Dinner Out At Tastes of Greece in Laguna Niguel

Sometimes having Dinner Out means learning a new language. I've never traveled to Greece and most of my experience with the food has been little more than the ubiquitous Greek salad or the occasional spanokopita.

Chef Elizabeth Gaitainis of Tastes of Greece was happy to be my culinary tour guide. She walked me through her Aegean blue painted restaurant to show off the photo montage of Greece on the flat screen and the gyro beef and chicken roasting vertically on a rotating spit.

She explained that her ever changing menu offers the best of the best of Greek cuisine; seafood from the coast and heavier stews, roasted meats and pies from the mountains.

To ensure authenticity, nearly everything is house made. She triple strains the yogurt for the proper thickness for her tzatziki cucumber sauce. She hand rolls the dolmades or stuffed grape leaves and she goes so far as to grow the grape vines in her yard. The egg lemon sauce adds to the fresh flavors.

Yes, you can get a Greek salad with the familiar feta, olives, tomatoes and cucumbers, but instead of all lettuce, Chef likes shredded cabbage as the base.

Her husband Gianni also advised me, the roast lamb, a homey dish, is best eaten with the salad and a spoonful of tzatziki or any of the other house made sauces. The taramosalata is an interesting spread. It's red fish roe mashed into potatoes, made fresh with lemon and olive oil. But my palate craves heat, so i really enjoyed the spicy feta dip. Chef Elizabeth told me the dip is really a more formal version of what, sort of, naturally occurs when Greeks eat. On every plate, a crumble of feta, a pool of olive oil and spicy peppers. It's all mixed together as the meal progresses.

Another dish unfamiliar to me is the pasticio, The nickname is Greek Lasagna. The dish has ground meat and pasta, but the tomato sauce isn't as prominent as in an italian lasagna. Instead there's a thick layer of bechamel that turns almost custardy on top of the meat/pasta base. The strongest spice is cinnamon.

There's also a pot pie made with lamb, vegetables and cheese, called Kleftiko. It's a mild, unoffensive dish, but what makes it fun is the story that goes with it . Diner Bob Stavrou told me that Kleftico means thief and the story goes, the dish is made up of whatever could be stolen and then hidden under the crust.

That crust also is the flaky, addictive wrapping for the spanokopita. The filling properly tastes of spinach but is tempered by other herbs. Umai!

But the my fave for the night was the whole sea bass, char grilled without seasoning. Chef Elizabeth says, the fish is flown in from the Mediterranean. After cooked, it's de-boned and sprinkled with fresh parsley, olive oil and a lemon flake salt. This dish is all about quality ingredients and expert cooking. The fish could only be better if served seaside at an outdoor cafe on the isle of Santorini. Umai, umai!

The desserts are also house made. If you like napoleon, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the mille feuille. There are two kinds of custard layered between flaky, crispy layers, topped with a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar. I'm not a dessert person, one bite will typically make me happy, but I really enjoyed the armenoville. Chunks of meringue and baklava mixed into ice cream and then topped with chocolate. Umai, umai, umai!

To finish off the meal, the Gaitanis offered me a taste of Mastiha liqueur, made from the resin of the Mastiha tree. In ancient times, the greeks chewed the gum from the Mastiha to clean their teeth and freshen their breath. Today, the liqueur is served after a meal as a digestif. I smelled the liqueur first and it's got a strong plant smell, appropriately more tree than herb. I took a small sip and got sweet and pine with a little anise.

https://www.facebook.com/tastesofgreece

30012 Crown Valley Pkwy

Laguna Niguel CA, 92677

949-495-2244

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