Friday, June 2, 2023

Greek Breakfast at Ithaki: First Impressions

Ithaki, a mainstay of Ipswich for about 25 years, moved to Peabody last year. This Greek restaurant, owned by Petros Markopoulos, has a very good reputation, and it's now located on Route 1, next to the Holiday Inn. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, although I strongly suspect that most people aren't aware that it has breakfast. I attended a wine dinner there recently (of which I'll be writing about in the near future), and the food was excellent. And yesterday, I decided to enjoy breakfast there.

There were only about six people dining there yesterday morning, which is a major reason why I don't believe many people know of their breakfast service. I've also spoken to a number of people and they too were unaware. Ithaki's breakfast menu has plenty of the usual breakfast dishes, from Pancakes to Omelettes, French Toast to Eggs Benedict. However, a number of dishes have a Greek flair to them, such as a Greek Omelette and Breakfast Gyros. Prices generally range from about $11-$16, with a few dishes priced less and a few higher. 

We began with one of their starters, the Bougatsa ($11), house-made milk custard wrapped in phyllo, and finished with cinnamon and powdered sugar. I was pleased that they used restraint with the powdered sugar. The warm Bougatsa was delicious, with crispy phyllo and a creamy, sweet custard filling, accented by the cinnamon. It's certainly large enough to share and is a nice way to start breakfast. 

I opted for the Strapatsada ($16), which is made with two scrambled eggs, braised tomato, feta, house cured pork, and tirokafteri. Strapatsada, which is also known as Kayianas or Menemeni, may have been brought to the Greek islands in the Ionian Sea by Sephardic Jews during maybe the 18th or 19th centuries. It's considered a rather simple dish of scrambled eggs and tomatoes, but the version at Ithaki is elevated and impressive. First, there seemed to be more than just two eggs in this hearty dish, and they were within a tasty, savory, and slightly sweet, tomato broth. Second, the pork was very tender and delicious, easily breaking apart under my fork, and adding a salty edge to the dish. Third, the tirokafteri, a spicy feta spread atop the dish, was also excellent, and I spread much of it on the warm toast. I'll also note that this is a Gluten Free dish. Highly recommended!

The Greek Benedict ($17) consists of thick English muffins topped by an ample portion of house-made lamb hash and Hollandaise sauce. It's also accompanied by a side of crisp home fries. The lamb hash was superb, meaty and tender, spiced just right. I'd order that hash as a side the next time I dined here. The poached eggs were cooked perfectly and the Hollandaise was fresh and delicious. Definitely a top notch Benedict dish. And the home fries were cooked well too, tender with a nice crispness to the exterior. Another winner of a dish.

Prices are reasonable for the quality and quantity of the dishes. I saw some other dishes, such as the omelettes, and they too contained an ample portion of food. The other diners, who sat relatively closely to our table were very happy with their breakfasts too. I'd definitely return here for breakfast again, and I hope to spread the word that they do serve breakfast and its worthwhile to dine there. And if you do have breakfast there, at least one of your party should order that Strapatsada.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) Taste of Somerville returns to Assembly Row on June 14. The al fresco event – forced to take a three-year hiatus amidst the pandemic – will continue its 26-year legacy of celebrating Somerville’s dining and beverage scene while supporting community organizations. This year’s beneficiary is the Somerville Education Foundation whose mission is to promote learning opportunities for all Somerville residents. 

Taste of Somerville will take place on Wednesday, June 14, from 5:00-8:00pm outdoors at Assembly Row’s Baxter Riverfront Park, 330 Great River Road, in Somerville. In the event of rain, Taste of Somerville will take place on Thursday, June 15, or secondarily on Wednesday, June 21, from 5-8pm. 

This year’s event will feature more than 50 restaurants spanning Somerville’s eclectic offerings complemented by local spirits, wines, and craft breweries. The participating restaurants include: American Flatbread, Carolicious, Celeste, Civility Social House, Elm Street Taproom, Fat Hen, Five Horses Tavern, FoodDys Kitchen, Foundry on Elm, Fuji at Assembly, Gracie’s Ice Cream, Juicygreens, Juliet, Koshari Mama, La Brasa, La Posada Restaurant, Los Amigos Taqueria, Lucky Strike, Machu Picchu Restaurante Turistico, Mike's Food & Spirits, Neighborhood Restaurant, Olde Magoun's Saloon, Orleans, Premiere on Broadway, Redbones Barbecue, Revival, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Saigon Tiger, Saloon, Salt + Stone, Shake Shack, Smoke Shop BBQ, Somerville Chocolate, The Burren, The Grounds Café, The Independent, Tony C’s Sports Bar & Grill, True Grounds, Union Square Donuts and Vera’s.

