Ikaros, after all these years

December 04, 1997|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ikaros, the granddaddy of Greek restaurants in Baltimore, is alive and well in Highlandtown.

Owner Ted Kohilas opened Ikaros in 1969, and the restaurant is still going strong. Not much has changed since I visited four years ago. The rooms still sport crisp stuccoed walls, dark wood ceilings, oversized photos of life in Greece, white tablecloths and enough touches of blue to call to mind the Aegean. The menu has remained relatively untouched since my last visit, too.

Ikaros is, after all, a place of tradition, not cutting-edge innovation. Portions are large, and the dishes served are likely to show up on Sunday-dinner tables in Greek homes.

The lamb braised in wine and tomato sauce is a perfect example. The meat was tender and flavorful, falling from the bone after hours of slow cooking. It was served on an enormous platter, the meaty shank pieces nestled against overcooked crescent-shaped pasta in an uncomplicated sauce. The dish had a certain homey appeal, but not the kind of dazzle that would make us want to order it again.

We'd rather recommend the moussaka, made with lots of sharp cheese. Layered as usual on a bed of eggplant slices, this vegetarian version was so richly seasoned, we didn't miss the meat.

Crab-topped fish wrapped in phyllo sheets looked spectacular. But the enormous strudel-like roll was filled with a pasty crab imperial that overwhelmed fresh flounder fillets inside. It was served with green beans, simmered to softness in a tomato sauce, much like the one we had with the lamb.

Appetizers pleased us more. Plump grape leaves stuffed with a loose filling of beef and rice were moist and delicious, topped with a creamy lemon sauce. The cucumber and sour cream-based tzatziki was full of garlic punch, just as it had been when I first tasted it in the Greek islands. There, though, it was spread on dense, crusty bread, instead of the soft Italian variety we had at Ikaros.

Pureed eggplant salad, flavored with garlic and the sweet pungency of something that tasted like pickled relish, was terrific, too. It could have made Wonder Bread taste good.

If you're looking for interesting ethnic flavors, here's a suggestion: Skip the entrees altogether. Make a meal of a few appetizers and a large Greek salad with tomatoes, green peppers, olives and feta. Follow up with a tiny cup of Greek coffee and Ikaros' wonderful custard cake. This thick square of delicate pudding was the highlight of our meal. A dense rolled baklava and a kataifi, a pastry made with nuts, syrup and what looks like shredded wheat, tasted overly sweet in comparison.

For many people, the appeal of eating ethnic food comes from discovering something new. That's part of why we loved the eggplant salad and custard cake so much. They may be classics in Highlandtown, but before we tried them at Ikaros, they were Greek to us.

Ikaros

4805 Eastern Ave.

410-633-3750

Hours: Open for lunch and dinner every day except Tuesday

Credit cards: All major credit cards

Prices: Appetizers, $1.95-$4.95; entrees, $7.85-$14.95

Pub Date: 12/04/97

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