Good to Excellent Tasty Greek Food;
Latest visit: May 6, 2012
Firstvisit: November 02, 2010
Nestled in a lovely neighborhood high in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains is a jewel of authentic Greek cuisine. Mykonos Café and Taverna, an Albuquerque culinary institution since 1997, offers patrons—many of whom have been regular diners since the beginning—a stunning array of hand-crafted Mediterranean dishes, in an understated, sophisticated atmosphere reflective of its world famous Greek island namesake.
Restaurateur Maria Constantine was raised in Athens, Greece, immigrating with her family to America as a young adult. Maria’s love affair with Greek cuisine began at an early age. “Cooking is very important to the Greek family,” she explains, “For us, it’s a celebration of life!” Little wonder most of the traditional selections at Mykonos trace their origins to recipes dating back many generations in Maria’s family.
My first visit to Mykonos Café & Taverna for lunch last week with some out-of-town friends.T he food was mostly fine, with some insignificant gaffes. There are other Greek/Mediterranean places in town with similar but not better food that may deserve your consideration, especially if you are looking for bargain-priced fare. But you won’t find better Greek food anywhere else in this town.
Soup of the day was Bean, and it was very tasty. Nicely seasoned, but with perhaps a tad too much white pepper, the texture and mouth feel were very satisfying. It went slightly downhill from here.
Dolmades with Avgolemono sauce looked tantalizing on the plate, but they failed to deliver fully. The grape leaves had the right texture and taste, the sauce was rich and properly lemony, but the tasty filling (nicely spiced rice and ground lamb) was slightly mushy. The spanakopita was wrapped in tender, flakyphyllo and the feta-spinach filling was fine, but the bottom of several pieces seems to have stuck to the cooking surface and was slightly burned, adding some bitterness to an otherwise very good morsel. The Combination Plate was, well, just a combo plate — nothing special. The Greek Salad was, well, just Greek salad.
The room is Greek Island handsome, with white walls and blue accents, on a terra-cotta saltillo tile floor. Great service. Nice selection of wines and beers (including Blue Moon wheat beer on tap served with a proper sized slice of fresh orange), and a delightful Retsina that didn’t have that turpentine taste common to cheap Retsinas.
So, I enjoyed the visit, I enjoyed most of the food, but I wished for better, and I suspect that they are capable of better. The recipes (a family collection) and ingredients are fine; the execution leaves a bit to be desired, especially at their prices — not quite a good value. With some fine tuning, Mykonos Café & Taverna could be a top competitor in the Duke City Greek arena. Perhaps they had a hard day; I will return soon to find out. I dearly love Greek food since I first discovered it when I lived in Chicago from 1965 to 1980 (Chicago had three Greek Towns in those days). I really want to love this place.
A very satisfying return visit. Perhaps the first visit, being in the middle of the afternoon, caught the kitchen staff in siesta mode.
Jane and I returned here for a late lunch of Gyros with Greek Salad (Jane) and French Fries (me). The Gyros sandwiches on pita were excellent with lots of nicely spiced meat — very tasty. Salad was better than average, and the FF were very good — nicely browned and crisp, not the flaccid mess that is served in lesser places. Forget catsup (which needs to be banned in New Mexico). Spoon some lightly garliced tzatziki on them for a real treat.
I am a huge fan of Galaktoboureko. Galaktoboureko (γαλακτομπούρεκο) is a Greek dessert of custard (sometimes flavored with lemon or orange) in phyllo. It may be made in a pan, with phyllo layered on top and underneath, or rolled into individual servings (often approximately 10 cm long). It is often served with a clear coating of a sweet syrup and ground cinnamon. The version served at Mykonos is round, like a puff pastry, and filled with a unique chiffon-like lemony custard with just enough clear lemony sugar syrup to complement the custard taste. Not cloying at all, but quite delicate. One of the best I have had anyplace. Kudos. Waistline notwithstanding, I will probably havr this heavenly dessert every time I return, and Jane agrees.
Our server was again a gem. Helpful and attentive. We talked about the menu, and she assured me that they would cook up a fine plate of herbed grilled fish on my next visit. I bet they can, too. I haven’t had a good Greek-style whole grilled red snapper since I left Chicago’s GreekTown in 1980. Not even during my 28 years in Washington DC.
This visit was a winner. The retsina was fabulous.
Dinner with Bart and Ruth May 6, 2012
Having had two lunches here already, we decided on a dinner with some friends. And this would give me another chance at that fabulous Galactobouriko.
Hawaiian Butterfish (Escobar)
Jane liked this entrée as much as any fish entrée that she has had in the Duke City.
The escolar, Lepidocybium flavobrunneum, a species of fish in the family Gempylidae, is found in deep (200–885 m) tropical and temperate waters around the world. It is also known as snake mackerel, and sometimes is marketed as “butterfish” or “white tuna.” Whatever you call it, it is a somewhat firm white fish that is (I think) much tastier that Chilean Sea Bass, which raises hackles on conservationists. There is a sweetness and delicacy to the fish that wowed Jane.
The fish at Mykonos is lightly grilled and served with puréed sweet potatos and Greek-style calabacitas (yeah, really, and they are delicious). An excellent and unique choice.
Arni Kokinisto (Lamb Shanks)
Tender lamb shanks braised in red wine tomato sauce and spices. Served over pasta.
I an a lamb shank freak. I often use this as a benchmark when evaluating a restaurant. Most Greek-style lamb shanks are served with a tomatoish orzo and green beans. The version here comes atop a heaping serving od Long pieces of tube pasta (Makaronia #2, called bucatini in other countries). This is the pasta that is used in pastitsio, a lovely traditional Greek lasagna-like dish). This pasta is a welcome change from orzo.
The lamb shanks were huge, and perfectly cooked: falling off the bone and very tender and juicy. My previous favorite Arni Kokinisto (in 1976) was served at the Mykonos Grill in Bethesda, MD. The Bethesda lamb shanks are now in second lace, having lost out to the luster of the local place. Must be something magic about the island.
Kotopita (Chicken Filo Wrap)
Sinach, imported cheese, chicken and fresh herbs, Wrapped in filo and served over rice. This was Ruth’s choice, and she tells me that it is fabulous.
I vowed at my previous visit to have the Galaktoboureko again. Not only did Jane and I share a portion, but also did Bart and Ruth. I still think that this is the best I have had, and Jane agrees, and Bart and Ruth were wowed, never having had anything quite like this. As we were devouring this dessert, I could hear celestial moans of pleasure wafting through the air. It’s just that good. And we will have it again next time. Maybe even make a special visit just for this Galaktoboureko.
There has been a slight reorganization among the staff at Mykonos. Brad Cesarano, who has been there for twelve years, is now the general manager. He is charming, knowledgeable, and was our server last night. Our service here has always been exemplary. here is something magic about family-run restaurants that keeps good staff around.
Urbanspoon currently lists 20 restaurants that serve Greek food in the Dike City. Of the ones I have tried, Mykonos and Yanni’s are at the head of the class. Both are beautiful; both serve beautifully plated authentic food; both offer fine and friendly service. Not Chicago, but certainly the vest around. I prefer Mykonos. The Galaktoboureko and lamb shanks tips the scales.