There are a very few types of food that because of past experiences which were less than pleasing I’ve avoided eating. This is not necessarily a conscious decision but rather a little something in my head that when someone suggests dining at places which serve the foods in question makes me simply suggest alternatives.
One of these has been Greek food. While the flavours and ingredients in this cuisine appeal to me I’ve not eaten it for more than a decade. Again, this is not me saying I don’t like Greek food but just a higher desire to eat other types of food. One that kicks in and is strong enough that it’s controlled me for so long. My memories of the experiences that caused this are even fuzzy and I cannot actually remember where they took place.
As a result of this “mental damage” I was reluctant to vote for Greek as the type of food to eat for the second outing with the group from UrbanSpoon. I actually caught myself this time though and began thinking as to why I wouldn’t enjoy it. Since I wasn’t able to come up with anything concrete I cast my vote for Kefi Greek House in order to force the issue with myself.
We arrived somewhat early and upon entering were immediately greeted by 3 different staff members including the hostess. The table we were given for the group was great with a view of the small raised dance floor that I’d read we could expect the staff to use throughout the evening and was set apart from the rest of the dining room allowing for some privacy for our group.
We were contemplating the appetizer menu when our fellow diners began to show up. Our waiter was quick to be on the spot when everyone had finished with introductions and proved to have a great deal of knowledge about the offerings on the menu as well as Greek “stuff” in general. This was a nice thing for us due to the fact that as Foodies we all had an annoying habit of asking questions about everything.
We decided to sample all of the available dips as a group and ordered 1 each of Tzatziki, Humous, Taramasalata and Kopanisti with vast amounts of the fresh/hot pita to eat it all with. This was not quite enough and we also sampled some Saganaki cheese and Kalamari to round out the pre-meal festivities.
We’d all tried versions of Tzatziki and Humous before and for my part I loved the ones here. The other dips were a different story and while the kopanisti being a simple combination of feta cheese, spices and peppers seemed far from exotic it was unique enough for Nancy to change her mind about disliking anything with feta. The star of the show among the dips was the taramasalata, a tasty mixture of cured fish roe mixed with bread crumbs, mashed potato, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil and spices that was enjoyed by all.
Of the two remaining appies the one we truly enjoyed the most was the saginaki or pan seared kafalotyri cheese and we ordered two. The staff at Kefibring the still sizzling cheese to your table on a cast iron griddle and then proceed to douse it with metaxa brandy and flambé it to shouts of Opa! before placing it on the table. This little bit of theatre is itself enough to add enjoyment to the meal without all of the rest we experienced here.
Kefi offers the traditional Greek family dining experience of picking a number of meat and veggie dishes and then sharing them amongst all as well as more North American style “Dinners” which include a meat accompanied by various sides on one plate. Our group was evenly divided into the two camps and so half ordered separate dinners and the rest including myself opted for the communal plates.
What my group chose was the house special spit roasted lamb or Souvla, a rack of grilled pork ribs and Bifteki which is ground beef stuffed with cheese. On the side we ordered lemon roasted potatoes and Greek rice. The others picked the Halibut, Mousaka and Kleftico(roasted lamb) dinners.
The souvla was nice but I didn’t find it had as much “Greek” flavour to it as I’d hoped for but this is my own feeling and as I’d not had this before I cannot say if it was under spiced or not. It was tender and juicy and there was more than enough to go around. The ribs were very tasty and full of flavour. I enjoyed these perhaps the most of the meat dishes we sampled. They were not the fall-off-the- bone variety that I truly love but were by no means dry or over-cooked and will no doubt prominently figure into my next visit to Kefi. I found the Bifteki to be good as well but cannot say it was a dish with “wow” factor. The meat and cheese went nicely together and it was cooked perfectly in my view. The more lame ;-) members of the group reported that they enjoyed their dinners as well and on the whole I’d say that nothing disappointed on this night.
On several occasions during our meal staff members would step onto the dance floor and begin traditional dancing to the pleasant sounds of Greek music accompanied by the claps of our fellow diners and culminating in the smashing of plates and the calls of Opa! by all. Our waiter explained that this was not scheduled but that when one of the staff felt Kefi they would begin and then be joined by others who felt moved to participate.
