Sunday, October 16, 2011

El Greco Mediterranean Cafe, Sarasota, FL

El Greco has a cool, downtown location and comfortable (if somewhat spartan) retro Greek decor. Underdog is going to accuse me of being harsher than I need to be with this one and, to be fair, Greek food is not usually my first choice (the exception being Estia in Philadelphia, which takes the cuisine to new heights and is one of my favorite restaurants in the country).

We started with a couple of soups, which were both kind of "meh". My New England Clam Chowder left me cold. Potato bits and clams were both minced too finely, there was an overload of celery chunks in it that I didn't find particularly appealing and it lacked overall creaminess.

I didn't think UD's Avgolemono (a lemony chicken and rice soup) was much better, but we each preferred the other to our own, so we swapped. The viscous, tangy broth had a slight metallic undertaste and chicken had the flavor and texture of canned.

Dogboy also placed an order for grilled octopus, which was all his. I've said this before...I have a soft spot for these intelligent cephalopods. They could probably learn algebra if they lived out of the water and I don't like seeing the little tentacles still attached to the fully intact arms. The only place I can eat it is at Estia, where they practically disguise it as lobster. Somebody snarfed it right up without compunction, however.

The Marini Eggplant was thinly sliced eggplant rolled and filled with spinach and feta, then baked and served over spaghetti with marinara sauce and more feta. I have to say it was pretty darn tasty. I love all its ingredients to begin with and thought it was nicely put together, in spite of the accompanying foil-wrapped butter pats that always transport me to Denny's. :|

The "Mediterranean Cruise" was a generous Greek sampler consisting of grilled chicken skewers (dryish breast meat chunks, which I don't think is the best part of a chicken to begin with); two perfect triangles of crispy, flaky spanakopita; two grape leaves stuffed with ground meat of some kind and rice; and a fairly forgettable rice pilaf smothered in marinara sauce. The spanakopita and dolmades were the high points...both better than most.

How can you go to a Greek restaurant and not order baklava? You can't and we didn't. This was a delicious rendition with a heavier accent on the nuts and lighter hand with the honey than some I've tried, which I really liked. These guys seem to do a particularly nice job with anything layered in phyllo...or maybe I just love all things phyllo-encrusted.

Overall, hit or miss...although a couple of items were quite good, there was definitely not enough good to leave me in "OMG, when can I go back to El Greco???" mode and it was mediocre enough for me to be fairly certain I'll never go back unless someone else is paying. And, yes...I can be a bit of a Food Bitch, especially when I had dinner at Beach Bistro the night before (which is not an act any restaurant wants to follow).

El Greco Cafe on Urbanspoon

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