The Gem of Greektown
Samos Expands but Remains Tasty and Filling as Ever
"Hon, it was supposed to be five weeks," our motherly server says to the regulars at the adjoining table. "It turned into three months." She's referring to the recent renovation of Greektown's Samos, hangout of choice for the neighborhood hordes. An extra room has been opened, bright with colorful travel scenes and faux wooden archways. The kitchen is new too, except for the oven. In the old days, the servers could barely avoid colliding with each other in the cramped quarters. Now there's plenty of room, but the pace of service is still manic and fun to watch, especially if a tray of Greek delights is making its way to your table.
Three of us begin our repast with a cup of lentil soup ($1.50), the shrimp khaloumi ($5.95), dolmathes ($3.95), and melitzanosalata (eggplant dip, $3.50). The soup would be a stunner, except for excessive saltiness. Besides lentils, the soup contains greens, garlic, and tomato. The shrimp are four large ones seasoned with herbs, skewered and grilled, then served on a bed of buttery rice pilaf flecked with red and green pepper. The khaloumi cheese has been grilled too, but it's not the sort of cheese to melt. It browns and softens a bit, retaining a smoky/salty snap.
"Want me to do a split order?" our kind server suggests, and brings both vegetarian and meat dolmathes. I like both varieties, but give a slight advantage to the meaty ones, rich and bursting with flavor. My companions give the nod to the meatless. Both kinds are topped with a standard lemon sauce and accompanied by a huge serving of tzatziki (cucumber and yogurt sauce). The melitzanosalata is not for those wary of garlic. The fresh eggplant taste comes through, but it's riding a wave of flavor from the powerful bulb. The serving comes with grilled pita wedges and carrot sticks for dipping.
Our dining companion Raquel chooses a small but soul-satisfying main course, shrimp and feta cheese pie ($4.25) and a single skewer of chicken souvlaki ($2.50). In the pizza-for-one-sized pie, the phyllo dough wraps around a filling of creamy feta and firm, flavorful medium-sized shrimp. Seasoning includes chunks of tomato, onion, basil, and just enough oregano. The top is sprinkled with sesame seeds and is baked to a crisp brown. The chicken souvlaki is well-seasoned and tender, but the chicken is a little dry.
C.C. opts for pekilia, the combination plate ($10.75). Since it contains dolmathes, along with souvlaki, gyro, and spinach pie, and we have already tried both kinds of dolmathes, our server suggests substituting an untried commodity. Will fried squid do? You betcha. The heaping plate contains tender squid in more of a breading than a batter (so they're not crunchy); another stick of chicken souvlaki; a spinach pie that really tastes of spinach, with a fresh, dark green filling that overpowers the feta; and the best gyro meat C.C. has ever eaten. (I cannot say the same, as I find that a prepackaged cylinder of compressed proteins twirling upright on a rotisserie, oozing grease, is not a thing to be admired, much less consumed.)
To me, Greek food is synonymous with lamb. You can get the chops here ($14.50), but I opt for a new menu item, garlic-spiked leg of lamb ($9.75). Slivers of garlic have been inserted into the meat so that each slice is flecked with it. The meat is not rosy but done medium-well, as the menu specifies, and is covered with fresh parsley and still more slivers of garlic. The slices are moist and tender, each in a thin casing of crispy fat. Our server, at my request, persuades the chef to make me some Greek-style fries, wide and flat, which are fabulous. Fried in olive oil, with a dusting of salt and pepper, they achieve perfection. The accompanying Greek salad (C.C.'s dish gets one too) contains the freshest romaine and iceberg, nary a limp or discolored leaf. The bowl is piled with tomato, cucumber, red onion, Greek olives, anchovies, feta cheese, and pepperoncini. Adorned with triangles of grilled pita, it's served with a cup of the house dressing, a slightly sweet vinaigrette.
By dessert time, I'm groaning with pleasure and surfeit, but we yield to the server's endorsement of the freshly made galaktoboureko ($1.75). The three of us dive in, although one pastry could easily provide for four. The phyllo encloses a custard, quintessential comfort food. The top is sprinkled with cinnamon, and the whole thing is soaked in a thin, honeyed syrup. Black coffee helps offset the cloying factor.
Yes, Samos is back, better than ever. Capacity has tripled, a warm wooden bench upholstered in blue velvet has been installed for those waiting for an open table, and--best of all--prices haven't increased by so much as a drachma.