False advertising by restaurants is taken for granted. How many times do you just shrug when you see “homemade” on a menu, or “best ___ in town” on a sign? So inured are we to the hyperbole of food puffery that we barely blink when something tells us that some foodstuff is the greatest this, or the the most authentic that. Most of the time, most of us presume the exact opposite of what is being touted, and no one bats an eyelash.
When it comes to “real” Greek food, most Greek restaurants are co-conspirators against consumers and the land of their birth. Like the Chinese and Italians before them, these immigrants created facsimiles of recipes that dumbed-down the real thing, because, they thought (rightly at the time), Americans couldn’t handle the truth. Unlike other ethnic restaurateurs though (who simply watered things down), Greeks decided to invite entire countries into their kitchens. Thus can you often find everything from mezze platters (Persia), to falafel (Syria), to hummus (Israel), to Caesar salads (America) to kebabs (Turkey) in your average Greek restaurant. Imagine French chefs cooking up a passel of pizza, bratwurst and bangers in a bistro and you’ll get the idea. The bastardization of real Greek food started decades ago, and it shows no signs of abating, as most Greek food now gets compromised by a lava flow of babganoush and a enough shingles of pita bread(Lebanon) to tile a roof.
Amidst our Aegean sea of mediocrity there is an island of Hellenic serenity. With nary a cliche in sight, Elia Authentic Greek Taverna opened its doors a little over a month ago, and immediately started changing people’s preconceptions about this cuisine. There are no Greek flags flying. No hideous Greek statuary adorns, nor is the color scheme another variation of bright blue and white. The walls are muted, the linens are thick, and the tablecloths are real cotton. Even the bouzouki music is tuned to a nice, conversational level. In short, this small, 30 seat space is unlike any American-Greek restaurant you have ever been to.
Small it may be, but mighty are the things coming out of this kitchen. Whole fish, supple, grilled octopus, spanakopita (pictured above), gorgeous, oregano-dusted lamb chops, oven-roasted lemon potatoes, superb tomato salad, gigante beans, and the big 4 of savory dips (tzatziki, tarama, tyrokafteri, and skordalia), all pay homage to the kind of food that Greeks take for granted — be it at home or in the neighborhood taverna. The all-Greek wine list is well priced, and the welcome makes you feel like you belong — because you do, and because real Greek food finally does in America .
The only untrue thing about Elia is that it’s not located on a side street in Athens.
ELIA AUTHENTIC GREEK TAVERNA
4226 S. Durango Dr.
Las Vegas, NV 89147
When Standard & Poor closed, my (already low) opinion of Green Valley plunged even further. For years I’ve called GV the land of $400,000 homes and $40,000 cars where no one wants to spend more than forty bucks on dinner. Just weeks before S&P shuttered, this little jewel box opened in a giant strip mall that houses at least two dozen other food options. Boteco is so small and so obscure — wedged between something called the “Beach Hut Deli” and a pet food store — that you can be parked right in front of it and miss it. But miss it you should not do, not if you want to taste Spanish-styled, chef-driven, Robuchon-inspired food the likes of which this backwater probably can’t appreciate.
But appreciate it you should. Because if you’re reading these words, you are obviously a person in search of good taste, and tastes don’t get much better than what chef Rachel LaGloahec is putting on these plate. This is not complicated food, a la Sparrow + Wolf, nor is it the “too hip for the room” cooking that failed down the street. These are the musings of a confident young chef, who has obviously been well-trained, and who hits her marks with every beat.
Take her weekend brunch for instance. Everyone knows I hate brunch. And I hate it because most brunch menus are about as inspiring as a Mitch McConnell press conference. LaGloahec got me interested from the first bite of her house-vodka-cured salmon:
…and spices things up further with Tacos da Moda — scrambled eggs with strips of steak and Spanish chorizo, ready to be rolled into some house-made corn tortillas — as beautiful a breakfast concoction as one can construct. Don’t miss the Dutch Baby-style pancakes, either — served with a strawberry coulis and champagne zabaglione — her trio of Botequito sliders dripping with melted onions and smoked Gouda on a brioche bun that’s a wonder unto itself. If that’s not enough to get you out of your brunch rut, the trio of prosecco “flights” — bellini, cassis, and limoncello — is a lip-smacking steal at $12.
