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Wednesday, June 29, 2005 

It's all Greek to me

Following the recent demise of Zorba's College Road restaurant, I've been trying to explore my options for Greek food. I could go to Diana's, but I don't want to eat in my car. I could go to Bobby's, but I'm not made of money. I could go to the Athenian, and I did. I've learned not to deny my cravings.
I met up with five friends on a recent Sunday evening, and we rearranged the tables to suit our party. The Athenian doesn't have space for larger parties, so be prepared to split up among tables on a busy night. Just one waitress was working that evening, but she did a great job of keeping our glasses filled and our food coming. Even though she was busy, Katie gave us excellent service. However, she disappointed us early on when she told us that the restaurant does not currently have a liquor license, and we were not allowed to bring in our own alcohol. She told us that the license should be back soon. We tried not to hold it against her and ordered our dinners.
The appetizer menu alone could probably feed a crowd, but we opted for an order of saganaki ($7.95) and devils on horseback ($9.95). I've tried making saganaki at home, but it's never quite right, possibly because I substitute provolone for the kefatlotyre cheese. At the Athenian, the saganaki is doused with brandy and briefly lit on fire, leaving it with a gentle taste of liquor. Now we were getting somewhere. Hic. I carved out careful portions for each diner. The saganaki had a smoky, rich flavor, and a delicate crust. Despite being deep-fried, the cheese was not greasy or crispy. Devils on horseback are baked scallops wrapped in bacon. There were six in the dish, giving each of us a taste. Sprinkled liberParmesanh parmesan and a vinegary sauce, they were not as fishy as I had feared. "And look at these cute little forks," Savage said, admiring his wee cutlery. "Anything that comes with cute little forks, I'm all about."
Dinners at the Athenian come with a choice of soup or salad. Jen and Don opted for the avgolemono soup, while the rest of us chose the salad. Now, I understand that the restaurant wants customers to order their Greek salad ($12.95), and I certainly wasn't expecting the world's greatest salad, but I was disappointed with what I got. The salads were a bed of shredded lettuce, each garnished with one tomato wedge and drizzled withParmesanette and parmesan. It was, quite honestly, one of the blandest salads I've ever had. Would it really hurt to slice up an onion? Or just a sprinkling of feta? Heck, give us green olives instead of Kalamatas, but please do something about the salad. In comparison, the avgolemono soup was rather good. It was creamy and not as lemony as the version I've made, but I prefer my food tart.
The best thing about bringing friends out to a restaurant is the chance to eat all their food in the name of objective journalism. My boyfriend, Tom, ordered moussaka ($15.95), his usual standby. Despite the daunting layers of potato, eggplant and beef, the dish was quite light, with a slight taste of nutmeg. Savage grudgingly handed over a tiny piece of his lamb souvlaki ($20.95), pointing out that it was an extremely altruistic act on his part. While waiting for our food, I had witnessed a girl dunking her souvlaki into a big puddle of ketchup, so I had wondered how the dish would taste. I found the lamb to be delicious on its own. It was mildly spiced with a charred crust, once again proving that kids have no taste.
For myself, I ordered lamb gyros ($14.95). I love that the Athenian serves a gyro plate which comes with two gyros, allowing me to save half for my next meal. The gyros are always a delight, with thin strips of tangy lamb nestled in soft, fluffy pitas, topped with slices of tomato and onion and a garlicky tzatiki dressing. One is usually enough to fill me up. Jen and Don had split the vegetable gyros ($13.95), which I thought couldn't be nearly as good as the lamb. However, the piles of grilled vegetables were smoky and delicious, and more than made up for the lack of meat. "So much for eating light tonight," Jen groaned. "Greek food, I think, is very rich."
Across the table, Amanda watched me as I eyed her fourno melitzanes ($18.95). She'd had a hard time choosing her meal, as the restaurant had run out of a few vegetarian options, including the vegetarian dolmades she craved. Her dish was made of marinated eParmesanwith mozzarella, parmesan and marinara sauce, all baked together. If it sounds like eggplant parmesan, that's because it basically was. The cheese and sauce were delicious together, and the eggplant held up well.
Accompanying all the meals were rice pilaf, roasted potatoes and green beans. The green beans looked tasty, but the sauce that accompanied them was bland. The potatoes, though, were delightfully tender and buttery. "I think it's a damn fine potato myself," Tom noted as he tried to muscle in on my plate.
Though they don't appear on the menu, the Athenian does offer desserts, but most of our party demurred. "I've got to watch my boyish figure," Savage said as he delicately wiped his mouth. Tom and I split an order of baklava, which arrived at the table piping hot. Tom dutifully told me my homemade baklava was better, but I know when he's lying. This baklava was amazing. The sauce can make or break it, and this one was rich with lots of honey and orange flavors. As we prepared to leave, I told Katie that the only thing that could've made it better was a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Her eyes lit up at the thought, and she said she'd see what she could do. I'll bet it's on the menu when we go back; I've got faith in Katie.

Editor's note: Days before this review was published, I learned of the demise of the Athenian. Fairbanks has lost one of its finest Greek restaurants. Gambardella's Pasta Bella has announced plans to use the space for another restaurant. I will keep you informed of the progress.

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