Evvia: Modern Greek menu, farm-fresh fare

Andy and Julia Griffin of Mariquita Farm walked into Evvia, a wildly busy modern Greek restaurant, early one Thursday afternoon. I happened to be with them. Mariquita delivers truckloads of produce two times a week to Evvia. When the chefs spotted their suppliers in the dining room, they rushed over. I tell you this, dear reader, to illustrate how much Evvia values its farmers and also as a disclaimer. We were treated like members of the restaurant family.

Evvia’s menu truly celebrates spring produce. We started with an inspiring table full of mezethes, shared appetizers, the most thrilling of which was bizeiosalata ($8), a salad of peas and peeled fava beans tossed with feta, olive oil, mint and cilantro. The incredible luxury of eating spoonfuls of shelled peas and double shelled favas so radiantly green and sweet, is alone worth a trip to Evvia.

Tender halved artichoke hearts, marinated in lemon juice, scattered with more favas, and topped with shavings of mild Greek cheese ($9) also evoked the season. A veritable pink cloud of taramosalata, ($5.24), an airy dip subtly flavored with smoked fish roe, was so lovely we ate it with spoons.

Amazingly succulent baby octopus, grilled over an open fire, needed only the traditional dressing of lemon, Greek olive oil and oregano ($11.75) to be sublime.

Another seasonal delicacy: grilled kidney, heart and liver of baby lamb, seasoned only by the fire and a sprinkling of sea salt, olive oil and lemon, was an unexpected treat, available to few, and only when the restaurant offers spit-roasted baby spring lamb ($29).

Order the lamb if you get the opportunity. The skin is mahogany brown and crackling crisp; the bones full of gnaw-worthy morsels; the discrete hunks of leg, breast and loin, cooked all the way through, are tender and moist. You may find this rotisserie lamb from late February through June, but right about now it’s the perfect weight and at its best.

If the baby lamb is not available, you can fall back on small, juicy lamb chops served with golden wedges of olive oil-roasted potato ($32.50/$17.75).

If you prefer falling-off-the-bone meat, order Napa Valley goat braised with pearl onions, baby artichokes and feta, fragrant with cinnamon and lemon. Orzo, a rice-shaped pasta, sops up the juices at the bottom of the terracotta casserole ($26.75).

For dessert, what could be better than a bowl of thick, creamy Greek yogurt, drizzled with honey, dried fruits and walnuts ($7)?

Evvia’s busy dining room suggests a rustic, if well-heeled, Greek taverna with a rough-beamed ceiling, wooden floor, a blazing fireplace in an open kitchen and walls hung with copper cooking pots. Thank goodness — acoustic tiles between the beams and linen-covered tables keep the noise level bearable. Comfort of the diner has not been neglected.

Yes, the kitchen orchestrated our meal and sent out a treat of innards — one that chef Erik Cosselmon thought Griffin would appreciate as the recent owner of a small flock of goats. Yet, if we could drop in and get this meal, so can you. Twelve-year-old Evvia knows what it’s doing, both in the dining room and the kitchen.

One caveat: Call ahead to inquire about the hearts and kidneys. You have a small chance of getting them, but it’s worth a try.

Evvia

Location: 410 Emerson St., Palo Alto

Contact: (650) 326-0983; www.evvia.net

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday for lunch; 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday; 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday; 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday

Price range: $6.75 to $11.75 for starters; $17.75 to $32.50 main courses

Recommended dishes: Taramosalata; grilled octopus, pea and fava salad; fire-roasted spring lamb; marinated baby artichokes, braised greens; braised Napa Valley goat; Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts

Credit cards: All major

Reservations: Recommended

Patricia Unterman’s San Francisco Food Lover’s Pocket Guide is available at bookstores now. Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

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