I have always been a fan of Greek food, or at least what I thought was Greek food. Spanikopita, Greek salad and gryos were what I was familiar with until I travelled to Greece for the first time this past summer. In Greece, I was introduced to “real” Greek food – vegetable-driven, fresh seafood and local cheeses…lots of cheese, fried with honey. The “real” Greek food is light and healthy and full of flavor.
Sadly we do not get a lot of “real” Greek food in America. There are only a few restaurants in Northern Calfornia (Dio Deka) and New York (Estiatorio Milos and others) showcasing the beautiful flavors of Greek food but at a higher price point. Now Los Angeles has a “real” Greek restaurant, offering the fresh flavors with affordable prices. Welcome to LA, Inotheke!
Inotheke, which means “wine case” in Greek, is located on Broadway and 6th in Santa Monica. Owner Carolos Tomazos is recognized by many in Los Angeles as the front-of-house personality at the popular former Waterloo & City. With Inotheke, Tomazos, who grew up on the island of Cyprus, is bringing a fresh modern perspective to Greek food.
Entering Inotheke, the decor is modern and minimalist. It looks like a taverna in Greece. The walls are white and there are subtle highlights of blue, yellow and green.
There is a Mediterranean, clean, spacious feel to the restaurant and the kitchen is open to the dining room. The recipes are all Tomazos’ and he personally prepares the dishes each day. During service, he is moving around the restaurant, greeting guests, serving wine and regularly popping into the kitchen. There is the feeling as if we have entered Tomazos’ kitchen and are guests in his home.
With small plates ranging from $6 to $17, order a few dishes and share. As for what to order, you cannot go wrong with anything on the menu.
Fava Botarga – This puree is made with yellow split peas, which are called fava in Greek. They are not the large beans we call fava in America. The puree has thyme and scallion with egg shaved on top. Try this and you may not return to hummus.
Eggplant-Tahini Salad – The eggplant puree includes red onion, cherry tomato and parsley and is smooth and creamy with no bitterness from the eggplant.
Greek Salad – Do not miss the Greek salad. A proper Greek salad, it is made with tomato, cucumber, pepper, feta, onion and olive oil and there is no lettuce. So simple and yet so good.
Pork “Youvarlakia” – Three pork and wild rice meatballs are served in a lemon sauce. You may want an extra order or pita so that you can sop up the rest of the sauce. The first time I had this dish (yes, I have been back and had it again), I was with a Greek American friend who could not stop gushing over this dish as she said it was just like what her mother made. To me, that is a validation!
Cod Fritters – The melt-in-your-mouth fritters sit on top of skordalia, made with potato, garlic and lemon. The skordalia is so tasty you may want to ask for a side of it.
Tyropitakia – Three little filo pastry triangles filled with feta and kaseri cheeses, mint and red pepper, they are served warm.
Black Eyed Peas – Served with kale and onion, the black eyed peas are a nice little side dish to enjoy along with the protein dishes.
Gigantes – The large beans are cooked in a light tomato sauce and topped with the tzatziki, strained yogurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil, red wine vinegar. The tzatziki is not runny and watery like you may find other places and you may also want to order a side dish of it.
Sardines – The sardines are broiled and then served in olive oil and lemon. These little fish take a little extra talent with the knife but are so simple and tasty.
Shrimp “Saganaki” – Cooked in a saganaki pan, a frying pan with two handles, the shrimp is in a flavorful tomato sauce, mixed with feta and ouzo, which adds a subtle richness.
Salmon Spanikorizo – Grilled salmon is served on top of a typical Greek dish of spinach and rice (spanikorizo). My friend had made this dish for me when I was in Greece and I loved having it here. It is the perfect healthy dish.
Mousaka – Rethink any mousaka you have had before. This is a lighter, possibly healthier version but full of flavor. At Inotheke, the mousaka is made with ground beef, grilled eggplant and zucchini and a “bechamel” sauce that is made without egg. It is placed on top of the delicious tzatziki.
Short Rib “Stifado” – Stifado is a stew and the short rib, cooked with shallots and red wine, is a warm, comforting dish.
Lamb & Orzo – Another comforting dish, the lamb and orzo, served with tomato and Parmesan, is a heartier dish but another one you do not want to miss.
Galaktoboureko – I first had galaktoboureko, a semolina custard in filo dough, in Greece and fell in love. At Inotheke, Tomazos makes it fresh and it is delicious. Served warm, no matter how full you are, make room for this dessert. And, in case you have trouble pronouncing it, a Greek American friend recommended saying “galactic bootycall” really quickly.
Tomazos has put together a great wine list, including wines from Greece, Italy, France and California. With lots of selections available by the glass, you can enjoy a variety of wines to pair with your various dishes. Perhaps start with a Cremant de Alsace (a sparking wine from France) and then enjoy a crisp Greek white wine like assyrtiko or malagousia and then finish with a Greek red like limnio, a native variety grown by Porto Carras.
The great thing about “real” Greek food, aside from being delicious, is that the flavors are everyday flavors. You do not have to be “in the mood” for Greek food to enjoy yourself at Inotheke. And, if you like it half as much as I do, you will consider regular weekly visits.
606 Broadway Ave
Santa Monica, CA 90401