Monday, March 22, 2010

Breaking my fast and loving it: Evvia Estiatorio, Palo Alto, CA

Are you there god, it's me Anna and I broke my fast.

And it was so worth it.

Whoops, I did just say that.

When I drove up to my hometown of Cupertino, the glorious home to Apple Computer and #1 destination spot for software engineers, to surprise my lifelong pal Debra for her 30th birthday I had octopus on the brain. That could have had something to do with the homemade piñata I made for her and my hopes of turning it into a purple octopus with 30 legs which didn't happen due to time constraints, i.e. me deciding 3 days prior that I would make a piñata instead of 2 weeks beforehand. Octopus would be found elsewhere.

Growing up in the Bay Area, the only Greek restaurants my parents would take my brothers and I to were a quasi-Daphne style establishment called Yiassoo and an old school dinner joint called Pete's (which is now closed). I was excited when I learned of a progressive Greek estiatorio "restaurant" using seasonal and local produce. I couldn't bare to visit another tacky taverna with middle aged belly dancers swirling around bewildered patrons like the ones I've come across in Southern California, Aegean Cafe in Laguna Beach being the biggest offender. I had high hopes for Evvia as I rounded up my beloved Cupertino cronies for a night of Hellenic noshes. I'm hollering at you especially, octopus. 
Inside was welcoming, the patrons all seemed to be jovial and relaxed. Lots of happy, red cheeks in the house. The set up is like a huge kitchen with long bench tables in the middle for family style seating, which is where we sat met by my Greek-American friend from high school, Kristy, who was happily hanging out at the bar with her glass of red prior to meeting us.
We started out with a meze dish adorned with mounds of  taramosalata (whipped roe), tzatziki, and melitzanosalata (eggplant salad) next to warm (white and whole wheat!) pita with dolmathes. The pita was exceptional - chewy on the inside but toasty on the outside to stand up to the dips. The taramosalata was particularly smooth with a good taste of the sea; the melitzanosalata, fresh and chunky was a nice contrast between the creamy garlicky tang of the tzatziki.
Too bad blogspot doesn't have the tag option. From top to bottom: taramosalata, melitzanosalata, and tzatziki.

Next my favorite purple animal that doesn't bleed and likes to swim in olive oil came out. It's hard to find good octopus these days, but Evvia's tasted like tender Mediterranean Octopus. As I popped the first piece in my mouth I only had to chew a couple of times to break down the morsel.  Besides the octopus meat, the golden juices - to be sopped up with bread- and also a very key component in quintessential Greek style octopus were spot on. I was ready to take this dish out back with the bread basket and go to work, but alas I had to save room (and share). What octopus pinata?
Fresh off the boat taste: octopus with olive oil, lemon and oregano

And then there is cheese. Halloumi, the varietal hailing from Cyprus to be exact. Halloumi has a high melting point so it's often grilled, fried, and/or BBQed.  Evvia's version is an immaculate collection of wild mushrooms with  pieces of pan fried halloumi. The woodsy-ness of the mushrooms combined with the crispy yet firm slightly-saltier-than-mozzarella cheese left a wonderful buttery sensation in my mouth curving it up into a smile. Our server explained this was a seasonal dish, as it wasn't on the main menu and the shrooms have begun to sprout after the winter rains. At that point I turned to my friend Kristy in mid sentence:

"This dish makes me very happy," I interrupted Kristy.
This was my favorite of the night.
The dish that makes you relax: Pan fried halloumi with wild mushrooms.

And then there is fried cheese, Greek style: Saghanaki. Kefalograviera pan fried with lemon and oregano. Kefalograviera happens to be one of my most favorite cheeses in the world: it's a saltier sheep's milk cheese with a robust, almost nutty flavor.When it's fried, the flavor on the crispy edges intensifies. If you've never had saghanaki I feel sorry for you you should.
Table side cutting by waiter. Because equal portions and relationships could be jeopardized.

Our waiter brought the cheese over in the pan and plated it, then cut our cheese baby into fours.
Make sure you're alone: Greek fried cheese porn

Kolokithokeftedes, zucchini croquettes were perfectly crispy on the outside and soft, fluffy and mildly herby on the inside, accompanied by cucumbers and mint yogurt. At this point my friends and I start clapping because we love our food so much.
Zucchini croquettes. It's what's for dinner.

The loukaniko, Greek sausage was my biggest sin of the night. The last time I'd eaten meat was February 13th at a mountain village party in Dimitsana, Greece. I am not a big meat eater, but sausage is my arch nemesis. Evvia's sausage is supple with specks of fennel seeds and just a tinge of smokiness. It was delicious and I was enthusiastically shoving the plate of sausage in Debra's face wanting her to try it (the girl is a meat eater).
Greek sausage fest

My friend Sharon, an extremely picky eater, is a gluten free pescadarian. (Insert eye roll here) Luckily we grew up together and she loves Greek food as much as I love her mom's Chinese food. Sharon had been eying the pantzaria, beets the whole time and her wish had been granted. These beets, no wait, jewels, were a thing of beauty: perfectly sweet, firm yet soft enough to bite into, with the right amount of dill and green onions to highlight the flavors.
This is how we do: Greek style beets

A round of fried smelts with skordalia (garlic potato dip) were in order. This is one of my favorite dishes to eat in Greece and Kristy wanted to order something we couldn't get elsewhere. Greek style fried smelts are a tough find!  As our super cool server brought out the plate, Panos, the manager swung by saying something romantic to the tone of:
"These are better than fries!"
And he's right. I don't think you can get the same pleasure of eating an entire fish encased in a light crispy breading with a quick squirt of lemon and a skim of potato-garlic bliss as you can from a simple slice of fried potato.
Fried smelts with skordalia. Fried fishes + garlic = love.

