RESTAURANT REVIEW : The Greek Puts Emphasis on Classics : Unlike many coastal eateries, this new arrival to Ventura Harbor offers excellent cuisine to go with the ocean view.
Eating at restaurants on the edges of local harbors and marinas, with their vistas of sparkling blue waters, white sails and happy tourists, is usually a delight for the eyes--but generally a disappointment to the palate. (Tucks Point in Ventura is one happy exception.)
So it is with a sense of pleasure, excitement and a bit of bewilderment that I bring news of good food at Ventura Harbor. It can be found at The Greek.
The pleasure comes, simply, from finding good food. The excitement comes from having it in a seaside atmosphere. The bewilderment comes from the restaurant itself, which, with the exception of the outside terrace, is nondescript, almost uninviting.
It’s a conglomeration of sound equipment (used for lively evenings of Zorba dancing, Greek wine and belly dancing), scattered paperwork and some sort of attempt at decoration. All of which can be ignored from a seat on the terrace, with plates of Mediterranean cuisine on the table.
You may eat lightly here, or heartily. Light would be a tasty, authentic sampler plate of hot and cold Greek appetizers ($11.95 for two, lunch). Tzatziki , the classical dip of yogurt and cucumber, is spiced with lots of dill, a good mixture for scooping with pieces of hot pita bread.
Next to that is a portion of taramasalta , another classic, a blend of small amounts of red caviar with a creamy mixture of bread, oil, garlic and other seasonings. It’s a rich dish, but not overly salty.
There’s melitzanosalata , also blended, a melange of baked eggplant with lots of garlic, oil and seasonings. The plate also holds hummus--a smooth paste of garbanzos, sesame seeds, garlic, oil, lemon and spices--and an outstanding, home-style tabouli.
The tabouli is especially finely chopped for a restaurant, with its mixture of fresh tomatoes, green onions and parsley, with cracked bulgur. The particular virtue of tabouli prepared at The Greek--with strong flavors of olive oil, lemon and mint--is that the bulgur does not overwhelm the vegetables.
On the list of warm appetizers, you may have an argument as to whether the keftedes --hot, spicy meatballs, crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside, with plenty of dill, basil and garlic--are better than the excellent dolmades--grape leaves stuffed with meat and herbed rice.
You’ll also get a sampling of spanakopita --phyllo triangles stuffed with spinach and a blend of cheeses--and falafel, patties of ground garbanzos and spices. Not on the sampler plate, but worth ordering separately, are lahanodolmades ($3.25 lunch)--similar to the dolmades, but wrapped in cabbage leaves and served in a tomato sauce.
Avoid the calamari ($5.95 dinner), which are marinated, and tender, but completely boring in their breaded form, even with a sauce on the side.
Before going on to several outstanding main dishes, don’t pass by one of the best Greek salads ($7.50 dinner) on the California coast. It’s not that the lettuce, tomatoes, onions, feta and Greek olives are that special. It’s the dressing--a vinegar and oil base with flavors and texture that meld beautifully, perhaps because of the addition of lemon juice and a touch of anchovy paste.
A couple of entrees that you might expect would be good can easily be ignored: The grilled swordfish oreganato ($17.95 dinner) tends to be dry, and the Greek classic and comfort food, moussaka, an eggplant and meat casserole, is devoid of character.
But The Greek boasts a couple of lamb dishes, and a chicken plate that, in California at least, would be difficult to improve on.
The roasted lamb ($12.95 dinner) bakes slowly in the oven, for at least three hours. By the time it comes out, it’s so tender it’s falling apart, in delicious flakes, fork tender. The carrots on the side are succulent and the potatoes, roasted in meat juices and seasonings, are firm, just a little bit chewy--very, very good.
Perhaps the star of this menu is the lamb exohiko ($18.95 dinner). It’s also a dish of very tender lamb, but this one is stuffed with feta and spinach and then wrapped in phyllo so the flavors roast together.
Roasted chicken is a pretty simple dish. But this one, chicken a la plaka ($11.95 dinner), is specially delectable. The half chicken is rolled in a breading of herbs, in which garlic, rosemary, basil and possibly some Greek oregano, stand out. The chicken is then baked, the skin cooked to a thin, crisp crust, the juices of the bird fighting to get through.
The Greek is not new to Ventura County. For several years it was operated by Lynn and Makis Mikelatos in Oxnard, at a location, they say, that was hard for customers to find. They then took in a partner, Jerome Dabour--who is largely responsible for the restaurant’s Greek dances--and moved into the Marina, to the space once occupied by Bedford’s Restaurant.
They brought the chef, Nikos Xidarakos, with them, and the menu is a combination of the input and ideas of all four, with Xidarakos leading the way.
* WHAT: The Greek.
* WHERE: 1583 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura.
* WHEN: Open for lunch and dinner: Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
* HOW MUCH: Lunch for two, food only, $15-$20. Dinner for two, food only, $32-$60.
* FYI: Reservations accepted, major credit cards accepted, full bar. 650-5350.