Wednesday, November 30, 2005
That Bloody Bazouki: Ulysses Voyage
6333 W. Third St.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
M-Thurs. 11am - 10:30pm
F-S 11am - 11:30 pm
Sunday 9am - 11:30pm
MC, VISA, AMEX
I know the stated purpose of this blog is to explore cheap ethnic eats in LA. I've decided that's both too limiting and too vague. After all, everything is ethnic to someone else, "cheap" is subjective, and I've been doing some extensive research into macaroni and cheese around town that must be published someday soon. But not today.
Today is about a place you probably walk past all the time, little knowing that inside is some of the best Greek cuisine you'll find this side of 5th Century B.C. Athens. I don't know if you can Greek food "ethnic" anymore, when gyros and kabobs and Greek salads are ubiquitous. And anywhere you can get Ketel One probably ain't cheap. But damn, the food here is good, and as carefully prepared and authentically Greek as anything I've had on two visits to Greece.
Here's the dish:
Ulysses Voyage is near the west end of the main drag at The Grove. Not Farmer's Market, thought their website says so. It's in The Grove proper. It's a two minute walk from the movie theaters, less from the Apple Store.
The dining room is small, just a few tables, but it opens out into a spacious heated patio where you can watch the people parade and the trolley go by. Neither the greasy-spoon type of Greek place with Santorini travel posters peeling from the walls nor the over-the-top "atmospheric"
Greek with dancing waiters and plates whizzing past your ears every thirty seconds on their way to destruction, Ulysses Voyage is the type of place you might find on the Plaka in Athens: good, clean, local food done right, with enough atmosphere to evoke a hint of the Aegean. (Translate: one guy on a bazouki playing and singing over the somewhat inadequate sound system).
Ulysses Voyage professes to be "meze" cuisine, which means it's a place to snack on small items over a leisurely beverage -- the Greek equivalent of a tapas bar. But it's actually a full service restaurant with dishes ranging from mezes like olives and feta all the way up to pastas, salads, and rack of lamb.
Ironically, the "meze" here are fine, but unexceptional. The appetizer menu is dominated by an extensive array of hummus- and tzaziki-based dips. At lunch, $10.50 gets you a sampler of any three. Try the Taramosalata, a salmon egg whip that's as Athenian as the Olympics or the Fava beans whipped with eggplant; if you like a little spicy, the Tyrokafteri dip of feta and hot peppers is the trick.
The Calamari Salad ($12.00), is one of the best of this noble dish I've had; the steak is big, tender, grilled to perfection with lemon and paprika on a bed of fresh greens. God I love squid, and I don't eat it enough!
But where Ulysses Voyage shines is in its iteration of classic Greek entrees. The Moussaka ($11.95) is heavenly. The layer of bechamel cream on top is a fluffy, jiggling, two-inch think souffle of the lightest texture; beneath are layers of thin-sliced potatoes, eggplant, and ground lamb baked and spiced. A vegetarian version ($10.95) deliciously substitutes zucchini for meat without missing a beat. The Pastitsio (11.95) -- a deep dish of baked penne dish with ground lamb and bechamel -- is equally divine, and a little heartier. Rack of lamb is tender and juicy. And all the main courses are served with fresh, tasty veggies and the lemon potatoes that every Greek restaurant specializes in, but which achieves apotheosis here. And there's a feta cheese spread that goes on fresh-baked bread that tastes like it must be all butter, but it isn't. Just feta, in healthy Mediterranean style.
Two other things worth mentioning. One is that they do a great brunch. I know, I know, you haven't had brunch since the late '80s: all that cream cheese and hollandaise went out with your size 3 dresses. But you can do a lot worse, calorically, than a Greek omelette. Or even better, if you crave Eggs Benedict every now and again but can't afford to sleep for the rest of the day, try their Artichoke Eggs: sauteed spinach and poached eggs on top of two perfectly- baked artichoke hearts, served Benedict-style. It's both light and decadent.
The other thing we have to talk about is ouzo. Now most of you will wince. You had it once or twice. Ultra-strong, licorice-y, and maybe you got too drunk.
You weren't drinking it right.
In Greece, ouzo is almost universally served over ice, mixed with a liberal amount of water: about one part ouzo to two parts water. The water turns the clear ouzo a pretty, milky white, and from a syrupy batch of lighter fluid to a refreshing late-afternoon drink... really!
Of course if you really can't stand the taste of licorice, there's always that Ketel One.
So... next time you find yourself at the Grove with an hour to kill before that movie, or pooped from fighting the Christmas shopping hordes, step into Ulysses Voyage, and into a little bit of Athens.