Once in a great while there’s a restaurant that feeds guests more than good food, it also feeds their soul. That’s how I felt after a meal at Tyson’s beautiful Nostos restaurant.
When I asked owner Pete Pagonis the meaning of the name he explained, “Nostos is a Homeric word that means returning to your home. It describes Odysseus’ yearning to return to his homeland in The Odyssey. It’s the root word for nostalgia—nostos—it’s a sentimental longing for places and things you love.”
Lucky for his customers, Pete makes regular pilgrimages to his homeland where he uncovers new chefs assembling fresh spins on traditional Greek cuisine. He welcomes them into the Nostos kitchen and provides freedom to create new dishes. They employ the core ingredients of Greek cooking, but reimagine each dish, like Nostos’ deconstructed baklava for example—two slivers of puff pastry, filled with nuts, golden raisins, apples, apricots and frosty vanilla ice cream. Yes, it tastes as good as it sounds.
The Nostos décor is a soothing palate of white with grey stone, conjuring images of Greece’s breezy tavernas. But Nostos is chic, rather than folksy. Pagonis directs our attention to his collection of black and white photos from the 1960’s—people poised at various landmarks in Greece. We sat under a vintage photo of Elizabeth Taylor at the Parthenon. It was nice to have her join us for this authentic Hellenic meal.
As lovely as the restaurant is, the food is even more impressive. I was completely enamored with everything I tasted. But to begin, let me recommend you sample two extraordinary dishes. First under the Mezedes, or small plates, order the Melitzana Fournou. Any eggplant aficionado will be enchanted by this preparation of broiled eggplant, with feta, tomatoes, onion and mint. The ingredients sound mainstream, but the preparation renders it unique. As Pagonis says, “The Turks call this imam bayildi which means ‘The Priest Faints,’ but just about everyone does when they eat this.”
The other most memorable dish here is the char-grilled octopus. Pagonis says he sells as many orders of Htapodi as he sells coffee each day. I’m not surprised. It is reminiscent of octopus that is fresh from the sea, and barbequed by local fishermen at a Mediterranean seaport. This octopus is not chewy; instead it’s firm and lathered in olive oil and lemon on a bed of fresh arugula accompanied by fava bean puree for dipping.
My guests and I also enjoyed the slim disks of fried zucchini chips served with a generous helping of tzatziki—the batter is light, and the vegetables are just the right thickness. Nostos offers the Greek showstopper, Saganaki, or flaming cheese, which is flambéed tableside with brandy, transforming the soft kefalograviera cheese to form a crisp crust on the outside but remain creamy inside. Nostos’ spanakopita, crunchy phyllo pockets of spinach, feta and scallions, does not disappoint.
For your entree, consider the Arnaki Fournou, or lamb shank; braised in wine tomato sauce. The dark, rich meat easily shreds off the bone with a fork. It lies in a heaping portion of orzo with tomato sauce that could be a standalone dish by itself. Another authentic Greek entrée worth savoring is the Lavraki, or Branzino, a firm white fish served hot off the grill and deboned tableside. Some entrees include lemony roasted potatoes and silky green beans in a tangy tomato sauce.
Besides enjoying the unconventional baklava for dessert, I likewise adored the Galaktoboureko, golden semolina custard wrapped in phyllo and bathed in a scented honey and cinnamon syrup. This is a traditional Greek favorite, and the Nostos version is divine.
Nostos is romantic; the fine white table linens and impeccable service conjure the feeling of luxury. You could also go there for a first-class business lunch; the serene dining rooms are perfect for conducting meaningful conversation. Nostos accommodates families too, and has intimate rooms for private events. Yet, the restaurant is especially perfect for groups of friends who enjoy sharing small plates and sampling from the wide selection of Greek wines and spirits. Nostos is truly welcoming to everyone, and as the name says, you will long to return.
Nostos is located across from Tysons Mall on 8100 Boone Boulevard, Vienna. For hours and reservations call 703-760-0692 or visit www.nostosrestaurant.com.