Papaspiros Agora, Trying the New

Papaspiros Greek Taverna

A few years ago when I was on assignment in West Suburbs, I had made Oak Park, Illinois, a stopping ground for dinner on Friday evenings. Traffic was always aggravating and driving a manual shift car never made matters any better. Oak Park has a nice selection of ethnic restaurants and one that I had not tried was Papaspiros Greek Taverna at 733 Lake Street. It was an outstanding dining experience and by the time I had decided to return for a repeat excursion, the restaurant had closed. Well, it has since reopened in a new location across the street at 728 Lake Street.

Cranberry Juice and Water

Cranberry Juice and Water

Hummus

Hummus

Sesame Seed Bread

Sesame Seed Bread

Saganaki

Saganaki

With it being a perfect Saturday afternoon, I had an outdoor seat and prepared myself to savour some Greek dishes. I started with hummus. These creamed chickpeas, served with slices of tomato and cucumber and accented with olive oil, were quite nice and delectable. There was no pita served along with the hummus, so I used the complimentary sesame seed bread instead. That was fine until I was running out. I had ordered saganaki and good saganaki can have a spreadable consistency. The saganaki was also tasty. And usually, saganaki is set aflame at the table and then doused with lemon juice. The saganaki simply came to the table already bubbling in the small skillet.

Shrimp Souvlaki

Shrimp Souvlaki

Slowly I am starting to work myself back into my pescatarian diet. Blogging has a tendency for me to have chicken every once in a while and an occasional slice of beef. However, having had an appetizing seafood entree at another Greek restaurant recently, I thought that it would be a good idea to sample some seafood options from Papaspiros. The shrimp souvlaki was a perfect choice. Plump shrimp marinated in herbs and skewered with onions and bell peppers, each bite was worthy of a want to return. The garden salad and rice pilaf that came covered in a red tomato sauce along with halved potatoes were quite a lip-smacking accompaniments.

Arni Kokkinisto

Arni Kokkinisto

During my visit to Papaspiros at its former location, the first entrée I indulged was arni kokkinist — tender braised lamb, flavoured with fresh herbs, spices, and white wine, and served with green beans in light tomato sauce. Being a pescatarian at the time, eating lamb was a stretch, but it was not going to cause immediate ruin. With lamb meat falling off the bone and exploding with great taste along with fantastically seasoned green beans, the arni kokkinist deserved an encore.

Sea Bass

Sea Bass

For the second round, I had sea bass with rice pilaf and steamed mixed vegetables of potatoes, carrots, zucchini, and cabbage. I ordered the sea bass complete with bones and with the head intact and t I took my time savouring each bite. Well, I should put that in context. I took my time so that I was not swallowing the small bones in the fish. The rice pilaf and the mixed vegetables were perfect companions to the dish and my server smiles wider every time she passed by and saw me nodding my head in appreciation for the offerings that she had suggested.

Grecian Riganati Chicken

Grecian Riganati Chicken

After sitting for awhile, I was ready for a third entrée. I had Grecian riganati chicken. Oven roasted chicken marinated with olive oil, lemon sauce, and oregano, and served with rice pilaf was a perfect wrap-up entrée. The server had told me in advance that it would take half an hour for the preparation and it had come to the table in perfect timing. Each bite was succulent. The meat was moist and I kept working my knife and fork slowly until I could not finish all of it. The server was rather impressed with my feasting talents.

Galaktoboureko

Galaktoboureko

I should have stopped, but what is a splendid meal without a proper dessert? I had coffee and galaktoboureko. Semolina-based custard flavoured with lemon in phyllo, drizzled, and sprinkled with cinnamon with honey was enough to fly me to the moon. I think the patrons who were sitting next to me wanted me to stop humming, for I was exhibiting too much bliss. If you have some awesome food sitting before you and you are enjoying it, there is nothing wrong with letting it be known accordingly.

In 2012, I had the complete package of satisfaction: great service, outstanding food, and reasonable price. On this recent visit, the service I received from my server was top. The rest of the staff had a distant disposition that was kind of rattling. The food has not suffered as a result of the move, and the price is still sweet to the wallet. If Papaspiros draws crowds on Friday and Saturday nights the way I recalled during the stint at the former location, it may be a good idea to go during the afternoon on weekends. Certainly if the weather is pleasant enough for outdoor seating, take advantage of the restaurant’s authentic Greek menu items. Just don’t scream, “Opa!” The staff may think you’re ready to start throwing dishes on the ground.

