If you’re eager to remove yourself from the cold and gray of Brooklyn in late winter, stop in at Elia in Bay Ridge for dinner.
Take advantage of the valet parking, and go with an appetite for the Greek classics - grilled octopus and Greek salad.
Greek music plays softly, setting the mood while whitewashed brick walls and exposed beams evoke the "estiatorias" (small restaurants or taverns serving basic Greek food) that can be found in so many quaint Greek towns. The decor is carefully chosen and sparse - a few cheerful bright oil paintings on the walls, white linens and low candles.
Co-executive chefs Roger Clatterbuck, formerly of the River Cafe and Aureole, and Culinary Institute of America-trained Helen Papapostolou combine their talents to bring Elia’s menu of classic dishes - like Avgolemono soup with its lemon juice, egg yolk and chicken stock - to life. Papapostolou has worked with Emeril Lagasee, Brendan Walsh and Stephen Piles. Both chefs have Greek roots and a deep love for their homeland’s cuisine which shows in the carefully prepared, beautifully presented dishes. Elia is owned by Pete and Christina Lekkas.
When my husband and I first sat down in Elia, which means "olive," an assortment of homemade breads and olives was brought to our table. I was transported by the four-cheese and potato rolls made by Papapostolou - dense, yeasty and suffused with cheese, this was bread I’d walk a mile for. With the olives, the kalamata being my favorite, I hardly thought about ordering an entree.
Then came the light yet substantial glass of Gaia Estates 1998 wine, made from St. Georges grapes, which come from the area surrounding the Greek city of Nemea. Sipping the wine, I had arrived. I was there on the beach in Crete, on my honeymoon nearly 30 years ago.
But the food kept coming, and I continued to be surprised. I had loved octopus since I first tasted it in Crete, and have since been disappointed by rubbery, tasteless fare in most restaurants here. Elia has the touch, though. Their octopus, grilled then sauteed, is served with lemon juice and herbs in its own juices. It was one of the best things we ate that night - a definite must, even for all you octopus-haters out there.
The Prince Edward Island mussels, steamed in ouzo, were served out of their shells over a bed of greens and topped with green olive roast crostini. The sauce, slightly sweet from the ouzo and tart from the olives, was piquant and unique in its light tomato base.
The 10 entrees on the menu offered a wide variety of meats and fish - pork, lamb, chicken, beef, salmon, fish of the day and shellfish. The sea bass, caught off the West Coast of Cypress, was grilled and served with roasted red pepper, Belgian endive and roasted potatoes. A dense fish with a delicate flavor, this was lighter fare than many of the meats, and very good.
For a richer, heavier entree, the charcoal grilled marinated pork loin with wild mushrooms and garlic mashed potatoes, though less subtle, made a satisfyingly filling and tasty main course on a cold night.
Side dishes worth mentioning include the Yukon gold mashed potatoes with roast garlic and kalamata olives (comfort food!) and Kritharaki, slow-cooked orzo with oven-dried tomatoes and fresh oregano (great with fish or fowl), as well as a tasty spread called Htipiti, a delicious mixture of feta cheese, green pepper and chili, good for dipping raw cauliflower and carrots.
I’m such a fan of the dessert baklava (paper-thin layers of pastry with chopped nuts and honey) that none of the other desserts caught my fancy. But my husband thought the rice pudding was on a par with his mother’s - not sticky or too sweet - and a hard-to-come-by compliment. The real after-dinner treat was the Samos Muscat, a sweet, fruity golden wine, a mellow end to our little sojourn in Greece.
Elia [8611 Third Ave. (718) 748-9891] is open Tues. - Sun. Elia accepts American Express, Visa and MasterCard.