So, for those of you who celebrate it, Easter has passed. (Thank you Easter bunny, bwok bwok!) Perhaps you had your lamb, or your ham, or if you're really hardcore, you had some baby goat (that would be my family). But I'm here to tell you: you're not done with your springtime lamb just yet. Not until you have gotten your heinie over to ~KOKKARI~ for their milk-fed lamb off the rotisserie, which comes with little cracklings of skin tucked into a baa-worthy pile of meat. Even if lamb doesn't really turn your crank, this dish is a must-try. It'll change how you feel about lamb, i.e. make the rest of what's out there less fabulous.
You know, everything in this restaurant is top-notch. I've always had enjoyable meals here, both lunch and dinner. Chef Erik Cosselmon's menu hits that sweet spot of authentic Greek cuisine made with quality Californian ingredients. Let's start with some mezethes (apps), like the crispy smelts ($6.50), AKA fries with eyes, perfect with a squeeze of lemon and served with skordalia, a potato and garlic dip. Did you notice that price? Seriously, like, cool. Especially since you will eat every last one of them. Crunch crunch.
Each and every time I simply can't resist the tractor beam of the grilled octopus ($11.75), meaty yet tender hunks of hacked tendrils, with a dousing of lemon, oregano, and olive oil. Get used to that delicious olive oil, because it's going to turn up all over the place. (As Martha would say, it's a good thing.) The grilled artichoke and eggplant skewers ($10) also rocked, especially with their partnering of thick Greek yogurt. And again, olive oil. Just think how good it is for your skin.
They also offer an array of dips to go with their house-made grilled pita ($5.50). Yes, eggplant is good (melitzanosalata), and so is mashed cheese (tirosalata), but the winner is the taramosalata, a thick and rich dip made with fish roe, bread, white wine vinegar, and a combo of canola and olive oil. It probably has some garlic and lemon in there too. Don't pass it up. It will haunt you later. I want some right now, and it's breakfast time.
The star dish, however, is the grilled lamb tongue skewers ($6.50). I know, you're probably like, "What? That sounds so wrong." But why would the tablehopper steer you wrong? Exactly. My dining partner deemed its future as a replacement for foie gras, it was so supple and succulent.
The entrées will seriously transport you to some remote island in the Aegean. The night we were there, we had red mullet from Greece, grilled and served whole on a bed of braised greens with lemon, and surprise, olive oil. All it took was one look out the window upon the rainy San Francisco street, and I was no longer at my seaside village. But putting another bite of the scrumptious mullet in my mouth, surprise, my waiter instantly grew a mono-brow and I was really tan and drunk on retsina.
Kokkari's moussaka ($19.75) is much adored (what's not to love about a rich dish of béchamel, eggplant, lamb, and potato bubbling in an earthenware bowl?), and their lamb chops ($27.75) are legendary. But the reason you're here is that rotisserie milk-fed lamb I was telling you about, which has been turning on the spit in the replace in the main room, waiting for you to show up. It even comes with lemony potatoes that are perfectly seasoned. In the wintertime, they'll swap the lamb for a pig. (I hope I don't end up on the spit.)
Desserts are traditional: I love the galaktoboureko ($8), a creamy semolina custard wrapped in phyllo dough, served with roasted pineapple and star anise ice cream. Now, the pineapple isn't the most authentic ingredient, but whatever, it works. I found the rizogalo ($6.50), the rice pudding, a bit sweet for my taste, especially with the mango and strawberry compote. On the opposite end is the Greek yogurt ($7), made in-house daily, and comes with candied walnuts and dates, and a drizzle with honey. It's divine in its simplicity.
So, it's shocking how large the restaurant is, yet it manages to turn out total quality, across the board. The service is also efficient, and friendly. I love the space: it's cozy and welcoming yet polished, with wide-plank wood floors lined with Persian runners, beamed ceilings, high-backed chairs, a fireplace in the front room, and an open kitchen in the back room. It's one of those restaurants that fits the bill for numerous occasions, like dinner with the 'rents, a business lunch, or a birthday dinner. I often see tables of ladies who lunch or are having "girl's night out," and there are always happy couples sharing the seafood platter for two. And hey, and did I tell you about the lamb?
200 Jackson St.
Cross: Front St.
San Francisco, CA 94111
Lunch weekdays, dinner Mon-Sat