Last night, Isaac and I had a dinner date with strangers--strangers we met on the internet.
No, we are not one of those kinds of couples...get your mind out of the gutter! Last night, we met up with the rest of the l.a.foodblogging crew for some good food and good conversation at Papa Cristo's weekly prix-fixe Big Fat Greek Dinner.
It was a little like going on a blind date when we first walked into the dining room, whose blue and white checked tables were arranged communal style for this popular nineteen dollar Thursday event. There were people everywhere, whether they were seated, at the front tasting wine or at one of the appetizer stations. We looked around for some sort of "l.a.foodblogging" sign, maybe even a guy holding a sign like they do at the airport, but no luck. Some of the tables had a bunch of old guys at them, so hoping that our assumptions were correct that my foodblogging counterparts were mostlikely younger urbanites, we used process of elimination to help find our table. Finally, we found our way and met a bunch of the people I'd only known through cyberspace until now--Jonah, Neal, Cybele, Zteve, Kristy, Dylan, WhyWeType, MaxMillion--and some significant others, too. A table full of food kooks just like me...awesome!
"l.a.foodblogging, where aaaare you?"
We started the evening off getting to know each other--how did we start blogging, what do we do when we're not blogging--and chowing on warm pillowy wedges of pita bread with taramosalata, a Greek caviar spread that reminded me a bit of lox cream cheese, and sliced loukaniko sausage that we'd picked up from appetizer stations set up in the dining room.
Looks kind of like abstract art, doesn't it?
This was a party, yes, but nothing took away from the casual, informal atmosphere that I love about Papa Cristo's. As usual, everything was served in or on plastic wares, including the wine that adorable owner Chrys S. Chrys was pouring for the night's wine tasting. Who needs wine goblets when you have medicine cups to try cabernet? So much better than Robitussin and very practical in my opinion!
The night hadn't even really gotten started yet and we were already full. The appetizers just kept on coming. First, delicious spanakopita triangles wrapped in flaky phyllo and filled with a solo feta cheese filling or a spinach and feta filling. Next, plates of pristine feta cubes, Greek olives, and dolmas--perfect little packages of seasoned rice wrapped in lemony grape leaves. Third, more of their crack-laced pita bread (because you can't eat just one!) and bowls of cool cucumber and yogurt tzatziki that I just couldn't get enough of. All of these dishes were served family style, a great way to get everyone to interact and mingle, though none of us needed any help with that!
Probably the only time that "flaky" is good
Dolmas, feta, and olives...oh my!
Cool as a cucumber tzatziki
Each of us were served a Greek salad of iceberg, tomato, cucumber, black olive, feta and a zingy Greek vinaigrette that came in a little plastic take out condiment cup. I've always been a fan of Papa Cristo's Greek potatoes, roasted tender with a slight hint of lemon. The seasoned green bean dish was texturally challenged because they obviously came from a can, but with its hearty tomato sauce, it tasted just fine. And as if our we weren't about to give birth to some serious pita bread babies--you know, the ones that were growing at exponential rates in our bellies--they brought us bread...warm, crusty French bread to go with the main courses that had yet to arrive!
Greek salad for food geeks
Bread??? Are you kidding???
Del Monte Greek Green Beans
When they finally did arrive, what we got were plates piled with grilled lamb chops and braised chicken. From personal experience, I can attest to the fact that the meat dishes at Papa Cristo's are delicious, but I still couldn't help wondering how tonight's dishes would turn out since cooking meats for this many people usually has its shortcomings. I was pleasantly surprised--the lamb and chicken were both tasty and tender. OK, so you could tell the lamb was not $20 & up pricepoint lamb, but you know when un-fresh lamb that's been sitting around has that old gamey taste to it? Well not at Papa Cristo's...you can tell that they sell this stuff and lots of it; this lamb was fresh, cooked with a nice brown crust on the outside and left a little rare on the inside.
Baa! I love lamb!
The chicken was even better. It was one of those dishes that certainly tasted better than it looked; on the plate, it reminded me of something one of my guy friends in college made with soy sauce and chicken as his first attempt at cooking on his own. But after I took a bite, I knew that this definitely wasn't some dude dashing some soy sauce and garlic power on chicken and frying it up kind of thing. The guys at Papa Cristo's had definitely put some time and thought into this because the chicken was seasoned very well--with wine, olive oil and garlic no doubt, as well as some other spices I'm sure--and was extremely tender. I even got some gelatinous slivers of fat along the way, and boy were they tasty. All of this meat served on...what else? Plastic platters and served with...what else? Plastic tongs, which, by the way, kept snapping in half all over the restaurant because they were a bit on the flimsy side. Who needs to break plates when you can break tongs, right?
Tasty "college" chicken and some fragile tongs
There's no plate breaking at this Greek party, but the atmosphere at Papa Cristos was plenty lively and that was before the belly dancer came out. After that, the crowd went wild...hands were clapping to the rhythm of the brunette-I-Dream-Of-Jeannie's gyrations across the room. There were people who tried hard not to make eye contact with the dancer in hopes that she wouldn't drag them out for a dance; then there were others who voluntarily went out and boogie-oogie-oogied till they just couldn't boogie no more. Perverted old men had their dollar bills out as she worked the aisles with her swaying hips and finger cymbals; both men and women got up and shook their groove thing, seduced by the dancer's charm.
That man wasn't one of us, I swear
The festivities didn't end there, however. After the whole room broke out in "Happy Birthday" in honor of a few celebrants, we were each served baklava, layers of syrupy sweet pecans wrapped in wrapped in flaky phyllo dough. To top that off, coffee served in (what else?)...diposable demi-tasses!
I guess "flaky" is OK in this case too!
I'm not going to sleep tonight
We all had so much fun and such good conversation that it was almost as if this whole l.a.foodblogging gang had already known each other for awhile. When I tell random people that I blog about food, there are some people that get it and that fully support it, and then there are people that don't exactly get it. "Why don't you be a food critic?" they ask. And then they don't drop it when I tell them that I just do this on the side for fun. ("Why not?" they insist.) I also get this: "How can you like food so much and not be fat?" What some people don't get is that liking food and writing about it doesn't necessarily mean that I want to write for Gourmet magazine full time; nor does it mean that I eat twelve donuts for breakfast everyday. Foodbloggers are normal people just like me and you, you know (hell, none of us even critiqued the food that night!)...we just happen to like good food and writing about it too!
2771 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90006