A few weeks back, we went to John’s XLNT Food as a compromise when we found our first choice, Athena Grill was not open on Saturday. We didn’t think it was “XLNT” at all. We had a chance to go to Athena Grill on a weeknight, so we took it.
The restaurant is located in a light-industrial area off of San Tomas Expressway in Santa Clara. We arrived at 7 pm and were seated right away. Our waitress brought out a basket of pita wedges and a plate of Taramosaláta, which is a mayonnaise-like dip made from bread, olive oil, and lemon juice.
The waitress comes back, and we ask if we can try another dip, the Meltizanosaláta, made from roasted eggplant, garlic, onions, parsley, roasted red pepper, herbs, vinegar, lemon, and olive oil. It is *wonderful*. If you spread on the Taramsalata first, then spread on some Meltizanosalata, the two complement each other
Annie ordered the lamb chops and I ordered one of the specials for the night (specials are written out on butcher paper, tacked up on the wall near the cash register), Kokkinisto (braised lamb shoulder in tomato sauce over pasta). Each entree comes with a choice of salads. Annie got the Horiatiki (tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, kalamata olives, feta cheese) salad and I got the house. The salads were quite large on their own. We were enjoying the pita and salads so much that we hardly had any room for the main courses.
Then my kokkinisto arrived. This dish was *huge*. But more than that, the lamb was so tender and flavorful.
Annie’s lamb chops entree was another huge dish. The lamb chops were amazing. Perfectly seasoned and grilled just right. The ragout on the left side was another surprise, alive with flavor. The fries on the right side, made from fresh-cut potatoes, were served with an addictive mayonnaise-kalamata olive dip.
We tried to savor as much of the dishes as we could, but we were quickly becoming full. Even with the law of diminishing returns in effect though, each bite of the lamb continued to elicit groans of delight.
We thought we couldn’t eat another bite, but the waitress tempted us with a peek at the dessert menu. Annie chose the Ekmek (layers of kataife pastry dough, chopped walnuts and almonds, peaches, vanilla custard, lemon zest and whipped cream). The first bite was a little strange, as the taste of cloves and cinnamon seemed to overwhelm. But with each successive bite, the tastes evened out until the entire pie was consumed.
When the waitress brought our bill, I had to chuckle. This meal was *so* much better than John’s XLNT, yet *so* much cheaper. The service was helpful, pleasant, attentive, and efficient. The atmosphere for dinner was quite comfortable. We are never going to John’s again.
We are going to be back here, for sure. And we’ll bring our friends who are big into lamb, especially prepared the Greek way. I look forward to introducing them to this restaurant. Though the wine list is kind of limited, they do allow you to bring your own bottle for $10 corkage.
1505 Space Park Drive
Santa Clara, CA
Open M-F 10:30 AM – 9 PM, CLOSED SAT, SUN, and HOLIDAYS