To wet the whistle, imbibe in sips from Remnant Brewing, Aeronaut Brewing Company, Sav Mor Liquors and Portico Brewing as well as spirits like Charlestown’s Chattermark Distillers and Aperol. Tito’s Handmade Vodka will serve up mixologist-curated specialties at the main event as well as in the “Tito’s VIP Lounge” where Island Creek Oysters will be shucked.

After three long years, we’re so excited to bring people together again for this celebration of Somerville’s dining and nightlife options,” said Jess Willis, Event Chair for Taste of Somerville which is organized by the Somerville Chamber of Commerce’s Dining & Nightlife Group. Added Stephen Mackey, President of the Chamber: “We created this event in 1997 to spotlight Somerville’s diverse food and beverage communities while supporting a local nonprofit. We’re grateful to be a part of the resurgence of large-scale food festivals.

Tickets and VIP experiences, starting at $55 per person, to Taste of Somerville are available now by visiting Ticket Union. Tickets include admission and unlimited food and beverage tastings. This event is open to all ages with special ticket pricing and activities for children.

2) Summer is finally approaching, and Kane’s Donuts has new flavors to celebrate. The month of June is filled with celebrations such as National Donut Day and Pride Month. Kane’s June flavors of the month include Soft Honey Cruller, Chocolate Sprinkle Donut, Zagnut Donut, Gluten Free Donut, Pride Donut and a Strawberry Vegan Donut.

The Soft Honey Cruller is a yeast dough twisted in the shape of a cruller cooked to a light golden color and then drenched in Kane’s Signature Honey Glaze. The Chocolate Sprinkle Donut is an old-fashioned cake-style donut frosted with Kane’s homemade chocolate frosting, then dipped in chocolate sprinkles. The Zagnut Donut is a yeast donut frosted with Teddy peanuts, then dipped in toasted coconut and topped with lines of our homemade chocolate frosting. The Gluten-Free Donut of the month is a Clementine Donut. Clementines are a deep, orange-colored hybrid fruit, a combination of mandarin and sweet orange; the refreshing flavor is unmistakable! Kane’s folds the fruit into their old-fashioned dough and then dipped in their Signature Honey Glaze drizzle with Clementine Icing. 

The Pride Donut, Love is Love, will be featured Friday, June 9 through the 12th. The donut is a yeast ring frosted with a creamy vanilla frosting festively decorated. This month’s Vegan Donut is a Strawberry Donut with a cake-style donut topped with a frosting made with fresh strawberries!

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Kosmos: An Impressive Greek Restaurant In Walpole

It's such a joy to see another excellent Greek restaurant, with delicious cuisine and tasty Greek wines. Kosmos, located in Walpole, is owned by Angelos and Stavros Petropulos, and they recently announced the “official” opening of their restaurant, although technically it has been open for about six months. They wanted to be sure everything was perfect and in place before the official opening. I recently dined there, as a media guest, and was thoroughly impressed by their cuisine and wines. I certainly want to return there, to try more of their menu as well as to experience their Brunch. 

Stavros, who supervises the front of the house, previously attended business school in Switzerland and managed restaurants in Athens, Rhodes, and Santorini. Angelos previously worked at Committee, where I've enjoyed many scrumptious Greek meals with Greek wine. Their Executive Chef, Luis Figueroa, also worked at Committee, as well as Taqueria El Barrio and Eva Restaurant

Luis was also the creative force behind Committee's Grexico menu, a fusion of Greek and Mexican cuisine, for Cinco de Mayo. I thought that Grexico menu was innovative and delicious, and it could form a foundation for its own Grexico restaurant. Luis brought the Grexico menu ideas to Kosmos for the recent Cinco de Mayo celebration too.

