Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fanning the flames

Greek taverna now cheek-by-jowl with Turkish neighbor

Posted on Thu, Sep 16, 2010 at 4:00 AM

There's no love lost between the Greeks and the Turks ' invasions, wars, cultural boasts and religious differences have all helped to fan the flames of animosity between the two proud nations. So when Greek Flame Taverna left its Winter Park digs and settled on Anatolia's turf in the Dr. Phillips Marketplace, you knew the competitive, and culinary, juices of these two Mediterranean rivals would be flowing. (The same, sadly, can't be said about GFT's chicken souvlaki, but more on that in a bit.) We've dined at both Anatolia and Greek Flame multiple times and we can state, without equivocation, that when it comes to straight-up Mediterranean classics ' kebabs, döner/gyros, grape leaves, honeyed pastries, sludgy coffee and the like ' Anatolia's dishes are unquestionably superior.

Now them ain't fightin' words, just our humble opinion. Where GFT does shine is in the more uncommon offerings. Take the taramosalata, for instance. We couldn't quite gauge the flavor in the fluffy cream-colored spread, one of a quartet of dips comprising the 'silogi� ($12), but when the mystery ingredient was revealed to be caviar, we liked it all the more. We also didn't mind dipping our fried pita triangles into refreshing melitzanosalata, an eggplant salsa of sorts; garlicky skordalia, a potato-garlic puree; and the ubiquitous creamy tzatziki. Kreatopita, a flaky beef-and-pine-nut-filled pie, highlighted an otherwise ho-hum platter of pre-entrée pastries ($15) that included tiropita (cheese pie) with too much parsley and an uninspired spanakopita (spinach pie). The latter two were a bit of a letdown and had me longing for the flaky wonders found in the Greek bakeries off Dodecanese Boulevard in Tarpon Springs.

From the healthy selection of mains, the kleftico ($18) intrigued with slices of slow-roasted leg of lamb mixed with veggies and feta baked in a parchment bag. The result was nothing short of outstanding: tender lamb infused with saltiness from the cheese mixed with still-crisp peppers of all colors and perfectly cooked mushrooms and potatoes. The other items we sampled just didn't pass muster ' lackluster fried calamari ($8) required deep dunks into the roasted garlic aioli to extract any semblance of flavor; and chicken souvlaki ($18), a dish that every Greek kouzina should master, was thoroughly zapped of any moisture. The fact that the dish came with just one skewer and a miserly portion of rice made it an unqualified failure.

Desserts offer some sweet redemption in the form of chocolate baklava ($5) ' here it takes the shape of a circular pie instead of a triangular wedge. We would've preferred a little more phyllo, but the honeyed treat was chock full of nuts. Homemade dark chocolate, vanilla wafers and pistachios go into making the chocolate pyramid ($8), a dense capper served with two scoops of black cherry ice cream (not made in-house).

While our servers were thorough, knowledgeable and attentive, the hostess, after seating us and announcing the Grecian-named specials of the evening, couldn't tell us what anything about said specials besides their names. That didn't make a good first impression, and it's precisely those intangible elements, along with a skilled kitchen, that separate restaurants that rise to the top from those relegated to Sisyphean frustration.

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