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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cafe Santorini: Fantastic Grilled Squid

I was so stoked to find a place that served decent squid reminiscent of the gems I had in Santorini overlooking a beautiful, deep blue ocean. Ok, it wasn't as good, mind you, but it was one of the best I've had in LA.

Cafe Santorini
in Pasadena is the kind of place that you'd miss if you blinked. Its sign is barely visible and it's one of those walk-ups like many of the places in Pasadena. But I'm so glad I ran across it in my research for spots to go to after a cool event at the Pacific Asia Museum nearby.

Let's start with the really solid grilled baby squid salad. The squid was soft, charred just right on the edges and while it was a tad on the salty side, it's one of the best squid salads I've had in a while. On top of that, it was great value with generous portions, which is more than I can say about some of the fine dining establishments I've been to over the past few years where the squid or octopus may be passable if not for the measly portions at higher price tags.

The greens could have used less dressing that was slightly creamy but nonetheless they had me at squid (Nothing that a few squeezes of lemon couldn't ameliorate). Will definitely be returning for more.

Even the bread was yummy. It was like flat-bread topped with roasted garlic bits. What's not to like? Plus it was nice and warmed up. Can we say Greek bread sticks? Anyhow, the vibe of this place was interesting. It has a banquet hall-like space in an adjacent room and a leveled private dining area that overlooks the banquet room. Our waiter was also straight out of a foreign film, an older gentleman who was passionate about his food and no-nonsense in an endearing way.

My next favorite item -- it was a toss-up -- was the kefta kebab, which was ground beef formed into patties with herbs and spices (some parsley mix I'm sure) that came with rice, a roasted tomato and roasted bell peppers. I've always liked kefta kebab in Lebanese restaurants but this one was juicy and grilled to perfection. I mean, check out those grill marks.

I wasn't crazy about the rice, which I expected to be basmati but it was too watery and didn't separate easily like I usually expect the rice to. The veggies were ok but the clear winner was the meat.

My third favorite was the cheese borek, an amazing mix of feta and mozzarella cheese with mint and parsley wrapped in filo pasty. It was ethereal and crunchy without being too heavy. Delicious.

We got the mezze sampler that included babaghanoush, cucumbers, stuffed grape leaves, olives, sojouk sausage, grilled hallumi cheese (sheep's milk cheese) and some unremarkable pita bread.
Everything on the sampler plate was just ok except for the borek. The sojouk sausage tasted like chorizo. There's definitely some kind of smoked paprika-like spice in there. The sausage was a bit overcooked so it was hard to taste it as much as I would have wanted to. The babaghanoush wasn't as good as Zankou, my go-to spot for this (called mutabal there).

The tzatziki yogurt dip was really good, creamy and refreshing at the same time. It made for a great dip for the kefta chunks I had one too many of.

The hummus was not that flavorful but I'm looking forward to returning and trying some of their more interesting takes on pasta and pizza, or even some of their kebabs and slouvakis. Yum. What a find!

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