3268 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA 94610 | 510.899.4400 | website
I met my friend Ben who writes Cooking with the Single Guy, for dinner here recently. He is always hunting down new restaurants to try and was interested to check out this newish restaurant near Lake Merritt that serves family-style cuisine from the Greek island of Ikaria. Ikaria is a remote island with a collection of fishing villages known for its mineral hot springs that have been recommended for their therapeutic qualities since the age of Hippocrates. The island is especially remarkable because of the longevity of its inhabitants, one of three reach their 90s! The menu notes that many of their recipes are cooked duplicating the islands’ foods, fresh herbs & spices. The building has an unusual arched ceiling that is painted a bright sky blue with a skylight running along the center. The dining area is crammed full of small tables which feels a little cramped, I kept bumping into the chair of the person seated behind me. We got there early and had our choice of seating, and since the restaurant was rather empty, our waiter had time to chat with us and helped us decide what to order.
We began with the Ikaros Mezes ($16.00) which was a delightful way to explore a variety of appetizers. There were savory dolmades homemade grape leaves stuffed with rice and a special blend of fresh herbs, keftethes (Greek meatballs) a mixture of minced meats, herbs and spices, spanakopita (spinach pie) a mixture of spinach, onions, dill, feta and spices wrapped in a crisp buttery phyllo, tiropita a blend of cheeses wrapped in phyllo. The many layered pastry was light and crispy and decadent with butter, so the Single Guy who normally does not eat fried foods, only took little bites (gotta maintain that hunky physique I suppose).
The platter also included tzatziki which was pungent and tangy, thick textured and rich in the manner of Greek yogurt (but listed as low fat on the menu) mixed with cucumber and garlic and taramosalata, a whipped blend of imported red caviar, olive oil and lemon juice. I enjoyed these two dips on everything on the appetizer platter. Served with toasted pita bread.
I was drawn to the Gyros Stacker ($12.50), which was a bit on the trashy side, so of course I had to order it. It was one of those dishes that Mr. K categorizes as trailer delite… It has a pita bread base, then a layer of steak fries topped with two kinds of gyro meat, tomatoes & red onions and topped with a thick layer of tzatziki. I personally would have liked it if the sauce melted into the dish more, instead it remained thick and cold on top of the tomato slices.
It came with a house salad on the side, a mound of chopped lettuce, slices of red onion and kalamata olives, but alas, notice the unfortunate puddle of dressing…
Ben had the Gyouvetsi meh Arni Orzo with lamb shanks ($16.50), which were two gigantic lamb shanks braised then baked with Greek orzo and red sauce sprinkled with parmesan. This was a very soothing and comforting dish, like a Sunday dinner at grandma’s, only my grandma is long gone and never made orzo… but you know what I mean! It totally looks like a dish from the cover of Saveur magazine featuring Greek cooking.
The meat is braised for a number of hours using a variety of spices and tomatoes and was falling off the bone tender and finger licking good.
But it was the orzo that roused me from the tzatziki stupor, it was so different from what I was expecting (the typical pasta salad with feta and olives). The sauce was savory and I loved how the pasta absorbed the flavor of the sauce without getting soggy.
We split one more pastry for dessert, Galaktoboureko ($4.50) custard filling wrapped in filo with a lemon zest syrup
It was rather bland and a little dry, probably would be better with a cup of tea or coffee. There was one section in the center that had a lot of filling that was especially delicious.
There were cozy banquette seating along the back wall and this one especially cool nook which looked to be a prime location. By the time we left, the restaurant was bustling and the waiters seemed to be busy running around, a full dining room is always a good sign. I felt that the food was all quite fresh tasting and well prepared and seems more upscale compared to the Holyland a couple blocks over. I’d definitely go back for the orzo!