Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Special Foodventure #69: LA Greek Festival (Byzantine Latino Quarter)

Greek is probably one of the top ten ethnic cuisines on my list (working its way into my "gotta have NOW!" cravings at least once a month), so you can bet your drachma that I went to the 10th Annual Greek Festival held at St. Sophia Cathedral in the Byzantine-Latino Quarter (west of downtown, south of Koreatown).

Admission is normally $5/person, but my friend and I spotted a sweet deal on goldstar (which I gave you a heads up on earlier). For $7.50/person, you can get admission + a tasting of three Greek wines, and for $17.50, you get admission for two as well as normally $25 "Zorba's Feast" platter. So we did both offers and in the process got two friends in gratis as well (2 wine tastings + Zorba combo = 4 tickets).
Right upon entering, we were greeted to some warm hospitality by the costumed staff, who offered us and bunches of grapes throughout the afternoon - a sweet, refreshing and juicy respite from the L.A. September heat.

Our first stop: a cooking demonstration held in one of the cathedral kitchens, where longtime Greek cooks Akrevoe Emmanoulides (don't ask me to pronounce that, please!) and Pitsa and Francesca Captain (mom & daughter) showed us how to cook some simple Greek meze (appetizers).

In about 45 minutes time, they whipped up six different mezes, including kreatopita (baked phyllo meat rolls), dolmades (stuffed grape leaves, this version with a rice pilaf), taramosalata (cod roe blended with olive oil, breadcrumbs, lemon juice and some herbs), tzatziki and creamed feta dips and a bake feta with tomatoes, onions and peppers dish that's a great crostini topper; all the while, they are sharing stories of Greek culture, life in Greece itself, and a few culinary tricks and trivia - from packing the dolmades tightly and weighing them down with a plate to prevent them from unrolling as they're being boiled to the rarity of using basil in cooking (despite its presence in many Greek households) because it's considered a sacred plant.
Of course, the best part is tasting all the dishes that were prepared; frankly, it's a pleasant surprise since cooking demos don't always allow this (partly because of health/safety concerns, but mostly because they usually don't make enough to feed the entire audience).

I didn't liked all the items (the taramosalata in particular was too fishy for me and the dolmades were on the bland side) but it was fun to learn and watch (and the tzatziki and baked feta were divinely delish), and I definitely look forward to adapting some of these simple recipes in my cooking repetoire, should I ever need to make a meze for a quick snack, surprise visitors and forgotten potlucks. Thanks, ladies!

Having a bit of food in our stomachs, we went for the Greek wine tasting. Really, how can ANY oenophile resist trying vino from one of the oldest (and arguably original) wine-growing regions - gotta get back to the roots of it all, yo!
Being still a fairly warm day, we decided to go for three chilled and fairly light white wines and were given a flight of fruilano/moschofilero blend, moschofilero and chardonnay. The blended wine was like a pinot grigio, very light, comaparatively dry, a little acidic, very quaffable but lacking any distinctive character. The mostly moschofilero had a better nose (reminds me of the more aromatic whites like viognier and gewurztraminer, with lychee/peach/floral scents) but still on the light side, but the chardonnay was surprisingly good, with a little buttery richness from the oaking but also a wonderful tropical-pineapple fragrance, and would probably go very well with summery dishes. So good to know that Greek wines are still up to snuff after a few millenia, but the bad part is that these aren't widely distributed and available, so gotta head to Greek markets like the nearby Papa Cristo's to get my hands on some.

After the tasting, we spent a little more time exploring the festival (and partook in a little buzzed-up Greek dance lesson, thank the deities no one was taking pictures!) then decided to feast upon the Zorba platter...
... which was a helluva lotta food and more than enough to feed two people, with briami (the tomato/vegetable stew), Greek salad, chicken and pork kebabs, spanikopita (spinach and feta wrapped in phyllo), tiropita (blend of Greek cheeses in phyllo), moussaka and pastitiso (both basically meat casseroles with bechamel sauce, layered with eggplant and pasta, respectively) on rice pilaf. Overall tasty, though a bit on the greasy and salty side (particularly tiropita, which was too sodium-saturated to finish) but a well-rounded mix of Greek specialties.

Being too full to eat anymore, I just got some Greek coffee (prepared and tasted the same way as Turkish Coffee) the counter against the inevitable food coma and bought some Greek sweets (galaktobouriko, a phyllo-custard pie and kourambiethes, powder sugar-dusted butter cookies) to go.

Had I the extra time, money and, most importantly, Kobayashi-like stomach space, I would've probably tried out a few more Greek delicacies such as the grilled octopus in oil and lemon juice, the Greek sausage loukaniko and the loukomathes, doughnut-like pastries flavored with honey and cinnamon. Of course, I missed the gyros and baklava too but those are pretty widely available so were take-it-or-leave-it for me. Oh well, something to look forward to next year! Not to mention to remind myself to bring my glasses, the cathedral interior was spectacular with all the icons, paintings and stained glass windows. I can only imagine how much prettier they'll be if I saw them *clearly*.

Greek Festival at the St. Sophia Cathedral
1324 S. Normandie Ave (cross: Pico)
Los Angeles, CA 90006

P.S. Apparently Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson were working the crowds that day, but I didn't see them (note to self about the glasses again!)
P.P.S. I did, however, see foodblogger Gourmet Pigs; Eater LA's Lesley was also there too.


Khoi said...

You are a foodie and blogger in the truest sense! This a great read and your recap has me wanting more of that dry wine, which I thought was refreshing at the time.

I'm hungry for more Greek now, and can't wait until next year. Indeed, let's plan for another outing... OPPA!!

Hope you're enjoying that gift bag...

Anonymous said...

Nice post. You really captured the scene. Do you know if the Zorba's Feast platter is available at an L.A. restaurant on a regular basis?

Also, funny reference to Kobayashi.

H. C. said...

Opa indeed! I went to Daphne's recently -- it just wasn't the same... (and yes, shame on me!)

Thanks! I think you can order something similar to the Zorba's platter at the Papa Cristo's market (also on Normandie & Pico).


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