Capturing the culinary “zest of life”
From our experiences and knowledge of Mediterranean cultures, we know that food preparation and consumption are what bring family and friends together. We gather at the table for conversation, celebration and consolation. When babies are born, we eat; when couples are wed, we feast; when strangers visit, we share; and when loved ones are lost, we mourn and eat, share memories, then eat some more. “For in hospitality, it is the spirit that counts.”
And so it was that Nicki and I came to commemorate a special family event by dining out at Athos Restaurant at 1814 Western Avenue in Guilderland. The reputation of Executive Chef (and one-third owner) Harry Hatziparaskevas had preceded him as a successful chef at Ithaka Greek Restaurant in Manhattan.
From our warm and friendly host and other co-owner, George Danes, to Roxanne, our patient, professional, “honorary Greek” server, to a preview of the authentic Greek fare, it was obvious to us and our invited dinner guests that Athos offers a beautiful balance of the ancient and the modern, the traditional and the present day. For instance, our short walk from the tiled entry past the bar to the elegant, warm and inviting dining room allowed a bird’s-eye view through two large glass floor panels into a very well-stocked, old-world wine cellar below.
Once seated, our party began with Pikilia of traditional Greek spreads ($10), which allowed a choice of any three of six delicious creamy sauces enjoyed with soft, warm pita bread wedges. We chose the Tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber, garlic and dill), the Melitsanosalata (smoked eggplant) and the Tirokafteri (creamed feta with spicy peppers). These tangy treats were perfectly complimented by a glass of the recommended Greek Rodhitis white wine ($8) and a glass of Greek, fruity Retsina wine ($6). Opa!
In addition to the 12 cold appetizers on the Pikilia menu, Athos also offers several fresh garden salads and 15-20 hot appetizers for openers or as an “entre with accompaniments”. And it is from this list that I chose an order of my traditional favorite – Greek Dolmathes, seasoned ground meat and rice hand-rolled in grape leaves resting in a creamy, tart lemon sauce ($8).
Nicki and I, with the help of our server selected entrees from “Ta Classica” menu, which included a beautiful array of fresh fish and seafood preparations. My Garides Grekolimano was a generous serving of five or six jumbo shrimp, simmered in a clay pot with tomato sauce, a splash of ouzo and melted cheese, served with rice pilaf and vegetable imeras (sauted green beans) ($24). Nicki opted for the Athos Psari Plaki, a white fish filet with fresh tomatoes, onions, olives, garlic and feta served with rice pilaf and vegetable imeras ($22). Both of these authentic Greek dishes were very tasty, very satisfying and very typically a part of the Greek diet and dependence on the sea.
Athos complements their classic seafood menu with a children’s menu, two colorful vegetarian dishes and a dozen or so entrees on their “from the grill” menu. This “Apo Ti Schara” bill of fare offers grilled meat dishes featuring chicken, pork, lamb, salmon, steak and quail, all served with lemon potatoes or rice pilaf and vegetable imeras. The complete dinners here range in price from $18 for the marinated chicken breast to $30 for the prime New York strip steak.
We rounded out our Grecian feast with two selections to share from the dessert listings. Of course, we considered the honey-glazed baklava phyllo pastry layered with walnuts and almonds; we swooned at the thought of the homemade chocolate mousse with a hint of Grand Marnier and walnuts; we craned our necks toward a passing tray of prepared-to-order fried dough nuggets (Loukoumathes) covered in sweet syrup, walnuts and cinnamon; and we passed on Yiaourti of strained Greek yogurt with fresh fruit salad, honey and nuts. Our foursome decided, instead, on a large slice of Ravani almond cake soaked in citrus flavored simple syrup ($6) and beautiful “signature” homemade, Baklava cheesecake flavored with walnut liquor and topped with crumbled baklava ($8). Double opa!
The three owners of Athos Restaurant are upholding their promise made to clients a little over a year ago since their opening, to bring a sense of style, aesthetics, and culture that every guest will experience and enjoy.” Nicki and I now truly appreciate the Athos motto: “Come in as strangers, leave as friends.”
Total cost for two glasses of Greek wine, two appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts (excluding tax and tip) was $92. Athos Restaurant is open Monday-Saturday 4pm-10pm and Sunday 3pm-9pm. For more information call 608.6400 or visit www.athosrestaurant.com.
Frank W. Pidgeon is an educator/school administrator, freelance writer and winemaker who lives with his wife in Rotterdam.