Niko’s Restaurant-April 14, 2012

God bless Groupon. I have mentioned Living Social before….we’ve gotten a couple of deals there before….and Saturday’s trip to Niko’s was thanks in part to a $30 deal that we purchased for $15 through Groupon.

We’ve been to Niko’s once before, probably around 2007 or 2008, when it was still called “Niko’s Southside Grille” (the location used to be just Southside Grille, before it was bought by Niko). We really liked it, so I am not really certain why it took us this long to go back, but Groupon led us back.

We arrived at Niko’s at some time around 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon and were seated immediately. The only other diners were a couple of ladies a few tables down who left soon after we got there and a sizeable group of boisterous older people in an adjacent room. I immediately took note of the decor….dark walls, dark draperies, dark wood, dark floors. My kind of place. I think Philip and I missed our calling to be Goth people…or Emo…whatev. Anyway, it was the dark, dramatic look that I would love to have more of in my home, and I was impressed.

Since we had a fair amount of money to spend, I knew that I wanted to get an appetizer. We considered the broiled feta with olive oil, thyme, honey, and crushed pecans served with crostinis (dear heavens, I’ll be making that at home ASAP); the fried green tomatoes topped with prosciutto, spinach, and herbed goat cheese and roasted tomato vinaigrette; and the risotto balls-mozzarella rolled in arborio rice and panko crumbs and fried, served with marinara (and also known as arancini) before we settled on the spinach and cheese pies (spanakopita) with feta, romano, and kasseri cheeses wrapped in filo (phyllo) pastry. Now, these were amazingly delicious but not exactly what I was expecting…I was actually expecting the cheese and spinach to be together in the pastries, but two of the pastries were spinach and two were filled with cheese (which I’ve always known as tiropitakia….my friend Kathy, who is Greek, used to bring them to us at work from her parents’ restaurant). Truth be told, I think they should serve just the tiropitakia as an appetizer item! I could eat my weight in them. Amazing.

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We both decided on house salads, which is a pretty big deal because, while I am usually a house salad (if it’s a good house salad) kinda girl, Philip is definitely a Caesar kinda guy….but it’s hard to turn down sugared pecans, dried cranberries, and gorgonzola on mixed greens. Very, very hard. The only thing missing from this luscious salad was bacon. Oh well, you can’t have it all. I’ll tell you a secret, though. I ate my portion of the appetizer and every bite of this salad. Every bite. It had the perfect proportion of sweet cranberries, crunchy pecans, and pungent cheese with a perfect vinaigrette. We were also served a plate of warm focaccia “sticks” with a light dipping oil-light olive oil perhaps? Not positive. It had a very light flavor, so it could have been a combination of light olive oil and another vegetable oil.

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Now, I love pretty much anything served on a pita, and I contemplated the chicken souvlaki….I wanted to try the Greek fries (seasoned with oregano, cracked pepper, and sea salt and served with lemon and tzatziki-man, I love tzatziki). However, the porcini mushroom ravioli with red peppers, spinach, and a roasted red pepper-garlic cream sauce kept calling my name. I asked my server for a recommendation and didn’t even get my sentence all the way out before he told me I should definitely get the ravioli. Good call, sir, good call. The dark, rich mushroom filling of the ravioli played perfectly with the red pepper bite of the sauce, and the veggies were cooked perfectly, not too crispy but not soggy either. I’ll have to order the souvlaki at some point, but this was definitely the right decision.

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Philip decided on the chicken piccata, a grilled chicken breast with a light lemon butter and caper sauce, served on a bed of Riverview Farm grits with a side of sauteed spinach. I thought that grits were an interesting (in a good way!) choice instead of the “usual” rice, and these grits were creamy and delicious (and local!). The chicken had a nice grilled flavor, but perhaps crossed a tiny bit over the line between “perfectly cooked” and “slightly dry”. Not too much so-it was still very tasty-but a little bit. That’s a fine line, my friends. The lemony sauce was perfectly done. Philip said the spinach was, well…spinach. Here we go, people….I make a mean sauteed spinach, and he just didn’t think it was quite as well seasoned or as flavorful as mine. Not bad, though.

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Niko’s is one of the Chattanooga area restaurants that is really making an effort to feature locally grown/raised food. I applaud them for that, and hope that many others will follow suit. The food is delicious and fresh, and if you don’t care for Greek food, I assure you that you will find something on their menu that suits you. If you haven’t been, I encourage you to give Niko’s a chance!

Niko’s is located at 1400 Cowart Street, Chattanooga, TN 37408. You can call them at 423-266-6511. Visit their website, eatatnikos.com (but be aware that only their dinner menu is featured on the website) or “like” them on Facebook.

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