Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Yanni’s: Better than it looks!

The Landmark at Greenwood Village does not lend itself to atmospheric dining experiences, & Yanni’s is no exception. (Ali Baba Grill comes closest, but that’s another post.) Unable to escape that “multi-use development” vibe, it gestures half-heartedly toward upscale Aegean-themed decor in white & blue, but the hard-surfaced space feels threadbare. Presentation doesn’t help, showing all the flair of an all-hours diner (read: none, from the institutional white dishware to the foil-wrapped butter pats for the warm breadsticks—where’s the Greek olive oil?) Service doesn’t raise the stakes of formality a whit either—but at least the waitstaff brings some familial warmth to the proceedings, led by an owner who makes the rounds with shots of ouzo (albeit in plastic glasses). Given the prices, which tend toward the teens & 20s, a touch more elegance seems to be in order.

So long as you close your eyes, though, the food mostly lives up to the promise of the concept. Take the tarama, a/k/a taramosalata—a whipped spread composed of cured fish roe, bread crumbs (or mashed potato), olive oil & lemon juice. When poorly made, it’s a shambles—gritty, clunky, & lacking the salty punch of the key ingredient (à la My Big Fat Greek Cafe’s version—sad trombone). But when it’s well made—as this was—it’s one of my favorite things on earth: creamy yet airy, pungent, slightly tart & totally craveworthy. Decent pita, too—the oil-touched, soft kind.

The Director’s gyro platter wouldn’t win a beauty contest, but the expertly done lamb-&-beef slices had robust personality aplenty: meltingly tender, well-seasoned & paired with spot-on chunky tzatziki alongside crisp fries.

My octopus, too, was lovely—buttery in texture with a nice char—though why it was served over shredded cabbage is a mystery. It would have gained a lot, I thought, from being tossed with or at least served on the same plate as the sides—

which looked like something you’d get at an old folks’ home but tasted much better: fluffy potato wedges with a bit of a crust & a surprisingly rich & saucy mélange of green beans and carrots stewed with tomatoes.

I’m happy to add the wine list pulls no punches for the sake of the suburban crowd, boasting its share of Greek varietals—love me some Xinomavro! Ultimately, when ambiance matters, Axios Estiatorio is the place to beat, but in terms of food quality, it’s a toss-up—both kitchens prove solid.

Yanni's Greek Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Axios Estiatorio: A Big Fat Roundtable, Part 2

***Continued from Part 1 at Denver on a Spit!***

Moussaka

Denveater (D): Come on. Layers of ground beef and creamy-textured eggplant, nicely spiced with cinnamon, cumin, & co., and a custardy besciamella topping. I ate that whole huge slab minus the few tiny bites you all took.

Mantonat (M): I had one bite, but it’s probably what I will order when I return. The topping was creamy & rich, & the ground meat was tender & moist from slow cooking. I think this is a perfect example of food made with love.

Denver on a Spit (DOAS): I just had a small bite too, but I agree that it was excellent. I also agree with Mantonat [see final verdict below], though, that here is where a little modernization might go a long way—even if not with the dish itself, maybe with the presentation. As I remember it, it was just sitting all alone squarely in the middle of your plate. But then again, good food is good food.

Lamb Kebab with (unpictured) Sides of Roasted Beets & Potatoes


M: The lamb cubes were tender, succulent, well seasoned, & perfectly cooked to order (medium-rare). The grilled veggies added some nice crunch & char to the dish, but the rice was an afterthought on the plate: too starchy & flavorless to add anything.

The beets were served with crumbled feta cheese & seemed to be lightly dressed. I really liked this as a side dish despite—or maybe because of—the simplicity (sorry if we didn’t share!). The potatoes were also very simply presented: pan-fried in oil with a hit of coarse salt. They should just do the potatoes as the side on the lamb kebab dish & get rid of the rice altogether.

Baklava, Fig Cake, & Olive Oil Cake


DOAS: The olive oil cake was amazing. I loved the strong taste of the olive oil & the almost complete lack of sweetness. The cake itself was moist (as it should be, with all that oil) & it went really well with my fig cake, which was sweeter (though not overly so) & stickier. So what I am saying is order both.

M: I had one small bite of each & enjoyed them all, but the fig cake stood out as my favorite. The combination of ingredients really emphasized the fig flavor & texture without being cloying.

D: I can happily say the same for all three desserts: like the fritters, they were all about what they were all about—nuts, honey, dried & zested fruits, olive oil—and not about sugar. I’ve never had baklava quite that big & buoyant; it’s traditionally so much thinner & denser.

Our final take on the whole Axios shebang:

DOAS: I really, really wanted to like Axios. I think Denver is missing more variety in the realm of Greek dining, which in my opinion is one of the world’s great cuisines. Overall I did like it for a few well-done classics, its friendly & informative waitstaff, its nice selection of Greek wines & all the babies eating there on a Saturday night (I like that now, of course). I didn’t like my entree really at all, but I don’t hold one dish against them. So chances are I will be back (with my babies in tow) & will keep working my way through their menu.

M: The food overall was pretty solid, so I look forward to trying more of the menu too. The restaurant was full & lively with a good mix of customers. I’m glad they didn’t go overboard with cheesy Greek/Mediterranean decor.

Some of the dishes could use a little modernization in the thought & presentation. I love traditional cuisine, but I really don’t need sides on a plate as color or filler that don’t enhance the dish. The Greek wines were a pleasant surprise. Finding good wines that you never even knew existed is like find a 10-dollar bill in the pocket of a jacket you haven’t worn in a couple of years.

D: Well, 1st of all, was my honor and pleasure to introduce Denver On a Spit and Mantonat, along with their awesome Mrs.-es; knowing the whole gang’s gung-ho chowish attitudes, I knew it’d be raucous & decadent, & with just a little more imagination, I’d probably even have guessed that it’d end with the Director & I in the ER for 6 hours while one of us, never mind who, passed a kidney stone.

The fact that I’ve been back to twice since, traumatic flashbacks notwithstanding, should tell you how I like it: a lot. Part of it is that I’m a recent to convert to Greek wines, and the owner, Telly Topakas, obliges with a varied list and serious knowledge to accompany it. The other part is that I simply adore Greek food, and I’ve yet to hit on a dish there I don’t really like; the chef, a Mizuna alum, has a soulful bent for sure. A few more tidbits below.

***

While the dolmades below are covered in Part 1, the keftedes—beef meatballs in lamb-fat-infused tomato sauce & sprinkled with pecorino-like kefalotiri—are not, & rest assured, they’re dandy too: after all, many of these dishes are cut from the same robust, tangy, rich-textured cloth. The pita’s not made in-house, but it is baked locally & served all warm & fresh.

How many times have you had stale yet greasy, tinny-tasting spanakopita? Yeah. Can you tell by looking with what delicacy this version is handled by comparison? I reckon you can.

I’ve only had a few nibbles of the classic, lasagna-like casserole known as pastitsiobut enough to know that it shares with Axios’s moussaka the fluffy custard & moist, warmly spiced beef filling—while throwing dear macaroni into the mix.

And again, Telly Topakas’s fascinating selection of Greek wines—including a high-end retsina & some beautiful dessert pours—is worth exploring thoroughly.

Axios Estiatorio on Urbanspoon