Mythos bistro had barely been open a week when I received the first e-mail about a "new Greek place in Cary you should check out." I've gotten several tips about the restaurant since December, and they all have two things in common: They refer to Mythos as a Greek restaurant, and they are, without exception, rave reviews.
Now that I've eaten there myself, I can happily count myself among the restaurant's ardent fan base. But I wouldn't exactly call Mythos Bistro a Greek restaurant.
Mind you, I can see how a person might get the impression that it is. The decor, from the entry archway's trellised grapevines to the fluted columns dividing the dining room from the cozy bar in the rear, practically shout "Greek restaurant." The owners, brothers Pete, Ike and Kosta Dalitsouris, are natives of Paleopanaya, a small village near Sparta -- where, they'll proudly tell you, their father still owns the olive grove that supplies the oil for Mythos Bistro. Executive chef Pete Dalitsouris already has earned a strong reputation as corporate chef of the restaurant group that owns, among others, Taverna Agora.
But, as anything more than a cursory glance at the menu reveals, Pete Dalitsouris clearly did not want to limit his offering to his native cuisine. Sure, the menu is liberally sprinkled with Greek terms. But for every "phyllo" and "octopodi," you'll also find a Spanish mariscos stew of fish and shellfish, an Italian risotto or a French lobster Provencal.
What's more, many dishes freely incorporate flavors and techniques from more than one cuisine. An appetizer listing called "phyllo," for instance, is a variation on the spanakopita theme that borrows Serrano ham from Spain to jazz up the traditional spinach-and-feta filling.
Greece returns the favor in bucaniera, a Spanish-inspired offering of steamed mussels whose tomato-studded citrus broth is spiked with Ouzo. The subtle licorice note of the Ouzo is an inspired foil for the shellfish, and the fact that it has precedent in the anise-flavored liquors that flavor shellfish dishes all around the Mediterranean is a convincing demonstration of the chef's expertise.
For further demonstrations, all you have to do is close your eyes and point to the menu. If your finger lands on calamari, you'll score tender, crackly crusted rings of fried squid served not with the usual marinara, but with a piquant tomato-chard coulis. If it points to the meze trio, you'll find yourself dipping warm flatbread crisps into caponata (a pomegranate-accented variation on the usual eggplant dip), htipiti (a blend of roasted red peppers and feta), and a refreshingly different tapenade of sun-dried tomatoes, figs, white beans and goat cheese. And if you select the Andaluza salad, you'll tuck into a citrus-dressed melange of spinach leaves, wine-poached shrimp and orange sections as sunny as the region in southern Spain for which the dish is named. Sweetbreads, pan-roasted with shallots, tomatoes and spinach and topped with a button of manouri cheese, also come close to the mark, though they aren't always trimmed as carefully as they ought to be.
Entrees are every bit as adventurous -- and as rewarding -- as the first course. As you might guess, you can't go wrong with lamb, whether you opt for grilled chops with a goat cheese gratin or slow-roasted lamb shank in a charred tomato-merlot sauce.
Fideoguada, a Greek-accented riff on the paella theme, substitutes an angel hair-fine Greek pasta called fideo for rice, tossed with a medley of seafood, chicken and andouille sausage in a saffron-scented broth. The dish was marred by overcooked chicken when I ordered it the first time, but I'd order it again in a heartbeat. That is, if I could resist the temptation of an encore performance of fruta del mar, which serves up a bounty of shellfish tossed with linguine in a garlicky lemon sauce.
And come to think of it, I still haven't had a chance to try the coffee-rubbed rib-eye, or the Serrano-stuffed chicken breast with a fig-Mavrodaphne wine sauce, or ...
What the heck, I guess I'll just have to close my eyes and point to the menu.
Greg Cox can be reached at email@example.com