My dear dining companion and I started with grilled octopus; although the chilled version of this appetizer sounded tempting, we opted to have it hot, served with lemon garlic sauce. Compared to other octopus I've eaten — the poached-for-sushi variety, exclusively — this mollusk was a revelation: robust, meaty and chewy, but not fishy, rubbery or dull.
For entrées, Brad had Fesenjan, an Iranian "special occasion dish" comprised of duck in a Persian sauce made of pomegranate and walnuts. I chose Samak al Sahara — spicy Lebanese-style fish with tahini, cilantro and cayenne. The heat of the latter almost overwhelmed the pleasant piquancy of the cilantro and the nutty warmth of the tahini, but luckily there was a mound of mashed potatoes close by to counter the spiciness. (And about those potatoes... that preparation isn't mentioned in the "Greek Side Dishes" section of the menu, but I've already decided my next visit to Dodiyós will involve only side dishes. I'm thinking sautéed wild greens, Greek peas and artichokes and "Gigantes," giant beans cooked plaki-style with onions and tomatoes, flavored with honey and mint.)
How we even had room for dessert I can't figure, but we finished with two sweet selections: crepes with Greek yogurt and fig preserves and chocolate karydopita, a chocolate-flavored and chocolate-drenched variation on traditional Greek walnut cake.
Sarris' partners in the new enterprise include Connie Kanakis, whose namesake restaurant was a Birmingham favorite for more than a decade; Dean Robb, former manager partner of Bottega; and the trio that owned Tria Market, Andy Virciglio and brothers Basim and Naseem Ajlouny. Sarris' inspirations for Dodiyós go back a lot further. The place is named for his mother, his father and his grandfather. The windows that face the patio feature posters where Sarris has put down his personal stories of them, which are reprinted in full below.
MY MOTHER made the best chicken with orzo when I was growing up in my small Greek village. First, she cut the chicken into eight pieces, making sure to keep some breast meat on the wings. She gathered fresh onions and garlic from the garden; she took olive oil from an urn in our kitchen. With these ingredients and some salt and black pepper, she braised the chicken until it was brown and the house smelled wonderful. Next, she added five chopped tomatoes to the pot, along with five tablespoons of tomato paste; enough water to cover the chicken; two bay leaves; and fresh thyme, mint and oregano. She slow-cooked everything for an hour; then she took the chicken out and added more water to the pot to cook the orzo. once the orzo was done, she put the chicken back in the pot and told us to wait because the food needed “to rest a bit.” But she wasn't finished just yet. She put a piece of chicken and some orzo into a bowl. She placed the bowl under her apron to cover it, and she took it to a very old man who didn't have family. he was the poorest among us poor in our vil- lage. I asked her once why she took food to someone else when she had five kids, two grandparents, and herself and my father to feed. her answer: “It means more to give something when you don't have enough for yourself.” When she came back from the old man's house, she spooned the remaining meal onto our plates, adding little shavings of homemade mizithra cheese.
I still make chicken with orzo exactly like my mother did—she makes sure I do it correctly. My mother is 84. her name is Theodoroula; in English this translates to Dorothy. So we start with “do.”
MY FATHER was a subsistence farmer. He has never been one to fuss too much about food—as long as it is fresh. He prefers simple dishes using just-picked ingredients from his garden. His specialty is an easy dish that can be a side, a salad or a main course, which is how we enjoyed it in our village when I was growing up. This is how he made it back then: He started with a large potato. He rubbed the potato with olive oil and sprinkled it with salt that was coarsely ground on our village's communal grinding stone. He then cooked the potato in the ashes and coals of our fireplace for about 40 minutes. Next, he took the potato out of the coals and rinsed it off a bit. Then he cut it into pieces, drizzled it with olive oil, and sprinkled it with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Finally, depending upon the time of year, he sliced a green, red or white onion into the mixture and tossed it a little. I promise you, there is no better-tasting potato on this earth.
Today, my father still helps out in my restaurants—yes, with the potatoes! He is 88. His Greek name is Konstadinos; English-speaking friends call him Dinos. Hence, the “di.”
MY GRANDFATER passed away on January 30th of 1958. It was very cold and snowing in our mountain village the day we buried him. I was 7 years old, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Here's a happier memory: his delicious Greek salad. During wheat-harvesting time, my grandfather was always the one to make it. After cutting the wheat from their fields, people brought it to a central location for threshing. They used threshing boards—long, wooden planks studded with small stones from the fields—that were pulled behind donkeys or horses. Always, we children liked to ride the threshing boards around and around over the wheat. Meanwhile, my grandfather was under a nearby mulberry tree making his salad. First, he cut fresh tomatoes into a large bowl. (I still remember his hands and his knife.) Before slicing the cucumbers, he took part of the peel off—leaving dark green strips in place. He cut an onion into medium slices and added these to the bowl. Then he sprinkled the salad with coarse salt and black pepper. Next—and this was my favorite part—he took a sprig of dry oregano and rubbed it between his hands over the salad. Finally, he drizzled olive oil (harvested from our own trees) over it all and told us to wait 30 minutes until the tomatoes released all their juices, and we could dip our bread into it as we ate.
I miss my grandfather very much, and I still make Greek salad like he did. My beloved grandfather's name was Yorgos; it's how we Greeks say George. That is where “yós” comes from.
IT IS THE CUSTOM in our culture to name our children after our parents and grandparents. I have a daughter named Dorothy; I have a son named Dinos and another named Yorgos. I hope they continue to live up to these names we've given them—names that, to me, symbolize perseverance, a hard-work ethic, kindness and love.
I guess I chose the name dodiyós for this restaurant because I want it to be a true family place. But also, I saw this as an opportunity to honor the people who made me who I am today and my children who enrich my life every day. dodiyós is much more than simply a name. It represents generations of taste.
Dodiyós is located at 1831 28th Place South, Suite #110, in Homewood's SoHo Square. The restaurant includes a market that opens at 9 a.m.; dining hours are Mon-Thurs 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri-Sat 10:30 a.m.-1o p.m. and Sun 9 a.m.-3 p.m. To make reservations, call (205) 453-9300. Complete menus are online at http://dodiyos.com.