Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say Greece? Is it the EU and financial bailout? Is it the Odyssey and Greek Gods? The Acropolis? My mind goes straight to the heart of the country, their love of food and wine.
An element of Greek fine dining has been missing in our city. Now, Estiatorio Volos, the renovated and reinvented Mediterra, is the brain child of the next generation of restaurateurs. Andreas Antoniou has relaunched the family business with a menu as smart as some of my favorite fine Greek restaurants in New York.
This Aegean outpost in Toronto’s financial district comes by its name honestly. Volos is a port city in the province of Thessaly Greece, and Estiatorio means upscale restaurant.
The white tablecloth decor is evocative of the Mediterranean in the best sense, thanks to the diligence and care of Andreas Antoniou and his team, and architect Marc Kyriacou.
First, the welcome. Manager Terry Hughes knows his clientele and makes it his personal business to see that all goes smoothly. The mantra of Volos is to extend hospitality, (as in the Greek word philoxenia, meaning love of strangers) and this it does. No one remains a stranger for long.
Let’s get to the basics. Adding flavour is the certified organic Acropolis olive oil from a 300 year olive grove in Crete. Pure and simple – the essence of the Cretan olives. It is used in most dishes, even the spicy olive bread. A selection of unique new wines from Greece is unfamiliar, like the Rosé or the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Vilana, but fortunately, the sommelier is well versed in pairings and makes it all easy.
An open kitchen which remains the domain of former Mediterra chef Reza Parsia, puts out a panoply of authentic delectables: Tender grilled Moroccan octopus with garlicy eggplant puree; Smyrna-style meatballs with cinnamon and cumin in a savory tomato sauce. We’ve all seen the Greek show-off dish of cheese flamed in the pan. But not like this piece de resistance. Shrimp saganaki is a presentation of pan seared Kefalotyri cheese and shrimps, flamed with fruity Metaxa Brandy which adds a lingering and luscious perfume to the sheep’s milk cheese. There is exotic Exohico, baked phyllo pastry embracing braised lamb, vegetables and several cheeses and comes hot and crackling to the table. Traditional Moussaka, thinly sliced eggplant layered with ground meat and cheese is baked until it resonates with the herbs and spices of the countryside.
This is Greek soul food. New York based, Greek food guru Diane Kochilas, restaurant critic for the newspaper Ta Nea in Greece, and other international papers, has spent hours at the kitchen table with the principals here, tasting, tweaking and creating dishes. This diligence has paid off.
At lunch and dinner, the suit and tie minions from the surrounding towers fill the large an airy dining room, often to return in the evening. The buzz in the room is relaxed and convivial. Volos is the go-to restaurant when you want to talk without shouting, and listen without saying, “pardon me.” Service is professional, and under the watchful eye of Hughes, servers seem to anticipate our needs.
While exotic dishes course through the menu, I see that my favorite has star billing. Whole grilled fish glistens with olive oil, and makes a pronounced flavour statement with fresh lemon and herbs. While I like to see the whole fish, the kitchen will happily filet the fish whether its seabass, seabream, red snapper…all are fresh. Scallops are wild-caught and dressed to thrill with wild mushroom duxelles, fresh lemon and eggplant walnut puree. Order veal scallopini and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the three elegant, char-grilled slices of tender veal, and bright char grilled vegetables.
After a totally satisfying meal, I don’t often order dessert. But the home-made baklava, layers of phyllo and pistachios, laced with Greek honey, served with a little crème fraish is irresistable. And the dark chocolate mousse has top notes of Ouzo and comes accessorized with marinated figs.
Fine authentic ingredients prepared with integrity at Estiatorio Volos wins my applause.
133 Richmond St.W