The now defunct Albuquerque Monthly magazine titled a May, 1995 article “Yanni Come Lately,” heralding the arrival of a new Greek restaurant on Nob Hill. More than a decade has elapsed since that article and Yanni’s Mediterranean continues to more than live up to the lofty accolades it has earned over the years. Yanni’s has been recognized by other national, regional and local publications for its outstanding cuisine. It has also earned the unwavering devotion of teeming masses who patronize the city’s best Mediterranean restaurant.
In 1998, Gourmet magazine named Yanni’s a restaurant of distinction in the Southwest. Southwest Airline’s Spirit magazine has also proclaimed it a great restaurant for Greek food. More recently, readers of the Alibi voted Yanni’s as the best Greek restaurant in Albuquerque as well as the city’s very best restaurant overall in 2009. Considering the vast improvements in the city’s restaurant landscape since Yanni’s launch a decade and a half ago as well as Albuquerque’s propensity for embracing the newest kids in the block, that’s a tremendous accomplishment for what is becoming one of the city’s venerable institutions.
In that time, more than Yanni’s reputation has grown. The restaurant now occupies much of a city block. Immediately adjacent to the restaurant is a swanky 75-seat Opa Bar in which the most popular libations are available for every occasion. The stylish bar offers the same lunch and dinner menu as the restaurant as well as an abbreviated happy hour menu which includes such non-Greek treasures as fish tacos with pico de gallo. A commodious banquet room with comfortable and private seating for up to 100 guests provides state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment as well as a special banquet menu.
Yanni’s Mediterranean is the brainchild of Nick Kapnison and his wife Chris Kapnison, veteran restaurateurs and successful entrepreneurs who have a keen grasp of what their dining patrons want–hearty portions of reasonably priced cuisine served in a pleasant milieu by an attentive wait staff. Their restaurant delivers!
The south-facing Yanni’s is at the heart of Nob Hill on Central Avenue. Its interior is awash in hues of azure, the shades and colors of the Aegean Sea. Sculpted plaster busts and verdant plants sit atop truncated Corinthian columns. The restaurant’s windows provide a panoramic view of the Nob Hill traffic and of the interesting shops that make this one of the city’s most diverse and interesting shopping districts.
Interestingly (and I’m certainly not complaining), the ratio of women to men always seems very high–or at least it has during the times we’ve visited. Feminine pulchritude may account, in part, for consistently pleasant dining experiences at Yanni’s, but it’s degustation of outstanding cuisine that brings us back.
While you’re pondering the expansive menu, Yanni’s starts you off with some of the best baked bread in town (courtesy of Fano’s Bakery, a local institution). It encapsulates all that is wonderful about the staff of life–a hard-crust surrounding a soft, yeasty bread. When dipped into mixture of virgin olive oil and herbs (including chile pequin seeds), the character of the bread really stands out. If you’re not careful, however, you can easily fill up on bread and still call it a great meal.
The mezathakia (appetizer) options are a veritable pantheon of prandial perfection (forgive the alliteration). The challenge is in deciding which appetizer(s) with which to start. If you favor simplicity instead of sophistication and sweet breath be damned, you can start off with Greek olives and feta cheese served with a generous amount of pita wedges. The fetid feta spreads easily on the warm pita which tempers the acrid and salty fromage. The olives are rich and briny. You won’t find any better in the city.
A more complex flavor-rich starter features goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted garlic served with pita wedges, a tasty triumvirate which spreads easily on the warm pita. The soft, easily spread goat cheese and its strong and pungent, but very pleasant flavor is an excellent foil for the sweet acidity of the sun-dried tomatoes and the eye-watering garlic. The resultant mix is absolutely delicious.
Still another tasty triumvirate features pita wedges with three easily spreadable dips: Tzatziki, a wonderfully refreshing spread made from yoghurt, garlic, and cucumbers; Skorthalia, a pureed garlic spread as pungent and eye-watering as freshly-cut onions;and Taramasalata, what some refer to as “poor man’s caviar” because it’s usually made from the salted and cured roe of either cod or carp. The three spreads are intensely flavored, nothing subtle about any of them.
Not surprisingly, Yanni’s serves the very best dolmathes (wonderfully seasoned beef and rice stuffed grape leaves) in town. Four of these wonderful treasures are served warm and drizzled with the whisper-thin tartness of Avgolemono sauce made with lemons. You can also opt for dolmathes served cold and vegetarian style.
Yanni’s saganaki, a dish of flaming Green Kaseri cheese is almost as much fun to see prepared tableside as it is to eat it. Alit courtesy of a common lighter and incendiary rum, the flames ascend toward the heavens, leaving blue and orange plume trails in their aromatic wake. Your well-trained attendant turns the cheese over with but a steak knife, manipulating the flames so they lick the cheese, imparting high heat through and through and with an evenness that ensures every bit of the cheese is flame-kissed.
