Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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EatBeat: Estia Taverna in Boca – Big, Bold Greek Flavors

May 29th, 2012 · No Comments

Saganaki - the classic flamed cheese dish - at Estia. /photo courtesy Estia

It’s been a while since I’ve been at a dinner where every dish that came out left me wanting one more bite – despite the multitude of courses.

I was part of a media dinner earlier this month to introduce Estia Greek Taverna and Bar, in Boca Raton’s Royal Palm Place, and its owners/chef to food writers.

Host/owner Thanasis “Tommy” Vasilakis went out of his way to assure we were well sated and to provide an authentic experience. Of course, we got premiere service this night, including from Vasilakis, but hearing from others who’ve dined there on their own, the food seems consistently above average.

Greek favorites – cooked with authenticity

To my way of thinking, if you’re going to do an ethnic cuisine with very long traditions, it’s a swell idea to have someone who knows those culinary customs inside and out. Variations are expected¬† – Greece, as all other countries, shows regional differences for the same dishes, and differences when cooked for the American diner, as well. Chef Silvestros Sotiradis was trained at Greece’s version of Le Cordon Bleu and is proud of his native cuisine. He was erudite in describing it and the culture and landscape that produced it. Estia, the restaurant’s name, was taken from mythology’s goddess of the hearth – Hestia.

Our large group (two tables of 12) did a brief get-acquainted chat before sitting down to what became a feast. The restaurant’s one large room, with a bar in one corner, and a mural of a Greek countryside so vivid on one wall, we wanted to dive in. Grecian blue was everywhere as an accent color.

Plate after plate

Hummus with warm pita, a cold sampler of tzatziki, taramosolata (a fish roe dip), tirokafteri – a spicy feta cheese spread, olives and dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) almost filled us up before we could get to main courses. A sampler platter has most of these on it – and is recommended as a sharing plate for a table. I recommend taking a crowd here – diners who are willing to share plates and enjoy a whole evening long dinner. Leave the picky types behind and bring fun eaters. This cuisine invites that casual, communal dining spirit so missing from most traditional American restaurants.

The tirokafteri – feta cheese spiced deftly with hot peppers and the flavor-packed Greek olive oil – was a favorite at our table. Fried zucchini crisps were served with the garlicky potato dip, skordalia, an unusual taste-treat as well. This is the bar food you’ll want – a perfect appetizer to go with the light Greek white wines served. Their list is small and value priced, but they pair well with the foods.

The keftidakia, meatballs with their version of a fresh tomato sauce, had the oregano favored in this cuisine. Saganaki – served as tradition dictates, flamed tableside, retained its creamy, salty profile, which was offset by the brandy used to fire it up.

A Greek salad featured locally grown tomatoes picked at the peak of ripeness – the roomful of diners commented on how fresh they were with fat olives and vinaigrette laced with more oregano.

Mussels Santorini followed, and if your fork wasn’t fast enough, you missed out, despite the full bowl that was set before us. Cooked to perfection, with a sauce of feta, ouzo, and garlicky tomato – wowed the crowd. Grilled octopus was the only average dish on the table – a bit chewy, though the drizzle of Limoncello (housemade, of course) and olive oil was superb. A seafood sampler provided fried calamari, some char-grilled shrimp, a few fish pieces and was served simply with lemon and olive oil – another good choice if dining with a crowd.

From the section of the menu labeled “Rustic Greek” originals came both moussaka and pastitsio. The first, a layer of eggplant, potatoes, ground beef and a classic bechemel sauce, is an entree unto its own. Pastitsio differs from it in that the layers are pasta, ground beef and the bechemel – a Greek lasagna, as the chef described it. Both were solid examples of traditional Greek comfort foods.

Lamb shank with orzo and tomato sauce /photo courtesy Estia

Another clear winner was the lamb shank, served with orzo (a rice-like pasta), and tomato sauce. The bone-in shank meat was braised to an ultra-tender state, and served with the herbed tomato sauce.  On a rainy night, it would be my choice as a cozy warm-me-up meal.

A whole hot snapper was presented and deboned at the table. Delicious char-roasted flakes of fish with skin, and dressed simply with a light lemon vinaigrette – this was an over-the-top finish to an incredible meal.

Bougasta for dessert /photo courtesy Estia

Yet we weren’t finished yet. After a performance midmeal by a talented and vivacious belly dancer who whirled in a gossamer cape and encouraged audience participation, we were treated to warm baklava, and bougasta – my favorite. It’s flaky layers of phyllo surrounding rich custard, and dusted with a touch of cinnamon-sugar. This dish perfectly offsets the bitter Greek coffee offered (along with American roasts).

This was an incredible representation of the restaurant’s menu, and I can highly recommend the foods. Comments online indicate they’ve maintained the quality represented to us, though as stated, I can’t speak for service, but did note others in the restaurant dining when we were being served as a group, were not ignored and seemed pleased with their service.

This is on my list for a revisit very soon.

Estia Taverna and Bar

  • 507 S.E. Mizner Blvd. (Royal Palm Place), Boca Raton
  • 561-245-8885; www.facebook.com/EstiaGreekTavernaBoca
  • Open for dinner daily from 4:30 p.m.

Tags: Restaurant Reviews · The Eat Beat: Restaurant News · Where to Eat in Palm Beach County

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