“You may think the last thing this city needs is another Greek eatery. In fact, the words “Greek” and “restaurant” have become so synonymous that while my friend’s dad was eating a souvlaki on Parc recently, the owner of the establishment came up to him and said, “You’re Greek–what restaurant do you own?”
Nevertheless, five-month-old Lesvos has carved a welcome niche for itself in Montreal’s culinary landscape. Located east of Mont-Royal metro, its tiny facade overlooks a bustling area surprisingly devoid of Mediterranean cuisine. More importantly, it offers reasonable prices for the kind of refined tastes, pristine presentation and attentive service you’d expect from fancy-pants places like Milos or Ilios.
That said, the atmosphere is remarkably casual. The family who run Lesvos have a tough space to work with, but they’ve managed to transform a narrow room no bigger that a mid-sized apartment into a cozy hideaway for about a dozen tables. Dark blue walls shimmer with candlelight, a display case of market vegetables glows in the background and strains of ethnic music play at just the right level for conversation.
While you’re dipping slices of grilled bread into oil and balsamic vinegar, you’ll be presented with a platter of fresh fish to choose from. While deciding, we stared into the eyes of a striped bass, sea bass, porgy and red snapper ($22.50 for two people).
Next, we took a look at the mouth-watering selection of appetizers. The menu offers typical dips from skordalia, taramosalata and hummus to stuffed calamari, grilled lamb chops, chicken brochettes and flaming saganiki. If you want to try as many starters as possible, you can ask for half-orders of some selections.
An absolute must is the Tunisian grilled octopus. The melt-in-your-mouth morsels are served with Spanish onions, red peppers and capers, creating one of those memorable dishes that demand a return visit. It certainly rivals Philinos’ version, which until now was my favourite.
We also tried the dolmadakias, lemony vine leaves with a meatless rice-based stuffing. They were presented with spoonfuls of a perfectly garlicky tzatziki and the less-well-known but equally addictive kompanisti, a tangy orange mash of feta and roasted peppers. The Greek salad combines rough chunks of tomato, cucumbers, red and green peppers, a triangle of feta and a hot pepper for a mild but refreshing result.
When it came to the main course, we were asked when we would like the fish to be served and it arrived at exactly the specified time. The red snapper we had chosen came to the table deboned and butterflied, where it was served onto our plates with a garnish of endive, radiccio, lemon wedges and capers. Exquisitely cooked, it was proof that good grilled fish doesn’t need to be dressed up. The accompanying plates of rice and traditional fassolia (giant lima beans stewed in tomatoes) gave the meal a hearty homecooked feeling.
We finished with a tender and moist baklava, adorned with blood oranges and papaya. Like everything else we sampled, it was deliciously fresh and caringly presented.
If you’re willing to lay down a few bucks, this is a great date venue. The staff make you feel special and the food is filling but not sleep-inducing. A final suggestion for a romantic evening: be adventurous and try a half-litre of retsina. Although many people consider it the Pinesol of wines, I love the unusual flavour of this Greek specialty. Plus, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that a country that has mastered the cooking of garlic and fish is also responsible for creating this conveniently disguised mouthwash in a carafe.”Rating: **** out of ****
‘Hellenic heaven: Lesvos is the Greek fisherman’s catch of the day’
Sarah Musgrave, Montreal Mirror, May 18th, 2000