LAMBROS (397 Danforth, at Chester, 416-461-9577) Complete dinners for $40 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of house plonk. Average main $10. Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday 5 pm to 1 am. Closed Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: ramp at door, mostly booth and bar seating, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Having studied the inaugural tapas card at Lambros, the recently launched offshoot of popular Avli next door, we’re just about to place our order when our rather nervous server mentions that a couple of the dishes listed tonight are “out of stock.”
Now, I can understand the circumstances that would cause the kitchen to run out of the kumquat preserves that accompany its saffron-scented chicken ($13) or the grilled quince that comes with the sour-cherry-glazed pancetta ($11). But how can one of the better Greek restaurants around – and one located smack dab in the middle of Little Athens – be “out of stock” of the cheese and kalamatas required for its feta ’n’ olive plate ($5)? Did the IGA down the road suddenly shutter?
It can’t have, since the first dish to show up, something the menu describes as “Cretan bruschetta ($6),” is a soupy tomato stew thick with black olives and crumbled feta. Stone cold.But there’s no faulting fabulously grilled asparagus spears and slightly salty haloumi over a bed of fresh watercress and Greek-style tomato salsa dressed with a honey-mustard vinaigrette ($9).
Laudably blood-red slices of medium-rare flatiron steak come paired with a smoky eggplant purée as well as a chili-laced pomegranate jelly ($13).
And I suppose it’s Al’s fault that his namesake Feta Lamb ($15) – thinly sliced chops cut against the bone, sided with miniature potato rosti and terrific grape-must loukoumi, an Aegean jelly that tastes similar to Turkish delight – uses up the last of the cheese.
I’ve become such a fan of the fasolada beans dished up at Kathy’s Corner every Tuesday that I often prepare the rustic casserole at home, and so consider myself something of an expert on the subject. While Lambros’s version ($8) – giant white kidney beans in a rich tomato sauce – is definitely more upscale, it needs more lemon, a garnish I’m surprised not to see on every plate.
But we’re relieved when the last dish of the night – plump grilled shrimp, meaty oyster mushrooms and saganaki cheese tossed with marjoram and a squirt of lemon juice ($13) – doesn’t arrive at table on fire.
Avli owner Lambros Vassiliou deserves credit for attempting to inject some needed life into the Danforth’s dated dining scene, even if hopping on the tapas bandwagon might seem a tad belated. And redundant. Aren’t mezes, the small shareable plates traditionally served in tavernas, tapas to begin with?Service may be tentative, but at least they try, and consulting chef Aristedes Pasparakis’s (yes, the same Aristedes from back in the 80s) quite tasty souvlaki-free menu could use a prudent pruning – both easy fixes.
The real problem with Lambros the resto is the room itself. With its pale off-white walls, bare wooden tabletops and floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking a winter-desolated avenue, the long shotgun space has all the warmth of a refrigerator. A coat of paint, perhaps a nice deep eggplant purple, would do wonders. But please, no blue-and-white Greek flag colour scheme, smashed plate mosaics, fake bricks, plastic plants or cheesy murals of fishing villages.
And one other thing: maybe somebody should stock up on olives.