With their background at Committee, I had high expectations for the cuisine and they more than met those expectations. 

It's rather unassuming from the outside, and there's limited on-street parking but there's ample parking behind the restaurant. Once you step inside, the restaurant is much larger than it seems from the outside, with a bar located inside to the left. There's a white and blue color scheme, with some intriguing murals on the walls, and soft Greek music plays in the background. It has a homey vibe, and on a Friday night, there wasn't an empty table. It's a place you definitely need a reservation for on the weekends.

Behind the restaurant is a walled-in patio, with ample seating for al fresco dining. This is going to be hugely popular this summer.

The Dinner menu, which features some family recipes that date back generations, is broken down into Mezedes (appetizers), Deipno (dinner entrees) and Synodeftika (sides). The Mezedes divided into Hot (12 options) and Cold (8 options), mostly from $12-$18, and include dishes such as Kolokithakia (fried zucchini), Midia (mussels & clams in a Retsina wine sauce), and Solomos Ceviche (salmon). The Deipno section offers 7 Meat & Fish options, from $26-$54, such as Kotopoulo (chicken chops) and Lamb Chops. There are also 2 To Share options, including Poikilia Kreaton (a selection of grilled meats and sides for $71) and Giouvetsi Thalassinon (a seafood mix over orzo and tomato sauce for $62). Both of those dishes are meant for two people. 

There are also 5 options for Sides, from $6-$9, such as Broccoli Rabe and Roasted Baby Potatoes. The Dessert menu has 3 options (1 for 2 people), priced from $11-$15, such as Saragli (baklava with ice cream) and Portokalopita Cheesecake.

On Sundays, from 10am-3pm, they also offer Brunch, with dishes such as Spanakopita Benedict, Greek Yogurt Pancakes, Shakshouka, Tsoureki French Toast, and Chicken & Biscuits

As for their Drinks menu, they have a full bar, and offer a number of cocktails (many $13-$15), a few with a Greek accent. They also stock a number of Greek spirits, from ouzo to tsipouro. As for beer, they have four beers on draft ($6.50-$8.50), and seven by the can/bottle ($6-$10), including four Greek ones. 

Their wine list, with about 46 different choices, is nearly all Greek, except for an Italian Prosecco and Pinot Grigio. The list is diverse and includes Sparkling, Orange, Rosé, Whites, Reds, Retsina and Dessert wines. 27 wines are available for the glass ($12-$17), offering plenty of choices. Most of the wines by the bottle are reasonably priced, around $40-$50, although the more expensive wines are generally worth the price. There's a Greek wine on their list for everyone's preferences, and as always I strongly encourage you to drink more Greek wine. The wines pair great with Greek cuisine, as well as many other cuisines. 

Our dinner began with a complimentary Olive Tapenade with a rustic bread drizzled with olive oil. The tapenade was tasty, with a nice complexity of flavors, and went well smeared atop the hearty bread. It was a pleasant start to the evening, and intimated the flavors they were to come.

Our server, Jorge, also used to work at Committee, and he was personable, knowledgeable, attentive and accommodating. We let him choose nearly all of the wines for the evening, and each of his choices was a winner. It was a pleasure to chat with him over the course of the evening. 

We began with two glasses of wine, a sparkling wine and an orange wine. I opted for the Domaine Karanika Sparkling Wine, which is made from 90% Xynomavro and 10% Assyrtiko, and produced by the Méthode champenoise. It was delicious and elegant, dry and crisp, with pleasing flavors of apple and citrus. A great choice to start, and it would pair well with many dishes, from seafood to fried foods. 

My dining companion had a glass of the Icon Roditis, a compelling orange wine that was complex and intriguing. Savory and tannic, with flavors of citrus, dried fruits, and some minerality. Great acidity, a lingering finish, and again, another excellent food wine. Jorge made a great choice with this wine, especially as I considered it prior to my visit while perusing their wine list. 

Our first dish was their Appetizer Special that evening, Arancini, filled with Greek cheese and goat cheese, sitting atop atop fig jam made with loukaniko (Greek sausage). The exterior of the arancini was nicely crisp and the interior was creamy and cheesy. The fig jam was sweet and salty, adding a nice element to the cheesy arancini. Everything was well balanced and the dish was absolutely delicious. Highly recommended! 

