There's a sunny mural on the wall and baklava on the dessert menu, but make no mistake: Plaka Grill offers something better than the fare at your average Greek takeout.
Chef-owner Peter Drosos's plan to bring authentic Greek food to the Washington area has been in the works ever since he spent three years in culinary school in Greece, plus six months working in various restaurants there, learning the ways of gyros and souvlakia. The 27-year-old Vienna native opened Plaka Grill about a year and a half ago, and his food has attracted Greeks from all over the region.
"I've been going to Greece since I was a child and loved the gyros there. I could never find them fixed the same way here at home," Drosos says.
The house-specialty Plaka Gyro is a major draw. Large, thin slices of marinated pork shoulder are stacked on a vertical spit and cooked slowly. When they are sliced to fill an order, both chewy bits and tender shreds of meat are stuffed into a pita with tomatoes, onions, a well-balanced tzatziki sauce and the cut-above ingredient: seasoned french fries. ("They started doing them that way in Greece about 10 years ago," Drosos says.) That's a whole lot more flavor than in most gyros, for $7.
The Mezze Sampler is built for sharing ($13). It includes house-made phyllo triangles stuffed with either spinach, leeks and goat cheese (spanakopita) or feta and goat cheeses with herbs (tyropita) and a variety of house-made dips with warm pita. The hummus is smooth and creamy; the taramasalata -- an emulsion of fish roe, grated onion, lemon juice and oil -- does not contain the usual bread crumbs or potato and therefore tastes delightfully mild and light. The sampler's olive tapenade is fruity and intense.
Plaka samplers ($3 or $3.50) are a smart menu feature. The smaller, meat-only portions make a quick snack or a salad add-on. We found the chicken souvlakia skewer nicely seasoned and a little dry, but the crisp-skinned rotisserie chicken was quite tender (quarter, $4; half, $7; whole, $12) and perfectly suited to two terrific sides: Greek-style potato salad ($3) and Greek-style green beans ($4). The latter are simmered in a cinnamon-laced tomato sauce with garlic and onion; the oil-and-vinegar-dressed salad has olives, onions, shallots, sun-dried tomatoes, dill and firm chunks of red bliss potatoes.
About that baklava: Plaka Grill bakes its own, going heavy on the cloves and easy on the orange-liqueur-infused simple syrup ($3). It's not the standard treatment for the classic Greek pastry, which is just the statement Peter Drosos is hoping to make.
-- Bonnie S. Benwick (Good to Go, May 27, 2009)