I would like to rave about the lovely things I've been making myself to eat lately. I would also like to tout my housekeeping skills and my perfectly coiffed hair. That just isn't what's happening around here lately though. I've been eating out-a lot. In fact, we've found a little gem we like so much that we've become regulars.
I'm a HUGE fan of Greek food. My first paid job was working for the Bakatsias family as a busperson/waitress in Burlington NC. Since most restaurants in Burlington are owned by Greeks and most teenagers can't make money except by waiting tables, I worked for Greeks for almost 10 years to support myself. In hindsight, I can't think of a better place to have a first job. The people I worked for were almost always first or second generation Americans and really instilled a strong work ethic in me. They were also incredibly tolerant of young people but especially when those young people are interested in their culture. I had several sets of self assigned Greek grandparents who introduced me to a language that wasn't English and food that wasn't American: Spanikopita, Gyros, Souvlakia, all kinds of seafood, spinach....sigh.
Nikos Taverna opened about two months ago just down the street from my office in Morrisville as a sister restaurant to Taverna Nikos in Durham (http://www.northcarolinatravels.com/durham/photo-album/durham-taverna-nikos_jpg_view.htm). I am always suspicious of 'authentic' ethnic food in Americanized restaurants so I didn't jump on the bandwagon right away. For some reason, I am usually very disappointed with most Greek restaurants-probably because my expectations were set by some excellent home cooks and I keep hoping I'll recreate that first taste of spanikopita-probably a regional recipe that I will never get again. One night providence intervened while we were on our way home when E. HAD to go to the bathroom RIGHT NOW! So, we landed at Nikos Taverna starving and in need of sustenance (and a bathroom).
When you walk in Nikos Taverna, the bar greets you with sleek black lines and reddish walls. There's a shiny espresso machine on the right side and a full line-up of wines and spirits twinkling along the back. The main dining room is an open creamy yellow backed by the kitchen where you hear what's happening but you can't see it. The atmosphere is a comfy mix of elegant white tables with kitchsy murals of the sunny shores in the background.
Nikos Taverna has never done me wrong. And I mean never. The owners know their food and their customers and are ready for them. We've eaten almost everything on the menu at least once and there are some things that aren't my favorite, but they sure aren't bad either. For starters, there is a perfect wine list. You can get a really nice glass of Greek wine or a bottle of a California cab. Our favorite thing to get is an appetizer platter. We usually pick the light, crispy Calamari (Kalamarakia), the grilled sausage and roasted lemon potatoes, tsatsiki sauce, salmon roe dip, horiatiki (greek salad), and eggplant metzalata. Once, we accidentally subbed in an octopus braised in red wine (yummy but a little too graphic for me everyday). The spanikopita is good but not my favorite and the braised spinach recommended by a waitress one time was also good but is not in my top ten.
For a main course, I love the Kokkonisto (braised lamb shank) that tastes as good as my own. Actually, anything with the word 'lamb' in the description will be stellar here-we've had chops, a tenderloin cut and kabobs-all were great. I've had the bouillabase-a heady mix of tomatoe-y broth with 5 kinds of seafood swimming. I like the souvlakia and my son swears by the 'pizza' (pita bread with some feta and sesame seeds broiled on top). All of the seafood is fresh and perfectly treated. Portions are gigantic unless you can beg convincingly for smaller ones you will need a box for anything you order.
Finally, they have the absolute best chocolate pudding. It's homemade with heavy cream and dark chocolate. Topped with real whipped cream. Our table always splits one for dessert but doesn't always manage to finish it. Ok, maybe not the most authentic Greek dessert but it is absolutely perfect.
Now, I've taken some friends to Nikos Taverna and they don't love it as much as me. Is it the 'Ti can ez?' (how are you?) that gets me at the door or is it the authentic taste of the food that reminds me of my formative years? All I know is my whole family loves this place and we keep going back for more! Efkaristo poli! Kali nichta! (Thank you very much! Good night!)