I often wonder why there is not one really good Greek restaurant in Utah considering the spirited Greek community that lives throughout the state. It seems that only at the Greek Festival around Labor Day can one sample some of the delicacies and special dishes truly indicative of this romantic and zestful cuisine.
Some of my Greek friends explain the lack of consistent and good Greek restaurants by saying their own families are "too picky" and they are "spoiled by their yaya's (grandmother's) cooking." Another friend says that most Utah diners are not that discerning about Greek cuisine. "They seem to be satisfied with a souvlaki or gyro during the day and a belly dancer in the evening," she adds.Some of my most memorable restaurant experiences were with my family, eating in Detroit's Greek-town, gobbling up crusty loaves of bread, inhaling bowls of lemon rice soup, and popping dolmathes in my mouth like so many M&M's.
Touch of Athens on South State Street doesn't quite compare to Greek restaurants I have tried in either Detroit's or Chicago's Greek-towns, but it serves up a good-size portion of food and atmosphere that many people associate with Greek cuisine. Besides the aroma of garlic and oregano, the music of a group led by a dextrous bouzouki player fills the air. We were also treated to a lovely belly dancer on our Saturday night visit.
The dinner menu at Touch of Athens offers a complete array of Greek specialties, starting with the appetizers. These include calamari, or squid, and marithes, or smelts, each $8.50, dolmathes ($6.25), spanako-pita ($2.50), and the mezethakia or combination plate ($9.75). The latter includes ample portions of cubes of marinated and grilled pork, dol-mathes, chunks of feta cheese, Greek-style olives, and slices of tomato and raw onion. Both the pork and dolmathes were flavorful; the stuffed grape leaves filled with a tasty blend of rice, lemon juice, minced onion and spices.
The lemon rice soup was a bit bland and watery for our tastes, though the minestrone was considerably richer in both texture and taste. The house dressing is a mild tomato vinaigrette. The rice pilaf was just too gummy.
Some of the entrees we sampled were also not quite as dramatically seasoned as other Greek food we have sampled elsewhere. The pasti-tio, lasagne-like layers of macaroni and ground beef topped with a cream sauce, and the spanakopita, or spinach pie, were good, but each lacked a certain distinctiveness. The spinach pie needed more feta.
The chicken oregano ($9.25), had a pungent blend of oregano, lemon and other spices, a pleasant complement to the tender meat. The roast lamb ($11.95) was another dish that balanced seasonings more forcefully; a lemony sauce on the side added even more.
Other dinner entrees include shishkabob, either chicken or beef, lamb chops, New York and top sirloin steaks, pork chops, shrimp pilaf, halibut and lobster. Entrees range in price from $7.95 for the pastitio to $22.95 for the steak and lobster combination.
A special custard dessert was deliciously creamy; the rice pudding simply too salty.
Touch of Athens is a lively restaurant with uneven fare. While it does not measure up to some of the Greek meals I have been treated to in Greek friends' homes or in other large cities, it should satisfy those who enjoy the basics of Greek food.
Touch of Athens 3965 S. State, 262-3733. Open for lunch, Monday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Dinner served Monday through Thursday, 6 p.m. until midnight; until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Belly dancer on the weekends; reservations recommended. Accepts major credit cards and check with guarantee card.