This salad is packed with a ton of flavor, and all the vegetables make sure that it is actually a healthy salad. For those who don't know - it is easy for a salad to get out of control with cheese and dressing and restaurant salads can have well over 1000 calories. This salad doesn't need a whole lot of dressing, b/c the ingredients have a lot of flavor. Also - Feta cheese is low-fat and it has a strong flavor, so you don't need to use much.
I had a massive craving for Nostos last week, and I ended up going two days in a row for lunch.
On the first day, I got the cold appetizer platter with skordalia, Greek beans, tzatziki, taramosalata, imam baildi, and pita. This was definitely enough food for an entire meal! The skordalia (potato and garlic puree) was so garlicky it was difficult to eat, and the beans were undercooked (read crunchy), but everything else was fantastic! The tzatziki was cool and creamy and perfect, the taramosalata (whipped fish roe and lemon) was briny and creamy and fresh, and the imam baildi (eggplant with tomatoes, raisins, and pinenuts) was sweet and delicious with some salty feta cheese.
The next day, I started with the avgolemono soup - chicken soup with egg and lemon. Oh my goodness, this was so soothing and wonderful. I like my chicken soup creamy with a lot of acid (I add lime juice and coconut milk at home) and the creaminess of the egg plus the kick of lemon was just perfect.
To go with the soup, I got the dolmades avgolemono - grapeleaves stuffed with rice and ground beef and topped with an egg lemon sauce. I normally don't like dolmades, as they can be bitter and tough, but here they are tender and lovely and the avgolemono sauce is just heavenly.
To finish off, I tried the saganaki - pan fried kefalograviera cheese (a hard, salty, sheep's milk cheese) that is then flamed table side and doused with fresh lemon juice. It forms a crust on the outside that reveals melty cheesy goodness on the inside. Fried mozzarella has nothing on this! I spread it on some bread, but I think you could just eat it as is.
The other day I was on my way to lunch at Chef Geoff's, when I saw a banner across the street saying "Now Open" at what looked like a Greek restaurant. I decided to try it out and changed course.
Nostos is an upscale Greek restaurant - something that is sorely lacking in the Tyson's area. Don't get me wrong, I love my Plaka, but it is not a good place for a nice dinner and drinks - Nostos definitely is. The interior is very modern with clean lines, stark white walls accented with dark furniture, and black and white photos. It is meant to look like the "sugar cube" houses of Greece with rounded, white washed walls and an exposed rafter effect. There is a main dining room lined with windows and a smaller room that could be used for private events. The large bar area is nicely separated from the main dining room, reducing noise interference. The bar is also well stocked with a wide selection in addition to Ouzo and Greek wines. The hostess told me that they are working on happy hour specials - I think that this may become a great place to hang out.
On to the food! The menu is clean and fresh, offering upscale (but still simple) versions of traditional food. There were a wide selection of mezze plates categorized as vegetarian, cheese, meat, or seafood in addition to several dips and salads. There were a few traditional entrees, and a wide selection of fish - prepared simply grilled with olive oil and lemon. I decided to order the "traditional sampler" entree in order to try a variety of dishes. The sampler came on a lovely, white, sectioned plate with moussaka, spanakopita, dolma, and arnaki fournou. The moussaka (layered casserole) was made the way that I prefer it - with potatoes in addition to the eggplant and ground beef, and topped with a nice layer of bechamel. The potatoes were very tender and the meat had a nice tomato-y flavor, though I would have preferred a touch more cinnamon. There was a nice bit of chewy, browned cheese on top. The spanakopita (spinach and cheese stuffed phyllo pastry) had a wonderfully herb-y flavor, though it was not terribly crisp. The dolma (stuffed grapeleaf) was tender and filled with a lovely mixture of ground beef, rice, and mint. It was topped with a delicious creamy egg yolk and lemon sauce that was like the Greek equivalent of Hollandaise. The arnaki fournou consisted of slices of slow roasted lamb in a gravy sauce. The lamb had a nice flavor, though it was not as tender as I would expect after "slow roasting". The gravy was lighter than I expected it to be, with a hint of lemon flavor.
As it was lunch, I did not have dessert, though I would like to come back and try the galaktoboureko, baklava, or rizogalo. I would also like to make a meal out of several of the mezze plates. Nostos is definitely worth a return visit - several, in fact.
