My father is American, Chicago-born. I mention this only because I feel compelled to set the record straight, since he claimed otherwise when he accompanied me on my first visit to Platia Greek Kouzina.
"I'm Greek!" he yelped when one of the restaurant's owners, also a Chicagoan, tried to establish where their paths had overlapped in Cook County. I foolishly thought the two could commiserate over the Cubs or joke about ice scrapers, but my dad—reflexively, he assures me—played the ethnic bluff.
In my dad's defense, his grandfather was Turkish, which might count as Greek-ish if the nations weren't the Ali and Frazier of the former Ottoman Empire. But who wouldn't want to be Greek after dining at Platia? The warmly lit taverna presents a vision of Greek culture so enticing that Aegean Airlines should probably make an appointment with the leasing agent who handles the space next door.
Platia Greek Kouzina Dip sampler $11.95 Grilled octopus $9.25 Saganaki $8 Avgolemono $3.95 Gyros platter $11.95 Pastitsio $11.50 Roast chicken $11.95 Steak $15.95 Lamb chops $19.95 Sokolatina $5 Galaktobouriko $5 Rice pudding $3.75 Greek coffee $3.50
At most restaurants with gyros and spanakopita on the menu, Greece is the faraway place with the whitewashed buildings and azure sea pictured in the travel posters tacked to the walls. Platia hasn't dispensed with the visual cues—the interior walls are lined with stone and hung with pi's and pottery—but it more cleverly summons the old country with a buoyant zest for cooking, serving and greeting guests.
On busy nights, the owners are constantly darting through the room, asking after appetizers and seemingly on the cusp of clasping their arms around each other's shoulders and dancing like Zorba did. The spirit's infectious. Even better, the cooking is terrific.
The kitchen doesn't stray too far from the Greek-American classics familiar to most diners, but manages to pry hauntingly revelatory flavors from typically pedestrian dishes like pastitsio (if that doesn't fall in your familiarity zone, imagine lasagna with tubular noodles instead of flat pasta sheets). The cooking's nuanced and exuberant, situated at the sweet spot between discipline and sass. If you've ever wondered what Greek restaurateurs feed their families after spending the day warming up frozen hunks of moussaka and slicing industrial pita bread rounds into sixths, you'll adore Platia.
Can I lay it on thicker? Everything here is made in house, and it's all ridiculously under-priced. Opa!
Many of the dishes at Platia will no doubt seem familiar to diners who've been eating Greek food in the Dallas area, since Platia's headed by Sally Maglaris, late of Zorba's in Plano. She's joined in this enterprise by her sister Rhea Manos and brother-in-law George Manos, who handle front-of-the-house duties. They grew up in Greek restaurants, and the pedigree's apparent: While a grilled dish of tender, wine-soaked octopus harkens back to Greece, the doilies situated under cups of a satisfyingly citric Avgolemono soup and the blistered saganaki, nutty and rich, pay homage to the Greek diner tradition.
If saganaki's your tradition too, by all means order it. But make space on your table for a few of the magnificent dips, thoughtfully served in a mix-and-match threesome, accompanied by warm wedges of sandy-colored pita. There's a rustic hummus, accented with a pristine olive oil; extraordinarily fresh, tart tzatziki and a lovely un-dyed taramosalata, a salty fish roe touched with lemon and blended here to a soft chiffon. Maglaris has also come up with a classy whipped feta and pepper dip that seems like something Rachael Ray would endorse.
There are gyros and grilled lamb chops on the dinner menu, but I can't fathom why anyone would waste the opportunity to try Maglaris' stunning roast half-chicken, kissed with garlic and oregano. A gorgeously bronzed skin clings to the fabulously flavorful meat like a pashmina, allowing the skin to crisp and seasonings to pool nicely within.
Or if chicken seems too homey a dish to order in a restaurant, consider the pastitsio, which literally reappeared in my dream the night I tried it. A delicate mosaic of perfectly cooked pasta and allspice-seasoned ground beef, the lovingly made casserole's topped with a sauce that's more custard than béchamel.
Dessert in a Greek restaurant typically means baklava, but I didn't try the version at Platia after learning it was supplied by a Lebanese baker. Steer clear too of the cheesecake, which comes from the Cheesecake Factory. Instead, try the featherlight sokolatina, a layered chocolate cake, or the wonderful galaktobourino—flaky phyllo dough wrapped around a core of warm custard.
There's just one caveat at Platia, and it's potentially a biggie: Go on the weekend. Or go with dozens of friends, enough people to suffuse the restaurant with the throbbing human energy Platia apparently needs to thrive. On my first visit, an exhausted-looking owner beseeched my table to come back on a quiet night, and I eagerly did so, imagining I'd be the beneficiary of the kitchen's relative serenity. That's not exactly how it went.
There was nothing wrong with my Tuesday night meal, but it lacked the verve that elevates Platia from a likeable neighborhood joint to a worthy culinary destination. The owners weren't around to chat, and the slat-backed wooden chairs—filled just a few nights before by happy, hollering customers working their way through bottles of BYOB wine—were mostly empty.
The food was good, but marred by pesky flaws that didn't surface when Saturday night crowds forced the kitchen to play its A-game: Rice pudding was served so cold that its flavors coalesced into an icy mass, and a grilled strip steak was sliced and rushed to the table before it was done resting, which meant the rosy meat didn't fully absorb its own juices (although a penetrating red wine marinade improved the situation). I'm not sure if there's an official food version of the cliché about multitasking—if you need something sautéed, ask a busy chef?—but it's being acted out at Platia, where even our excellent server seemed less engaged the second time she waited on us.
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I only saw one server both times I dined at Platia, and imagine it would be hard for the restaurant to find her equal. When one of my guests asked about a salad dressing, she confidently reeled off the recipe. She was so sharp-eyed that when my table did the standard "pass your plate to the right" critic trick, she ran back to check if she'd confused our orders. She was friendly, efficient and literate in coffee grounds.
"I'll come back and do your reading," she promised when she delivered my father's Greek coffee. When he'd emptied his cup, she pulled up a chair and counseled him to stop thinking about whatever had been bothering him (perhaps it was that lie he'd told about his heritage). "You will go to the sea," she predicted.
I'm not sure of my dad's maritime plans. But I strongly suspect if he finds himself in Dallas again, he will go back to Platia.
Platia Greek Kouzina Gaylord Parkway at Mall Road F, Frisco, 972-334-0031, platiagreek.com. Open 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday and noon-9 p.m. Sunday. $$