Greek Independence Day is a national Greek holiday held on March 25th of every year. This year, it fell on a Monday, so for the first time in a while, Penn Gastronomy had a restaurant outing during the week (Thursday still counts as a weekend day; no classes on Friday) to Opa, a Greek restaurant on 13th and Sansom. What would make eight people trek all the way downtown on a Monday night? Certainly a five-course sampling (accompanied by wine pairings, for the truly adventurous among us) of delicious Greek food would.
The first course consisted of a selection of spreads, tzatziki, hummus, and melitzanosalata (eggplant), paired with a cold and spongy bread. It also came with bowls of pickled vegetables and a plate of olives and feta cheese. The vegetables had a crisp, though acidic, taste, so one was quite enough for me, and the olives and feta were great to pick on. However, the spreads were wonderful, especially when mixed together on a hunk of chilled bread. But as the last of the bread disappeared, I couldn’t help but feel as if something like a warm pita would have been a better match. And as soon as I had that thought, there came the waitress with a platter of toasted pita triangles, begging the question as to why we didn’t just start out with it.
Up until course three, one could say that the fare was similar to what we’ve experienced with Greek food before, and served as a compliment to the conversations that we were having, each of us getting to know the persons to our left, right, and across the table (though the Seniors generally knew each other). But the third course changed that a bit. Out came plates of fried calamari with a piquant red pepper harissa aioli dip, sprinkled with fried olives and green peppers, and wooden boards loaded with pots of mussels steamed in white wine with fennel, onion, and tomato, and bony grilled whole sardines drenched in olive oil with tomatoes and garlic confit. Wtih a diverse trio of seafood, everyone found something to rave about; I for one loved the sardines, mainly because I was willing to put in the effort and precision needed to separate the fillet from the tiny, prickly sardine skeleton.
For the first time during this meal, the fourth course gave us a each a choice of what to eat. One choice was a lamb and tomato stew served on top of orzo, and the other was salt cod served fried or baked with a smattering of garlic mashed potato. My decision was the lamb stew, and despite the deadening pangs my stomach was signaling to me, I finished most of the tender, perfectly fatty meat. As for the others, each felt that the cod was wayyyy too salty (I mean, you expect it to be salty, but not overpoweringly so).
Dessert was the fifth and final course, and consisted of baklava and loukoumades, honey-drizzled Greek beignets. Everyone’s appetite was petering out, so I was able to take home an untouched baklava with not much of a protest.