They offer three different Dips, from Tzatziki to Skordalia, but we opted only for the Whipped Spicy Feta, made with Chili Peppers, Olive Oil, and Feta Cheese. It was served with warm slices of pita bread.  The whipped feta was creamy, spicy and scrumptious, especially atop the warm pita. There was a nice level of spicy heat which didn't overwhelm but made sure you knew the chili peppers were present. It's a relatively simple dish, but well executed and it makes for a great bar snack too.

The Oktapodi Ksidato (pickled octopus) is topped with Kalamata olive powder and sits within a Pepper Coulis. The octopus was tender and meaty, with a pleasant pickled taste, enhanced by the slightly briny olive powder and the lightly spicy coulis. A taste of the sea, a taste of Greece. 

For a white wine, Jorge selected the 2019 Hatzidakis Skitali, an Assyrtiko from Santorini, and it was an exceptional wine; delicious, complex, and with great depths. Haridimos Hatzidakis was considered an extremely talented wine maker, but sadly passed away in 2019. The winery is now in the hands of his daughter, Stella. The term "skitali" means "baton," symbolizing the winery "baton" passed on from father to daughter. 

The wine is made from certified organic Assyrtiko grapes, which are fermented on indigenous yeasts and then aged on the lees for about 12 months in steel tanks. It's then aged in the bottle for another year before it's released. With a golden yellow color, the nose of this wine presents an alluring blend of citrus and floral notes. On the palate, there's a complex melange of intriguing flavors, including orange, lemon, white flowers, and an underlying minerality. It's elegant and crisp, rich and bright, with a lengthy and satisfying finish. Every sip brings new flavors to your mouth and it's a marvel just to slowly sip it over time. However, it's also a great pairing for seafood, like the octopus, as well as cheese. This is a "Wow" wine, sure to impress any wine lover. And it's probably one of the top Assyrtiko wines I've ever tasted. Highly recommended!

I love Saganaki, fried cheese, so I usually order it at any Greek restaurant I visit, and each place prepares it in their own special way. This Saganaki was pan fried Kefalograviera cheese topped by a grilled lemon. The exterior was tasty and crispy, with plenty of slightly chewy and gooey cheese within it. Each bite brought pleasure to my mouth, and the lemon added a bit of acidity to cut through the rich cheese. 

I also wanted to check out their Greek Fries, as the combination of french fries and feta is excellent. These Greek Fries are topped by feta, oregano, salt and pepper, and it's quite an ample bowl of fries, with lots and lots of feta, far more than expected and enough to feed 2-4 people. The fries were cut so they resembled little boats, or oval scoops, making it easy for the feta to be held by the fries. The fries were thin and crispy, with a nice clean taste, and enhanced by the briny taste of the feta. This would also be a great bar snack.

The Keftedes, lamb meatballs, with spicy tomato and feta, were firm and meaty, with a mildly spicy and tasty sauce, enhanced by the salty feta. As a lamb lover, I was impressed with these meatballs, and would love to try their lamb chops on a future visit. 

With our meat dishes, Jorge selected the 2016 Parparoussis Reserve, made with 100% Agiortiko, from the region of Nemea. The wine is aged for about 24 months in French oak, has an alcohol content of 13.5%, and is only made in exceptional years. It was complex and velvety, with a delicious melange of bright red fruits, with mineral notes, a mild earthy aspect and some herbal elements. It was sell balanced, with silky tannins, and a lengthy finish. A great choice for the lamb.

Our final savory dish was the Manti Me Kima, Greek dumplings with a Bolognese stuffing, within a beef Mavrodaphne broth and truffle oil. Another exceptional dish, with perfectly cooked dumpling skins and a nicely spiced and meaty filling. The broth was complex and delicious, enhancing the dumplings. I'd order this again anytime. 

For dessert, the Bougatsa (which serves two people), is made with a traditional crispy phyllo dough, semolina custard, Merenda chocolate sauce (kind of a Greek version of Nutella, but with more chocolate over hazelnut), and powdered sugar. As you all know, I'm not a big fan of powdered sugar on desserts and believe this dessert would have been even better without it, showcasing the beautiful colors of the crispy phyllo rather than white powder. Taste-wise though, it was excellent, a nice blend of the Merenda and custard, with the delightful crispy phyllo. It's quite a large dessert, and four people could probably have each enjoyed a slice. A fine dessert choice.

