Thursday, December 11, 2014

Kokkari Estiatorion and Gigantes ("Giant Beans")

On the road for awhile, I finally had an opportunity on 11/20 to eat lunch at Kokkari Estiatorion of San Francisco, a very well-known Greek restaurant. Just as I was starting to write this, I saw that Kokkari has been ranked Number One SF restaurant in the Zagat 2015 Survey -- dethroning long-time champ Gary Danko in a newsworthy Bay Area culinary coup. OPA!

I had made a date with my old friend Lori Durbin after being jealous every time she mentioned Kokkari on Facebook. Turns out that Lori was also familiar with The Dead Fish restaurant in Crockett. That woman does get around. But I digress...

Kokkari lived up to my expectations and then some. It's an elegant place with an Old World feel right down to the fireplace with a lamb roasting on a spit...not to mention an enticing display of killer rustic bread loaves. Resisting the temptation of lamb as it should be cooked, we decided to share mezedhes (appetizers).

Unfortunately, I couldn't get Lori to agree to one of all-time favorites, Fried Smelts (see photo at top of this blog) as served with skordalia. So we settled on Grilled Calamari stuffed with feta, fennel & orange with black olives -- sublime!

The always-always-hoped-for Horta (braised seasonal greens with lemon & olive oil), were good -- but under-cooked according to my over-cooked Greek vegetable preferences, which I realize are not particularly gringo-friendly. I would have also preferred dandelion greens.

The Eggplant Salad (Melitzanosalata) and Tzatziki were excellent -- and the lush pita bread that comes with them quite satisfying.

But the pi├Ęce de resistance was the Gigantes,  oven-baked "giant beans" with tomato sauce, olive oil & herbed feta. Lori became an instant a fan, even as I warned her that the authentic beans are hard to come by if you don't have a "Greek store" in your town. The package pictured here that I bought at Miami's St. Sophia Greek Festival for $6 is going on Amazon for $13.20 with Free Shipping directly from Greece.

Kokkari added a new twist to the usual Gigantes dish that was not disclosed in the menu description (probably with good reason) and caught me by surprise: a generous drizzle of pesto over the top that at first provoked an anti-nouvelle cuisine knee-jerk reaction. The beans were pretty awesome, but I had still had issues.  No Greek cookbook I checked with -- including the game-changing, European-leaning "Greek Cookery" by Tselementes -- mentions Gigantes w/pesto.

Then a few days later I ran into Nick Thomas in my hometown of Stockton. His Greek father was in the produce business same as great-uncle Tony Gust and my father Steve. And, he said, after sharing various memories, "My mother made the best pesto!" So there you have it -- worthy of another OPA dedicated to trying something different if you know what you're doing. Bravo, Kokkari Estiatorion!

NOTE: Beans baked or cooked stove-top in tomato sauce have always been a favorite in my family. Indeed, "Mom's Gigantes" -- found on Page 68 of the St. Basil's "International Cookbook" (2010) -- is a testament to that. But they were usually made with dried large lima beans or even frozen limas. No "Greek store" in Stockton after the Fotinoses closed theirs...

1 comment:

  1. sign me up! think it is just worth a flight out there. wow