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CHEAP EATS

Newbury Street's Greek haven

Email|Print| Text size + By Sheryl Julian
May 13, 2004

The 22-year-old Steve's restaurant probably began its life in Back Bay at what some called "the other end" of Newbury Street -- where nothing much was going on. There were no chic shops anywhere near this Hereford Street location. All that has changed, and Steve's is sitting pretty amid the throngs of hip visitors to the neighborhood. Those visitors join the loyal neighbors, some of whom breakfast several times a week at Steve's and who turn to this dependable Greek place for kebabs and salads for lunch and dinner. Steve's has plans to open a new takeout-only location in the food court at Faneuil Hall Marketplace next month, so we decided to check in at the original restaurant to taste some of Steve's specialties.

We did a double take one night when we saw Nepal-born Prakash Gyawali at the register of this 52-seat bare-bones place. We recognized him from his perch behind the counter at Demos, the Greek restaurant in Watertown, where excellent kebabs fly off the grill faster than the speed of light. Like Steve's, Demos has its devotees; many think it's cheaper to eat at Demos than to eat at home. Within close proximity to Demos is Andros Diner in Belmont, which offers the best Greek salad and delectable dressing this side of Athens. Steve's, please take note.

With Gyawali at the register and kebabs on the menu, we thought Steve's might be at the level of Demos or Andros. Close, but not quite. Steve's does have some excellent offerings -- particularly in its homey baked dishes -- but some ordinary items, including the Greek salad, which comes with most meals, need more attention.

Steve's is named for Greek-born Steve Kourtidis, who opened this spot with his wife, Kipairisia. Kourtidis's daughter Natalia and another sister, Anastasia, work at the Lake View Pavilion in Foxboro, near Gillette Stadium, a banquet hall that the family also owns.

Two years ago, the Kourtidis family bought the building that Steve's occupies, which is one reason they can keep prices below $14 for an ample serving of seafood or meat with rice or fries and a salad. And that's saying something, especially on Newbury Street. Everything here is priced right, and if you choose carefully, you'll be pleased.

Avgolemono ($3.95), the Greek rice and chicken broth soup, was creamy and deliciously lemony. Dolmades stuffed with rice ($5.25) had tender grape leaves and a smooth, cool garlicky tzatziki for dipping. The octopus ($7.95) might have had taste if it had been seasoned before grilling. Appearing like a rosette on the plate, the taramosalata ($5.50), salted fish roe pureed with potato and olive oil, was a gem. The accompanying pita was stale, however, possibly the result of being left uncovered for too long.

But a plate of charcoal-grilled swordfish kebab ($12.95), which isn't easy to get right, was perfect. It was cut into large chunks and heaped on the plate with green bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions, beside white rice covered with a ladleful of tomato sauce. This is the house sauce; it's not light, so it masks the taste of the food. Chicken kebab ($10.45 on a plate; $6.25 in a sandwich), made with breast meat, wasn't as moist and succulent as the swordfish. The famous gyros ($9.25 on a plate; $5.25 in a sandwich), made from beef and lamb, had lots of flavor, but they, too, were drier than they should have been. More successful was the lamb kebab ($10.45 for a plate; $6.25 for a sandwich).

A dish called giovetsaki ($10.95), lamb shank pieces in tomato sauce with orzo pasta, was generous with tender meat, a good example of old-fashioned cooking. The roast lamb special ($11.95) offered a cut whose compressed texture resembled nothing I'd ever seen. Besides, it had no flavor. And the night of the lamb visit, our salads were covered with curds of feta so wet and tasteless that we had to ask if it was cottage cheese. An apologetic waitress brought new salads with slices of firm white cheese. Was this the difference between cheese from the bottom of the bucket and cheese from the top?

With the number of tourists coming through Faneuil Hall, Steve's is poised to do well in yet another top spot. That is, if someone learns not to use the sludge from the bottom of the feta bucket, to keep the pita bread covered, and to take care of a few other details.

STEVE'S AUTHENTIC GREEK CUISINE

Cuisine: Greek

Address: 316 Newbury St., Boston (Prudential)

Phone: 617-617-1817

Hours: Mon. - Sat. 7:30 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sat. brunch 7:30 a.m. - noon, Sun. 10 a.m. - 9:30 p.m., Sun. brunch 10 a.m. - 12:45 p.m.

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