Friday, September 30, 2011

Estiatorio Volos: A Temple to Modern Greek Cuisine

We've been going to Mediterra for years. Conveniently located across from the Canadian Opera Centre at Richmond and University, we were always assured of a comfortable table, a pleasant meal and a cold glass of wine before heading across the street for one of the COC's latest operatic productions. Now owner Andreas Antoniou has relaunched the family business as Estiatorio Volos, a contemporary Greek restaurant serving a more upscale take on the predictable cuisine of it's predecessor, which had been run successfully for years by Bob Antoniou, the restaurateur behind Little Anthony’s. 

Andreas Antoniou and the lovely Volos hostess greet guests at the door

So when Antoniou closed Mediterra last year, he handed the keys to his son Andreas, who undertook a major redesign of both the space and the concept, and hired interior designer Marc Kyriacou, who has completely reinvented the space, creating a fabulous, open, friendly Mediterranean-inspired environment using lots of natural wood, stone and more natural light. Kyriacou has also introduced marine accents such as oversized Greek urns, or pithoi, and a whimsical chandelier made of green glass fishing buoys which hang over the impressive twelve-seat celebration table. Andreas told me that next week, a 12-foot lemon tree is due to be delivered to further enhance Volos's bright new modern foyer! A perfectionist by nature, Andreas is committed to using only the highest quality local produce, creating a unique contemporary culinary experience rooted in authentic Greek cuisine.  

Greek food expert, Diane Kochilas, who consulted on Volos's menu

The open kitchen is still presided over by former Mediterra chef Reza Parsia, but he’s collaborated with New York-based author, critic and chef Diane Kochilas on a menu of authentic, modern Greek dishes, with delicious results. Andreas knew of Kochilas by dining at Pylos in NYC, another Greek-inspired restaurant that bears the hallmark of her touch. Andreas approached Diane to come and create a menu that would put Volos on equal footing with the top Greek restaurants of Montreal, New York and Chicago. Kochilas, is a New Yorker who lives in Greece, so she has an eye for New York chic mixed with down-home Greek flavours. 

The new Volos menu reflects this vision, featuring modern twists on traditional classics, such as Horiatiki Salad with its classic combination of cherry heirloom and cluster tomatoes, field cucumber, red onion, Kalamata olives and barrel feta, laced with a generous lashing of chef Reza Parsia’s top-notch Cretan organic olive oil; and my favourite, Grilled Moroccan Octopus with Melitzanosalata and fig-balsamic reduction — perfectly tender and smoky from the grill, it's richness cut with the melitzanosalata, a classic dip of mashed eggplant sharpened with garlic and lemon; Dolmades with grape leaf wrapped Metaxa-soaked golden raisins, pine nuts, arborio rice and Tzatziki — beautifully textured and full of flavour; and Giant Sea Scallops with walnut and roasted eggplant purée. 

Grilled Moroccan Octopus

Dolmades with grape leaf wrapped Metaxa-soaked golden raisins, pine nuts, 
arborio rice and Tzatziki

And that's just to whet your appetite. Principal plates include Moussaka: a towering terrine of eggplant, zucchini and yukon gold potato sauced with a Greek-style Bolognese perfumed with cinnamon and allspice, all topped with a fluffy, cheesy snowcap of Kasseri and Kafaltyri cheese béchamel — the best I've ever had; Aegean-Style Grilled Halibut with braised swiss chard and feta mashed potatoes; Seafood Kritharoto, a spin on seafood risotto with orzo standing in for rice and kefalotyri in place of parmigiano. The saffron-stained pasta is cooked in briny seafood stock and is swimming with mussels, shrimp, squid, scallops, halibut and wild salmon; Exohico: phyllo pastry stuffed with lamb and fresh vegetables; and of course their wonderful Daily Fresh Whole Fish — Sea Bass or Red Snapper — served intact, and grilled with just a little Cretan olive oil and fresh lemon, just like I had served at Zorba's, my favourite seafood restaurant in Macrolimano, just south of Athens. 

Whole Sea Bass, grilled whole, with sautéed fennel and peppers, and seasonal vegetables

The outstanding Moussaka at Volos

Volos also features a small pre-opera menu, with a choice of four appetizers, four mains and a selection of traditional Greek desserts such as Baklava and also Pressed Greek Yogurt with Honey and Fresh Berries, which was deliciously rich and thick with a small puddle of honey, crowned with a selection of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries and a sprig of mint. 

Pressed Greek Yogurt with Honey and Fresh Berries

Beyond pleasing guests with great food, excellent service and a stunning new interior, Volos strives to educate guests about the exotic and unique wines from one of the world’s oldest winemaking regions, by offering a great selection of affordable delicious Greek wines. Servers have been exhaustively trained on both the food and unique Greek wines offered at Volos, which I experienced first hand when our warm, charming and professional server Briana, suggested a lovely Santorini Boutari, one of the many extensive Greek white wines that Volos serves by the glass.

