Hummus, babaganoush, tzatziki, tabbouleh vegetarian platter

The Great Greek


If I want to eat vegetarian, and I usually do, I know I can always rely on restaurants with names like Arabesque or Oasis. So when I recently had a hankering for some hummus, I thought, “how can I go wrong with a place named: The Great Greek?” Located on a busy stretch of Ventura Blvd in Sherman Oaks, CA, with the name on a billboard, a giant blue awning, and stretched across the front of the building complete with dancing Zorba, it’s hard to miss.

I was there for a late lunch at 3 PM so the place was dead inside, but not outside. A cacophony of car, motorcycle, and bus noises illustrated the perils of being on Ventura Blvd and often overwhelmed the Greek muzak as the dominant background.

There are two dining areas, one is slightly nicer and further away from the street noise with booths, chairs, and white table cloths topped with paper to cut down on table cloth washing from spills.

The other area is a more laid-back sunroom with more of the Ventura Blvd “ambiance” and cream-and-milk-chocolate-checkerboard-faux-wicker-plastic chairs plus more paper-topped table cloths.

As expected, The Great Greek has lots of veggie options such as, tzatziki, hummus, Greek soups and salads, as well as non-veggie offerings, e.g. char-grilled baby octopus, moussaka, and kebabs made of various hoofed and clawed beasts i.e. beef, lamb, and chicken. As I considered the menu, my server brought me bread.

And oh, what delicious bread it was; served slightly warm with a crunchy crust and a soft-pleasingly-sour interior, accompanied by mildly flavored olive oil. Despite how good it was though, I wanted pita, not bread to dip in my Greek spread so I ordered pita for 2 which cost me an extra $2.45.

I would have preferred a smaller portion or even better, pita included with my meal instead of bread. Also, the pitas soft texture reminded me of processed white bread that can age on the counter with no signs of decay. It wasn’t bad, but I’ve had better.
My entree came with a soup or salad and while the Great Greek’s salad didn’t transport me back to Santorini, with romaine lettuce, a cardboardy tomato, red onions, green bell pepper, cucumber, feta, and a savory vinaigrette it didn’t need a taste bail out either.

I love having a lot of flavors in one meal so I ordered the veggie platter which was a tour of Greece with: stewed potatoes, Greek style rice, veggies, tzatziki, hummus, eggplant melizano-salata, tabbouleh, spinach cheese filo pie i.e. spanikopita, Greek fassolia beans, tomato and cucumber, and that Greek salad for $12.95.

The eggplant dip was deliciously soft and creamy, but needed more depth of flavor, which I can eek out of the dips I make by grilling or roasting the eggplant. The tzatziki was a study in perfection, rich and creamy with a distinct cucumber and onion taste, practically a meal in itself and a satisfying stand-in for cheese. The spanikopita was Greek comfort food with a dense, dark, rich, and soul-satisfying spinach taste, and a pleasingly tart twang from lemon juice.
Unfortunately the filo was soggy and the dish had an off taste from the cheese that reminded me of Kraft canned Parmesan. I know given the time from kitchen to table it would be impossible to make this dish to order but it would have been better if it were fresher. That’s what I get for eating lunch at 3.

Rounding out the plate; the lightly flavored cabbage in tomato broth was an interesting side but seemed more Eastern European than Greek; the rice was nice, light but with a flavor kick from the addition of stock; the fassolia beans were chalky at first bite then turned to creamy with a nice acidity from the tomato sauce; and the potatoes were big, nicely seasoned, and perfectly cooked but, even for a Carb lover like me, potato and rice seem like carb-overload. It would have been a more interesting and satisfying dish with a bigger portion of eggplant, hummus, tabbouleh or some falafel and dolmas instead.

If you find yourself with a hankering for hummus or any other GOOD Greek food, it’s worth stopping by The Great Greek, but if you’re looking for GREAT Greek food, I’d keep looking. I know I’m going to.
Great Greek on Urbanspoon

Read More

Bryant Park Grill Exterior

Bryant Park Grill

If you find yourself hungry in Midtown Manhattan and you want to treat yourself to an excellent meal, don’t go to Bryant Park Grill.
It’s easy to be tempted. The Internet is full of positive reviews. Concierges like mine at The Hyatt Grand Central highly recommend the place. The location in Bryant Park is fantastic with great views from inside where large windows offer front row seats to a parade of humanity strolling by.

And the interior is bright and airy BUT Bryant Park Grill charges for location, location, location without providing food with flavor, flavor, flavor.

The problems began with their beer selection: Budweiser, Coors, Heineken and Corona. I expect generic mass produced beers when I’m traveling on a plane but I haven’t heard a selection this bad in a well regarded restaurant since the 80′s. How about a local beer? How about some craft beers? How about more variety? Or how about switching to wine?

Sadly, with Ménage à Trois, Chalone, Folie à Deux, Jacobs Creek, etc…, the wine was only a marginal improvement over the beer. I’m not saying these wines are bad but I am saying they’re $8 Trader Joes drink-at-home-when-you-don’t-care wines, not I want a nice glass of wine chosen by a sommelier who knows more about wines than I. Still, I was in the mood for something so I tried a wine I was unfamiliar with; An ’09 Ca’ Donini Delle Venezie Pinot Grigio for $9. It was fruity and simple and lost me at bonjourno. I was hoping the food would make up for the beverages.
  I started with a white bean vegetable soup with aged Vermont cheddar garnished with a green onion puree for $8.50. With chunks of veggies and beans It looked good. It wasn’t. The vegetables were DOA, lying dormant in a flavorless watery grave. No fresh herbs detectable. What little taste there was had a diluted V8 quality to it. Their secret stock perhaps? This soup was so bad not even Campbell’s would put their label on it.
Oh look! Both my dishes are here at the same time. YIPEE! Great job Bryant Park Grill. Now I can choke down my flavorless soup as my entree sinks toward room temperature. Instead, I pushed my gruel aside and put all my faith on my entrée.

Vegan stir fried curry quinoa for $17.50 with wild mushrooms, roasted cherry tomatoes, serrano chili peppers, English peas and grilled eggplant. I appreciate they offered a tasty sounding vegan option but…whomever plated the dish must have learned their presentation skills at a soup kitchen where glopping the food on the plate earns you volunteer of the month.

A mountain of unappetizing quinoa dominated the plate with a few veggies fleeing over the side. 70% of the plate must have been quinoa, which was waterlogged, with one piece of overcooked eggplant, 4 pieces of wilted asparagus, some grilled iceberg, a few peas and not a wild mushroomn nor flavor of serrano in sight.
If you have no taste buds, love being charged inflated New York prices instead of served good food or think the quality of their vegetarian offerings will in no way reflect their meat dishes, then head on in to Bryant Park Grrrrrrill.

Bryant Park Grill
25 W 40th St  New York, NY 10018
(212) 840-6500

Read More