Ithaka Restaurant features more than simply great Greek food, writes Allan Reid. Photo contributed

ALLAN REID: Put on your Greek hat at Ithaka restaurant

Monday’s intrepid food columnist checks out this Victoria icon

What could be more authentic than bouzoukis or baglamas hanging on the walls of a Greek restaurant? Perhaps someone steeped in Greek tradition and culture who knows how to play them. Welcome to Ithaka.

Spontaneous live performances of traditional Greek music, song and dance are erratic, but that’s all part of the fun. You never know if, when, or what a performance will be, or who will be performing (though it doesn’t take much prompting to encourage a show). The Ithaka family are a talented bunch, but perhaps none are as talented as the family hidden in the back who turn out traditional Greek favourites loaded wth flavour.

Five friends arrived and shared appetizers of keftedes and saganaki OPA! Ithaka’s saganaki is a wedge of molten Greek cheese flambéed tableside. We all shout OPA! when the Metaxa flames blue, hence the name. It is served with triangles of unleavened pita, which I prefer over the thick fluffy pitas served elsewhere.

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If you’ve not tried saganaki, be warned, it is rich. One wedge was plenty for the five of us. Any more would have felt like a heart attack on the make, so we opted for a second appetizer, keftedes, which are seasoned beef meatballs, baked, and served on a bed of Greek rice with cool, creamy tzatziki for dipping. At five meatballs to the plate, our group was perfectly suited for the dish.

I’ve also experienced Ithaka’s spanakopita, which is a generous triangle cut from a large pie, and not the little samosa-like pockets often seen. These wedges are thick with spinach and feta, and very satisfying. Another favourite are the yeegandas: massive butterbeans baked in an herbed tomato sauce and served with more of those thin pita wedges. Yeegandas are surprisingly delicious, and addictive. Addicts can order them as a main.

But I recommend the roasted lamb. Roasted for hours to preserve moisture, the meat falls from the bone with barely a brush of the fork, and Giannoula seasoning is exceptional.

But I’ve enjoyed the lamb roast so often I thought to venture out and try the prawns Santorini. I received eight peeled prawns swimming in a dish of intensely flavoured tomato sauce. The sauce did nothing for the prawns, which should have been the star of the show. I’ll stick with the lamb.

Two of my friends ordered the Greek ribs and the other two ordered moussaka. The half-rack of ribs has seven bones with meat that, like the lamb, falls away with the slightest nudge of the fork. The moussaka is a Greek layered casserole with layers of soft zucchini, eggplant and ground beef under a cloud of fluffy potatoes. All four moaned delightfully through their meals. All mains are served with Greek rice, lemon-roasted potatoes and vegetables.

Ithaka is one of my go-to restaurants and, apparently, others agree, so it is best to call ahead and reserve a table.

Ithaca is at 1102 Yates St. Call 250-384-6474 for reservations or for more informatuion visit ithakagreek.ca

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