I know, I know. You’ve already heard about Grandia Palace from me. But that was long ago; things have changed.
The Grandia Palace in Hollywood was a bargain the moment it opened its doors, with its good fish dishes at prices that would make you happy all the way to the bank.
But now that it’s been around some--one, two years?--a sort of seasoning and curing has turned it into an even greater bargain.
What you have now is a restaurant not only with good, clean food (chiefly fish with strong Greek overtones) and ridiculously low prices, but an ambiance that is more cheerful than Aunt Jenny’s kitchen and entertainment that is clearly a big, big bonus to any restaurant trying to survive these days.
You get singing-dancing waiters and waitresses, an accomplished guitarist strumming in place (not roving), a proprietor who makes you feel at home, a cook in the kitchen who can do Greek cooking as well as he does his native Majorcan cooking (the paella was a striking example of good Spanish home cooking), and Apollo, Diane and Socrates (statues) peering at you from behind blooming azalea plants wherever in the room you may be. On weekends, customers join in the entertainment, much as they do at the Japanese bars.
And, yes, the giant-size replica of Apollo standing like an X-rated advertisement for a bathhouse smack inside the dining room, where you can’t miss him, is still around, but with an anatomical alteration that pains me in more than one way.
And, no, the crummy door jambs were never fixed, even though new splendid doors have replaced the old boards that passed for doors in the past. “Acropolis was never finished, either,” said Peter Sargologos, the owner. He has a point.
The food has changed somewhat, too, now that Sargologos decided to beef up the Greek portion of the menu by popular demand. “I never intended it to be a Greek restaurant, just seafood, but people want it,” he said.
And why not? You have some truly fine Greek tiropita and spanokopita (savory filo pastries). The avgolemono (lemon-flavored chicken noodle soup) would be great anytime, particularly on a day when you’re feeling the need for a lift. There is no Greek salad anywhere else in the city that I know of that is better than the one Sargologos serves. It’s a meal, brimming with the freshest of fresh vegetables, good ripe tomatoes, superb Greek cheese from Epirus and calamata olives that are plump and juicy. If you want chicken added to the dish for a main-course meal, you get it without further ado.
The Greek dishes are listed separately, but some, such as meze (appetizers), also appear with other non-Greek appetizers. Keftedakia (meat balls), saganaki (fried cheese) taramosalata (red roe caviar dip) and Greek eggplant salad are among them.
If you want to stick to Greek food, try any of the lamb dishes served, especially if they’ve been freshly made. The lamb youvetsi, fricassee, leg of lamb and lamb with eggplant are good most of the time. I’ve had somewhat dried-out leg of lamb at times, but not often. The moussaka and pastichio are wonderful when freshly made, too, so ask first. The Greek makaronada (macaroni with meat) is a double meal. Be prepared for toting as you leave.
The remaining menu is a mixed bag of seafood, Continental, vegetarian, south-of-the-border and European dishes. A little too much of everything is bothersome, but Sargologos refuses to narrow things down. “People like them,” he said.
So you’ll find vegetarian fettuccine Alfredo, pizza (with dried tomatoes, pine nuts, cashews, caseri cheese, almonds, artichokes and Alfredo sauce), passion fruit with cottage cheese, stuffed pepper a la Greque among the vegetarian dishes. There are burritos, enchiladas, chile relleno s and fajitas from south of the border, and from Europe, pepperoni pizza, Spanish paella for two, ravioli with sauce Bolognese and fettuccine with seafood.
Among continental dishes, you can have grilled chops, chicken, veal, New York steak, shish kebab (beef, chicken and fish) plus ground steak. Combination plates are also available, if you want to mix and match.
In fact, you can virtually order any food anyway you desire it cooked. Sargologos will comply. The seafood section, for instance, simply lists the type of fish available (a giant lobster tail at $35 for a whole and $16.85 for a half included). The fish, by the way, comes from Sargologos’ fish store across the street, which also contains a seafood cafe. Dirt cheap.
Just tell the waiter how you want the fish cooked--grilled, broiled or poached. All entrees come with soup or salad. At prices ranging from $6.95 for seafood plaki or $12.95 for steak and shrimp combo plate and $11.95 for a huge main course salad, you can’t possibly go wrong. The most expensive item on the menu sans lobster and fresh crab is $16.95 for bouillabaisse for two.
And we haven’t even gotten to the piece de resistence-- the singing-dancing help--who vary from time to time, depending on who lasts the grueling pace. After all, your waiter is balancing plates one moment and is suddenly out on the dance floor doing a hopa Greek dance with Nureyev proficiency, if not grace. The next time you look up, he’s at the microphone wailing “I want you, I need you, I love you,” with the kind of feeling that would make Elvis seem like Whistler’s mother. Hokey, never serious, but just the right kind of silliness that makes an evening out fun.
Which bring us to one major flaw of the restaurant. The wait. Service, while charming and bright, willing and able, is still slow and somewhat forgetful. Who can blame the overqualified waiters? Besides, who cares, if your intention is to be entertained.
And, yes, the noise level has not diminished. It’s even bolder and more bouncy now that there is music and dance to reverberate against the marble and glass. If you consider noisiness a flaw, forget Grandia.
Don’t forget to try the rice pudding if it’s fresh. Don’t bother, if it’s not. The pudding is the typical Greek version that is slightly more creamy and runny than firm, baked American rice pudding. The custard flan is good, too. There is baklava (nut-filled filo pastry) and galactobureko (Greek baked custard filled pastry). Excellent.
So what else do you want? An early-bird menu? You’ve got it, at prices several dollars less than the regular menu. Instead of $6.95 for Greek salad you pay $4.95. New York steak is $8.95 and roast lamb $7.95. All with soup or salad, bread and butter. What you don’t get with the early-hour menu is the entertainment. But who cares if all you want to do is eat?
Grandia Palace, 5657 Melrose Ave. (213) 462-8628. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch; 5 to 11 p.m. for dinner. Live Greek music daily except Tuesday with Monday night showcase. Visa and MasterCard accepted. Reservations accepted. Street parking. Full bar. Average dinner with soup or salad $10.