REVIEW BY LEN LEAR
For 21st Century Media
You have no doubt heard the expression, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” which comes from Vergil’s “Aeneid,” the 2,000-year-old Latin epic poem about Aeneas, the Trojan War refugee who became the ancestor of the Romans. The expression comes, of course, from the story of the Trojan War (which may have been an actual historical event or a fictional literary story; historians do not agree), in which the Greeks gave the people of Troy (in modern day Turkey) a large wooden horse as a “gift,” but Greek soldiers hidden in the horse killed the guards and set fire to the city.
For more than 20 centuries the people of Greece have had to overcome this reputation for alleged treachery. In our experience, the exact opposite is true. When my wife and I traveled to Athens several years ago, a couple from the seaport town of Piraeus, Paul and Maria Papanicolopolous (I told them I was not sure I could fit their entire name on a typical business-sized envelope), took two days off from work, although we begged them not to, to pick us up at our hotel, chauffeur us around, show us the historical sites of ancient Greece, refuse to let us pay for meals, etc. Never in our lives have we experienced such extraordinary hospitality.
And that is the kind of hospitality you can expect at Estia Greek Taverna, which opened on Aug. 4 at 200 Radnor-Chester Road, across the road from Radnor High’s sports fields and the distance of a thrown dinner plate (an old Greek custom) from the Radnor Hotel. There has also been an Estia at 1405 Locust St. in Center City Philly for eight years and one on Route 70 in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, that opened in March of this year.
The server who waited on us, Eduardo Salgueiro (who is from Brazil, not Greece), could not have been more knowledgeable or pleasant. For example, because we have been to two area restaurants recently in which we were served the entrees while we were still eating the appetizers, we appreciated the fact that the server stopped to inform us, “I just placed your entree order, and it will be out in about 20 minutes,” which was exactly how long it took. Eduardo’s temperament is so even, he could balance crystal wine goblets on it.
Estia is owned by brothers Pete and Nick Pashalis along with Pete’s brother-in-law, John Lois, who own the other two Estia restaurants as well as a few Pietro’s Coal Oven Pizzerias in the area. (By the time this article appears, a new Pietro’s may be open just a few yards from the new Estia.) The Greek word, “estia,” by the way, means “hearth” or “warmth.” Estia was the goddess of the hearth and its fire in ancient mythology.
The new 200-seat restaurant features a wrap-around patio for outdoor dining surrounded by flowers and greenery and a rustic-chic look indoors with white-washed brick, stone arches, repurposed wood plank floors and table tops, hand-woven rugs, antiqued stucco walls and exposed wooden beams. Some dining areas feature intimate dining nooks and upholstered banquettes with beige cushions. Interestingly, when we were there, every table was occupied, even though there was no “Estia” sign yet in front of the restaurant. (We were told it would be appearing soon.)
Appetizers and salads range in price from $7 to $13, with dinner entrees from $15 to $28. The seafood-centric menu specializes in whole grilled fish flown in from the Greek islands as well as Morocco, Tunisia and Portugal. You can view them in their pristine colors in a stunning display in shaved ice near the kitchen. In the case of the lavraki (a Greek sea bass) or lethrini (also called Pandora, a delicate white, fleshy fish), their firm, flaky meat releases from the fish with an easy tug and delivers a gentle, briny character redolent of the Mediterranean Sea.
We loved the thick rounds of naturally flavored octopus, a traditional Greek favorite, which is tenderized by a novel technique, a washing machine. That’s right, a washing machine! (I am sure that clothing is not also placed into the machine with the octopus.) Even my wife, who usually disdains octopus, raved about the tenderness and flavor. And the moussaka, a casserole layered with seasoned ground beef, sliced eggplant and potatoes, topped with a creamy sauce, was just as toothsome as we remember it in Greece.
For dessert, the baklava, another Greek classic, was a heavenly concoction of flaky pastry stacked with orange honey syrup and almonds. The wines we tried, 14 Hands Riesling ($11) and Backstory Chardonnay ($11), were not impressive, lacking in character and after-taste.
If there is a joker in this otherwise delightful deck, it is the supersonic noise level when the restaurant is full, as it often is. When you enter the restaurant, you immediately encounter the bar, the beehive-thick crowd and the supersonic noise level. The dining room is not as horrific but is still unpleasantly loud. And the tables are so close together that you could reach out and touch the diners on either side. It’s a shame because the food is cooking on all cylinders, and the service is so professional, but the uncomfortable noise level hardly makes for a relaxed dining experience. And if you check the comments on yelp.com, you’ll find that many of the “reviewers” also mention the decibel overload. I don’t know if acoustic tiles would help, but something should be tried to lessen the clangorous babble. Outside of the noise level, our enjoyment stretched out like a girdle.
For more information, call (484) 581-7124 or visit www.estiataverna.com