James Beard was never a man to mince words. He was always top with a bon mot and he loved to tell reporters “the best meal is a free meal.”
It’s nice to be treated now and then, whether someone takes me to lunch for my birthday or I discover a delightful voice mail inviting me to a party or a cup of well-brewed coffee.
The next best thing to a free meal is a moderately-priced, three-course dinner. I found Estia has a sweet deal, akin to the lunches and dinners offered during Restaurant Week, all year around. A two-course lunch is $17 while a three-course dinner is $30.
Estia is a large, beautiful space located across the street from The Academy of Music. The site once housed the Locust Street Theatre and later DiLullo Centro, one of the finest Italian restaurants in the city.
The setting is rustic, yet a bit formal. Sandy and I decided on an early dinner, and since her first taste of Greek fare at Opa last year excited her taste buds, we decided to sample the three-course dinner.
We were led to a banquette and settled in. A pillow kept my back comfortable, which was a thoughtful touch. Tables were covered in crisp white linen but the lighting was too dim for me to navigate the large menu.
“I forgot my flashlight,” I said to my sister.
Fortunately for us, our knowledgeable waiter brought me a mini-light which helped a bit.
At first glance, I thought I was in Chinatown. The menu had dozens of choices and if we were to order a la carte, it would be difficult to decide which dishes to order. Take note, Estia is very expensive.
An icy Rob Roy ($14) was superbly mixed, but I was shocked when I received the bill. Sandy sipped a pinot noir ($11) as we discussed the menu.
“I don’t know what anything is,” she said.
I reminded her of last year’s dinner at Opa.
That said, our waiter advised about the three-course dinner. Because the menu is so large, he pointed it out to us. There is nothing finer than a simply grilled piece of fish enhanced by olive oil and fresh herbs. I was going to order fish as my entrée, but as soon as our waiter told me it was topped with a ratatouille-like substance, I nixed it.
“Go for the lamb shank,” he said.
He brought us a basket of warm bread and a small dish of creamy, velvety hummus topped with thinly sliced radishes.
Appetizers consisted of warm grilled calamari and lamb meatballs with spanakopita. There were about six squid rings on the plate, which were not akin to rubber bands and were nicely seasoned. A tiny bit of mesclun and a lemon wedge sat on the plate. I think Sandy received two tiny but tasty meatballs in a light tomato sauce along with one triangle of spinach pie that she also enjoyed.
As soon as we eyed the shrimp on the menu, I knew my sister would order them. It’s a safe dish. Medium-sized crustaceans were threaded on wooden skewers, brushed with olive oil and herbs and simply grilled. A mound of rice came with it.
Braised meats are among my favorite foods during the winter months. My braised shank looked like a torpedo-shaped meatloaf. The bone was missing. Still, the lamb was tender, and I did not need a knife. It had a slightly creamy texture and a small flavor and aroma of cinnamon wafted from my plate. A scattering of toasted pignoli blended with couscous formed a bed for the lamb that was served in a reduced stock of natural pan juices. The serving was fine for me, but I think a man would still be hungry.
There were two desserts on offer: fruit with yogurt and walnut cake. Walnut cake rich with honey is a staple in Greek restaurants. Sandy and I found it too sweet.