Western Ave., Guilderland, 608-6400, athosrestaurant.com.
Serving dinner 4-10 Mon-Sat, 3-9 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.
Greek and Mediterranean
price range: $18 (pastichio) to $32 (grilled rib-eye
introduction to Greek cuisine took place in Boston many years
ago when some college-aged friends and I made a springtime
visit to a buddy at Boston College. Being a pack of eager
males, the hi-how-ya-doin’ portion of the visit finished quickly
and we went, ineptly, in search of women. There is no reason
other than our own patheticness that we failed. Somewhere
around two in the morning, frustrated and hungry, we headed
for an all-night eatery somebody had heard about.
It was a Greek place with an al fresco garden of tables, colored
lights, live music and dancing. As soon as we entered, we
were thrust into the middle of this melee. Food appeared.
We were yanked to our feet and invited to dance with some
of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. It was dizzying,
maddening, delicious. Even such social misfits as we were
These days, the most common picture of that cuisine is what
occupies a corner of a page on a diner menu. Like most cities,
Albany enjoys some exceptions: A Taste of Greece offers casual
dining, while the recently shuttered Chariot was our long-lived
Athos takes a different approach. You’ll find your favorite
classic dishes, but they’re served in a more formal atmosphere
than what this cuisine has hitherto locally enjoyed. Nicely
fit into the former Cabernet Café on Western Avenue, Athos
opened last August with the pedigree of chef Harry Hatziparaskevas
generating excitement, thanks to the legacy of his Manhattan
That promise certainly is borne out by the food I enjoyed
during a recent visit, but the tone was set by the commendable
service, beginning with the greeting at the door and continuing
with a pleasant wait at the bar for my friend Peter.
It’s one thing to get your butt kissed in a routine show of
groveling—a rare experience, to be sure, in this market, where
service tends to be consistently lousy—but quite another when
you really can believe that there’s sincerity attached.
So it was as I sat at the bar. I’m not much for socializing,
as I still carry large remnants of that patheticness that
undermined me in Boston, but the bartender was undismayed
by my aloofness and knew exactly the amount of conversation
to comfortably throw my way.
Then I met co-owner George Danes, who passed along a phoned-in
ETA from my tardy friend. Danes and his wife, Sophia, embody
that spirit of extended family that pervades the place. I
think I was the only customer in the bar whom he didn’t know
by name, which, of course, changed quickly.
Once my friend arrived and we were seated, we not only got
a tour through the menu by a well-spoken server, but also
were shown the fresh fish available for tableside preparation
Peter, who’d visited before, insisted on a starter even before
we studied the menu, so we did said study with a plate of
pikilia be fore us. This $12 appetizer features three
of six available spreads. We didn’t have the chick pea purée
(fava), potatoes and almonds with garlic (skordalia)
or caviar mousse (yipes!), but enjoyed dipping warm, crispy
pita slices in a fresh, traditional tzatziki, a baba
ganoush-like smoked eggplant purée (melitsanosalata)
and, my favorite, the creamed feta with peppers (tirokafteri).
Soup is also available for a starter: lemon-chicken avgolemono
($6) and a fish stew called psarosoupa ($8). Salads
are sized for sharing; we split a horiatiki ($12),
with feta and onions and, if your dining companion isn’t as
fussy as mine, olives.
The hot appetizers page offers a dozen items priced from $8
to $12, including grilled octopus, fried calamari, mussels
sautéed with tomatoes and garlic, spanakopita, a Greek
sausage called loukaniko sparta, sautéed sweetbreads
and more. On our server’s recommendation, we enjoyed the saganaki,
a slice of stiff kefalograviera cheese sautéed to a
crunchy brownness and served with lemon ($10).
Two pages of entrées are divided between classic and grilled
dishes. Among the former, favorites like moussaka ($20)
and pastichio ($18), a simmered chicken dish (kota
kapamas) and many seafood dishes (sautéed Dover sole;
shrimp in tomato broth; baked red snapper filet; shrimp, scallops,
mussels and calamari cooked in a clay pot; $24 to $26).
For clay-pot fans, there’s also arni youvetsi ($26),
which was Peter’s choice: an appealing stew of braised lamb
with cheese and orzo in the tomato-based sauce.
Charcoal-grilled lamb chops also are available ($30), and
other grilled entrées include salmon steak ($24), rib-eye
steak ($32), quail ($22), filet mignon wrapped in bacon ($28)
and my choice, brizzolla hirini: a huge pork loin chop,
grilled and glazed and finished in the fire of cognac, a tableside
treat. The meat was tender and moist, the combination of flavors
exceptional. The accompanying rice pilaf and vegetable array
complemented the dish well.
We promised each other that there was no need for dessert,
but then the Greek coffee was served and there was nothing
for me to plunge into it but a sweet slice of homemade galakobouriko
($6), a delicious collision between baklava and custard.
Service throughout the meal remained exemplary, although we
did hit that winding-down-the-evening problem of finding a
server to fetch us our check. But that was a minuscule blemish
on a friendly, comfortable evening that certainly invites
you to remain part of the family into which you’ve just been
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Capital Region Wine Festival at Proctors,
dubbed “Romancing the Grape,” takes place this
weekend (Feb. 27-28) at the theater in Schenectady
and includes the onsite participation of more
than 70 wineries. The festival kicks off at 7
PM on Friday with a lavish dinner prepared by
Yono Purnomo of Yono’s Restaurant, who will present
a menu that features his award-winning French-Indonesian
specialties paired with Joseph Carr wines by sommelier
Dominic Purnomo. The cost for dinner is $125 per
person, and reservations are required. The festival
continues on Saturday from noon to 4 with the
Grand Tasting, during which participating wineries
will present hundreds of wines alongside culinary
delights from some of the area’s best restaurants
($50 per person). Also offered on Saturday will
be a series of seminars: The One-Hour Wine Expert
with Kevin Zraly, Sherry and Tapas with Andy Seymour,
Cheese and Wine Pairings, The New Renaissance
in Tuscany, and A Wine and Food Romance with Yono
and Dominic Purnomo. Seminars require a $25 paid
reservation. For more info, visit proctors.org
or call the box office at 346-6204. . . . Remember
to pass your scraps to Metroland.