Allen Pierleoni

Counter Culture: Lamb chops are tops at Yianni’s Greek restaurant

Lamb chops, grilled chicken and dolmas are served at Yianni’s Bar & Grill.
Lamb chops, grilled chicken and dolmas are served at Yianni’s Bar & Grill. apierleoni@sacbee.com

Someone around here mentioned Yianni’s Greek restaurant in Carmichael, prompting someone else to describe her experience there last October: “I was caught in Fellini’s ‘Satyricon,’” the 1969 movie about the infamous overindulgences in Emperor Nero’s Rome, based on ancient text.

She recalled that her evening there involved an overflow crowd of multigenerational customers, an enthusiastic belly dancer, a table of boisterous regulars, blaring music, group singing, a strobe light, karaoke and a disappearing waiter.

“I could tell there was something unusual going on,” she said.

Well, she just happened to be there on the inaugural Friday night of the new ownership, when Marko and wife Rania Tzikas hosted a party of sorts to celebrate their new-to-them restaurant. Previously, they’d owned Petra Greek restaurant in downtown Sacramento.

“That night was a lot of fun,” Marko Tzikas said by phone the other day. “It’s definitely a neighborhood place, so there were a lot of people there.”

Things have calmed down since then, but not by much. We counted 18 stools at the restaurant’s bar, the centerpiece of the main dining room. The building itself looks like a converted single-family house from the 1950s. We hear it was an A&W burger joint in the 1970s, complete with car hops. Sure, it’s dated, but in a charming way.

“Reservations are a must on Friday nights, especially in the winter, when (customers) are three-deep at the bar,” Marko cautioned. “We’re planning to open Sundays for the football season.” A belly dancer performs on Friday nights, and a whole lamb goes on a charcoal-fueled rotisserie grill in the parking lot every other Friday (as in tonight). “We give out small plates of it and don’t charge for them.”

Lunch pal Dino Rotas and I stopped by for some bites one day last week. For years, he has manned the gyro booth at the annual Greek Festival over Labor Day weekend, having grown up with Greek cuisine. During the Yianni’s meal he kept saying, “This tastes just like my mom used to make.”

The Tzikases have brought time-honored family recipes to the table, plus some from their five years at Petra. Too, Rania Tzikas “grew up in restaurants in Salt Lake City.”

We began with a bowl of OK clam chowder and a bowl of tasty porridge-like avgolemono soup, a blend of lemon-scented rice and shredded chicken in rich broth.

Next was a dip sampler (with warm, grilled pita bread) of tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber, garlic), skordalia (super-garlicky potato-bread-almond-olive oil spread), reddish-tinged feta cheese (fiery with Macedonian and jalapeño peppers) and garlicky-lemony hummus (pureed garbanzo beans, sesame paste, garlic, lemon juice). They didn’t last long.

The mixed grill arrived, a beautiful bounty of two well-seasoned grilled lamb chops (“I’m amazed at the quality of the meat,” Dino said); chicken souvliaki (marinated and grilled chunks of tender chicken); spanakopita (triangles of crispy filo dough stuffed with chopped spinach, feta and seasonings); a big chunk of luxurious pastitsio (a lasagna of seasoned ground beef and bechamel sauce); a cold vegetable and a warm beef dolma (stuffed grape leaf, though Dino mentioned his mom used cabbage); and a bruschetta of garlic toast, ripe tomato and mild feta.

We asked for baklava for dessert, that sweet ‘n’ crispy triangular pastry of layered filo, nuts and honey or sweet syrup. What arrived was a crunchy “baklava roll” stuffed with chopped walnuts and “honey syrup” and powdered with cinnamon. In size and appearance, it could have body-doubled for a super-size Chinese eggroll. In taste and texture, we were tempted to order a second.

Another lunch pal and I dropped by for dinner the following Thursday night, to double-check those marvelous lamb chops. As we waited for the order (eight chops on a bed of lemon rice, in need of tang), a server passed by bearing platters of massive veal chops in wild mushroom demi-glace, the nightly special that sold out pronto.

Turns out Thursday nights always feature something a bit different, Marko Tzikas said. “We’re a Greek-continental restaurant, so sometimes it’s beef Wellington, linguine with clams, escargot in the French style or oysters different ways,” he said. “We’ll do a steak Diane tableside if you want it.”

Pizza of the months

Because it’s seasonal, time is running out on one of Sacramento’s best pizzas.

The context: Each month, Roma Pizzeria II owner Maria Guerrera emails a newsletter that includes what’s upcoming on her ongoing Pizza of the Month program. It offers a changing, seasonal menu of unique thinner-crust pizzas “using ingredients that might be more unusual than what you’d find on a typical pizza menu.”

Instead of ending the run of the Pizza of the Month for July – the Heirloom Tomato and Pancetta Pizza – Guerrera decided to run it through August. That’s because of the stunning quality of the heirloom tomatoes she’s finding at farmers markets.

The e-newsletter goes on: “We start with a thinner-crust dough for a medium pizza. Then we add mozzarella and top it with a selection of heirloom tomatoes (these could include Brandywines, Cherokee Purples, Green Zebras or yellow Dagma’s Perfections). We then add pancetta, in the form of applewood-smoked bacon. When the pizza comes from the oven, we sprinkle on fresh arugula and basil.”

A lunch pal and I made a beeline to the restaurant and ordered the pizza ($22.50). It was a marvel of flavors and textures – chewy crust, crisp bacon, gooey cheese, sweet tomato, and bright herbal notes from the peppery arugula and fragrant basil.

On the way out we stopped at the open kitchen, where pots full of sauces quietly bubbled on oven burners. There, Guerrera stirred a steaming pot of pasta and took a minute to chat.

We remarked that Roma II recently turned 34. “Yes, we have customers who have been coming for many years,” Guerrera said. “They brought their children, and now their children are married and bring their own children.” Easy to see why.

Roma Pizzeria II, 8491 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; 916-383-9264, www.roma2pizza.com.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe

YIANNI’S BAR & GRILL

Where: 6628 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael

Hours: Lunch is 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; dinner is 4-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, though “most everything is served all day.” Happy hour is 4-6 p.m weekdays.

Food: 1/2

Ambiance:

How much: $$-$$$

INFORMATION: 916-482-0796, www.facebook.com

  Comments