Kristy and I took a quick intermission with some ouzo, hers chilled and mine on the rocks. Greek friends don't let friends take shots of ouzo. Please sip and enjoy.
 T.B.S. To Be Sipped: Extremely smooth ouzo

And Greek coffees
A force to be reckoned with: Greek Coffee

Galaktoboureko made with vanilla bean semolina custard with pistachio ice cream.We actually got two orders of these, they were that good.
Die hard and happy Galaktoboureko

Yiorti me meli, Yogurt with honey, nuts and a fruit compote. Evvia makes their own yogurt, greek style of course, so this was a real treat to eat.
Yiorti me Meli

Sokolatina, warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream: the Greek version of molten lava cake.
Debra, my loyal friend and blog follower, suggested to cut it open for a shot of the lava flow. Plus 1 for being a smart friend!
Make sure no one is behind you while viewing, this is intense!

And finally, I didn't want this night to end, but we'll end it with my favorite Greek sweet: Bougatsa. Evvia's version defines their progressive Greek cooking with their version: instead of the traditional vanilla custard inside layers of phyllo, their filling consists of ricotta and and heirloom apples, next to a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream.
Bougatsa: Does this help?

It was a lovely evening with incredible Hellenic cuisine, superb service and my super cool (and also tall) Cupertino cronies.
with manager Panos, me, Kristy and Debra

Evvia Estiatorio
420 Emerson Street
Palo Alto, CA  94301
(650) 326-0983


Peter M said...

You ate all that? lol

This place looks fantastic and I wished I lived nearby to sample their dishes. Props to Panos and the the proprietors!

Maria said...

Looks like a great place! Traditional dishes with a slight twist.

LetMeEatCake Eat With Me! said...

what a meal! all of those dishes look amazing! I love love love haloumi there is nothing like it

Diana said...

WOW! I'm impressed, TALF! You guys took down a spread! A great way to break your fast, indeed. Was that taramasolata (sp?) better than Tony's?

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SouthBayGuy said...

OMG. I had given up on saghanaki because no one does it as well as the Greeks in Chicago. (Where you got shots of ouzo if you had to wait in line for a table - LOL)

Tell them to open a branch down here in San Pedro where there's now a vacuum of Greek restaurants.

Peter G @ Souvlaki For The Soul said...

I am impressed! Great food all round by the looks of it...It's great that you were able to enjoy this and satisfy your cravings. My 2 faves are the wild mushroom/halloumi combo and that bougatsa! (I now want to find heirloom apples...milopita anyone?)

Anna A. said...

Peter - I ate everything (but with the help of friends)! Maybe you can whip up your own version of halloumi and shrooms?

Maria - yeah, gotta love that progressive greek cooking (ie. what you do).

LetMeEatCake - Halloumi is really a special thing, eh? I want to start cooking more with it after my fast is over.

Diana - TALF! Evvia does not offer taramosalata in lieu of oil/butter like Tony's does, so I'd have to say it's their specialty. You shall soon see, my dear tall lady friend.

Vincent - merci! I wished I could take credit for these dishes...

SouthBayGuy - sounds like you need to pay homage to Nor Cal for some proper hellenic cuisine. (shots in line, you crazy)

Peter G - I like your taste (and love your blog)! Can't wait to read about that milopita...

Kristy said...

Anna! Reading your post makes me want to do that night all over again and again and again...I can't believe we ate all of that fabulous food. You did leave out one important thing from the night, the adorable bartender named Pete, haha! Thank you for such a great night, can't wait until the next time.

Amber Star said...

OMGosh...I have lick and slobber marks all over my monitor now. That food looks so good, I can barely stand not running out to the airport and grabbing a plane to California. Girl...that was a wonderful and beautiful meal and now I'm starving...sadly there is only yogurt in the house. That place has gorgeous food!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Wow, what a fantastic meal! I am now drooling... That is one awesome Greek restaurant!



Anna A. said...

Kristy - Thanks so much for blessing us with your presence! You'll have to go back to that bar (and Pete) for round II. I am going with you next time I'm up.

Amber - Hurry up and get on over here! Thanks for visiting my blog :)

Rosa - Thanks, it was one of the best meals I've had in awhile.

Lauren said...

Wow Anna, the food at Evvia looks amazing. Rob and I will be going in June when we're in the Bay Area. Thanks for posting all the pictures, I was salivating!

Anna A. said...

Schnogg - yes please go there - I think you guys will love it! I might even drive up to join you :)

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