Yanni’s appetizers are better than entrees at many other restaurants and you can easily make a meal of two or three of them, but you’ll want to partake of incomparably prepared main courses. The menu categorizes them into traditional Greek dinners; vegetarian entrees; steaks, chops and seafood; pastas; calzone and pizza. The specials of the day might fall into any one of these categories and are generally terrific.
The pastas are primo good! In fact, a daily special of Greek meatballs and fettuccine with marinara constitutes the very best spaghetti dish I’ve had in New Mexico. The meatballs were heavenly spiced and of divine texture, wholly unlike the sawdust meatballs served at many local Italian restaurants. It’s the entree I look for every time we visit Yanni’s, an entree which truly earns the sobriquet “special.” Perhaps that’s why the restaurant features it as a “special of the day” and not as a daily offering.
Another pasta entree, appropriately named Mediterranean Linguini, is a gem of a dish which includes Kalamata olives, fresh Roma tomatoes, artichoke hearts, capers, sweet basil, virgin olive oil and marinara. Talk about taste contrasts blending together to form something unbelievably wonderful. The linguini, a wider noodle than spaghetti, is prepared at a bit more than al dente while the other ingredients are fresh and delicious, all perfectly prepared.
Still another pasta entree that came from the daily specials list to capture my heart is a penne pasta dish with poached salmon, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes in a Cayenne cream sauce. The piquant creaminess of the Cayenne sauce and well-seasoned salmon tastes play well on each other’s contrasts. Salmon can be difficult to flavor and bad salmon is prone to “fishiness.” Not so under the skilled skillet of Yanni’s chef where the salmon has a fresh taste, almost as if caught in the wild. It is an absolutely perfect pasta dish!
A departure from pasta dishes to meat based entrees is like departing Paris for Rome. Both are wonderful in their own right and each is done very well at Yanni’s. The Greek style chicken entree is, like many entrees at Yanni’s, prolific enough for two people to share. It is comprised of a breast, leg, thigh and wing, all slow-roasted and flavored with lemon and flecked with garlic and oregano. The skin is crispy while the chicken is moist and delicious.
Partaking of Yanni’s bone-in pork chops is reminiscent of dining at a big city Chophouse where prime cuts of beef and pork are presented with pulchritudinous pork and beauteous beef clinging to a Flintstone sized bone. At Yanni’s, the pork chops are marinated in Greek oregano, lemon and garlic then grilled to perfection. These chops are moist and tender and at nearly an inch-thick, each and every morsel extricated easily from the bone is very satisfying. Accompanied by roasted red potatoes potatoes resplendent in olive oil and Greek seasonings and deliciously bitter spinach, this is a terrific entree.
Several lamb based entrees are prepared in traditional Greek style and all exemplify all that is great about lamb. Very little (if any) gaminess is ever found on Yanni’s lamb entrees, whether it be the lamb ragout, lamb chops or lamb shank. Greek “fast food” in the form of Yanni’s gyros is an absolutely delicious, perfectly seasoned amalgam of lamb and beef swimming in tzadziki sauce and stuffed into a warm pita bread pocket. There may be no better gyros anywhere in New Mexico.
Entrees are accompanied by your choice of soup or salad. For me, it’s a no-brainer. The Avgolemono, a chicken rice soup with lemon and egg is the very best I’ve had anywhere. Wholly unlike the sweet and sour soup you might find at a Chinese restaurant, it’s only mildly tart and blends tart and savory tastes in seemingly equal proportions. The Greek salad is certainly no consolation prize. Artistically constructed of Romaine lettuce, red onion, cucumber slices, tomato wedges and lots of fetid feta, it’s as good and fresh a Greek salad as you’ll find anywhere.
A wealth of dessert options (if you have room) will satiate the sweetest of teeth. From the traditional baklava to an inspired baklava sundae, Yanni’s has a dessert line-up with which no other Mediterranean restaurant can compete.
Our recent favorite is Galaktoboureko, a traditional Greek dessert made with a lemon-kissed custard in a crispy phyllo pastry shell. The custard is (gasp, forgive the blasphemy) as good (if not better) as the very best natillas we’ve had in New Mexico while the light pastry shell cuts into the richness just enough so you’re not overwhelmed. It is one of the best dessert options available in the city.
There are many reasons Yanni’s Mediterranean separates itself from the rest. Quite simply, it provides one of the Duke City’s very best dining experiences.
3109 E. Central
LATEST VISIT: 27 March 2010
# OF VISITS: 8
BEST BET: Souvlaki, Greek Chicken, Mediterranean Pasta, Galaktoboureko, Gyros, Pizza