Pot Melt

Ethniko swimming in mediocre waters

On one visit, we ordered a fried soft-shell crab. Our server steered us away, advising that the remaining crabs in the kitchen weren't up to snuff and that the gentleman at the next table ordered the last worthy one. He pointed the man out, who sat alone drawing a few crispy crab legs past his lips. I'm not sure if this is good service or not.

We promptly subbed the crab with the sautéed foie gras on garden greens with fig and balsamic vinaigrette. Now, I've had sautéed foie gras that was soft and mushy. I've had sautéed foie gras that was slimy and runny. But never in my life have I had sautéed foie gras that was hard and cold. It was like eating an overcooked turkey giblet from a beer cooler. The top of the liver was scrawled with a bead of fig fudge that really didn't add to this miserable organ. Cold is a funky way to serve foie gras that isn't a pâté, and my guess is it was sautéed and then flung into the back of a cooler, which would have put a dent in the aluminum wall. This was more like liver sausage than it was a precious savory appetizer.

Other salads fared better. The grilled red ahi tuna perched against an Asian vegetable slaw was easily the best item on the menu. A gray sheet of tuna with stark black crosshatched grill marks singed across the surface was like silk in the mouth, with squeaky-clean flavors.

Hello? Is anybody there? Ethniko has the "all peoples'" cuisine. Where are the people?
Stephen P. Karlisch
Hello? Is anybody there? Ethniko has the "all peoples'" cuisine. Where are the people?

Details

214-373-9911. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday; open for dinner 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30-11 p.m. Friday & Saturday. $$-$$$

Fried smelt: $6.95
Miso soup: $6.95
Chicken salad: $8.95
Grilled tuna salad: $13.75
Fried calamari: $6.95
Duck spring rolls: $6.95
Rack of lamb: $22.95
Crispy whole red snapper: $22.50
Sautéed foie gras: $8.25
Apple tart: $6.95

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The grilled chicken salad wasn't far behind. Thin sheets of grilled chicken breast were tiled around a summit of Asian slaw. The chicken was moist, exquisitely seasoned and tender enough to parse with chopsticks.

But God help me, what in the world is the black-onion-seed-crusted rack of lamb? Is this a prototype, or is it an attempt at camp? An Indian and Middle Eastern spice, black onion seeds are generally toasted or dry roasted before they're inserted into food. But these were...words escape me. The spongy sour lamb meat was pimpled with these black gnatlike scraps that made your teeth squeak when you chewed. It was like eating a forkful of plastic grommets.

Much better was the crispy red snapper with bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms, but not by much. It was a little overfried, or inconsistently fried. Portions were dry and leathery. Other spots were crisp and moist. Still other parts were spongy while others were just plain mushy. Plus the broth in which it swam had too much fish sauce.

The end of the meal landed where the rest of the meal rarely hovered above: mediocrity. Ethniko's apple tart was built on a mushy crust--almost fuzzy in texture. The apples were dry and void of tang. It was just limp, and eating it was like working a puff of wet fuzz around the mouth.

Like the word itself, ethniko is hard to understand in the context of Samuel's past accomplishments. By regular restaurant standards, ethniko barely keeps its head above water. By Samuel standards, it's a wreck, one that has gone to pot well before its time.

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