Kefi is a Greek word whose exact meaning has been difficult to pin down. Described by Greeks variously as meaning the spirit of joy, passion, enthusiasm, high spirits, or frenzy. The Greek custom of dancing and of course smashing plates is said to be an expression of kefi, when the soul and body are overwhelmed with an exuberance that must find an outlet. The only literal translation I’ve found is simply “fun”.
During our meal I was happy to enjoy some Greek beer and also sample the house ouzo which was served over ice with a small amount of water just as many other spirits are in order to open the flavour. I had more than one… hey, it adds to the Kefi.
To finish this meal we all decided on some dessert but were mildly disappointed to find that while Kefi offers a selection of hand-made Greek desserts this being the Easter week-end meant that the Ya-yas or Greek Grandmothers whose talents are relied upon for these were busy cooking for their own families. The result was that we could choose from either local deserts or one of only two Greek varieties, these being Baklava or vanilla cake. We all chose the vanilla cake as it was something none had tried before. This was a good choice, the cake was fresh, light and flavourful without being overly sweet.
Dining at Kefi Greek House has undone the damage of my past Greek experiences and made me add this wonderful cuisine to my ever expanding list of favourites. This was a fun and entertaining evening that combined with good food and great staff has also secured this place as one of those I feel I must return to.
The following reviews are from our dining companions at Kefi and offer their views of the second UrbanSpoon Calgary foodie night.
From K C Foore:
Visiting KEFI was like a mini vacation in Greece with warm hospitality, abundant food, great music, spirited dancing, traditional seasonings, meal preparation and presentation.
Our group of foodies stayed there for nearly 3 hours and enjoyed every minute of it. The dishes were thoroughly explained including some bonus information on history and geography. I always appreciate it when the wait staff are truly enthusiastic about the food that they are serving and are happy to engage in a conversation about it.
Meals are available in a traditional western style –full meal on one plate – serving or traditional family style, which is ordering the meat(s) and then the side dishes to be shared by many. Our table chose both styles with some ordering an individual plate and others joining in on a group meal. Both ways were fabulous.
Our appetizers consisted mainly of an assortment of dips, kalamari and saganaki, a kafalotyri cheese portion flambéed with brandy at our table. Not only was it entertaining to watch our wait staff risk their facial hair to serve this, the dish was delicious served with toasty hot and fresh pita bread triangles.
The kalamari was a favorite – perfectly seasoned and done to a tender consistency and served with fresh Tzatziki. The Greeks certainly can cook them squids right! I could have happily made that my entire meal – but I was with friends and thought it best to share as planned.
Seeing the whole spit roasted lamb displayed behind glass at the front entrance reminded me of scenes from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. Depending on your ethnic background or exposure to whole animals on spits, this kind of thing has the potential to either whet your appetite or traumatize you and completely kill it. I’m thinking KEFI with it’s very authentic and traditional way would attract those more accustomed to such a sight, so it would result in a net gain.
I could tell that all of the dips were freshly prepared that day, some perhaps just after we ordered them – not scooped out of a bucket in the cold room.. Kudos to KEFI – it makes a big, pleasant difference.
The meats were all properly cooked and very lightly seasoned. Greek Sea Salt was available at the table for those who wanted it. It was tender but not fall off the bone tender; it’s not supposed to be that way.
All of the dishes were good to great in flavor, quantity and quality. The only complaints I have are very minor. I found the souvla a little strong on the lamb flavor for my personal preference and the greek style rice, while very flavorful was slightly overdone.
The vanilla almond cake was a pleasant, unique and not too sweet finish to the night of food and festivities. It had a biscuity texture, complemented by a slightly sweet cream filling and topping.
I loved the atmosphere, the staff and the food. It really is an enjoyable, multi faceted night out that’s not just about the food. It’s the whole Greek experience. OPA!
We’ll certainly be back – maybe even with the same friends.=
From Twisted ChinaMan Eats:
Well, I have to say from the first time I tasted it, Greek food has had a special place in my heart…and like all matters of the heart, it’s easily broken. So that is why I’m happy to say Kefi has renewed my love of Greek food with great vigour!
With a team consisting of V York, KC Foore (and spouse) and CTCH (and spouse), we paid a visit this evening. We were greeted by the manager, who made us extremely welcome (and was not unnerved when it was revealed we were from Urbanspoon), and the server assigned to our table was knowledgeable (and even told me the story of the kleftico, which was extremely fascinating…and true!), didn’t sound forced in the delivery, and was generally very sweet (as in nice!)