Butari from Santorini with a very pale straw colour, citric undertones 
and a full very tart flavor — simple but clean and a long finish. 

Andreas uses a Greek word to describe his restaurant’s philosophy: Philoxenia, which encompasses the notions of caring, kindness, thoughtfulness and benevolence, which a host shows towards guests while visiting one's home, and Andreas is leading by example — whether it's greeting guests at the door, coming by to say hello and ask how diners are enjoying their meal, or taking time to talk with me about this new exciting venture, he's committed to making Volos the very best it can be.

With Andreas behind the camera, he got me in the picture!

“Having had the opportunity to live and work abroad, I’ve experienced many of the world’s best restaurants as a customer which has given me a new perspective on dining. Returning to Toronto, I felt strongly that I could build a strong team to deliver a contemporary Greek experience with the type of service, presentation and ambience that one would expect in any premiere restaurant. We’re committed to achieving that goal.” 

With Volos's exciting new menu, extensive array of delicious Greek wines and top notch service, Andreas Antoniou is successfully redefining contemporary Greek cuisine in Toronto. His future is assuredly bright, just like the twinkle in his eye. Kalí óreksi! Bon appetit.

133 Richmond Street West
Toronto, Ontario

Diane's Moussaka
Recipe courtesy of Diane Kochilas 
Serves 10–12 

Meat Sauce:
3-4 tbsp olive oil
3 large red onions, finely chopped
1 lb button mushrooms, trimmed and coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 lb ground beef or combination of ground beef and lamb
2 cups chopped, plum tomatoes
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp ground allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
3 bay leaves
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper to taste

6 tbsp unsalted butter
6 tbsp flour
7 cups milk
Salt and pinch of white pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup fresh Greek anthotyro (or ricotta), drained
1/2 cup grated kefalotyri cheese

Olive oil for frying
2 -3 large eggplants, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/8" slices
2 large zucchini, trimmed and sliced on the bias into large ovals, 1/8" thick
3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8" tick slices, lengthwise, kept in a bowl of water to keep from oxidizing
1 1/2 cups canned chopped tomatoes, drained

To prepare the meat sauce: Heat olive oil in a large, wide pot and sauté onions until soft. Add the mushrooms and garlic and sauté until the mushrooms are wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the meat, reduce heat, and stir until meat takes on some color, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, spices, wine, salt, and pepper. Raise heat slightly, bring sauce to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours, until the sauce is thick. Sauce may be prepared 1–2 days ahead of time and refrigerated. You may need to add a little water to the sauce in the beginning, so that there is enough liquid to bring to a boil.

To prepare béchamel: Heat butter in large saucepan over medium heat. When it melts and is bubbly, add the flour. Whisk until the flour begins to turn light golden. Be careful not to color too much. Pour in the milk and whisk until thick. This might take around 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Remove from heat and vigorously whisk the yolks into the hot béchamel. Add the cheeses and whisk until smooth. Set aside, covered with a kitchen towel to prevent a skin from forming on the top of the sauce. May be made several hours ahead, reheated and thinned as needed.

To prepare the vegetables: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the eggplants in one layer on an oiled sheet pan. Brush the top with olive oil. It's best to use sheet pans with a perforated rack, to let steam circulate around the vegetables as they bake. Bake until soft, about 12 minutes. Remove. Repeat with remaining eggplants slices until all are cooked to tender but al dente. They should not fall apart. In a large, heavy, nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the zucchini slices, turning once. Do this in batches if necessary and replenish the oil as needed. Remove and blot dry on paper towels.
Remove the potatoes from the water and blot dry with paper towels. Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large non-stick skillet and sauté the potatoes over medium heat for a few minutes, just to soften but not to color. You will need to do this in batches. Set aside on platters lined with paper towels.

To assemble the moussaka: Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread about 3 tablespoons of olive oil on the bottom of a large, deep baking dish. Spoon the crushed tomatoes on the bottom of the pan. Place the potato slices in a single layer over the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Place a layer of eggplant on top and season lightly with salt and pepper. Mix 6 tablespoons of the béchamel into the meat sauce. Spread about a third of the meat sauce over the eggplant slices. Spread a layer of zucchini, seasoned with salt and pepper, then a layer of meat sauce. Finish with a layer of eggplant slices, salt and pepper, and the last of the meat sauce, spread evenly on top. Pour the béchamel over the top, spreading it evenly with a spatula. If the béchamel is cold from having been made in advance and refrigerated, warm it slightly and loosen it up with a little additional milk, if necessary. Bake the moussaka uncovered for about 45 to 55 minutes, or until the béchamel is set and lightly golden. Remove, cool, and cut into serving pieces. Serve with a small wild arugula salad.