Yianni’s restaurant in Claremont serves authentic Greek cuisine with some notable American influences. I went to Yianni’s with a friend who recently returned from spending a semester in Greece, so I had a good gauge of how authentic the experience was.
We were pleasantly greeted when we entered the restaurant and were seated at a small table. The restaurant was dimly lit and candlelight flickered on the walls. Greek music also played and added to the believable ambiance created by the low lights and Greek artwork on the walls.
Our waiter promptly asked if we were ready to order. My friend Elisa recommended we start with a traditional Greek dish, tzatziki. It is a yogurt dish with cucumber, celery, olives and tomatoes. It was very light and flavorful and went perfectly with the pita bread that we ordered. The pita bread was also good enough to eat on its own; it was herby and had a great consistency. The other appetizer we had was saganaki. Saganaki is fried kasseri cheese. At first I was skeptical that it would be any better than any American cheese, but the flavor and texture were perfected through frying.
As we ate the impressive appetizers, we ordered our main courses. I ordered roasted lamb with vegetables and Elisa ordered dolmathes. Elisa mentioned that it was uncommon to find lamb on a menu during her stay in Greece. Dolmathes, on the other hand, is an authentic Greek dish consisting of grape leaves stuffed with ground beef, rice and herbs.
Main courses include Greek salad and soup; they came first. The Greek salad wasn’t so Greek. Classic Greek salad is cucumber, tomato, onion and feta cheese. This salad was mainly iceberg lettuce and oregano, but it still had the classic ingredients. The oregano completely took over any discernable flavor in the salad and I couldn’t eat more than two or three bites.
The soup was avgolemono soup, consisting of chicken broth, pasta, egg and lemon. The flavor wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t motivated to eat the soup; a few spoonfuls were enough. The soup paled in comparison to the saganaki and tzatziki, and I was disappointed to find it so lacking in flavor.
After not finishing the soup and salad, the main dishes came out. The portions were large and the presentation was good. My roast lamb came in a tomato sauce with zucchini, a potato, and tyropita, Greek cheese pie. The lamb was neither tender nor tough and lacked great flavor. The zucchini were sitting in the tomato sauce, but retained a good flavor and texture. The potato was peeled and well-cooked. My first bite of the tyropita was my last. It was unpleasantly soggy and had bad texture.
Elisa’s dolmathes were served with zucchini. The grape leaves were very strong, so I ate around them. The stuffing of ground beef, rice and herbs was good and made me regret ordering my roast lamb.
After the somewhat disappointing main course, baklava and a small glass of Maurodaphne were served. This was my first encounter with baklava, and I was thoroughly blown away. The rich flavor of honey, nuts and cinnamon took over my mouth, which had just been let down by the main courses. The baklava made up for the soup, salad and roast lamb. The flaky texture worked perfectly, and the only complaint I had was that the serving was so small.
Maurodaphne is a dark red sweet dessert wine. It went well with the baklava and ended the meal with style.
The dining experience started strong and ended strong, despite a weak midpoint. The bill came out to $55 with tax and tip for two people, which is moderately high for students on a college budget. The appetizers were $6.25 each and the main courses ranged from $14 to $15.
My recommendation is to go to Yianni’s for a light lunch of tzatziki, pita bread and baklava. Yianni’s also serves other great classics like gyros and spinach pie on filo dough.
Yianni’s is three miles down the street from the University in the Claremont village at 238 Yale Ave.
Eric Iberri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.