Papaspiros on Urbanspoon

Chara, Opa!

Two years ago a friend had told me about a Greek restaurant in Oak Park, Illinois, named Papaspiro’s. I went. I ate. I made a calendar notice to return. And the restaurant was closed. I have to take responsibility for procrastinating and not returning immediately after my first meal. Needless to say, Papispiro’s moved across the street, as a new restaurant named Chara moved in to take its place. I am making a calendar entry to return to the new location in a few days and I won’t put off for later this time.

Sesame Seed Bread

Sesame Seed Bread

The new restaurant, Chara, is a welcomed surprise on the Oak Park landscape. At 733 Lake Street, the restaurant boasts a large dining area, patio seating out front, and a menu full of authentic Greek delights. I arrived at Chara early to get a window seat so that I had enough natural light to photograph my dishes. With everyone taking advantage of the outdoor seating, I had an uninterrupted corner spot — until a couple came in and sat at the table immediately next to me. My sister, who joined me around the time I was indulging dessert, can attest to that.

Pita

Pita

Melitzanosalata

Melitzanosalata

In addition to the homemade, complimentary sesame seed bread, I started with a melitzanosalata. This spread of smoked eggplant, potatoes, garlic, and olive oil served with a black olive, slice of tomato, and slice of cucumber was a fantastic appetizer. Along with the melitzanosalata came pita slices that I used to scoop and devour the dip. The melitzanosalata is the kind of spread that I would serve at parties instead of the usual dips many purchase for gatherings.

Shrimp Saganaki with Feta

Shrimp Saganaki with Feta

For my second course, I ordered shrimp saganaki with feta. Plump shrimp served with roasted bell peppers and onions, and topped with feta, I was all done with it before I realized that it was not the same as regular saganaki — the cheese that is brought to the table and set aflame. Although the shrimp saganaki with feta was more like a salad, the portion was enough to be an entrée.

Bakalo

Bakalo

White Wine

White Wine

Because I was hankering for some seafood, I was quite happy to find bakalo on the menu. The pan-fried cod was mild in flavouring and the seasoning was faint. However, there was still enough pop in each forkful to make the dish appetizing. And not having a fishy taste to the cod made it that more enjoyable. Adding to that the side of skordalia and the rice pilaf covered in a tomato based gravy made this my favourite Greek entrée. The mashed potatoes of the skordalia was actually a nice spread for the fish. But the rice pilaf with potatoes, carrots, and zucchini balanced out the mildness in the cod.

With the seafood dish, I wanted a glass of wine. I had told my server that I wanted a white wine, which is fitting with seafood and poultry, and he mentioned that he would bring a nice wine for me. I had not given any specifics (e.g., a dry white wine or a sweeter white wine) and I was thoroughly satisfied after my first sip. There was a combination of fruity highlights and floral notes. As I am sure that there could have been any selection of wines to accompany the cod, the glass of nectar that I had simply could not be surpassed with any other choice.

Galaktoboureko

Galaktoboureko

By the time I had finished my entrée, my sister had sent a text message to me to say that she was nearby. So, I waited and let my food settle some. Once she arrived and ordered, I opted for a dessert. There was baklava on the menu and having had that to excess as of late, I inquired about a certain Greek dessert that I think would be a sin to miss having at a Greek restaurant. I was curious as to whether there was galaktoboureko on the menu. To me, galaktoboureko is truly a slice of heaven, not just custard with a phyllo crust drizzled with a honey glaze. I enjoyed it very, very slowly along with a pot of peppermint tea.

With change, there is not always the guarantee of improvement. I only had one dining experience at Chara’s predecessor, Papaspiro’s, so I never got the opportunity to develop an attachment to the restaurant. I will admit that after only this one meal at Chara, I have developed an attachment to their fare. Part of it was the friendly service, which actually sets the tone for how great one will enjoy a meal. It also helped that the food was superbly appetizing. It was a package that I could not deny spiked my appetite. And if I were of lesser scruples, I would have stood at the end of my experience, grabbed a plate, smashed it against the floor and yelled, Opa!!!!!

Chara on Urbanspoon