Local eats: Kokkari Estiatorio in San Francisco

So in case you haven’t read my “about me”, my parents have been chefs for the greater part of their lives, which is where I got my love of food. Since my parents are Korean immigrants, most people are surprised to learn that they ran their own fine dining dinner establishment, and my dad specializes in European influenced food. He especially loves Mediterranean flavors, and made a killer leg of lamb and spanakopita at the restaurant when I was a kid.

For his birthday, we decided to take him to Kokkari Estiatorio, an incredibly popular Greek restaurant in San Francisco. It’s one of those fancy dinner restaurants, and the space is absolutely gorgeous. The restaurant is actually pretty big, with three dining rooms, a full bar, and a private dining room downstairs.

We had to start with the spanakopita, and the highly recommended grilled octopus. The spanakopita got an enthusiastic thumbs up from Papa Lee, and the grilled octopus was super tender and flavored with lemon and olive oil.

You cannot go to a Greek restaurant and not order lamb. Kokkari has a lamb roasting on a spit in the front dining room, and it’s seasoned perfectly. Lamb has a very strong, gamey flavor, which is why alot of folks don’t like it. But if you season it liberally and add some nice spices and herbs, it’s absolutely delicious. The lamb at Kokkari wasn’t overly salted, and had a nice hint of lemon and fresh herbs.

Moussaka is another Greek staple. Imagine a casserole with layers of seasoned ground lamb, eggplant, potatoes, and bubbly béchamel on top.

Finally, you must get the grilled whole fish at Kokkari. They have different types of fish available, but sea bass is always the best choice. They’ll even debone the thing for you! The fish was super moist, with nice hints of the grill flavor and fresh herbs. That’s the thing I love about Mediterranean food, instead of being really heavy, the food is usually flavored with herbs, lemon juice, tomato, etc.

We were debating on whether to order dessert, and then I saw loukoumades on the menu and made an executive decision. Loukoumades are small Greek donuts, drizzled with honey, cinnamon, and some type of ground nut. I tried these first at last year’s Greek festival in Oakland and was automatically hooked. The donuts are not dense like American donuts, but instead they’re nice and puffy and light on the inside, while being super crisp on the outside. The honey gives it a subtle, sweet flavor. If you ever find these, you have to order them. You can thank me later.

Service was absolutely on point, and the atmosphere is nice and cozy. We had a wonderful birthday dinner for Papa Lee, and we all left happy and full.

Kokkari Estiatorio is located at 200 Jackson St., San Francisco, CA 94111. They are open for dinner Sunday-Thursday from 5:30 PM to 10:00 PM, and Friday-Saturday 5:30 PM to 11:00 PM. They are also open for lunch on weekdays from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM. Check out more at their website, www.kokkari.com


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