Souvlaki, pasticho: It's all Greek to them
Every time someone enters Kouzina Estiatorio, there is such a cold draft that diners whose backs are to the door have to sit with coats over their shoulders. You order cafeteria-style here. There’s no table service, no reservations, and seating only for 24. All of this might suggest a place to avoid. But that would be foolish. Kouzina Estiatorio (“kitchen restaurant’’ in Greek) is the warmest, friendliest spot, with a happy family at your service, and delicious, authentic Greek food.
You can tell from the first sip that even the soup broth is homemade. Warm up with avgolemono soup ($4.50), which has a lovely lemony taste, and rice and tiny bits of carrot and celery. Or try lentil soup ($3.95), studded with potatoes and carrots.
Kouzina Estiatorio is owned by Niko and Eleni Sountoulidis, and their sons Tony, 36, and Xeno, 35. The family opened this Dedham Square restaurant three years ago, after running Deli King on Clarendon Street in Back Bay. Kouzina serves the food of their native Athens (the brothers were born there), except for some minor changes. Where you’d expect lamb, the Sountoulidises often use beef because lamb, says Xeno, puts some people off. Juicy little packets of grape leaves ($6.50), wrapped by hand, and stuffed with ground beef and rice, come with a light lemon sauce. Keftedes ($6.50) look so plain — a little row of chubby beef patties on a plate with nothing but a wedge of lemon as garnish — that you might think you ordered a dud. They’re magically juicy, lightly charred, flavored with dill.
Grilled eggplant is pureed into dreamy, garlicky meletzanosalata ($5.95). The cooks are blending bright red carp’s roe with boiled potatoes to make beautiful, creamy taramosalata. Even the puffy rounds of bread, gyro rather than pita, are especially good, warmed on the griddle, and cut into triangles. That’s the way Eleni’s brothers do it in Greece. They work in restaurants there and the sons spent summers with their uncles learning to cook.
Lamb souvlaki ($10.95) is nicely charred with flavorful meat, though some morsels are tough. These plates come with a traditional pilaf or tender lemon potatoes and Greek salad. Chicken souvlaki ($9.05) tastes sauteed rather than grilled. The classic ground meat and pasta dish, pasticho ($9.95) is made with long strands of hollow spaghetti, the sauce deeply flavored with cinnamon and cloves, a thick, eggy custard (actually a bechamel sauce) baked on top. Mousaka ($9.95) has a similar custard topping, but it is layered with potato and eggplant. Both stand high and come in large portions that might serve two. Less grand on the plate, but distinctive in its own right is spanakopita ($8.95), which is shaped into a large, flat rectangle, its crisp phyllo layers encasing spinach and feta.
A milky rice pudding, flavored only with vanilla, comes in a small plastic cup. When you order it, one of the cooks will sprinkle the top with cinnamon. This pure little dessert, made risotto style, is one of Eleni’s recipes. It was probably prepared the same way a generation, even a century, ago and served in an earthenware bowl.
The Sountoulidis family is preserving many traditions, not the least of which is the warm and welcoming collaboration of parents and sons in the kitchen. SHERYL JULIAN
Sheryl Julian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.