Yanni’s Greek taste could be purer
With a name like Yanni's, you know the restaurant's gotta be Greek, one cuisine woefully underrepresented here.
Yanni's Greek & Mediterrasian Cuisine
Restaurant Row / 585-8142
Hours: Lunch from 11 a.m. Fridays; dinner from 5 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays
Cost: About $50 for two without drinks
Here in the newsroom, I have been berated for proposing feeding the hungry and homeless healthy Mediterranean eggplant dip, hummus and pita instead of hosting massive Spam drives that send the wrong message about nutrition.
OK, so storage of such perishable foods is a problem. So much for thinking different. Still, I'm sure that once people realize the health benefits of these delicious foods, they'd be converts.
Maybe because of the lack of Greek cuisine on Oahu, owner Yanni Trainedes fudges a bit on the menu to make it user-friendly to the broadest possible audience, hence the "Mediterrasian" moniker. There's no spanakopita (spinach pie), dolmades (rice-stuffed grape leaves) or moussaka (a sort of eggplant and lamb lasagna) -- the things a foodie might expect from a Greek restaurant of its size.*
Maybe these specialties will arrive later. For now, diners looking at the menu, where, if not for the Greek names, would simply assume it's Italian. Dishes are prepared with a lot of tomato sauce, having more in common with pasta restaurants than Middle Eastern restaurants.
Perhaps this, too, is intentional. After all, Yanni's fills the space vacated by Philip Paolo, and it might be easier to win over clientele who have not gotten the news than to start building a new fan base from scratch.
The setting is upscale, with a dark interior punctuated by white tablecloths. An extensive martini bar might lure some of those who now frequent the Row Bar. The restaurant is open nights only, Mondays to Saturdays, and open by day only on Fridays.
The menu is on the pricey side, but you can keep costs down by sticking to the first page of dishes, the appetizers, salads and pastas. Portions are decent enough to share.
NADINE KAM / NKAM@STARBULLETIN.COM
Prawns saganaki is served in a skillet with tomato salsa and cubes of feta cheese at Yanni's Greek & Mediterrasian Restaurant.
Club and movie patrons are also a natural audience for kiawe-wood-fired pizzas. At $9.50 they measure 12 inches, big enough for two, and come topped with choices of seafood, roasted veggies, char-grilled chicken and the usual tomato and mozzarella.
For those who do want a taste of the Greek isles, warm up with pita and smooth Melitzanosalata (eggplant, $5.50) dip.
Yanni's Vegetarian Special ($11.50) is a pan filled with char-grilled eggplant, zucchini and summer squash, layered with a rich tomato sauce. You can't miss the olive oil, but let's face it, that's part of what makes it taste so good.
More of the grilled veggies turn up on the mixed-grill dish later, so if you are thinking about getting that, it's better to select one of the Greek salads of lettuce, feta, olives, tomato, onion, cucumber and herbs ($11.50/$13.50).
For variety, you might also start with the mezze platter ($15.50) of marinated specialties. Depending on the whims of the chef, you might find salami, cubes of feta, an abundance of Greek olives, broiled mushrooms and tomato-and-mozzarella-topped rounds of grilled eggplant.
This is where it gets tough. Just about everything on the menu looks familiar and delicious, so it is difficult to narrow the choices. That said, preparations are similar from dish to dish, so it does not take long for you to get that "been there, done that" feeling. Ordering ultimately comes down to choosing your favorite seafood (calamari, mussels or prawns) and meats.
Just about all is covered with the Mixed Grill ($25.50), which can easily feed two. This includes the lemony beef-and-lamb meatballs called keftethes, char-grilled marinated chicken souvlaki served on a skewer with onions and bell pepper, lamb "cutlets" (we call them chops) with another puckery squirt of single-note lemon, roast potatoes and more of the grilled veggies in tomato sauce.
Prawns saganaki is another dish meant to be shared, served in a heavy black skillet with tomato salsa, more cubes of feta and plenty of garlic. It comes with a serving of wild rice and onions.
A Zeus platter for two is $45 and frees you from decision making. It features your choice of lamb or chicken souvlaki and garlic prawns, with Greek salad, pita and yogurt dip and garlic cream potatoes.
If you have a lot of friends who are not allergic to seafood, you could party over the Seafood Feast of the Gods ($165) with mussels, prawns, calamari and fish with rice, salad, grilled veggies and potatoes.
As for dessert, baklava is always irresistible. Here, it's served Greek style, wet and syrupy and delivered in two logs for easy sharing. We're so accustomed to the dry flaky pastries served locally that this version seems soggy.
Baklava aside, I'd like to see more diverse Greek specialties on the menu. Otherwise, Yanni risks appearing like just another Italian restaurant, and a pricey one at that.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
» Tabbouleh (bulgur and parsley salad) is a Middle Eastern dish. It was described as Greek in the Weekly Eater review of Yanni's that appeared on Page E5 Sunday.