Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ikaros Greek Restaurant in Oakland

Discover Homey Greek Food
3268 Grand Ave., Oakland
Grand Lake neighborhood
PH: 510.899.4400
Open daily from 11 a.m.
Major credit cards, reservations accepted

I often spot new places while riding the bus, so it’s no wonder that many of the restaurants I check out are along Grand Avenue in Oakland, which is also where my gym is located.

I noticed Ikaros Greek Restaurant open up a few months ago, and Greek food is one of those cuisines I know very little about outside of baklava. So I decided to make a visit to this family-style restaurant, which took over a spot that was formerly a nail salon. (Don’t worry, there are a lot more nail salons on the street to fill the void.)

Always up for an adventure is my equally adventurous foodie friend, Sandy, who forages for new food as the Foodhoe.

When we arrived, the spot looked like a bar restaurant because all the seating down a narrow aisle was flanked by a bar counter on one side and the official bar on the far corner. The seating felt like a restaurant at a hotel bar, but the seaside d├ęcor also made me feel like I was about to go sailing.

We lucked out with our waiter, who was not only friendly but also Greek. So we were able to ask him for the correct pronunciation for all the dishes on the menu.

To get a real tour of the various Greek appetizers, we went with the Ikaros Mezes (starters) combination platter ($16). This huge platter of food included dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), keftethes (Greek meatballs), spanakopita (spinach pies), and tiropita (cheese pie).

I love dolmades, which I first ate when I lived in Fresno where there’s a large Armenian community. The herbal grape leaves soaked in oil so they’re tender and stuffed typically with either cheese or rice. Ikaros’ version was with marinated rice with herbs and was just like how I like them.

I enjoyed the meatballs, and took small bites of the spanakopita and tiropita because they’re flakey deep-fried pies like samosas. That meant there was more for Sandy, but she didn’t mind because she totally enjoyed them.

The platter also came with warm, fresh pita bread with two dips: tzatsiki, low-fat Greek yogurt with cucumber and garlic, and taramousalata, a whipped blend of red caviar, olive oil and lemon juice. I totally loved the dips, especially the tzatsiki, which surprised me because I generally think Greek yogurt is too sour, but balanced with cucumber, it was refreshing. The taramousalata was a lot like humus, and had a nice pink color but I was more partial to the tzatsiki.

We could barely finish the platter when our entrees arrived. After seeing the platter, I’m sure you’ll be shocked by what we ordered for our entrees.

First off, Sandy got the Gyros Stacker ($12.50) because she said she liked the “trailer delight” feel of the plate, which is two kinds of gyro meat with pita bread, tomatoes and red onions stacked on top of steak fries and literally buried under more tzatsiki dip.

I partly feel Sandy orders these types of dishes just to rub in the fact that she can eat all this red meat and deep-fried foods and not worry about high cholesterol whereas I eat a piece of cheese and alarm goes off at my doctor’s office.

Sandy tried to make a dent on this stacker special, and she seemed to enjoy the meat and the tzatsiki. But I think she felt the fries were a bit on the soft side. Almost as a joke, this platter comes with a side of green salad. Sandy said the salad was almost inedible because it was drenched with vinaigrette.

Not wanting to let Sandy show me up, I ordered one of Ikaros’ specialties, which is the Gyouvetsi meh Arni or Orzo with Lamb Shanks ($16.50). The braised lamb shanks looked like those huge turkey drumsticks they sell at carnivals. They were fork tender and tasty, but the dish is pulled together by the comforting orzo pasta in a red sauce that tasted like baked pasta.

We topped off our dinner with dessert. And while we could have gone the traditional route of baklava, I wanted to try something different so we went with the galaktoboureko ($4.50), which is also a traditional Greek dessert.

It’s a custard dessert wrapped in filo with a lemon zest syrup. When it arrived, it did seem a bit flat. At room temperature, the dessert didn’t really excite us, even though I love custard. The custard filling was uneven, with some parts mostly filo and another end with more custard. If you know where to get great galaktoboureko, let me know because I am a custard fan and wouldn’t mind trying this again.

As you can tell by the prices, Ikaros is pretty reasonable and you get a lot of food, which explains why the place filled up by the time we left. While not everything was a success, there were a lot more comforting food and the menu appears to offer a nice variety of dishes to give a Greek novice a splendid introduction.

Read Foodhoe's take on our dinner on her blog.

Single guy rating: 3 stars (A lesson in Greek dining)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Ikaros on Urbanspoon


julieako said...

I think spanakopita is baked. You could have had more. :)

agent713 said...

Now I'm craving tzatsiki. Thanks :P