One of the best new additions to Greektown in recent memory is the opening of the attractive Santorini Estiatorio, with a light and airy taverna-inspired interior and a menu that aims to offer more authentic Greek dishes and ingredients.
The restaurant is a boost to the neighborhood's dwindling Greek cultural and culinary identity, and it accomplishes co-owner Athina Pappas' goal of helping "preserve the Greekness of Greektown," as she puts it. The 220-seat restaurant replaces the club-like, contemporary Mosaic, which she closed last summer at the corner of Beaubien and Monroe.
Inside, the new Santorini -- named for one of the Greek islands -- features what designer John Janviriya calls a "rustic Greek island" look, with textural white walls, sea-blue wooden chairs and the stylized ribs of a boat hull resting on a divider between the dining room and bar. Stunning paintings of Greek island scenery by artist Blake Carmichael enhance the atmosphere and further establish Santorini as part of Greektown's next generation.
The menu features more American and Americanized dishes than I expected, including flaming cheese, two steaks, a hamburger and a chicken breast smothered in Gouda cheese. But the restaurant needs to please all kinds of guests, including former Mosaic customers and diners who expect certain dishes at Greek restaurants, Pappas says.
"That has been the challenge," she says. "While we are trying to introduce other items, people are more familiar with the things they've seen before," and those have to be on the menu.
Among the more authentically Greek dishes is a tender, marinated, grilled octopus tentacle served with grilled onions, balsamic reduction and olive oil ($12.50) -- a must-try appetizer, especially if you've never tasted octopus. (Remember, calamari once was unfamiliar, too.)
And there's a nice salty-sweet combination going on with the saganaki feta ($8), a hot appetizer of feta cheese wrapped in phyllo dough and covered with honey and sesame seeds.
Among entrées, I enjoyed the plump vegetarian grape leaves ($12) and the thick-cut grilled lamb chops (five for $32), although they were rarer than the medium-rare I ordered.
Our Greek server was charming, hospitable and helpful, and he obviously knew the menu and cuisine.
Pappas recalls that when she and her sister, Stella Pappas, opened Mosaic in 2005, Greektown had seven Greek restaurants; by the time Mosaic closed, four of them were gone.
"We realized the values and traditions of our culture were in danger of disappearing from Greektown. ... It's not necessarily like it was when we were little kids," Athina Pappas said. They also knew that visitors to the area still want Greek food. The new Santorini addresses both issues.
Open less than a month, the restaurant is still getting its feet on the ground, but it's clearly a spot you'll want to see the next time you're in the neighborhood.
And do try something you haven't ordered before; it could be your new favorite dish.
(501 Monroe; 313-962-9366. Reservations suggested. The website, opening soon with a full menu, is www.santorinidetroit.com.)