If I close my eyes tight enough, opening the door on the cold, salty curb of Spring Garden Road into the doors of Estia feels like walking into my own personal Narnia. Crossing the threshold, I step out of winter into the warmth of a summer day in Greece.
The air hangs heavy, warm with the scents of garlic, oregano and thyme. Huge pictures hang on every wall, showing whitewashed, blue-domed buildings precariously climbing out of rocky cliffs; winter white blending seamlessly with Persian blue.
We are welcomed with a warm smile and immediately walked to our table. The long dining room still has an echo of Deco, previous occupant of the space, with the sleek curvature of the centerpiece bar, and the decorative geometry of the wall sconces and light fixtures. Still, Greece is obviously the word.
Our server appears with menus, and reappears moments later with thick slices of caraway bread, served with a tartly robust garlic and lemon-infused oil. The bread is cloudy soft, warm and delicious. We order the melitzanosalata ($6), a dip of roasted eggplant and garlic, and the saganaki ($11), panfried kefalograviera cheese to start.
Served with fresh, fluffy pita tips, the thick, smooth melitzanosalata is a good start to the meal. Cool and fresh, the earthy eggplant has a nice, buttery texture. There's a perfect amount of garlic---enough to nip at your tastebuds, but not bite your tongue.
The saganaki is flambeed tableside after the kefalograviera cheese is doused with a showy splash of Metaxa brandy. The fire is extinguished with a squeeze of fresh lemon. Our delighted oohs at the flaming food are followed by our ahhs of satisfaction. The rich, sharp combination of acidity and salt is delicious. It's soft and chewy with golden edges that have a delectable crisp. Yum.
For an entree we decide to split the Greek platter for two ($42) between three of us, our server assuring us that it's more than enough. He's right. The platter is enormous, with huge blocks of moussaka and pastitsio, a stuffed pepper and a stuffed tomato, skewers of both chicken and pork, a dollop of rice and a handful of lemon roasted potatoes.
The potatoes have just the right amount of tang and are tender without being mushy. The rice is also nicely seasoned. The moussaka has a generous layer of creamy bechamel and tender ribbons of eggplant, zucchini and potato.
We all prefer the stuffed tomato to the green pepper. The tomato is incredibly tender. Still firm and juicy, it almost melts into the rice stuffing. There is so much food on the platter that most of the pepper goes uneaten, abandoned for the plump tomato.
The meat on the skewers is a little overcooked, the pork bordering on tough, but the red pepper and onions have an irresistible caramelization on them and the tzatziki is creamy, tart and delicious and easily makes up for the dryness of the meat.
The pastitsio is only OK. The bechamel is, again, creamy and delicious, but on the whole the dish is a little bit under-seasoned, the meat hovering around bland. And while the macaroni is generally cooked well, the pasta along the corner edge is charred and inedible. Considering the size of the portion we never would have gotten around to eating it anyway, so no tears are shed.
We finish the meal by splitting an order of rice pudding ($4) and relaxing with some coffee ($2.25). Topped with fresh whipped cream and a heavy-handed sprinkling of cinnamon sugar, the rice pudding is thick and very tasty after the first overwhelming bites.
Full of good food and warmed by our experience, we round up the courage to make our way back outside to the snowy street. We're sad that our summer fantasy is over, but glad that, as in Narnia, we don't have to trip through a bunch of coats to get there. Or to come back.