Effusive over Evvia
Palo Alto landmark caters to the Greek god and goddess in us all
Soon after we walked in the door, we knew we were going to have a delicious dinner. No wonder. The fare was aromatic, rustic and enticing, the decor Mediterranean chic with linen lined tables, oversized urns of fresh flowers, open kitchen with a spit turning lamb and chickens in a huge wood burning fireplace, the uniformed staff friendly and knowledgeable, and the wine list approachable.
A reservation was necessary on Monday evening, and every other night of the week. Even in these lean times, Evvia is as wildly popular as it has been for the past 15 years.
The food is well balanced too. Many Greek restaurants are guilty of over-saltiness that comes from feta, olives, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, sausages, anchovies and herb blends. At Evvia, the saltiness, while there, does not overwhelm any dish; rather, it compliments and draws flavors out.
In all, there's not much to complain about with Evvia, save for the high decibel level that can often inhibit or eliminate table conversation. Yet the hubbub is a decidedly happy chatter amongst the mixed crowd of business expense diners, families and twosomes in for a romantic dinner.
Evvia's sister restaurant, Kokkari, is an equally popular, albeit larger, San Francisco location tucked away in Jackson Square, on the northern waterfront. Same ownership with essentially the same menu.
One evening, we were stuck in knotted Highway 101 traffic and called the restaurant to ask if they would hold our reservation. No problem, I was told, the table would be ready when we arrived. That's the kind of attention that ensures repeat business.
Right away, crusty bread arrived at the table, olive oil was poured, and the pleasurable business of deciding which tempting menu selections to order soothed our jangled urban nerves.
Starters were just the right-sized portions, enough to encourage the appetite and pique the taste buds. Spanakotiropita ($8.75) was buttery golden brown phyllo pastry stuffed with braised spinach, feta cheese and herbs. It was like a flaky, healthy, miniature spinach and cheese pie.
The revelatory flavors of skewered and grilled chunks of artichoke and eggplant, anginares souvlaki ($12), were enhanced by a creamy and slightly sour Greek yogurt.
The crispy zucchini cakes, kolokithokeftethes ($8.75), were served with slices of cucumber and skordalia — a thick potato and garlic sauce. Since zucchini has little flavor, the cakes were merely the vehicle for the skordalia which was silky and tangy.
Gigantes ($7.50) were giant baked organic white beans with tomatoes, leeks and herbed feta. Served in a mini tureen, it was a hot and hearty little vegetable stew.
Roasted butternut squash ($6.50) with brown sage butter was good, but lacked the depth of flavor of other appetizers.
Of the entries, I still cannot decide which is my favorite. The kotopoulo ($23.75), accented with lemon and oregano, was an intoxicatingly aromatic rotisserie chicken. The scents didn't just waft from the plate, they made a dramatic and alluring statement of their own. It would be inconceivable not to love this dish.
The smoked half chicken was bronzed on the outside, juicy and succulent on the inside, and its flavors were marvelous. The chicken came with olive oil basted roasted heirloom squash and potatoes that had benefited from drippings of the rotisserie meat.
Mesquite grilled rib-cut lamb chops, arnisia paidakia ($31) also came with olive oil roasted potatoes. The meat was perfectly pink, not bloody on the inside, exactly as I had ordered it. The lamb was sweet, fragrant, slightly smoky, rich and simply irresistible.
Katsiki yiouvetsi ($26.75) was tender, moist braised goat. Goat is lower in fat than chicken and higher in protein than beef, and is the most consumed meat in the world. Because it lacks fat, it needs to be marinated or basted while cooking to preserve its delicate flavors. Evvia's version was served in a medley of roasted tomatoes, green beans, Greek olives, orzo and herbed feta.
Another evening, we ordered dorade ($32) which was one of the three whole fish specials offered daily. The dorade had been mesquite grilled and basted with lemon-oregano vinaigrette. Braised greens and potatoes accompanied.
Dorade is small, tender Mediterranean white fish with rich, meaty, succulent flavors. It is the classic fish of Marseille's bouillabaisse. Due to over-fishing, the specimen on our plate was not wild but came from a natural environment aqua farm. No matter, the flavors were delicious.
Moussaka ($19.75), a deep-dished baked casserole with eggplant, lamb ragout, and potatoes, was topped with a rich yogurt bechamel. I couldn't eat it all; there had to have been a half pound of ground lamb layered with the vegetables. The yogurt bechamel added a milkiness and slight acidity that harmonized nicely.
The eclectic wine list encompassed mostly Mediterranean wines from Greece, Italy, France and Spain along with a large selection from the West Coast. Most red wines and higher acid whites work best with this kind of hearty fare. Excellent bottles were to be had in the $40 to $80 range with a few exceptional wines priced accordingly.
Desserts were worth saving room for. Galaktoboureko ($8.25) was golden phyllo wrapped around a vanilla bean semolina custard, ideal with the pistachio ice cream. Bougatsa ($8) was phyllo again, this time wrapped around warm ricotta cheese dotted with diced apples and dulce de leche ice cream.
General Manager Panos Gogonas has been with the company since inception. He and chef Mario Ortega keep Evvia an exciting restaurant venue with cordial hospitality and food that is dynamic, earthy and sweetly scented. Evvia doesn't cater to the Greek gods, but its patrons are treated as such.
420 Emerson St., Palo Alto
Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Monday-Thursday 5:30-10 p.m.
Friday 5:30-11 p.m.
Saturday 5-11 p.m.
Sunday 5:30-9 p.m.