Monday, January 08, 2007

6 p.m. in the Garden of Good and Civil

How could you even look at this room and not internally sigh? Garden's of Salonica perfect for a little neighborhood restaurant. Flattering lighting, local art/sculpture and there's the bar populated with wine! Perfection for a date night, or an evening of catching up with an old friend.
Unfortunately, for me, it's in what is now known as the "Other City." I can't help it. I think I've seen all there is in terms of dining in St. Paul. There just ain't that much if you are trying to avoid fried things and "colorful regulars."
Although, we did meet one colorful character when Matt and I stopped in here early Saturday night. His name was Wes and I think he said he was 8. His mom was hanging out at the bar with some friends and he was an unstoppable force of cuteness. He came marching over to our table (the evil me is thinking, "Ew! Kid Germs!") But, maybe it was the baby boom of my friends around me or maybe this kid was just the greatest little boy ever. I'm not sure, but man did we have fun talking to him. While he offered to show us his secret lab and some seriously kick-ass magic powers, he was also kind enough to help me get over my strong distaste for video games. Apparently, I should be playing the games with an E on them, because E means for Everybody, so they are considerably easier. Who knew? Although, there was the time when I spazzed out after my sisters marginally retarded friend tried to assist me at a friendly game of Mario Cart by saying, "No, you need to TURN" as Yoshi slammed repeatedly into a wall in a Sisyphean effort to make it once around the track. I don't know that E does mean for Everyone.
I felt bad ordering wine in front of a child, but figured, he probably wouldn't be scarred for life. The wine list does leave a little to be desired, by the bottle, and you're fine, but the glass list isn't that great. Personally, I don't think the Greeks have got it down with the grapes, but that's just me.
When Wes' mom finally came to collect him, explaining that it was time for him to go home and hang out with Daddy because Mommy's going out with the girls tonight. (Hey, maybe I could be a candidate for motherhood after all! Could I get some kind of guarantee that my kid would be this charming?)
Sadly, with the floor show gone, the restaurant suddenly sparkled a little less. The couple seated next to us were horrible. The woman looked exactly like Janice from Friends and the guy had a Bluetooth thingy in his ear and was taking calls. Irritating, soul-sucking yuppies. I wanted to spit Ouzo at them and yell "OPA!!!"
Anyway, our food was coming at a perfect pace for me to share all of my thoughts with my dear heart. I even made him choke on his Tyro when I did my machine gun impression of Janice's laugh Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!
We started with the Tyro, a blended cheese and red pepper mix served with warm pita bread. Super garlicky, spicy and heaven sent. It's served with one kalamata olive on top. One is never enough. I don't know what it is that they do, or where they get them, but these are without question the best olives I've ever had.
Another great thing about this restaurant is that they use local and organic ingredients wherever possible. While you'd expect that of Lucia or Brenda, not so much at the ethnic restaurants. I hope this is a trend that stays. The food is always better for it.
For entrees, Matt had the Pastitsio and I had the Ambelodolmades. Pastitio is best described as a Greek lasagna. It's layers of tubular pasta mixed with seasoned ground beef and bachamel sauce, baked with a crispy crust on top. It was wonderful, rich and full. It was crispy, crusty and satisfying, the holy trinity of winter food. My little stuffed grape leaves were so garlicky that I don't think I'll be making any new friends for the rest of the week. I'll probably be weeding out a few of the more sensitive ones that I already have. Their tzatziki is rich with Greek yogurt, bright with dill and lemon and crashing down on all your taste buds with crazy amounts of garlic. The whole thing was delicious and persistent. There was no forgetting what I'd had for dinner that night or for the rest of the weekend.
They also do a great lunch service, if you're looking for something place different near downtown Minneapolis. I'll be back before too long.
If you see Wes, please tell him he was right. I should let Matt play video games, even if it's just one day a week, like Tuesday.


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