Anyway, onto the food. The six of us decided on the dips (the classic tzatziki and humous, taramasalata (fish roe) and kopanisti (spiced feta)), with a pair of saganaki with everyone’s favourite calamari — with plenty of pita to go around. The dips were extremely well made, fresh tasting and savoury — I personally enjoyed the taramasalata, which I didn’t think too much of when the order was placed. But was it ever delicious! The calamari was good with the tzatziki, and the saganaki was fun and delicious.
A few different entrees were ordered between the six of us, with the kleftico piquing my fancy…I’ll leave the others to review the other dishes, but the kleftico with the rich thieving heritage (the waitress explained the parchment bag as a symbol of the dish’s heritage during the Ottoman Empire) was flavourful, the lamb was tender and was fully loaded with lots of vegetables. The manager had advised us during his visit that they did not salt their food, but really…salt wasn’t even necessary. The rice was tender, and went well with the stew.
Dessert wrapped up the meal, and besides baklava there was a vanllia and almond cake that was on offer, which ws too tempting to resist, and what a temptation to relent on…the cake wasn’t too sweet, and the vanilla and almond combination was delicious when paired with a warm beverage like a tea or a Greek coffee.
The decor was very Mediterranean, and was a bit dark for a little bit before the lights were turned up as the evening went on…the atmosphere was amazing, and as one of us alluded it truly felt like we were at a Greek village dinner party and not in the middle of South Calgary off Macleod Trail! The servers were dancing, the music was pumping…overall a great time. And with drinks for about $60 a person (plus tip) it was a great night out, and I have a feeling that I might be back again…
From V York:
Upon entering this restaurant, I noticed how the whiteness of the interior stood out, just like how I experienced it in Greece. It was remarkable. I felt quite welcomed as the courtesy of the staff immediately was into effect.
I arrived to meet fellow Urbanspooners Twisted Chinaman Eats, KC Foore and Cowtown Chowhound with spouses. It was a great to see fellow foodies having a night out. After introductions, we started with the extensive menu for appetizers. We ended up ordering pita with different types of dips, calamari, and saganaki. As I have tried many Greek places in my course of travel, I have not seen saganaki prepared as delightful and expressive as Kefi. They made it exciting with flames adding the final touches to the dish. It was also very nicely done, the Kefalotiri cheese was tasteful and texture was moist with the hint of lemon standing out. Next, the calamari was served in a good sized portion and had flavours that I am still tasting. The calamari tasted fresh and was easy to eat. The dips with pita bread all were prepared with nice consistency and each of the flavours stood out individually. (refer to Twisted Chinaman Eats review for the names and details regarding the dips). So, appetizers took this experience to a new level.
Moving to the main dishes, three of us decided on separate dinners, while the other half decided on a family-style dining. I was one that ordered a separate dinner and took on a different take with an order of Kefi Halibut platter. Upon delivering of the dish, I quickly noticed how generous the portion was. The three components ( Halibut, Swiss Chard, and Rice) made it look complete. The halibut was top quality and tasted awesome, so tender the pieces flaked off as it should, and the simplicity of the recipe made it an enjoyable eating moment. Nothing too overpowering. The Swiss chard gave the dish a healthy approach and the rice had plenty of palatable components that made the whole main dish something for me to remember for a while.
The other dishes at the table all looked very well made and had their own Greek touch which you will read from other reviews of Twisted Chinaman Eats, K C Foore, and Cowtown Chowhound.
Almost forgot to mention the Greek coffee. It was very authentic and reminded me of the coffees I had in Greece. The coffee had the right strength and body and made it great to take in.
The meal completed with dessert and we were given a choice of Greek Vanilla Cake or Baklava. Vanilla cake was the winner at our table. It came nicely presented and tasted fabulous. The cake portion had a nice texture and was not too heavy to eat. The cream was not sweet but complimented the cake very well. Overall, a nice ending.
So, to finalize the Greek night out at Kefi, 5 stars and lots of kudos to the staff for all the courtesy, entertainment (oh yeah – forgot to mention there was plate breaking with authentic Greek music and dancing throughout the evening), tremendous knowledge, and professionalism in presenting the complete Greek spirit – KEFI.