When it comes to Greek cuisine, I usually prefer the quick bites, the grab-and-go lamb souvlaki, wrapped hastily in pita bread, tsatziki imminently and inevitably dripping over the not so far reaching aluminum foil. Take, for instance, Kosta of the Greek Deli in the heart of DC. A legendary figure, with a bellowing “Next!” not so unfamiliar with the “Soup Nazi” character from Seinfeld. The food is prepped and cooked daily, the line almost always protrudes into the sidewalk, and there are only a handful of tables, used when the sun permits. You go in, you order with Kosta, you get your food in a paper bag, and you’re out. Next.
Greek cuisine at a white tablecloth establishment was new to me, until I dined at Nostos in the Tysons Corner area of Northern Virginia.
Previously, I stopped by to try the moussaka – it was unearthly. Perfectly baked, with distinct, unforgettable flavors at all layers. On this occasion, I had one thing on my mind: lamb. As its Easter Sunday lunch selection, Nostos offered a three set course menus, each one featuring a different lamb creation. The traditional roasted lamb, dashed with herbs and olive oil, is an homage to traditional Greek flavors. The lamb skin was crisp, while the lean meat was moist. And bless the chef’s soul – there was a slight mound of extra skin on the side. My obsession, however, was with the lamb shank. Slowly cooked in a tomato-based sauce, the meat – and the gelatinous, melt-in-your-mouth fatty bits – literally fell off the bone.
Chef Eugenia Markesini Hobson understands fat, texture, and flavor. Lamb, when not prepared correctly, is not a thing of beauty. But when masterfully done, the interplay of skin, lean meat, and fat offers a depth of flavor not easy to find in other red meats. Not only was the lamb superb, the chef’s other items on the Easter menu were spectacular as well. Chunks of liver and sweetbreads is something I have not tried in a soup, but together with fresh dill, I had glimpses of hearty offal heaven between spoonfuls. The grilled octopus leg, a house specialty, was dreamy soft and had a great charred flavor. The rock fish was cooked well, and the assortment of bread and traditional red eggs tied everything together on this occasion. (And I assure you we had more than one basket of bread.)
The Easter meal finished beautifully with crafty desserts and tasty coffee. The galaktoboureko (semolina custard wrapped in phyllo, sprinkled with honey and cinnamon) was other-worldly, and the kantaifi (shredded phyllo dough stuffed with walnuts and honey), although a bit on the sweet side, had great texture between the shreded phyllo, honey, and walnuts. Nostos serves coffee from Eagle Coffee, a Baltimore-based roaster founded in 1921 by Greek immigrants. While the Eagle House Blend did not light up any new light bulbs for me, the balanced coffee matched well with the honey-laden desserts.
Lamb on Easter. Fewer things are more beautiful, especially when it is prepared by Chef Eugenia Markesini Hobson of Nostos.