Monday, July 19, 2010
Simple, Homemade & BYOB: Aliki's Greek Taverna
When I called to make reservations for five people on a Saturday night and check the beverage policy, I am sure I spoke directly with the owner - hearing a thick Greek accent and leaving me feeling very nostalgic.
Reservations: No problem!
BYOB: No corkage fee!
Aliki's is located in the bowels of the LAX industrial neighborhood. This ain't Melrose! It's connected to some kind of hotel with fake grass inside, according to our seating arrangements this was our unromantic view:
The owner was quick to seat us and our wine. My friend, Shells, arrived a little earlier and started off with sides of the jalapeno and artichoke-parmesan hummus ($6.95). Everyone preferred the kick of the jalapeno hummus to the almost in-existing flavors of the artichoke-parmesan version. Hummus is not traditionally a Greek dish, but a lot of Greek restaurants serve it because clients expect it.
The mathelete was exited for the lahanodolmades ($9.95) and struck up a conversation (in Greek) about how they were prepared: fresh! Our cabbage rolled rockets stuffed with tender spiced ground beef and rice were brilliantly made, with the avgolemono sauce adding a lovely tang. This dish was a winner and far better than the version we had at Petros.
Next came an order of the Haloumi Cheese ($7.50), a firm,grilled cheese from Cyprus. The cheese had a lovely fried complexion. Biting into my first piece:
"It's squeaky!" I exclaimed to my dining companions.
The nature of the cheese has a rubbery consistency, explaining the squeaky sensation. The flavor is similar to a salty mozzarella, and Aliki's version with chopped tomatoes was very satisfying, especially with wine.
We ordered the cold Appetizer Platter ($12.95) containing 6 cold appetizers to our liking. After confirming with the owner the taramousalata was made in-house using fish roe, mashed potatoes, olive oil and lemon, I was excited to taste one of my favorite dips. Good, but nothing special. And Tony Taverna's version still keeps it's #1 trophy in my heart. The manouri cheese with olive oil and Greek oregano was delightful - soft and slightly salty was delicious. The meliztanosalata (eggplant dip) was fresh, cool, and velvety in texture while the tyrokafteri (spicy feta cheese dip) added a happy and creamy kick. We were all happy to see the dolmades, this version made with grape leaves stuffed with lemon and rice did not come the can although I was skeptical the gigantes did. I like gigantes from the can, so it didn't bother me. Overall, I was very happy with our cold appetizers.
The Shrimp Santorini ($14.95) arrived begging for large hunks of bread to eat with it. The succulent shrimps sauteed with olive oil, green onions, tomatoes, basil, feta cheese and lemon juice created a pool of goodness that our refilled pita baskets enjoyed sopping up. The portion was perfect for five of us to share (including my 2-stomached brother).
We ordered Greece's version of chicken noodle soup: Avgolemeno ($5.00), made everyday at Aliki's. This satisfying soup combines a chicken based broth with egg, lemon juice, orzo and herbs. Aliki's version was simple and nourishing.
Interesting enough, Aliki's offers four (!) different types of mousaka:
Since Shells is vegetarian, we went with the Vegetarian Mousaka ($12.95). I was very excited to try Aliki's version, but unfortunately it was a flop. The mousaka did not taste fresh and something was just missing from this dish (besides the meat). As you can see from the layer on top, it has been heated and re-heated multiple times. Aliki's would be better offer with less versions in the mix, keeping the turnover rate of fresh casseroles high.
The Roasted Leg of Lamb ($19.95) was also somewhat of a flop. The lamb did was cooked to sawdust levels, disintegrating into tiny dry-ish bits in my mouth. It was all kind of weird, but the flavor was present and the cloves of garlic woven into the meat were pleasant surprised. The accompanying lemon potatoes were not super infused with lemon goodness as they should be and were also somewhat undercooked. The olive oil based ladero beans, however, were delicious and super authentic. My best bet for next time is to stick with the lamb gyro.
We finalized our meal with Greek Coffee ($2.50), a rich, dark coffee served in its own powdered grinds. The ending sledge leaves you with a fortune (if I can find someone in Southern California that knows how to read Greek Coffee sludge fortunes...)
We also split a piece of one of my favorite Greek sweets: Galaktoboureko ($4.95), which basically translates as "milk pie" but is so much better than that! It's a layer of semolina custards baked between phyllo, topped with a syrup. Aliki's version was delicious! The custard was thick and smooth, phyllo crispy despite being drenched in syrup - which is a key component to any good galaktoboureko. No sogginess!
Despite some dishes being a flop, others were superb. I would try Aliki's again for sure.
Aliki's Greek Taverna
5862 Arbor Vitae St.
Los Angeles, CA 90045