Part of what keeps Englewood’s Syros Taverna humming is the sunny vibe that evokes the Greek island for which it’s named. Paintings of boats, piers and sun-baked villages lighten the brick walls; the white chairs and pale blue tabletops add a beachy mood.
What succeeds most, however, is the food of executive chef Stavros Bariabas, 33, who joined the 4-year-old restaurant upon arriving in America in October.
A highlight of several recent dinners was the charcoal-grilled, whole tsipoura (porgy), sufficient for at least two diners. Sweet and flavorful, it was served simply, with lemon and a ramekin of olive oil, which it hardly needed, being sufficiently moist. Another star was melitzana imam, a traditional baked eggplant dish, mellowed with a sweet tomato sauce and a generous amount of feta; a hearty appetizer, it also works as an entrée.
Eggplant reigned in any form. The Syros Tower, also a starter, delivered a crisp, deftly fried tangle of thinly sliced eggplant, zucchini and potato, served with tzatziki. Melintzanosalata, a purée of eggplant, onions, parsley and red pepper, stood out for its intensely smoky flavor. Nearly as good was tyrokafteri, a velvety purée of feta and olive oil, brought to life with a spray of fresh, chopped chili peppers.
Bariabas departs from tradition in meaningful ways. “What, we don’t have mushrooms in Greece?” he asked, laughing, in response to my questioning the presence of a typically Italian pappardelle with mushrooms in truffle cream sauce on the menu. Terrific, and apparently pan-Mediterranean, it illustrates Bariabas’s philosophy: “Use quality ingredients and cook them simply.” It’s the cooking simply part that is the hardest, he said.
The chef can also be daring. In the pappardelle, Bariabas brightens the cream sauce with chopped, fresh red chilies. These inject a frisson of electricity into a luxurious base of truffle oil and wild mushrooms, typically shiitakes, champignons and portobellos.
Another innovation is his chef’s Spanakopita. Most versions use phyllo for the crust, its papery layers often dry and lacking flavor. Here, the crust consists of perfectly charred wedges of pita, so thin and crisp that when you bite into them, they shatter. Unlike versions made with phyllo, a dough that requires time to prepare, this version can be made on the spot. Mint and dill add sparkle to the spinach filling; onions, feta, herbs and buttery leeks give it depth. In keeping with the chef’s style, the dish is simple but utterly new. One novel touch that does not work is the accompanying smear of yogurt mixed with honey and tahini. Milky and sweet, it seems out of place.
Bariabas, who grew up in southern Greece, refined his talent at cooking school in Athens. His home-grown skills show in the sweet and succulent grilled lamb chops and an authentic Greek salad, served without lettuce and with a feisty, sheep’s-milk feta, the best kind.
Some dishes fell below his high standards. Grilled branzino was inexplicably rubbery, and sea bass inexplicably bland. Chicken served kebab-style, amid slivers of desiccated red and green peppers and onion, was fatally dry. And while the beet salad was gorgeous, its cubes of fresh beets lacked flavor, as did the halo of sautéed greens and smear of the potato-garlic dip, skordalia.
Bariabas makes his own desserts. Among the best was a delicate walnut cake, its bottom layer deliciously moistened with cognac. A bowl of creamy Greek yogurt, accompanied by small dishes of honey, walnuts and tart-sweet cherries, was as much fun to eat as an ice cream sundae. All that was missing was the sunshine of Greece.Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:European - Greek/Mediterranean
Price Details:Appetizers, $6-$20; entrées, $6-$33; desserts, $6-$10
Ambience:Bright and casual as a Greek isle