Dish Review

Koutouki derby

Ample helpings, cozy atmosphere put this Greek taverna in the winners’ circle

Late on a Sunday evening, my wife and I found ourselves sitting on a couple of rustic bar stools in Koutouki Taverna, a popular Greek restaurant next door to the Roxy on 124 Street, waiting patiently for a table to free up. The place was packed to the rafters (which I’d suspected it might be), leaving me thankful that I’d reserved a table for two in advance. The staff were friendly while we waited for our supposedly reserved table, never letting us feel like we’d been forgotten, and after 10 or 15 minutes of waiting, we were led to a table right next to the front window, which had a great view of both the street outside and the action happening within the cramped quarters of the kitchen/dining room.

When it came time to decorate their quaint little Greek taverna, it seems Koutouki’s owners went with their gut instincts rather than a high-priced interior designer. The result is an air of friendly, kind-hearted honesty that money alone can’t buy. The whole place has a glow about it, from the posters, photos and knickknacks on the walls to the plants hanging from the ceiling. The plants, by the way? Amazing. There’s a jungle’s worth of intertwined plants and vines above the dining area, giving patrons the strange feeling of dining beneath the canopy of some magical Greek rain forest. The false ceiling of greenery boosts the level of cozy charm, making it that much more romantic. The candles, gentle lighting and rural print tablecloths certainly don’t hurt either.

It didn’t take long for our pleasant, helpful server to make her way over to take our order. Feeling a bit festive, we both went with beer, my wife choosing a Heineken, me opting for a Mythos, a light, fizzy Greek beer (both $5.75). Food-wise, we weren’t sure about portion sizes, so we thought it best to consult our server before taking any leaps. She explained that our initial choices (a couple of souvlakis) were large, but not nearly as ridiculously large as several of their other offerings. Since we were hoping to have room for a dessert, we went with our initial instincts, ordering a Kota Chicken Souvlaki Kebap, a grilled, seasoned chicken kebob with a pita, tzatziki sauce and onions for myself, and an Arni Lamb Souvlaki Kebap (which was the same as my kebob, but with lamb instead of chicken) for my wife (both $18). We toyed with getting an order of Greek-spiced roasted potatoes, but were informed by our server that they were included with our meal (as was a salad, we quickly discovered).

Within a few minutes, our server returned with a tasty Greek salad, which was a pleasant enough way to start things off. The cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, onions and olives were smothered under an ample helping of feta and dressing, and the whole thing tasted remarkably fresh.

Not long after we’d finished and had our plates cleared, the rest of our meal appeared. Our server kindly warned us that touching the metal skewers holding the grilled meat would, at this point, be an uncomfortable experience, so I set to work on the soft, delicious, lightly seasoned roasted potatoes instead. I then cautiously progressed to the souvlaki, wrapping the skewer of chicken in the pita bread and pulling the tender pieces of marinated meat off the stick, squishing it around in the tzatziki sauce. After helping my wife with her souvlaki, I took a bite of mine: sheer, unadulterated Greek-dining ecstasy. The meat was wonderfully tender, perfectly marinated and swimming in the heavenly dilly, creamy tzatziki sauce. My wife was every bit as impressed with her lamb souvlaki.

Lord knows we were already full enough after the main course, but we still decided to order a little something to split for dessert. The baklava, a flaky pastry with nuts and honey ($4), sounded like just the thing to finish our meal on a high note, along with a couple of sweet, boiled Greek coffees ($2) to prepare us for the harsh, miserable, slushy world outside. As it turned out, the baklava was delicious, with just the right flaky texture and a generous amount of honey and nuts. (Again, the freshness made all the difference.) I also found the Greek coffee delicious, reminding me as it did of my grandfather’s muddy, earthy, boiled coffee, which I enjoyed so often as a kid, right down to the sludge at the bottom of the cup. My wife took one sip, twisted her face into an expression of horrified disgust and passed me her almost-full cup (which I gratefully accepted).

The evening was a fantastic success, leaving us very full and satisfied as we wandered out to try our luck with Edmonton Transit’s late-night service. (God help us all.) For $55.50 before tax and tip, it was an entirely affordable luxury of a meal, both in terms of quality and quantity. I can only imagine what those ridiculous portions would have looked like. V

Koutouki Taverna
10704-124 St • 452-5383

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