Restaurants & Bars

SF's Kokkari--upscale Greek (too long!)

Fine | Mar 24, 200607:42 PM     1

Because the last time we'd dined here the octopus looked as if someone had taken it out of a pocket and tossed it onto an ungarnished plate and the smelt were so strong-smelling their imminent arrival was broadcast ahead of time, we hadn't been back for several years.

Unable to get any advice on this board, we decided to give it another go.

This place always seems to be full of lively folks thoroughly enjoying themselves, and it's certainly good-looking. One cannot help feeling optimistic about what's to come.

I'd forgotten my previous surprise at the contrast between my image of Greek hospitality and the nickel-and-diming feeling I get from perusing the menu.

I believe restaurateurs are entitled to their vision, but what possible explanation could exist for Kokkari's refusal to make an appetizer platter available? One of the great joys of Greek meals is the array of delectable flavors in the classic garlicky "dips"--eggplant, roe, yogurt, and other delights--along with stuffed grape leaves and one or two other classics. Why should one have to choose a whole serving of any one--which can become cloying and costs, for the dips and pita, $5.50 each here--rather than being able to indulge in a taste of several? Are the operators of Kokkari afraid it would seem too much like other, more downhome-style Greek joints to do that?

Whatever the explanation, I've always forgotten, always looked forward to a mezethes platter, and always started my evening disappointed. I settled on the dolmadethes (Sp?)--3 rice-filled grape leaves, without so much as a dollop of yogurt or other dipping sauce. I recently had a vegetarian dolma at Cal-Mart's deli, which came from Haig's Deli, and it was so much more flavorful and better-textured than these, the comparison was startling. I requested and received a little yogurt, which helped.

The young woman at the adjoining table, saying she was from Greece and wanted us to taste something special, insisted we try a piece of her pita, which she said was so superior to the house bread (not much of a trick) and flavored with herbs. I couldn't really detect them but did find the rather rich, breadier-than-most version pleasantly satisfying.

We had ordered an Ouzo to start with, but it never arrived and we eventually canceled it. The very energetic waiter had obviously forgotten all about it but tried to blame us by saying something about its often being a digestif. oy.

My companion's lamb tongue appetizer, served with a little roquette, was rich, very generous, and delectable.

The evening's special was spit-roasted (I forget if it was Napa or Sonoma) local lamb, $29, which I couldn't resist, since most places offer the too-strong-for-me Colorado-raised.

No one explained--never mind apologized--for the approximately 20-minute wait between our appetizers and mains. We sipped our slightly too warm '00 Rasmussen PN ($36), munched on complimentary olives and the so-so bread, and waited. The place was a madhouse, so it was difficult to flag anyone down.

When my lamb finally arrived, it was tepid. I was reminded of my late sister-in-law, who always used to remark when food was served insufficiently warm that it was "Greek style." The Health Department would undoubtedly frown on this, and I wondered how come we'd had to wait so long for something that had obviously been sitting around; nonetheless, I declined the server's offer to redo it, saying we'd already had too long a wait and I didn't want it getting even more well done. He immediately announced there'd be no charge, which we assured him was not necessary or even fair, but he insisted.

The meat was rich, tender, and tasty, but not "lamby," though I'd have liked it even more with some garlic flavor (it's hard for me to imagine Greeks don't cook lamb with garlic, but maybe they don't) and perhaps a touch of rosemary or thyme, but these are quibbles. The huge serving of meat was laid on lots of tasty, tender chunks of nicely browned potato and surrounded by a few sprigs of Italian wild "rucola," the ancestor of roquette.

We shared an order of some not-unpleasantly charred brussels sprouts with chunks of bacon. My companion had moussaka, which is not a dish I've ever liked so I'm unable to say much. (I absolutely love what the old NY Times cookbook called Turkish moussaka--made with lots of eggplant without a hint of bechamel or other dairy).

I think the main reason I've returned here periodically is my passion for the house's yogurt sorbet--this time served with a granita of blood orange and as good as I remembered. Contrary to the earlier dishes, this was properly--if too richly for me--accompanied by a buttery, praline-y cookie.

The bill, without the lamb, was 87.61 before tip.

Yeah, I'll go back again, though probably not right away.

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