Kalimera! Mark and I decided to add Papa Cristos on the corner of Pico Boulevard and Normandie Avenue to the growing list of Los Angeles market/restaurant combinations we've hit. We joined Papa, his crew, and our new dining buddies, the Blums, for the restaurant's Thursday night Big Fat Greek Dinner, where we experienced warm, homey service, solid home-cooked style food, and a festive atmosphere.
Before heading into the dining area, Mark and I took the opportunity to browse in the market section of Papa Cristos, which is well-stocked with rows of Greek goodies, gourmet olive oils, and wines.
To guarantee our spots in the very popular Thursday night dining experience, we made reservations a day ahead of time. Upon entering the cafeteria-style dining room, we found that we had been assigned seats at one of the 4 or 5 long tables, and our names had been written at our place settings in magic marker. While we waited for the meal to begin, we helped ourselves to the pita, loukaniko (Greek sausage), dip, and complimentary sodas that greeted each diner. The sausage was my favorite of the pre-appetizer dishes, fatty, flavorful and, in my mind, reminiscent of the Chinese sausage that I loved in my childhood. Warning: if I had known the amount of food that was going to be heading our way during the actual meal, I probably would have limited myself to just a couple of bites.
Prior to the meal, Papa Cristos entered the room (below, left) and helped pour wine samples for the wine tasting. Papa, who is maybe the most adorable and friendly man I've ever met in my life, and his helpers were eager to answer any questions about the wines. All the bottles offered during the tasting were under 14.99, and available to purchase for drinking with the meal.
Armed with our wine selection, we were seated and the food started arriving at an unsettling rate. The first communal plate to hit the table was loaded with brined green and black olives, dolmades (rice wrapped in grape leaves), and cubes of salty and creamy feta cheese. In keeping with the whole of the night, there was nothing surprising or mind-blowing about any of these items, but that didn't stop them from being mighty tasty.
A plate of spanakopita, a very traditional Greek dish of spinach and feta enveloped in flaky pastry, arrived next, followed by a very simple Greek-style salad with olives, cucumber, tomato and feta (below).
Next up, our server brought over some heartier side dishes, green beans in a tomato-based broth (below, left), and potatoes (below, right). Neither of these items seemed particularly Greek to me, and neither screamed fine-dining, but they both added to the feeling that, instead of dining out, we were dining in the home of Papa Cristos. Just really simple, comforting fare.
Finally, we made it to the main courses. First was a marinated chicken (below), which was so tender and tasty that we stopped shoveling food into our mouths to savor it.
The other entree, lamb chops (below), were cooked a little more than I usually prefer my meat, but still managed to be full of flavor.
As we were starting to feel overstuffed and a little overwhelmed, the lights dimmed and music started playing - we had reached the bellydancing portion of the evening. For about 15 minutes or so, we gave our stomachs a break and joined in cheering on the smiling, whirling dancer as she brandished scarves and swords. One fellow diner got so caught up in the festivities that he "made it rain," tossing off one dollar bills like it was his job.
By the end of the meal, I wasn't quite sure that I had any room left in my stomach. For the next few days. Nevertheless, I couldn't pass up the baklava (below), a Greek pastry made with layers and layers of phyllo dough, chopped nuts, and honey. Papa Cristos' version is a very respectable one, and despite my discomfort, I polished my portion off in minutes.
All in all, it was a really great night. Is the food going to blow your socks off? Probably not. But for $18.95 per person, you absolutely get your money's worth. The Big Fat Greek Dinner is an experience that would be perfect for a big group celebration, or for entertaining out-of-town guests. Papa Cristos is a wonderful host.