If Yan Could Cook. . .


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I am sometimes hesitant to go back to a restaurant where the first visit was especially magical. A good meal is a complex formula: was it really the food, or the pleasant, understated waiter? Was it because you were hungry or you’d had just the right amount of alcohol? Was it the way your companion looked in the light, the way he held your hand, the jokes he made? Did the vigorous bike ride over give you an exercise high, making you salivate, triggering some evolutionary urge to dig your teeth into the meat? Were you just wowed by the idea that you could get a milkshake with breakfast, and not the breakfast itself?

The second trip to a restaurant can kill the memory of the first. But then the past is always like that: give me back that hour we were happy and not the years of insecurity; give me the constant reassurance of grades and not the sleepless monotony and I’ll go back to school.

The second trip to a restaurant can also be confirmation of your dreamy initial chemistry, like a good second date. Philinos, 4806 Avenue du Parc, just above Villeneuve, deserves a racy third date.

The first, oddly remarkable thing: the bread. I’ve never been moved to comment on bread before. In my experience, restaurants bring you hot white bread and butter, or something uncommon but banal like focaccia wedges or giant crackers – you can’t go too wrong. Except for Alto’s, where the waitress throws one of those disturbingly everlasting, indestructible POM buns at you, still in its plastic wrapper, but that’s a different story. I don’t know what kind of bread they serve at Philinos; it’s dark and flavourful as rye but not as dense, has a tang but isn’t sourdough, has a salty, chewy crust but a pliable, doughy center. Our most recent visit was right after I had flown over the handlebars of my bike, struck the back of a car with my body, and smashed my jaw on the asphalt below. I still worked my teeth through a full plateful of bread. Served with balsamic vinegar and olive oil (of course!), the bread is a good indication of things to come.

On this visit, we shared the “Pikilia” house hot appetizer platter: two spanakopitakia, two tyropitakia (mixed cheeses in filo pastry), calamari, and loukaniko (homemade pork sausage). The filo pies were fine, but the ample spread of calamari was the star: big, yielding rings and tentacles, in a batter that is light but satisifying and crunchy, alongside chunky tzatziki you could eat on its own. I eat a lot of fast-food style Greek food, and the warm, artisanal touches of this meal were unfamiliar (a suggestion: don’t eat the calamari at Nickels. The breading falls off and the fishy smell is overpowering). The homemade sausage was so good I would have fought for it, fork and nail.

For the main course, I had the “Paidakia – Garides”, two jumbo shrimp and two lamb chops, accompanied by baked potatoes and buttery vegetables. Everything is left in large, hearty, flavour-soaked pieces for you to cut away at. JP had the moussaka, which was also delicious if slightly over-rich – not that moussaka is supposed to be gentle. He thought it was perfect. It seemed like we ordered a ridiculous amount of food, but the waiter joked that the sight of our plates – clean down to the garnishes – would please the chef.

The reason I only write positive restaurant reviews – throwaway comments about Alto’s and Nickels notwithstanding – is because of the way I read reviews. I read them looking for somewhere to eat tonight, not hoping to be warned away from bad experiences or to revel in the spark and glee of criticism. Closed-down restaurants look so sad, the crumbling remains of someone’s belief they had the formula to survive an industry where the profit margins are razor-thin.


Written by skimfu

April 23, 2009 at 5:22 pm

Posted in Restaurant Reviews

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