Greek food has a bit of an image problem in the Bay Area: Most diners only think of it — when they think of it at all — as an inexpensive fast-food option, a quick gyro wrap served out of a hole in the wall. But chef Nick Eftimiou hopes to change all that: After a series of permitting delays that put off the launch for well over a year, Eftimiou's new upscale Greek restaurant, Pathos Restaurant and Bar (2430 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley), opened on Tuesday, November 26. The 55-seat restaurant features an extensive selection of imported Greek wines, a full bar, and a commitment to organic ingredients.
"Greeks have some serious Michelin-starred restaurants now," Eftimiou said. "We're coming up in world cuisine."
He cited the recent success of Troy (another new Greek restaurant in Berkeley) and the emergence of higher-end restaurants like Kokkari Estiatorio (in San Francisco) and Dio Deka (in Los Gatos), both of which have incorporated French and modern Californian cooking techniques into the cuisine while preserving its authentic flavors.
Until now, the Greek restaurants in the East Bay generally haven't taken that upscale approach, and Eftimiou stressed that he isn't exactly trying to emulate those restaurants' styles either. While he studied high-end French cuisine in culinary school and did a brief stage at the aforementioned Dio Deka (a former Michelin star recipient), Eftimiou said his real food education came during summers spent visiting family in Greece.
So, simplicity will be the name of the game at Pathos — a combination of traditional Greek roasting and braising techniques and high-quality California ingredients. Eftimiou said he's in the process of applying for Pathos to become a certified-organic restaurant, but even without that official certification he said he's committed to sourcing only organic produce and sustainably raised meat and seafood.
"Greeks are not flashy in nature," Eftimiou said. "We don't have any molecular gastronomy going on over here; we don't have any liquid nitrogen, none of that staff. Just really high-quality proteins cooked very simply."
Appetizers form the largest section of the menu, with a focus on traditional items such as keftedes (lamb meatballs), grilled octopus, dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), and baked "horse beans" ("like big lima beans," Eftimiou explained). The idea is for diners to order several of these to share, family-style.
Meanwhile, many of the entrées will be cooked in the kitchen's enormous wood-fired oven — a roasted half-chicken and a wood-fire grilled whole Mediterranean seabass (aka branzino), for instance. Desserts, too, will be very traditional: There will be baklava, of course, and the fried dough balls known as loukoumades. Eftimiou expects the honey-soaked treats to be so popular he's installed a dedicated fryer for them.
Despite the elegant-looking dining room and the expense of sourcing organic ingredients, Eftimiou said he plans to keep the menu moderately priced. He estimated that a typical dinner will cost about $32 a person, which is still quite a bit less expensive than the Bay Area's most upscale Greek restaurants — "pocket-friendly" enough, Eftimiou hopes, to attract customers who might come several times a month.
To start out, Pathos will be open for dinner from 5:30-10 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday. In a few weeks the restaurant will roll out lunch service and, eventually, weekend brunch.
On Wednesday, October 30, a small electrical fire broke out in the kitchen at Norikonoko (2556 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley), shutting down the tiny, charming restaurant, which specializes in home-style Japanese cuisine. Owner Noriko Taniguchi told What the Fork that although the fire department quickly contained the blaze, the smoke damage was extensive enough to keep the restaurant closed for repairs for the next six to eight months.
Taniguchi, who has run Norikonoko with her husband, Takumi, as a second career for twenty years, said she has been touched to see how many customers have asked her when the restaurant will reopen. "I have that restaurant because I like to do it, not because I have to do it," she said. "I could retire, but the human connection is so important to me." Taniguchi said she hopes Norikonoko will reopen by the summer of 2014.
In other news, there was recent speculation on the possible demise of Fruitvale's El Ojo de Agua taco truck, much beloved for its aguas frescas, licuados (shakes), and gut-busting breakfast burritos. Online reports declared the truck missing from its usual spot (at the intersection of Derby Avenue and International Boulevard) for the past few weeks. When I called owner Salvador Anaya, he said the truck has been out of commission for nearly a month — both the oven and griddle broke and had to be sent out for repair. Anaya hopes he'll have the truck up and running in a few weeks. In the meantime, you can visit Anaya's other truck, El Ojo de Agua 2, at the intersection of 104th Avenue and International Boulevard.