Not Flocking Around

Posted April 9, 2009 in Eats

A traditional Greek folk melody plays in the background of this small, dark, cedar-lined dining room with white linen tablecloths and napkins and white ceramic. I’m in a celebratory mood, dancing around a wide circle with my fellow guests, smashing plates onto the floor in ecstasy until suddenly, something does come crashing down, breaking the illusion and sending my attention back to the here and now. It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon here at Yiannis Greek Restaurant in the Claremont Village, and there is only one other couple here, and that, barring the effects of the current recession, should be warning enough. 

The menu is a one-page deal split roughly into soups and salads, luncheon specials, appetizers and typical Greek a la carte items. Our waiter flawlessly performs the act of flambéing saganaki with a shot of ouzo at the next table. As impressive as it is, flames leaping just out of hair’s reach, and not being a fan of fried cheese, however, my husband and I settle on the appetizer sampler, a mish mash of traditional Greek hors d’oeuvres—spanakopita (spinach pie), dolmathes, tzatziki, roasted lamb, a couple blocks of feta cheese, kalamata olives, cubes of roasted lamb, and an eggplant salad. The platter, if looks and smells could do justice, should be enough food to bypass the main entrees—that is, if it had the taste and consistency to match the look and smell. The spinach pie turns out mushy, the cubes of roast lamb like chewing carpet and the dried ground meat in the dolmathes a patient exercise in swallowing. The saving grace of the platter turns out to be the garlicky eggplant salad and the sour-cream tasting tzatziki

Our entrees arrive as we dust off the eggplant salad—a lamb and kasseri omelette with home-style potatoes and the souvlaki. The meats turn out to be an experiment in degrees of doneness. The strips of lamb in the omelet are, once again, a tad bit overcooked, but otherwise edible in its sea of button mushrooms and kasseri cheese. The home-style potatoes, or rather, sliced-up Yukon potato, is topped by a string of smoky, spicy caramelized onions (which tastes like an uncontrolled explosion of Montreal seasoning), grilled tomatoes and green peppers, and it overwhelms the palate with its spiciness to the point where it loses the savory goodness of the omelette. 

The souvlaki, while not the most aesthetically appearing dish with its pita and lamb chunks on a scattered bed of iceberg lettuce, did happen to be the tastiest; the lamb grilled to just the right degree of tenderness, unadulterated by any over-seasoning, a common element I find in other dishes, to cover the blandness. College students and those on-the-run tend to favor the gyros, which end up being among the more delectable offerings concocted by Yiannis, although it comes at a hefty price of $9.75.

There are those who believe that Yiannis once ruled the roost with his authentic cuisine and friendly service. Those days are gone. If you do decide to dine at Yiannis, stick to the souvlakis or gyros—and maybe the flaming cheese.


Yiannis Greek Restaurant, 238 Yale Ave., Claremont, (909) 621-2413; Tues.-Sat., 11am-9:30PM; Sun., 9:30AM-9:30PM. AE, MC, V


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