Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Creative Greek Cuisine in Connecticut

Why in the world would I take the Metro North train more than an hour from Manhattan for lunch? Because I heard that a new, ultra creative Greek restaurant recently opened in Darien, Connecticut. And my two-hour-some round-trip commute was worth it.

Chef Themis Papadopoulos helms the kitchen at Lithos that eventually will have a lovely outdoor terrace on a quiet residential street. He trained in France and it shows. Now, first I have to confess that Greek cuisine isn't my favorite, only because I'm often not surprised by the options. That's not the case at Lithos, where the creamy tarama and xtipito appetizers were so light, they were like puffy cumulous clouds. Tarama, made with codfish eggs, didn't come with the typical heavy fish taste. And the feta cheese-based xtipito is unexpectedly flavored with smoked paprika, as well as green pepper and pine nuts. Octopus at many restaurants is hit or miss; mostly miss. But here it was amazingly tender and flavorful, first slow cooked for three hours in red vinegar, then cooked in canola oil and served with a fava bean spread. One of the biggest surprises were the aoilis: a dollop of beet aoili created by mixing the chopped beats with the tarama; and a mango aoili that contains lemongrass and olive oil -- I definitely did not expect to see lemongrass in a Greek restaurant. Something new on the menu is the sesame feta pie, which has phyllo sprinkled with sesame and honey imported from Greece. (This might be my favorite item on the menu: part sweet, but not cloyingly so, and part savory.) The main fish course, grilled dorade, was cooked with  capers, lemon and parsley with a side of blanched Swiss chard plus kale. (The veggies were cooked in a vegetable broth with garlic and olive oil.) And unlike the rest of the U.S. I'm no fan of kale but combining it with the Swiss chard and cooking it all with garlic provided enough flavor to offset the typical kale bitterness I detest.

I usually avoid Greek desserts which often drip with honey. Here the desserts had perfect balance. The galaktobourek wasn't soggy and overly sweet, as I've often found it in other restaurants. Here, the custard cream was wrapped in phyllo and drizzled with a mildly sweet syrup flavored with lemon. The kataifi was a crispy phyllo tart filled with Brie and topped with pistachios -- typically you wouldn't find pistachios and cheese in this dessert. Even the baklava is different: here the shape is round instead of triangular. Since I'm a chocoholic, the chocolate mille feuille -- something I never found in a Greek restaurant -- was a hit: milk chocolate mousse was sandwiched between chocolate phyllo, with a side of kumquats that had been cooked in rose water.