|Posted by cdonegal on September 21, 2012 at 11:20 AM||comments (0)|
Don’t let the pig fool you.
By Robbie Thornton
When my punctual friend was late for lunch, I called to ask where she was. “I am on Powhatan,” she said, ‘but the only restaurant I see is the Dixie Pig.”
She was no tthe first to be misled by the glowing neon pig, a nod to the Dixie Pig that dwelt here in days past.
In the shadow of the pig, Vasiliki Volioti (“Vaso” has established a fine little Greek tavern, an eatery now known – to those who can look beyond (or beneath) the pig – as Vaso’s Kitchen.
Vaso’s is a neighborhood taverna, where the Greek native’s servers often recall diners’ names and inquire after their families. The glass tops sport cloth napkins and tablecloths; diners may choose to eat indoors or at one of the sidewalk tables on this side street in Old Town North.
I have grown fond of Vaso’s, where lemon, butter, garlic, and white wine feature in many of my favorite dishes.
The textured gazpacho, garlicky and chilled, is one of the heartiest and deliecious I have enjoyed in the area (or Greece, for that), and the whole artichoke appetizer baked in garlic and olive oil, is consistently delicious.
Another seasonal delicate and delightful seasonal dish is the soft-shelled crab in a silky lemon-butter wine sauce.
The fried calamari is crunchy and moist and seasoned, apparently, only with salt and pepper. As an appetizer it is a new comfort food. To us, the larger entrée serving seems less satisfying and rapidly evolves into mouth fatigue. The accompanying marinara sauce is the off note, bland and flavorless.
M companions on a number of occasions and I have especially savored another appetizer, the aptly-named Zesty Feta Spread with Pita Bread. We also enjoy the feta cheese/tomato blend with the perfect jolt of red peppers. The wheat and white pita triangles are warm and fresh and the combination heavenly.
The house salad is pleasant, vinegary and authentically Greek, but the anchovies appear only on the appetizer sampler (which also features Vaso’s light and minty corned beef meatballs).
At lunch, finding a table usually has become a matter of arriving before the horde, but the noise level is acceptable. On a Friday night, our party was greeted warmly by several servers. It was busy and waiting a few minutes to be seated was understandable, but another employee’s demeanor suggested that she would have been more pleased to see the onset of bubonic plague.
Our server was as pleasant as her Macedonian accent, but the noise level forced us to ask her to repeat the specials several times. Finally, she had to practically blow in my ear for me to hear what she was saying. The busyness might also account for her asking my drink order and then dashing off to fill it without asking my companions'.
Vaso’s specialties are listed on the back of the menu, and servers explain which are available. For the most part, they seem more costly than the regular menu and prices do not accompany them, so diners must ask how much they cost or risk being unpleasantly surprised when the reckoning comes. On one occasion, I ordered a special without asking and the $29.00 cost, about twice most entrees, left me with a bad taste.
The Athenian Chicken special, for example, is chicken roasted with olive oil, lemon, white wine, rosemary and garlic and accompanied with down-home (if you live in Athens) roast potatoes for $17.95, a couple dollars more than all but two items on the regular menu, the filet mignon kabob at $18.95 (lunch) $22.95 (dinner), and the large Greek-style pizza at $16.95. When we tried it, the veg of the day was green beans, which were cooked to crunchy perfection – but cool.
There are a few other bumps. We found the shrimp marinara almost too bitter to eat, and on one occasion, I ordered a lamb shank that was too tough to puncture with a fork. I sent it back--something I have done on occasions so rare I don't recall the previous time,. In its place came Vaso, arms akimbo. “What’s wrong with my cooking?” she asked. She listened to my objections and returned to the kitchen only to reappear a few minutes later to apologize. “It shouldn’t be like that,” she said, graciously removing it from the bill. It was an extraordinarily rare fail in a restaurant that has countless successes.
For desert, Vaso offers a lovely tiramisu, reminiscent of my favorite in Liguria, northern Italy, and other traditional sweets such as baklava, yalatboureko and cannoli. (And when Greeks say “sweets,” they ain’t just whistling Thermopylae). They also offer a particularly refreshing and delicious “frappe,” iced Greek coffee that will whip your Red Bull in a fair fight faster than you can shout “Ole”!
Pizzas are made to order. Other than offering a larger American-sized share of toppings, they are more like the hand-made pizzas of Italy or Greece. Although I am not a fan of Italian pizza (I know, the blasphemy of it… Vaso’s finds a happy balance between the two styles that even younger diners find exceptionally tasty, despite the bloated Pizza Hut or Domino’s versions they usually substitute for mother’s milk.
Vaso’s Kitchen under the sign of the Dixie Pig, has the odd false note, but if it were within walking distance, I would happily spend the day, sipping retsina and sampling Vaso’s fare, while watching the world -- or at least north Old Town -- go by.
1225 Powhatan St.
Alexandria, VA 22314