Friday, February 18, 2011

Estia, Philadelphia,PA

UD and I first stumbled upon Estia on a trip to Philly two or three years ago and I have been dying to return ever since enjoying an absolutely outstanding $17 two-course prix fixe lunch on that occasion.  During last week's visit to Philadelphia, our schedule finally cooperated and we were able to experience an amazing afternoon repast at this visually stunning venue.  Estia is a gorgeous restaurant, cavernesque and resplendant in its hand-chiseled Jerusalem limestone floors, hand woven rugs, vaulted ceilings, antiqued stucco walls, wood plank floors and exposed wood beams.  Service is impeccable and highly professional (thanks for taking such excellent care of us on both of our visits, Saki!).  Boyz, make a note....this would be an elegant, romantic and impressive spot to take a date.

After braving the cold and wind in a brisk 30-minute walk through Center City, we finally reached "The Precious" at around 2:00 PM.  Helllooooo, Beautiful...I have been saving my calories for you all day!

There was a very nice looking (and reasonably priced for the city, I thought) Sunday brunch menu available which included a Mimosa, Bloody Mary, Bellini or Screwdriver, but I had my eye on the Greek cuisine that I remembered being so wonderful.  Some rustic bread and fabulously fresh and tangy hummus were delivered while we perused the menu.
The Meze (Mediterranean "tapas") menu was enough to make me feel faint...I wanted one of everything on it.  My better half was in more of an entree mood, so we struck a deal. We agreed to start with three or four mezedes and then share the entree of his choice. First up:  Spanakopita (spinach, feta, leeks, scallions and dill baked in phyllo).  Hands down, the best I have ever put in my mouth...and I have done my share of snarfing my way through Tarpon Springs (a local Florida Gulf Coast Greek community).  The pastry would've floated away in a stray breeze and the spinach filling was ridiculously light, tender and flavorful...almost like a spinach souffle in texture.  My eyes were literally rolling back in my head as I savored these tempting triangles (UD only got one...and that was just because he's the one who brought me to Philly, so I was feeling beholden). 
The Melizanosalata (traditional roasted baby eggplant spread with warm pita triangles) similarly rocked my world.  My can eggplant and bread be turned into something so orgasmic?  Only the guys in Estia's gleaming open kitchen hold the key to that mystery.
The next ethereal offering was Estia Chips, fried zucchini and eggplant served with tzatziki.  Ummm...I have enjoyed many house-made chips and fried veggies in my day, and they have all been eclipsed by this decadent stack of not-quite-chips but closer to that than your run of the mill fried zucchini or eggplant slices.  Cut razor thin, with only the scantest, crispiest hint of breading (an incredibly microscopic film of wet batter similar to tempura, I'm guessing), these were decadent...and probably my favorite dish of of the meal.  The cool and tangy tzatziki and made an outstanding dipping sauce.  I loved it...look how beautiful it was!
It was at this point in the dining experience that I realized that I was achieving a remarkable level of satiation while still not having touched a morsel of meat.  Unheard of (for me, anyway).  Estia would be a great dining destination for a vegetarian, I think.  The carnivorous UD, however, was ready to tear into some animal flesh...and the Octopodi (which which we have fondly reflected on many times since our first visit to Estia) did not disappoint. 

This dish of grilled and marinated octopus, sliced and served over red and sweet onions, dressed with grilled peppers, capers and red wine vinaigrette, brought us both to our knees.  Saki explained to us the Estia process for creating its almost lobster-like perfection.  First, the octopuses (octopi?) are imported from the coast of Portugal and Spain, where the most tastylicious specimens in the world are rumored to reside.  As part of the preparation process, they are put through the rinse and spin cycle in a dedicated "Octopus Maytag" to clean and tenderize them (and I can only pray that they are not still alive when that happens). After that, they are first cooked and then marinated.  I'm not sure when in the process they are sliced, but at some point they are...and those perfect ivory disks are then grilled to caramelized, mouth-watering nirvana when ordered.  Sorry my intelligent, eight-tentacled are gone, but I can promise that you will never be forgotten! *urp*

Already at the belt-loosening stage, we were forced to make a decision between ordering the Souvlaki Platter Underdog had his eye on or going straight for dessert.  The latter won.  Saki recommended the Ekmek (pistachios layered between kataifi filo, custard and whipped cream) and since he had not steered us wrong so far, who were we to sass him?  OMG.  The Ekmek was almost cloudlike in its subtle fluffiness...the pistachios blending perfectly with the light, creamy custard; snowflake-on-the-tongue pastry; and slightest hint of citrus (which Saki confirmed was the result of a pinch of orange zest). There was also an indefinable taste in the pastry which I learned via my endless interrogation (which Saki handled most graciously) was rose water. Wow!  He also described the love and care that go into the creation of this confection (apparently, it must be made regularly and in small batches because it cannot survive more than about eight hours without having its quality suffer...and clearly quality-suffering is not allowed between these walls). 

We also tried the Baklava (how could we not?), which again featured the feather-light phyllo we experienced in the other dishes with a gentler-than-average-hand with the honey and nuts.  Fabu!

L-R (Ekmek and Baklava).  Don't even think about reaching for a bite lest you pull back a bloody stump.  :p

Someone was definitely a happy camper...especially after I picked up the tab!

After the second visit, it's official...Estia is now one of my favorite restaurants anywhere.  All of this, plus two glasses of Chardonnay for me, two cocktails for Dogboy, and a glass each of Graham's Six Grapes Port with dessert came to just under $120.  Swoonworthy!

Estia on Urbanspoon

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