With the dessert, we had a glass of Cavino Deus Mavrodaphne of Patra, a dessert wine made from 70% Mavrodaphne and 30% Korinthiaki. Sweet, but balanced with nice acidity, it had pleasant flavors of ripe plum and fried figs, with hints of spice. 

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by the cuisine, wines and service at Kosmos. It fulfilled all of my expectations and I give it my highest recommendation. Chef Figueroa is doing a great job in the kitchen, creating plenty of inventive and delicious dishes. The Greek wine list is diverse and exciting and you really need to drink more Greek wine. You really need to dine at Kosmos, which is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday, and also for brunch on Sundays. I'm already planning my next visit there to experience more of their menu.

Monday, May 29, 2023

2020 Apostolos Thymiopoulos Rosé de Xynomavro: "X" Marks the Spot

There are three wine grapes that begin with "X," including Xarello (indigenous to Spain), Xynomavro (indigenous to Greece) and Xynisteri (indigenous to Cyprus). Today, let's travel to Greece and explore Xynomavro.

The term Xynomavro (also spelled Xinomavro) roughly translates as "acid-black." Xinomavro likely originated in the Náoussa region, in northern Greece, and is the second most planted red grape in Greece. The Náoussa appellation, established in 1972, only permits the use of the Xynomavro grape. The grape is most often compared to Nebbiolo (and sometimes Burgundy), and tends to possess strong tannins and high acidity, meaning it also can age very well. As the wine ages, it starts to lose its red fruit flavors and begins to acquire savory notes, especially tomato and olive.  

I recently enjoyed the 2020 Apostolos Thymiopoulos Rosé de Xynomavro ($24), which is produced in the village of Trilofos, at the foot of the Vermio mountain. The Thymiopoulos family has been involved in grape growing in Trilofos for generations but Apostolos Thymiopoulos was the first to vinify wine, releasing his first wine in 2005. Apostolos produces ten different expressions of Xynomavro, and his vineyards are organic and Biodynamic. He also believes in minimal intervention in the cellar. 

This Rosé, made from 100% Xynomavro (from young vines), has a 13.5% ABV and was fermented with wild yeasts in stainless steel tanks for 5-6 months. It's then aged in second-use oak barrels for about four months. On the nose, you'll find bright red fruits accented with some herbal notes. On the palate, there's a complex mix of flavors, including fresh strawberry, cherry, and herbal accents, with lots of crisp acidity. Beneath those dominant flavors, there's fleeting hints of more depth, so it's something to savor over time. In addition, it's refreshing and delicious, with a lengthy, satisfying finish. It's not merely an easy-drinking Rosé. Highly recommended!

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.

To celebrate Boston Pride, Greco will be wrapping all: gyros (pork, chicken, lamb, bifteki (beef), loukaniko (pork and leek sausage), halloumi, veggie, vegan), fries with feta & oregano and loukoumades in special Pride packaging for the month of June. These will be available at all four locations - Newbury Street, Pier 4 Seaport, Milk Street and Hub Hall. The Greco team is also celebrating pride with new Rainbow Loukoumades (Greek style doughnuts) for a cause, with a portion of all proceeds going to Boston Pride.

2) After a three-year hiatus, the Boston Pizza Festival is returning to City Hall Plaza in Boston’s government center. This pizza event will take place on Saturday, June 24th and Sunday, June 25th from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. The Boston Pizza Festival will feature over 30 pizzerias in the New England and Greater Boston areas, along with select participating pizzerias hailing from Italy. The festival will feature something for everyone, with vegan and gluten-free options. Each pizzeria will be cooking in Marra Forni artisan pizza ovens.

Admission to the festival is free, with pizza tokens available for $3.00 available for purchases in varying packages upon arrival. Each token is good for one full-size slice of pizza. Tickets are now available for purchase at Boston Pizza Festival. They can be purchased in advance in packs of three, five, and ten. Ticket prices are as follows:
3 tickets for $10.99
5 tickets for $15.99
10 tickets for $29.99