I would love to get to go visit Greektown! Now that I have been earning vacation pay working for an <a href="http://www.dentalimplantstempe.com">oral surgeon in Mesa</a> maybe I can plan a vacation and go there!
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Think a couple of waiters singing "Happy Birthday to You" is effusive? This is only the beginning at Greektown. On the night we stop in for observation, there is singing; there is the presentation of the traditional lit dessert; there is even a personal serenade by Greektown's owner, Gregory Vassiliov.
"I wrote this song myself," Vassiliov tells Birthday Woman at another table. "It is called `Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow I Will Love You.'" He sings and accompanies himself on some type of stringed instrument. My faithful dining accomplice Goat and I think he's darn good. Both staff and diners applaud when he finishes.
"Thank you," he says. "I haven't sung in a while."
Don't get the wrong impression. Greektown has no regular live entertainment. "He just does that occasionally," our waiter informs us. Vassiliov has made it clear he wants his fourth Valley restaurant to succeed on the merits of its Greek cooking, not bellydancing. The only problem is he's created a too-tony showplace for his simple, homey cuisine.
8519 N. 7th St.
Phoenix, AZ 85020
Region: North Phoenix
Goat and I show up at Greektown with big appetites. (This is important. Greektown's portions are large. Do not attempt dinner here unless your stomach's gauge is on empty.) We ask for the nonsmoking section and are seated in a narrow-but-open railed-off area. Our enthusiastic waiter tells us the daily specials (with prices) in a Southwestern twang.
Get me into any restaurant from the Mediterranean and I want appetizers. Lots of them. This region's taste-teasers are hard to top in my book. We order a combination appetizer plate offering us samples of nearly everything, plus some flaming cheese (saganaki flambeau). While we take a closer look around, we nibble on tasty, hot garlic bread.
Even from our somewhat confined seating off the main dining room, Greektown looks spacious. And very Aegean. Blue and white predominate: woven bags, tiles, worry beads, pottery and the occasional Acropolis mural accent white walls; turquoise table cloths dressed up with white lace are topped with glass. Unfortunately, the patriotic colors only contribute to the cool, formal feeling that is the heart of Greektown's problem--Vassiliov's celebratory zeal notwithstanding.
While the environment and service may be hospitable, this is not your casual neighborhood hangout. Reservations are encouraged, especially on weekends, and prices are on the high side (dinner for two--without drinks or wine--came to $51 with tip). All of this seems incongruous with the hearty ethnic food served.
The high-finance table chatter of the oral surgeon seated behind Goat has us fascinated when our appetizers are delivered. The combination plate is huge: mounds of tsatziki (Greek dip), taramosolata (cold mashed potatoes with caviar, olive oil and lemon), skorthalia (cold mashed potatoes with garlic, olive oil and vinegar), and two tiropites (cheese puffs) and spanikopitas (spinach puffs) encircle feta cheese. Calamata olives and quartered tomatoes add color and flavor.
Though this is obviously an exercise in dipping, we have to ask our waiter for pita bread. When it comes, we get down to business. The feta is fine: not too salty, creamy-textured, seasoned with olive oil, vinegar and oregano. The phyllo dough puffs are buttery and flaky, but the spinach in the spanikopitas has a tinny taste.
As it turns out, I'm not too crazy about the dips. Of the three, the taramosolata is my favorite, with its vague pink color and subtle rosemary-lemon-oregano flavor; the tsatziki is herby, but ultimately forgettable; the skorthalia is almost violent with garlic.
The flaming cheese is a minor spectacle. Again, not for the extremely inhibited. Our waiter sets the kefalograviera cheese afire, lets it burn while he chops at it with a fork, then extinguishes the flames with the juice of a lemon. The end result is like eating hardening slabs of fondue: pungent cheese flavored with liqueur--and, of course, lemon. I like it.
Greektown includes soup or salad with dinner, and I'm happy to report it's not a throwaway course. My salad is big, and generous with the crumbled feta and calamata olives. Goat's lemony chicken-rice soup (homemade, of course) is positively divine. Oh, for a mama who makes soup like this! I could make a meal of it.
Our waiter diligently checks on our progress during each course. He responds to our comments with a heartfelt "All right!" or "Good deal!" We are nearly full already and know we must press on. We ask him to please remove our plates and bring our entrees. "They're ready when you are," he says.
The moussaka is large. "If you like eggplant, you'll like it," our waiter told us when we ordered it. Now I wonder why. A few tastes indicate that the plump purple wonder-vegetable in no way dominates this traditional layered dish. For me, the eggy bechamel topping and mealy-textured potatoes used as its foundation are the overpowering factors. I am a big fan of moussaka, but this version leaves me cold.
Greektown's special three-way combination tonight consists of roast lamb, dolmades and pastitsio. The lamb has an unpleasant mutton taste. The pastitsio, billed as Greek lasagna, is more like macaroni and cheese: slender tube macaroni layered with cheese and ground meat and browned with bread crumbs. Dolmades disappoint as well. The varnishy-tasting grape leaves are wrapped around a meat loaf-rice mixture and topped with a congealing too-bright lemon sauce.