At dinner, there are only twelve things on the menu, but those sliders, an avocado crunch salad and a Singapore Chilli Crab dip are a delight, and the kind of food that’s unknown this far from the Strip. There’s even a poutine on the menu for the calorie-challenged, fabulous Spanish ham, good oysters, and escargot croquetas and braised beef with Piedmontese rice for ectomorphs in need of a good rib-sticking. This is a mix and match menu that’s made for fun. Boteco means “meeting place” for friends and family, and if you and yours are looking for a place to congregate, you won’t find any better in this neck of the culinary desert.
9500 S. Eastern Ave. #170
Las Vegas, NV 89123
ELV note: With the opening of Elia Authentic Greek Taverna, we at ELV thought a primer was in order to educate our loyal readers about the true glory of Greek cuisine. So many dishes people associate with Mediterranean food are not, in fact Greek; having nothing to do with Greece; and are unheard of on the Greek table.
Fish (see above)
Cheese (Not a huge variety a la France, England, and Italy, but much more than the fromage-challenged climes of Syria, Turkey, Israel et al.)
Souvlaki (skewered meats, preferably chicken or lamb)
Ginormous Beans in tasty tomato sauces:
Lamb (Well-done – Greeks don’t like rare meat. It’s one of the rare cultural/moral failings of the country.)
Properly-seasoned lamb with potatoes:
Goats? Very Greek. Goats in trees? Not Greek.
Phyllo dough in multiple guises (this galamtoboureko is one of the best):
Real bread, not pita bread
Whipped dips (Feta cheese – tryokafteri:
….cured fish roe – taramoasalata, yogurt and cucumber – tzatziki, potatoes and garlic – skordalia…in other words, the best savory dips on the planet.)
Wine (The Greeks practically invented wine; they certainly perfected it. Greek wines were as esteemed 2,000 years ago as French wines are today.)
Fu8king Baba Ganoush – not Greek; Melizonasalata – Greek (They’re the same thing, but these distinctions are important, and basically were responsible for the Trojan War.)
Beef (Beef is more of an American-Greek thing than it is a Greek-Greek thing.)
Cheap, shitty, processed GY-ro meat from some slime pit in Chicago? (Definitely not Greek, although almost every Greek restaurant in America, to its everlasting shame, serves it. GY-ros are the spaghetti and meatballs of Greek food.)
Kebabs (The proper term is souvlaki.)
Pita bread (My father always called pita bread “Arabic bread” because he associated it with Syrian/Lebanese bakeries. Greeks only eat puffed, unleavened flatbread when they’re stuffing it with souvlaki meat.)
Meze platters (Greeks put out appetizers, but don’t call them meze or mezze, which is (gasp!) a Persian word.)
Rice (Alexander the Great brought rice back to Greece from the Himalayas; it is considered a luxury food in Greece and didn’t become popular there until the 1950’s. Rice pilaf is a Middle Eastern/Central Asian concoction.)
Greek salad with lettuce – not Greek; Greek salad without lettuce – Greek:
Pasta (You’ll never find spaghetti/linguine noodles in a real Greek restaurant. If you see pasta in a Greek restaurant, it’s either in a casserole or for gringos.)
Not Greek: Whatever the fu8k it is Arabs, Moroccans and Persians drink with their meals.*
So there’s your snapshot of what real Greeks eat, in Greece. Unfortunately, Greek food, like Italian, Chinese and many others has been bastardized by Greeks themselves over the past century, so that many Americans equate cheap GY-ros, any unleavened bread, and any meat on a stick as Greek. Real Greek food is subtle and sharp, creamy yet tangy, and herbaceously perfumed with finesse. It is unlike anything you’ve ever had in a Greek diner or gyro (HEE-ro) shop, and there is a restaurant in Las Vegas that’s now dishing out the actual enchilada – which will be the subject of our next article.
Many thanks to ‘cuz Elias George for inspiring and helping with this article.
Kali orixi and Opa to all!
* They’re Muslims, we get it, but not drinking wine probably accounts for most of their geopolitical squabbling and suffering. The occasional shot of arak does not quell the savage breast of an irrational jihadist nearly as well as a bracing glass of assyrtiko might. Just sayin’.