I absolutely love Greek food, but I have been bad about exploring the local offerings (mostly because the husband is not overly enthusiastic). I kept hearing fantastic things about Vienna staple Plaka Grill, so I decided to try it out on my own. I was not disappointed! Plaka is in a tiny strip center location off of 123. One whole wall is painted with a mural that took me straight back to San Torini, Greece. The food was equally nostalgic for me.
Plaka is famous for their signature Gyro sandwich - spit grilled pork sliced and served in pita bread with tomatoes, onions, fries, and tzatziki (a yogurt and cucumber sauce). They also serve the more familiar "Chicago Gyro" - pressed lamb and beef that is grilled and sliced. I have tried both, and they are fantastic. Some may say that it is sacrilege, but I usually prefer the Chicago style. I like that the meat has a more uniform texture with just a bit of crunch on the outer edges. I have also tried the Tyropites - phyllo dough triangles stuffed with feta and herbs. They are amazing - creamy and tangy on the inside, crispy and buttery on the outside. I would love to try their spinach filled cousins - the Spanakopites. Plaka also serves one of my favorite Greek desserts, which is not Baklava (gasp! i know), but Galaktoboureko - phyllo dough filled with custard and soaked in an orange scented honey syrup.
I have also tried their Moussaka dinner plates (one of my favorite dishes, if you couldn't tell from my post. It was very good - tender eggplant, rich tomato and meat ragu with lots of cinnamon flavor, creamy bechamel on top. It comes with a Greek salad, and some lovely roasted potatoes. It also comes with pita bread, which is nice except that there is really nothing to dip it in or eat it with. I had to order some tzatziki on the side.
**EDIT - How could I forget to mention the fries?! They are so good - hot and fresh and coated in salt, garlic powder (?), and herbs. They definitely do not need ketchup.**
I love Greek food, and one of my all-time favorite dishes is Moussaka (Greek lasagna). It is hearty and comforting and perfect for winter. I adapted this recipe from Diane Kochilas (prominent Greek cookbook author). Traditionally the eggplant and potato are fried, but in my version I bake them in order to be a little healthier. Also, I like to mix in beef with the traditional lamb. Also, you may notice that the Greek version of bechamel sauce is a little different than the Italian or French version- involving egg yolks and lemon zest.
2lb potato, scrubbed and thinly sliced
3lb eggplant, peeled and thinly sliced
2lb any combination of ground beef and lamb (I prefer a lb each)
1/2 cup white wine
3 cups (1 28oz can) whole plum tomatoes, chopped, with juice
3 tbsp tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 bay leaves
3 cups milk
1 cup cream
8 tbsp unsalted butter
8 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 egg yolks
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the eggplant slices in a bowl, douse with salt, let sit for 45 min. Lay the potato slices on a baking sheet, brush both sides with oil, bake 15 min. Set aside on paper towels. Rinse the eggplant slices, pat dry, lay on a baking sheet and brush with oil. Turn oven down to 350 deg and bake 15 min. Set aside on paper towels.
Meat sauce: In a large saute pan, heat 1-2 tbsp olive oil. Add onion and saute until soft and translucent. Add the ground meat and brown. Add the white wine and cook until mostly evaporated. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, and spices. Cover, turn heat to low, and simmer 45 min. Season with salt and pepper.
Bechamel sauce: Heat the cream and milk together until bubbles form at the edge of the pan, remove from heat. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large sauce pan. Add the flour and cook until it no longer smells raw, 3-4 min. Gradually add the hot milk, stirring with a wooden spoon after each addition until smooth. After the last addition, cook for 5 min. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper, nutmeg. Stir in the feta cheese. Allow to cool slightly, mix in the egg yolks and lemon zest. Cover to keep warm and set aside.
To assemble the moussaka: Spread the bread crumbs into the bottom of a 9x13 lasagna or casserole dish. Arrange the potatoes in a layer on top, arrange the eggplant on top of the potatoes. Spread the meat mixture evenly over the eggplant, and top with the bechamel sauce. Sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese and bake at 350 deg for 45 min- 1 hour. Cover with foil if it gets dark too fast.