At first glance, the new Greco bouzoukia in Herzliya Pituah looks nothing like its older sister in Tel Aviv. The ground floor of a gleaming, modern office building in a hi-tech hub is a far cry from the casual single-story eatery just steps away from the beach. The difference is emphasized by the absence of a sidewalk al fresco area at the restaurant entrance: in Herzliya, the outdoor seating is in the rear, behind a cavernous interior.
Once inside, however, surrounded by the Greek blue-and-white décor and entertained by the lively bouzouki music, the similarity becomes evident. And while the food preparation areas – grilling stations, fully stocked bar and semi-open kitchen – are more visible in Herzliya, the end result on diners’ tables is reassuringly familiar.
The owner of Greco, Zviki Eshet, is a successful restaurateur with a string of well-known eateries in the portfolio of his Grinberg Group, but his passion is for Greek cuisine. He is the author of a best-selling cookbook of Greek recipes (the Hebrew edition is being translated into English), and he takes his staff to Greece every year for continuing culinary education.
While you could easily start a meal there in traditional Greek fashion – with a glass of ouzo or chipuro (pomace brandy) on the rocks, with water – it is worth trying one of the eight creative specialty cocktails (NIS 42), ranging from the sweet Zeus (Greek brandy, citrus liqueur and lemon) to the herbal Aigis Kea (chipuro, lemon, and cucumber, garnished with a large sprig of rosemary).
The food part of the meal commences with classic Greek mezze (called “small plates” on the menu) divided into two categories: 11 dishes served cold (NIS 36-46) and 15 served hot (NIS 32-78). The former are best accompanied by either the crusty Greek bread or the grilled pita (NIS 22).
Noteworthy among the cold mezze were the taramosalata, a particularly rich ikra; tirokafteri, a zesty roasted pepper spread with feta and blue cheeses; tzaziki, thick Greek yogurt seasoned with cucumber, garlic and dill; skordalia, an intense garlic and olive oil spread with almonds; and a Greek liver spread made with dried figs and fried onions.
The star of the hot small plates – and indeed, of the entire menu – was Greco’s 12 gods pastry: phyllo dough stuffed with feta cheese, fried to a crispy and lovely golden brown, topped with black and white sesame seeds, and swimming in amber honey. The name of this savory-and-sweet treat is unmistakably appropriate because the taste is divine.
The counterparts of the small plates sections, naturally, were the cold large plates – four salads (NIS 48-58) – and the hot large plates, 13 main courses (NIS 62-132). In the former category, the Katarina salad – beets, rocket leaves, walnuts, onion, and sheep milk feta cheese, tossed in an olive oil and grape vinaigrette – is sure to please any fan of the red vegetable.
When it came to the hot entrées, Zviki recommended the fried calamari: fresh squid lightly breaded and seasoned in sumac, served on a bed of onion and turmeric cream. The extremely fresh seafood, enhanced by the exotic sauce, melted in the mouth. You won’t find better calamari, even in a restaurant that specializes in fish.
Interestingly, a whole section of the menu was devoted to fava, that purée of yellow peas that is the Greek equivalent of hummus. There were five variations of the dish (NIS 48-78), depending on whether you want to add meat, fish or vegetables; even the “plain” fava was perked up nicely with red onion, Kalamata olives, cilantro, lemon and chili pepper. The fava at Greco was a tasty and filling version of this healthy staple.
The souvlaki (skewers) and gyros (meat roasted on a vertical spit, like shwarma) category featured four varieties (NIS 48-66), including one – the veal and lamb gyros – that you won’t find even in Greece, where the gyros usually consist of pork. My delighted dinner companion for the evening – Harry Kalpidis, the director of the Israel office of the Greek National Tourism Organization – particularly enjoyed Greco’s succulent gyros.
The grilled chicken (NIS 68) – broiled on a rotisserie especially imported from Greece – was in a category of its own: The skin-on poultry, marinated in orange, honey and thyme, was juicy and flavorful.
Finally, there were six desserts (NIS 42), all of them Greek to the core. The kaimaki – goat’s milk yogurt ice cream with berry sauce and toasted almonds – was a sweet-and-tart treat, while the toffee and milk ravani (semolina cake) was positively decadent.
It would be hard to find a better authority on the experience at Greco than Athens resident Kalpidis, who declared the food as good as he would get in the Greek capital. “Everything, the atmosphere, the flavors and the hospitality,” he said, “it really felt like home.”
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
9 Abba Eban St., Herzliya
Tel: (09) 740-4747