Bring out the smelling salts. I've just fainted. We have a winner here--a place with genuinely good, fresh food and prices so low you blink twice at them. Lobster, $12.95? Lamb chops, $9.95? Sauteed salmon with herbs, $8.95? With soup or salad, yet? Besides all that, the place is clean, handsome and fun. Please, let me catch my breath.
There, now. I've recovered.
Remember the Grandia Room across the street from Seafood Village and fish market on Melrose Avenue when it was a neighborhood dive showcasing rock and roll bands? Well, now it's a "palace" (perhaps the Acropolis itself), packed with Dorian columns, bas-reliefs and classical Grecian statuary, including actual giant-size replicas of Venus and Hermes holding court on either side of the large room despite the ancient ravages to various parts of their anatomies. The new place is the dream come true of its owner, Peter Sargologos, a native of Greece with a passion for ancient Greek culture. "There is nothing today that can match it," Sargologos said.
Love of Fish
He had opened the fish market across the street a few years ago because of his love of fish as healthful, good food. He opened the seafood restaurant in the fish market shortly afterward to capitalize on the cost-effective fish supply, and he opened Grandia restaurant because Seafood Village had given him such pleasure. It also happened that replicas of statuary imported from Greece became attainable. "It took three years for my request to come through," Sargologos said.
Matching the food to the decor was no problem.
You will find the food decidedly Greek in its balanced approach, clean taste and simple flavors. It's the sort of food you might expect to find prepared by a fine home cook in Greece. Meats, fish and free-range chickens are grilled. Lamb is roasted and the dinner salad is so crisp and fresh it crackles. It's also laden with feta cheese, shrimp and other crunchy vegetables and a very nice Greek vinaigrette (or other dressing choices). Greek appetizers such as kaftadakia (meat balls), taramosalata (fish roe-potato spread) on toast triangles and the wonderfully crisp, flaky pastry, tiropeta , filled with cheese or spinach, are authentic and delightfully light--not greasy, as associated with some Greek food. The Greek specialties, which change daily, include a super-light moussaka (layered eggplant, meat and bechamel) or pastitsio (macaroni layered with meat and cheese).
There is a roast leg of lamb with potatoes, carrots and green beans that also is light (without fat) and ideal for those who like lamb. All the dishes come with an assortment of freshly steamed vegetables, such as okra, Chinese pea pods and broccoli. The addition of okra was particularly unusual.
There is an attempt, however, to add a California touch to some of the dishes, which I think is gilding the lily a bit, but not obtrusive. Grilled shrimp comes with mustard and tarragon, salmon is prepared with herbs and shallots, chicken is done with three peppers, lobster with green-pepper butter, and prime rib with green peppercorns. They are all worth a try at Grandia's prices.
Selection of Wines
The wines offered (California, French and some Greek and Yugoslav) are also reasonably priced. I found a Greek red table wine charming with the food.
Sargologos is a lover of fresh fruit, and his desserts are among the most healthful in town--fresh fruit salad with yogurt and nuts, a fresh fruit plate, a warm fruit compote with cinnamon, a flan of apples and raspberries and figs with wild berries, which he personally selects at the produce market.
My only complaint--perhaps a personal quirk shared by no other--is about strolling musicians in general, whose work may be quite charming, but intrusive when you're trying to have a good family fight at the table. Or even a decent conversation. Sargologos, who loves to join the strolling guitarist/ chanteur in song and encourages diners to participate, may disagree. Tuesday night, however, is Greek night, when dancing around the "Acropolis" is allowed. And that should be fun.
Grandia Palace, 5657 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 462-8628. Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner seven days from 6:30 p.m. to midnight. MasterCard and Visa accepted. Reservations accepted. Valet parking evenings. Average lunch entree $5; average dinner entree $8.50 with soup or salad. Liquor, beer and wine available.