Pathos: Organic Greek in Berkeley
Started by Kokkari alumni, this place looks promising. The website posted menus for a while, but they were taken down; they had lots of dishes you don't find at the local souvlaki places, like braised lamb shank, grilled fish, stuffed peppers, saganaki.
They were supposed to open for dinner last night, and will be open for lunch on Dec. 10.
I came across the chef/owner's blog and, because of my enthusiasm for organics (and fondness of Greek cooking), made a reservation before the place even opened. He went on and on about his desire to bring an organic Greek dining experience to the SFBA.
What struck me first on perusing the menu was the absence of the term "organic" on the menu and the Niman Ranch meat, which is not to my knowledge organic. I don't want to be so mean-spirited as to suggest false advertising, when I suspect the promises came ahead of the conference with the accountant, but the contrast was startling..
One of us did try the non-organic, purportedly Sonoma lamb, 3 rib chops that were a tad flabby but certainly not bad. The other dishes were uneven and nothing was a standout.
It does have a liquor license and we enjoyed trying shots of two different ouzos.
Maybe authentic Greek baklava is drier and less voluptuous than other nations', but I was a little disappointed (and the portion was small!).
I’d definitely recommend this spot! Fresh tasty food, good service.
We went on Saturday, having seen the place under construction.
The menu has fairly traditional offerings but very nicely made, fresh, lighter than their run-of-the-mill equivalents in Greece, good balance of flavors.
We started with drinks. I like pisco sours but am not the biggest fan of anise, but Marcel the bartender persuaded me to try their variation on the sour with metaxa and some anise. It was delicious.
Then we got several small plates: the horiatiki, the standard salad of tomatoes, onions, cucumber, feta, and olives. They forgot the olives but made up for it with a small bowl on the side. The salad was really nice, tempered onions, with a tasty feta whose perfect balance of tang and creaminess was the right note against the vegetables. I’m not a fan of the really strong barny tasting fetas (prefer French over Bulgarian, for example), so this was perfect.
The grilled octopus (flown in from Spain) was the best I’ve had in the Bay Area—tender, smoky-charred but not too much, just perfect. As good as any we had in Barcelona this summer (different seasoning, of course).
The fried smelts were very tasty, accompanied by trendy but also tasty grilled slices of Meyer lemon and nicely cheesecloth-wrapped lemon half for squeezing that needed acid over the mild little fishies.
The last dish we tried was the keftedes, lamb meatballs in a very savory sauce of tomato touched with oregano and sprinkled with a bit of feta.
The side plate of pita arrived warm, had a hint of crust but wasn’t dried out, drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkle of marjoram.
All in all, excellent food. The service was great, thoughtful and attentive. They made up quickly for a few small mistakes (forgetting the olives and the lemon) and kept us plied with whatever we needed without intruding.
We went with a friend for dinner last night. I was looking forward to it but it was disappointing. Not as bad as our experience in Troy on Solano, but an overall mediocre Greek food experience. My ancestry is Greek and when I go visit family in NY we often go to Astoria Queens for Greek food. I have always wondered why there were no good Greek restaurants in California similar to the ones in Astoria. I really really wanted to like this place. But the food missed the mark.
I like the design of the restaurant. Our waitress was truly delightful, warm and professional but some of the other wait staff seemed amateurish. We were unfortunately seated close to two tables of very loud boorish people and our conversation was frequently interrupted by the sound of their forced cackling and screaming.
When I eat Greek food I like to skip the mains and focus on the mezethes(appetizers). So we did not try any of the main courses.
Here is what we ate:
Avgolemono soup. Egg (avgo) and lemon (lemono) chicken soup. This is true Greek comfort food. Unfortunately it was missing the avgo which thickens the texture, since the broth was very thin and watery. And it was also missing the lemono as there was no detectable lemon flavor I could discern. The chicken in the soup was kind of dry. To the chef at the restaurant: come on. You can do better than this.
Trio of dips. Spicy cheese dip, melitzanosalata(Greek baba ghanoush), and tzatiki. The dips were all very good. The melitzanosalata had the satisfying smokiness it should. My one complaint is that the portions were small. The pita bread served with the dips was mediocre and tasted like it was from the supermarket.
horiatiki (Greek salad) was decent enough considering it's not tomato season but not that special. The feta cheese they used was kind of bland.
Grilled octopus. Last time I was in Greece I ate grilled octopus practically every day. This is one of my favorite foods and I am picky about it. I sometimes make this at home and know Its difficult to get it just right. This version was good but not great. The octopus was tender but it was missing the slightly crunchy char that would have elevated the dish from good to great.
Marides (fried smelt). Truly dreadful. The waiter brings them over and says "be careful, the plate is hot". Except the plate was not hot at all! They were barely warm. They were soggy, not at all crispy. But the worst thing about this dish was that the smelt seemed full of sand. It was like eating sand in a soggy coating. My husband said he could not believe he did not spit it out. The best part of the dish were the fried lemons but they were overcooked and dark brown.
Saganaki(fried Greek cheese). Greek comfort food. This was excellent and was the star of the evening. The kefalotiri (a Greek cheese) they used was very flavorful.
Domades. Grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat. Very good. The filling was more meat than rice. It was an interesting and tasty version overall.
We also got a side of pita which sadly was the same flabby pita that came with the spreads. A small portion of mediocre pita for $9. Truly sad.
As I left the restaurant I thought about how good Greek food can be and how good the Greek restaurants in Astoria NY are. Why the hell can't there be a good Greek place in the Bay Area?
The bill for 3 people with wine was about $150. The previous night we are Japanese food at Kiraku and the bill with Sake was about the same. But the food at Kiraku was 100 times better and again I wondered why Greek cuisine was the one cuisine that they Bay Area consistently gets wrong.
I should finish by adding that we did not try the main courses and it's possible they could be outstanding.
Oh and we finished the meal with Baklava that the waitress said was made by someone's mother. Greek moms are good at making Baklava and this version was excellent.
re: Robert Lauriston
Could be. I am curious to hear experiences from more chowhounders. Maybe it was just a really off night. I would like to go back next year after they have been around for a while longer to give them another chance but will have to convince my husband who liked it even less than I did. I guarantee if you ate the smelt we had last night you would not have enjoyed it. Difficult to excuse them for putting out such a terrible dish. Pita bread was soggy and insipid and I would never have guessed that made it there. The staff was a bit off. Our waitress was exceptionally good but every one else working there seemed preoccupied and walking around in a fog. I hope they get their act together since I would love to have a decent Greek place to go to.