Monday, September 14, 2009

Restaurant Review: Olympos

I don't know what it is about me and Greek places. On my last visit to a Greek joint (Kri-Kri, on Korunní), I was not only subjected to painfully slow service, but was told that I should expect it to be slow, because that's how things happen in Greece.

Now here I am, sitting at Taverna Olympos, and after waiting ages for a server to take our orders, I have spotted him making his way over to a table of about eight people to take their orders – before ours have been put in to the kitchen. Of course, the big table came after we did, and of course they will get their food first. And naturally, I am starving. I've unwittingly cast myself in One Greek Minute: The Sequel.

When our appetizers finally arrive, they come with a mixed salad we didn't order and one of our main courses. The other entrée comes way later, and it isn't what we wanted. Confusingly, the menu offers two codfish dishes, one fresh and priced by weight, and the other, described only as a "fillet," for 180 CZK. We didn't realize there were two options and weren't asked which of them we wanted, so we ended up with the battered and deep fried fillet.

Olympos has been around since 1997 – first as Tavernaki Olympos, a tiny operation in Pohořelec, then as a thirteen-table restaurant at their current location in Žižkov. They've since expanded to 103 tables, many of which are pleasantly situated in a large outdoor garden. In summertime, the outdoor seating is definitely the main draw, with its leafy trees, children's playground and kitschy murals depicting beach scenes and the Acropolis. So it's a bit of a shame that (although it is de rigeur in Greece to start dinner as late as 21:30) by 22:00, Olympos's guests have to be shuffled indoors or to the winter garden to satisfy noise restrictions. Better, then, to come a little early so you can enjoy the garden for longer.

For some reason, I'd been under the impression that Olympos is an inexpensive restaurant. It can be, I guess, but it depends on what you order. The main courses range from 160 to 800 CZK (for a two-person shrimp tagliatelle), and smaller dishes cost between 70 and 280 CZK. Not a crazy amount, but I didn't necessarily find the value to be all that good. On my second visit, I had the shrimp saganaki. For a fairly hefty 400 CZK, I got a ceramic bowlful (250 grams) of very small, overcooked shrimp, in an admittedly tasty feta, tomato, and green pepper sauce. But I liked Kri-Kri's shrimp saganaki a lot better, and that one cost only 105 CZK for 150 grams. And the Taverna salad (240 CZK) seemed pretty pricey too, considering it was nothing more than a plate of soggy lettuce with a couple of olives and sun-dried tomatoes.

As often seems to be the case in Greek restaurants (and, for that matter, in restaurants in general), the appetizers far outshone the main courses. The tyropites (125 CZK), or cheese-filled pastries, were hot and crispy and oozing with melted salty cheese. The dough was different than the filo dough I'm used to seeing these made with – it was thicker and more brittle, like a spring roll – but they were delicious, and there were lots of them. The peppers stuffed with cheese (120 CZK), on the other hand, only came with two small peppers floating in olive oil, but they had a nice spicy kick. I could have done with more bite in the tzatziki (95 CZK), which seemed a little low on garlic.

For a general taste of the starters, I would recommend you try the Olympos salad (280 CZK). Because it has no explanation in the menu, and the waiter wasn't able to describe it either, I'm going to tell you what was in it: hummus, eggplant spread, potato salad, tzatziki, htipiti (feta cheese spread), gigante beans in tomato sauce, and marinated bell peppers. Not a bad selection. I wanted to get the dolmades as a starter, but they were only listed as a 350g main course. The waiter was flexible enough to give us a half portion; unfortunately, although they came served in a very tasty tomato sauce, they were a little on the bland side.

Best of all was the grilled haloumi (165 CZK), a rubbery Greek cheese that squeaks when you chew it. The thick slices were covered in grill marks, which added a nice smokiness – yum. But it was all downhill from there. The papoutsaki (265 CZK), or stuffed eggplant ("papoutsa" means shoe in Greek), was flavorless and didn't have much meat. The sutzukaki smirneika (ground meat sausages, 225 CZK) were better, but were surrounded by a very oily, thin tomato sauce. And the side dish of grilled vegetables (at an unjustifiable 185 CZK) was an unattractive, woefully greasy mess of random veggies.

Here's what you should do: go to Olympos with some friends, sit in the garden, watch the neighborhood cats tormenting the patrons' tied-up dogs. Let your kids play on the swings and slide. Order a whole bunch of starters to share, as if you were in a tapas joint, and fill up on those. Get some wine, which they serve in these cute colored aluminum carafes, and be careful with the water – in large bottles, they only seem to have some Greek brand that goes for 100 CZK apiece. Skip the main courses. Enjoy, pay, leave.

There you go – a simple, inexpensive meal in a nice Greek restaurant. And you say I never recommend anything…

Taverna Olympos
Kubelíkova 9
Praha 3 – Žižkov
Tel.: 222 722 239
Open Mon-Sun 11:30-24:00

photographs 1, 4, 6 František Vlček for Lidové Noviny; all others

This review originally appeared in Czech translation in the 29/08/09 edition of Lidové Noviny.


Sim said...

I am confused. For me the article does not match with the rating.
If it takes long to get some food I become angry :-) and blend and overpriced food does not balance out the nice athmosphere (only in certain time of day).

Anonymous said...

well, this is the greek style. but far too expensive!! in greece you eat much cheaper and better but i am afraid, the starters are mainly what you would order in greece anyway...