasion we've had to send chicken back because it was undercooked. The service is uneven and they messed up orders often. The only reason we've gone back is that it used to be so good, and we keep hoping that it's a phase. But the disappointment has been consistent, so we are finally writing it off

                      1. re: croutonweb

                        Sadly, I would agree with croutonweb. Ithaki has always been a personal favorite - consistent, delicious, and always worth the possible wait. After the renovation, it went downhill, but then got a bit better. Once again, I feel like its on a downward spiral. What happened to the once stellar and perfect calamari, which is now under-cooked and soggy? And as croutonweb said, the once
                        juicy and flavorful gyro is now dry and stale. Additionally service is not at all what it used to be.
                        I feel like I am putting the bartenders out by asking for a drink. Please Ithaki, right this ship and bring back the quality and service with a smile that made you a 'go to' place to begin with.

                        1. re: ipswich8

                          so sorry to see this thread resurrected with only more bad reports from the chow dogs. we had seen another reference that they had turned the corner and were making great food again but we'll steer clear for now. They must know that something is wrong if they don't keep seeing their customers come back. What I have learned from being a chow hound is that the difference between just OK food and great food is only a matter of degrees. And love, when the love goes, the food goes. Sad.