The Philotochos Society of St. Sophia presented its annual fundraising gala this past Saturday, inviting attendees to spend “A Night In Thessaloniki,” Greece’s second-largest city and an important cultural center.
The sold-out gala featured a multi-course dinner from Canadian author, restaurateur and chef Peter Minaki, and free-flowing wines from Macedonia, Peleponnes and Thrace. Top shelf olive oils, homemade Melomakarona and other treats could be purchased at the Greek Marketplace, while the silent and live auctions found diners digging deep for prizes like wine country getaways and the chance to have a whole lamb cooked in your backyard by a popular local chef.
Minaki brings a modern approach to the flavors one associates with Greek cooking. You catch glimpses of a fearless traditionalist — the passed appetizer of lamb ribs is unwieldy, roaring with intense lamby-ness, with a messy, uneven drizzle of puckeringly tart yogurt. You get it all over your fingers, and the side of your mouth, but napkins wilt in the presence of this stuff. So you nervously look around to see if anyone’s staring as you reach over to pick up another one. I could also sense a freewheeling, Dionysian spirit driving the food we were about to dive into, which gave me great anticipation.
But during seated dinner service, Minaki displayed great restraint with familiar recipes. Dolmas are made in his kitchen with Swiss chard — more tender and accommodating than grape leaves, more suitable to the subtle, mildly spiced meat filling. Short ribs, braised to the point of falling apart, are served over an eggplant puree as silken and delicious as any potato preparation served in this town.
The wine pairings — a translucent Moschofilero from Lantides with the opening beet salad, Helexa’s Aperiron White with the dolmas and Vourvoukeli’s Limnio Red blend being the perfect accompaniment for the short ribs – were all outstanding selections and put Greek wine on my own radar in a way it had not been prior to this event. And Greek olive oil too – of the three varieties given to us for a pre-dinner tasting, I found Yanni’s Finest (I hope it is Yanni the New Age guy’s olive oil!) to be the one that tasted most like an olive in the mouth; Pylos Poems’ to be the cleanest and most delicate, and Tagaras to be the overall best tasting.
I suddenly understand why olive oil tastings are a thing … this stuff is all super primo, and it’s fun to compare and contrast. Where does a strong flavor win out over a mild one? How much of the enjoyment is mouth feel? After a while, mouth feel is everything, isn’t it? These are ideas worth tossing around the dinner table with international companions.
Now I feel a little more knowledgeable about the world, as well as full. I think that means it was a good dinner.