Restaurant Review #134: The Great Greek, Studio City

The Great Greek is known for its festive ambience--at dinnertime, live music and dancing energize the place. But if quiet and calm is more your speed, visiting The Great Greek at lunchtime is the way to go. Either way, you'll hear "Opa!" over and over.

The menu features everything you'd expect to find at a Greek restaurant--hummus, pita, dolmas, schwarmas, and more--plus a few things you might not expect, like a flaming cheese plate and Greek soup.

For $14.95 at lunchtime (per person, with a 2 person minimum) you can enjoy a feast of 13 items that covers all parts of the menu. I was really in the mood for a schwarma, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to satisfy 13 curiosities. They offer a comparable meal at dinnertime--it costs a few dollars more, and I'm not sure if the items are the same.

You'll start off with a Greek salad of cucumbers, red onions, tomatoes, red and green peppers, kalamata olives, feta cheese, and romaine lettuce. Everything about this salad is perfect, except for the mealy pink tomatoes that no self-respecting tomato lover would eat. But those are easily avoided. The richly flavored olives are particularly good. The salad alone would constitute a meal for some, but 12 more dishes remain.

Five small plates of various dips arrive next. Tzatziki sauce, a yogurt sauce with cucumbers, was a hit with me, but probably won't win you over if you don't already like yogurt.

I've eaten more than my share of hummus. Hummus generally consists of just a few main ingredients: chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, salt, and maybe a bit of lemon juice and garlic. Every recipe uses a different balance of these basic ingredients though, so whether one recipe is better than the other is really a matter of personal taste. I wasn't a fan of this hummus, since I couldn't taste the tahini.

When I was in high school, one of my friends who often ate hummus for lunch told me that hummus was made with chickpeas, water, and cumin. I actually made hummus using this recipe--and ate it. As if that wasn't enough, I didn't think to use a food processor, so I made it in the blender. Dry, flavorless, chunky-style hummus. Mmmmmmm.

This dip was unfamiliar to me (and I can't remember the name--I should start taking notes!). It tasted a bit like cream cheese, or shrimp, or crackers, or paint. I hated it, but my friend loved it. So don't take my word for it.

As you can tell, presentation is well-considered in every dish, especially with regard to color. I was particularly impressed by the rainbow confetti appearance of this dish. The dish means to showcase the large, flat, white beans and a thin, tomatoey sauce that covers them, but it also includes a whole lot of onion and bell pepper slices. I never understand why restaurants put raw onions in their dishes. Does anyone eat them? I enjoyed the beans and the sauce, mainly for their unfamiliar flavors, but you definitely have to like beans to like this dish. I only sort of like them.

Melitzanosalata, which seems to be the Greek name for baba ghanouj, is much like hummus but with eggplant instead of chickpeas and tahini. Personally, I've never liked the slimy texture of pureed eggplant--but here again, decide for yourself.

Kind of like tapas

The Great Greek makes a big deal about its pita bread, which is flown in from Chicago. Why they need to fly it halfway across the country, and how they keep it so incredibly fresh while they do it, is beyond me, but it is darn good--thin, fluffy, buttery, warm goodness.

Moussaka, according to the Great Greek, is the national dish of Greece. If that is the case, I feel sorry for the Greeks. According to some recipes I found online, this dish can contain one or more spices that an American might associate with pumpkin pie, like cinnamon and allspice. Indeed, when I first tasted this moussaka, I likened it to a meaty version of the Thanksgiving dessert. As I ate more, I thought it tasted like turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie rolled into one. The mushy, casserole-like consistency only added to my impression.

Maybe I'm crazy, since the dish is supposed to contain things like eggplant, tomatoes, and ground beef or lamb--none of which have ever found their way to my Thanksgiving table.

If you've ever had dolmas before and wondered what the hell you were eating and why, give them a second chance. Grocery store dolmas tend to be cold and have some sort of dull rice filling wrapped in tasteless leaves. The Great Greek's dolmas have a ground meat filling, a surprisingly pleasant tangy flavor, and are served warm. These were the first dolmas I enjoyed eating.

Fried calamari can only get so exciting, especially when there's no interesting dipping sauce, just a lemon wedge. The calamari were tender, though not as tender as La Curva's, but the breading was much too salty.

This was another lackluster dish. It reminded us of Hamburger Helper.

The meatballs, though unappetizing in appearance, were tasty because of an interesting combination of spices.

The spanakopita tasted more like cheese than spinach, which was more than fine with me. The only other version of this dish that I've tried is the frozen one from Trader Joe's, and I'm pleased to say that this restaurant version was indeed better. The only downside here was that the bottom layer of phyllo got soggy quickly.

Greek food is salty, so save room for a sweet dessert. We had the galaktobouriko, a sweet custard sandwiched between two layers of phyllo dough. The outside, with the phyllo, pistachios, and honey, tasted like baklava--but since it was just on the outside, it wasn't sickeningly sweet. The custard was soft and not too sweet. My only complaint is that the dessert wasn't thoroughly heated, and it was just a little warm in some spots while still being cool in others.

Greek coffee, like middle eastern coffees, is incredibly intense. It's made from coffee beans ground to a fine powder and it's unfiltered, meaning that the bottom third of the cup is filled with undrinkable coffee sludge. The coffee came with a supersweet piece of rose-flavored soft candy that was just like Turkish delight, though it had a different name.

The indoor patio is well-insultated from the noise of Ventura Boulevard, and much brighter than the main dining room at lunchtime.

The service was friendly, polite, and consistent. They were happy to box up our many leftovers. We had two different servers over the course of our meal.

During the day, you can park for free on nearby residential streets for up to two hours. We didn't have any trouble finding a good spot.

If you've been to The Great Greek, how was your experience? Leave a comment!

The Great Greek
13362 Ventura Blvd
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
11:30am-11:00pm daily
Great Greek Menu

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