Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Greek Taverna, McLean VA

Good Xinomavro from Boutari
Ann and I traveled to a food service show at FedEx Field in Prince George's County on Monday night and on the way over, stopped in McLean to have dinner with her parents Bob and Mary at The Greek Taverna. Ann used to eat here frequently when she lived in Northern Virginia.

Never having eaten there, I wasn't sure what style of food they serve. Once I took a look at the menu though, I could see that it is basically the canonical list of Greek standards that I have come to expect, very simple and very traditional dishes. This is not the place for creative food. Given their longevity in business, they are clearly serving a product year in and year out that their customers want.

On a Monday night, there really wasn't much of a crowd and so we had the service team mostly to ourselves and they certainly took great care of us. I tipped them well for their attentiveness.

The first order of business was to find a bottle of wine and with a tiny list, half red and half white, it took no time at all. When I eat at a Greek restaurant, I want a Greek wine, but not only Greek in origin, but made from indigenous grapes. There were only two (of about 8) reds from indigenous grapes: an Agiorgitiko (St. George) and a Xinomavro. The particular Xinomavro was from Naoussa and I have had good luck with that appellation, so I ordered the wine. Clearly the Boutari Naoussa has seen a lot of time in oak, but the oak harmonizes well with the abundant, but fine tannins. I got notes of blackberry, leather, and spice on the nose. It was a fine example of modern Greek red.

Halloumi: Who Doesn't Love it?

Spreads for our Pita
Ann ordered halloumi and spreads (skordalia, tzatziki, taramosalata, and melitzanosalata) as appetizers for the table. She also ordered a plate of grilled cuttlefish for us. This was either an off-menu thing or a special; I was never clear on that. The cuttlefish was tasty and well cooked; of the spreads, the skordalia was the best of the bunch. Some of the other spreads were lacking oomph to my taste: more oregano and garlic for the tzatziki, more tarama for the taramosalata, and salt for the melitzanosalata. The pita were perfunctory and the olive flatbread that appeared on the table was cold. I have a thing for warm bread; maybe they don't.

Mary ordered broiled trout and Bob ordered stuffed salmon. I was in a fish mood, but Mondays and fish in restaurants are a no-no in my book and they didn't have any other fish. Sorry, but I'm not going out to eat rainbow trout or salmon at a Greek restaurant. Branzino, orata, octopus, squid, or mullet, sure. But trout or salmon, no thanks. So, meat it was.

Arni Yiouvetsi
Ann apparently knew that they do lamb yiouvetsi as a regular off-menu dish, so she ordered it. This is one of my all-time go-to comfort foods in winter. We sometimes put lamb yiouvetsi on the menu at the restaurant, but most recently, I have been doing seafood yiouvetsi, especially with octopus. The yiouvetsi is the earthenware casserole that you see above; the cooked dish has taken its name from the dish that it is cooked in, just like casserole, cazuela, and terrine. Her yiouvetsi was good but I wanted more lemon juice, more garlic, and more oregano. I didn't get a good hit of lamb flavor in the orzo: they may have been cooked separately. Of course, the kitchen may have been scrambling to fill an order for something they weren't really prepared to make.

Arni Lemonato
I ordered the lamb special, the lemonato, a dish that I haven't made in years. I have got to say that my lamb shoulder was falling apart tender and was the best dish of the night. I wanted more garlic, oregano, and lemon, but still, falling apart braised lamb can hardly be beat!

After dinner, we chatted with one of the owners about the restaurant business, something restaurant owners can never seem to avoid. She very kindly sent out a couple of individually wrapped galaktoboureko to the table for dessert. I love galaktoboureko, but it doesn't love me, so I only had a taste. I appreciated the gesture nonetheless.

I liked the experience and certainly the service was excellent, but the food was a touch soulless to me, however. It just didn't have that spark: nothing stood out as being terrific. It pains me to say that it feels like the kitchen is on autopilot, turning out decent product but not putting their hearts in it. Ann may disagree.

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