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Samos Taverna

Samos Taverna
January 2009

Bask in the warmth of elegant Greek cuisine at Samos Taverna in Mount Pleasant, where patrons are celebrating the culinary riches of the sunny Mediterranean. Located in the former home of J. Bistro, this unassuming building is a treasure trove of visual, olfactory, and gustatory delights, thanks to restaurateur Andy Fallen and local physician George Malanos, the inspiration for the concept through his family’s ties to the Aegean island of Samos.

The glorious aromas that greeted us during an inaugural visit were, we were told, the result of Malanos’ traditional family recipes being prepared by chef Phil Wallace in this newly renovated space. Considerable renewal is immediately evident in the handsome foyer that glows with tangerine tile, columns, and classic Greek white-on-white style. Expansive antique mirrors and alluring prints of fishing boats poised above cushioned leather booths and banquettes reflect candlelight in the dining room to the right. To the left, an appealing bar area and partially enclosed alfresco lounge vie for attention, the latter winning often on crisp winter nights, we imagined, thanks to a broad fireplace and pleasant cushioned seating. From all corners, the atmosphere is animated and the service quietly competent.

The menu, a collection of barely pronounceable yet quite recognizable dishes, also includes a number of additions that we were anxious to try. Mezethes (small plate beginnings) were irresistible and could have completed our visit quite happily. We chose the trio option including htipiti, tzatziki, and melitzanosalata and were delighted with the unique preparations of creamy goat feta with roasted chilis; goat milk yogurt with cucumber and garlic; and roasted eggplant, walnut, garlic, and cilantro spread. Piled high upon crisp, hot pita, these appetizers were amazingly ­satisfying. After a hearty sampling of these and an order of papou’s souzoukakia—smooth rich meatballs made with mint, lime, seasoned breadcrumbs, and pure beef in classic tomato sauce—we moved to salates and megala piatas.

The chopped Greek salad blended romaine, arugula, cucumber, pepperoncini, olives, feta, and tomatoes. Roka salata, deemed the perfect palate cleanser by our server, was a refreshing combination of arugula, orange, manouri (goat cheese), shaved fennel, roasted pistachios, and a light dressing of vinegar, olive oil, and orange juice with a hint of fresh garlic. Again, we could have stopped here, but then we would have missed the garides saganaki, which would have been a shame. Served in its own iron skillet, this glorious combination paired tender local shrimp with fresh basil, tomatoes, orzo, and more goat feta. So authentically Greek, the unique flavors and textures of this dish ­reminded me of my first visit to this splendid country. The souvlaki was also well-executed, with generous skewers of Ashley Farms ­chicken grilled to a crisp golden finish and served with sautéed spinach, Yiayia’s patates, and accompaniment of tzatziki. The chicken was tender and the patates marinated in ­chicken stock and roasted with lemon and olive oil, satisfying as only Greek potatoes can be.

Our server highly recommended the bak­lava for dessert, but in a bold move we decided to try the special dessert of the evening, feta tikanita—fried cheese layered in phyllo pastry sprinkled with sesame seeds and drizzled with sage honey. Rich, creamy, sweet-salty, and delicious, it was a bit much at the end of this rich meal but would actually have been lovely when paired with one of the interesting wines from the well-designed list for a light bite. In this case, server knew best.

On this chilly night, dinner was followed with expertly made cappuccinos by the fire in the outdoor lounge. Remarkably designed for comfort and conversation, this brought a special vantage point for enjoying the later evening activity in the bar area, where cozy booths are also available for dining.

Samos is magnetic in spirit and lusty in flavor, bringing delicious warmth to lovers of Greek cuisine and comfortable dining at its best. Valet parking is much appreciated on cold winter evenings.