315 Carmen Drive, Camarillo
The name kind of says it all: Greek Cuisine in Camarillo, serving up spiced grilled meats, fresh salads, fluffy pita bread and other favorites from the Mediterranean islands. The family-owned establishment, which has been open for just under two months, is in the Trader Joe’s shopping center on Carmen Drive, right next to the ever-popular Breakfast Cafe (which also features a to-the-point name). Both are owned by Nikos and Marika Sklavenitis, whose ties to the community and restaurant-biz know-how have helped get Greek Cuisine off to a promising start. Its concept may be simple, but the execution leaves nothing to be desired.
When I dined with my family on a recent Sunday afternoon, I found a small, casual and clean eatery with staff at the ready and lovely carafes of chilled cucumber-mint water there for the taking. Ordering is done at the counter.
The usual Greek suspects appear on the menu: gyro and souvlaki, pastitsio and moussaka, Greek salad. But many of the dishes I think of as appetizers (spanakopita, tyropita and dolmas, for example) are served as entrees. The appetizer section consists merely of dips with pita triangles — and to our delight, we discovered that it was all we needed to whet our appetites.
The platter included hummus, melitzanosalata (a cold eggplant dip), tirokafteri and tzatziki, all made in house. Each was wonderful in its own way. The yogurt of the tzatkiki was very thick and zippy with ample garlic, the eggplant was fresh, and the hummus had that earthy, ground-by-hand texture I love. Extra kudos to the tirokafteri, a spicy spread made with creamy and rich feta and fresh diced chiles. I could have eaten nothing but pita and tirokafteri all day, and been satisfied.
Having said that . . . the rest of the meal was every bit as good. We ordered the dolmas entree, which came with a generous Greek salad and orzo on the side. The seasoned meat and rice inside the grape leaves (four come to an order) were delicious, served warm with an egg-lemon sauce on top to balance all the spice. The orzo in a tomato sauce was forgettable, but considering all the other flavors on the table? We didn’t give it a second thought.
We also opted for a gyro plate (with salad and fries). It very nearly hit the same high bar as the dips. Very flavorful and tender, with that melt-in-your-mouth quality that a good gyro exhibits, although a few pieces may have been a bit on the dry side — something easily ameliorated with a little tzatziki.
The Greek salad (available on its own or as a side with the entrees) features chopped romaine, tomatoes, bell peppers, mild onions, a delicate lemon-olive oil dressing and a few Kalamata olives. I might have preferred more olives but otherwise the salad was a hit. Add some grilled souvlaki chicken breast (or gyro, if you prefer) and it becomes a very satisfying and healthy meal. Greek Cuisine does not skimp on the feta, which is soft, fresh and mild.
No Greek meal is complete without something sweet, so we ordered baklava and galaktoboureko. Both appeared to have been made to order, and were large enough to share. Under a square of warm filo dough was a cinnamon-laden pile of ground nuts (baklava) or eggy custard (galaktoboureko); both were generously drizzled with sweet syrup and had to be eaten with a fork. These were different from the neat little bite-sized packages I had come to expect, but the homey presentation and delicious flavor made me a fan.
From appetizer to dessert, Greek Cuisine offers the best of Mediterranean dining. Nothing fancy, but all of it delicious — and cheaper than a transatlantic flight. Opa!