One of our favorite north shore restaurants, Pardo’s, is the flagship in a group of three, with one of them in transition. PePe’s, a Mexican restaurant in a space that has been a revolving door, is again in flux as it undergoes a renovation. Meanwhile, Owner Osman Rodas is using it as a venue for specialty dinners.
Last week we went to one of these, featuring Greek food and wines. Osman’s friend Aris Kyriakides is from Cyprus, from which he now imports wine, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. The climate there is ideal for these divine ingredients, and Aris has won an international olive oil competition seven years in a row with his Kalamata-based olive oil. This superb ingredient was featured in a number of dishes that evening.
We arrived to a darkish room, one very long table set for 30 guests. The high top table was beautifully set with wine glasses and nice silverware, but the centerpiece of white candles of all sizes went the length of the table. The mood was sultry, enhanced by a bellydancer basking in the soft blue lights of the stage (a remnant of the original place years past.- not the bellydancer, the stage.)
A more mainstream version of sitar music was a great background for happy anticipatory chatter of guests in the mood for a northshore version of an exotic evening.
The wine we were handed upon entering was so sensational, I drank it. And Tom’s too. And three more glasses of these delicious and varied Greek wines.
We sat down to a roasted red pepper hummus and refreshing tzatziki. Placed between each four persons was a board with housemade pita, marinated olives, olive oil infused with garlic and fresh herbs, and Halloumi. These slabs of grilled cheese have a nuanced point at which they annoy me. A little Halloumi, good, a lot of Halloumi, too much. Halloumi is like a piece of meat, though not as flavorful, and sometimes not as tender, believe it or not. There is usually a nice char to it, which is always one of its better qualities.
This particular Halloumi slab was smallish, which is a good thing. It was sliced in half inch pieces, which was just the right bite. Halloumi never has a big flavor, so it’s sort of just like a protein to chew on. That sounds bad, but I don’t mean it to. I like Halloumi, but I don’t love it.
Osman walked by and whispered in my ear that I definitely should not miss the little brown mound on the board, There were two of them off to the side and I had been wondering what these were. “Lamb cracklins,” he said smiling mischievously. I was very glad for the tip. The lamb cracklins were indeed not to be missed. Crunchy fat with an intense flavor.
The pile of marinated olives was delicious. A mixture of colors, kinds, and sizes of olives in the luxurious olive oil was almost sensual.
A small mason jar at the end of the board had more of the olive oil with garlic and sprigs of fresh oregano and other herbs. Everything in this course, from the oils to the cracklins, was a fantastic blend of textures and flavors. And an exciting start to the dinner.
This was followed by moussaka, a much more manageable size than is normally seen with this dish, the portion was the shape of a finger and at least two inches high. Made with ground beef instead of lamb, the upper layer of potato with cheese bechamel was especially light, and the slices of eggplant especially thin. This had a great flavor, and it was the best version of this dish we have had.
The second course was a pan seared red snapper, tomatoes, red onion, olive oil, and spanakorizo (a Greek country dish of spinach, rice, and spices.) This was delicious from the beginning and better with each bite.
The third course was roasted rack of lamb chops with a Greek potato hash, parsley, and Feta cheese. It was a huge portion with two chops of perfectly cooked medium rare lamb. This was tender and juicy lamb, a little crusty on the outside, and everything you would want a lamb chop to be. Almost fork tender.
The Feta cheese was a nice contrast of assertive flavors, and a delicious mouthful with the tender lamb. The Greek potato hash was the perfect accompaniment to this sophisticated dish. Maybe the star course of the evening, but it had some serious competition.
The dessert course was a simple Greek donut called a loukoumades. I am not a fan of donuts, so I passed on this course, saving just a bite from Tom’s to taste. That decision was a big mistake. The last bite was so sensational I almost asked for one. It was a ball of fried dough in a puddle of honey. The insides of this donut were impossibly terrific. Dense in the inside and crispy on the outside, this cloud of dough perfection was the great end of a perfect meal. Fried golden brown and drizzled in honey, who couldn’t love this?
Osman Rodas, who is of Mediterranean heritage, was in the kitchen cooking these exotic flavors of his ancestry, ably assisted by his corporate chef Robert Vasquez. It’s the first time I’ve seen this very able restaurant owner cook. When we left this spectacular dinner, I told him he should stop in the kitchen more often.