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


weezermonkey said...

I love squeaky cheese!!!

Peter M said...

By and large, the dishes look good (we would probably agree on the flops). The shrimp, Halloumi, dips, dessert stand out.

Diana said...

Haha that's hilarious about the squeaky cheese! But what if I don't like my cheese to sound like a mouse?

H. C. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
H. C. said...

ooh, loving that they do a vegetarian moussaka but bummers that it's a miss, but it's great knowing there's a Greek join committed to veggie-friendly dishes -- I know where I'm heading next time I'm going for a LAX dropoff or pickup. That Haloumi cheese and the app platter looks amazing (and hopefully they won't mind swapping out the taramousalata.)

As if the grilled cheese wasn't enough, seeing that galactoboureko pic instantly made me miss Andy's galakatobaklava at the honey party!

In any case, I know where to check out next time I'm doing a dropoff or pickup at LAX...

Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said...

Good to see you got to try Aliki's. I wholeheartedly agree about the flops...that lamb looks "bleh"! The soup and lahanodolmades look amazing though! Oh! and the fake grass and cheap motel is very "Pulp Fiction"!

stuffycheaks said...

i dont like cheese but hmmm... if its fried... that seems doable. The milk pie looks amazing too. love anything with phyllo

Banana Wonder said...

Weezermonkey - I squeaken that notion!

Peter - agreed! I am ready for Round II

Diana - Then you should stick to the halloumi and feta :)

H.C. - There were tons of other veggie dishes as well. So you are remaining veggie I take it? Bravo.

Peter - I almost brought you here but, now that I know you dig Pulp Fiction, next time you know where we'll be going (NOT Manhattan!)

Stuffycheaks - you don't like cheese?! It's okay, you redeemed yourself with the phyllo love :)

Anonymous said...

This place reminds me of Marouch in terms of appetizers straight killing the mains. Dully noted. I see quite a few things on the menu to be sampled the NEXT time around.

I will make it one of these days, no matter which state you may reside!

Banana Wonder said...

Sinosoul - I want to go with you! Sticking to the apps is a good plan.

Helen said...

Oh wow, I'm getting hungry! It's been ages since I've been to Greek restaurant. Lately, I've had a major craving for saganaki and deep fried calamari!

Word of caution when ordering moussaka from a restaurant, it will usually be frozen and nuked in a microwave or re-heated over and over again. It happened to me in on the outside, cold on the inside, bleh! Homemade moussaka can't be beat!

Banana Wonder said...

Helen - Time for some fried cheese! And now you got me thinking about making some mousaka...

Carbohydrate Facts said...

Another good review, thanks for sharing.

Banana Wonder said...

Carb Facts - Thanks :) Let me know if you make it there.

SouthBayGuy said...

I got to try Aliki's with a meetup group last year. I stopped at The Wine Country in Signal Hill to get a bottle of retsina and a bottle of red. Byob is definitely the way to go. It was a fun place, but not the best. Still looking for the best mousaka in Southern Ca (I'm now open to going to OC for this elusive dish - LOL)

Banana Wonder said...

SouthBayGuy - Aliki's is great for low-profile, BYOB dining (next time I'd make a meal out of mezedes). You'll have to let me know how that moussaka is ;)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anna,

Thanks for the great report on Aliki's. At least I know of a place for good Greek Coffee now. :)