Alibi V.24 No.49 • Dec 3-9, 2015 

Restaurant Review

A Recommendation Rekindled

Yanni’s Mediterranean Grill

Kotopoulo
Kotopoulo
Yanni’s may have been the first restaurant recommended to me when I returned to Albuquerque after a period of wandering the wild lands of East Texas. A fresh-faced UNM student, I set out one day to explore Nob Hill, stopped in at Bow Wow Records (RIP), browsed around a bit and then, as stomach rumbling set in, asked the hipster behind the counter where I could get a good bite to eat.

“Yanni’s,” he said. “It’s next door. It’s good.”

So I walked over and looked at the menu in the window and realized that I, a cash-strapped 20 year old, could not afford to eat there.

That was about two decades ago, and somehow, during the interim, I never came back. No particular reason. I didn’t hold a grudge or anything like that. It’s just that, in my mind, the idea had solidified that Yanni’s wasn’t for me. And so things stood until a few weeks ago when I finally realized I was no longer a cash-strapped 20 year old, overcame my irrational avoidance and stepped inside its front doors.

I’m glad I did.

3109 Central Ave NE
3109 Central Ave NE
Yanni’s, which was also fresh-faced in its own way on the day of my first approach, is now about 20-years-old and has been under the stewardship of various owners in the meantime. Obviously, I can’t say with authority what kind of changes these owners have implemented, but as of today, it’s a solid not-quite-upscale Greek restaurant. It’s the kind of place with white table cloths and attentive waiters and that’s good for a first date or a night out without the kids. Good food that won’t break the bank, in other words.

Inside, it’s a comfortable open space with a full bar against the back wall and bright paintings of Greek coastal scenes set between faux-classical columns. There’s a large patio for the warmer months (it’s enclosed and heated in winter).

Now, about those more dazzling other items: Starting with appetizers, the saganaki is a fun way to tantalize your palate. It’s a plate of kasseri sheep cheese which is given a dose of rum and a table-side flambé.

The menu is a mixture of traditional Greek favorites and some contemporary new American cuisine. Yes, you can get a gyro here, and spanakopita, and those are presented as ideal specimens. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the gyro, but only because there are more interesting and worthwhile items on the menu and not because the gyro is bad. Still, it’s good to know that if you are at Yanni’s and desperately in need of a gyro, you can get one and you will be satisfied.

Now, about those more dazzling other items: Starting with appetizers, the saganaki is a fun way to tantalize your palate. It’s a plate of kasseri sheep cheese which is given a dose of rum and a table-side flambé. The resulting cheese is now bubbly, creamy and melty beneath its singed crust, and slightly gamey in that sheep-ish way which makes for a perfect place to dip one’s pita wedges.

If straight-on Greek is your game, then the kotopoulo is not to be missed—a baked and traditionally prepared Greek chicken with crisp skin, moist interior and a tangy, aromatic seasoning. The Greeks love lemon juice almost as much as they love olive oil, so expect a citrusy zest.

Combo Platter
Combo Platter
Stuffed acorn squash is my favorite of the main menu offerings, a medley of sauteéd vegetables and mushrooms resting in the earthy sweet shell of the eponymous squash. There are mushrooms, onions, peppers and spinach, meaning that each bite is an exploration of distinct textures until your tongue tires and you return to the meat of the squash itself.

Like many Nob Hill restaurants, Yanni’s has added a brunch to its lineup of mealtimes. If you like to start your Sunday with a bang, then the Wake Up Mary cocktail will do the trick. A Bloody Mary made with green chile vodka (infused in-house!), served in a jar and garnished with a frankly ridiculous amount of produce—olive, pepperoncini, cherry tomato, lemon wedge and pickle all working to block your beverage from drinkability. Fortunately, it comes with a straw. The green chile gives the traditional Mary a spicy New Mexico intrigue and you’ll either find yourself flooded with the fire necessary to face the day or ready to crawl back to a Sunday sleep, depending on your metabolism. For my breakfast, I ordered crabcakes eggs benedict, a brunch special, to accompany my get-up drink. Softly poached eggs quivered alluringly atop a platform of fresh-tasting crab, a glaze of chipotle aioli drizzled over it all gave it a savory sting. Quartered baby potatoes, doused in lemon juice because Greeks, joined the cakes for a breakfast that can only be called “hedonistic.” But dammit, you only live once.

So, thank you, clerk at a long-gone Nob Hill record shop, for your recommendation. It was a good one, even if it took me 20 years to realize that.

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Yanni’s Mediterranean Grill

3109 Central NE
268-9250
yannisandlemoni.com

Hours: 11am to 8:30pm, Monday
11am to 9:30pm, Tuesday through Thursday
11am to 10:30pm Friday and Saturday
11:30am to 8:30pm Sunday
Vibe: Opa!
Extras: Full bar and patio.

The Alibi recommends: Saganaki, stuffed acorn squash, kotopoulo, crab cakes eggs benedict