kristianstad revisited

For some altogether unknown reason, my earlier post about Kristianstad’s restaurants has been honored by the greatest amount of hits on this blog – 141 altogether (while, for instance, the delicious chicken thighs with tomatoes only caught forty-something hits). Time for a sequel: last weekend I was back. However, because of a lack of time and of social obligations of the “stick to the gang” kind, I never found my way into Modesto, as promised, which was sad for me but good for my purse.

What I can offer instead is a review of the Greek restaurant Den Lilla Tavernan, which is a well worked-in meeting place of the musicians who are trying to fill their stomachs after rehearsals in the big church. Why? Because it is five steps away from the church, it is cozy and the food is affordable and astonishingly good.

We were lucky and got a table for four on a Saturday evening, which is an almost impossible thing. I ordered Dolmadakia as an entrée, a plate with various grilled items as the main course and a glass of retsina. The Taverna’s cooking is plain but sincere. The dolmas, rice-filled wine leaves, tasted perhaps just a hint too bland – I would have used somewhat more oil, mint and salt in the filling (and a touch of garlic), but then again, who am I when it comes to Greek traditional cooking (I should add that I do, in fact, make my own dolmas at home).

Their Tsatsiki was fresh and delicious; the quality of the garlic impeccable (not at all a given thing at the end of March in a country of the North). The charcoal-grilled lamb chop was superb: perfectly done and perfectly salted and spiced. The solitary grilled oval meatball was no more and no less than what it looked like: meatballs are meant to be simple and satisfactory food even in Greece. The Souvlaki were nicely spiced and tough, but to be kind, I’ve never had any that weren’t.

All this came together with salad and slices of potato, fried to a golden brown. The potatoes were somewhat limp, which tells me that the kitchen prepares a huge pile ahead of time and adds them to all the dishes throughout the evening. Not my favorite method, but their taste was good enough.

The Taverna serves great olives, not those cardboard placebos as known from other mid-price Mediterranean restaurants. They do serve a heap of red onion rings on top of the salad like everyone else, but to my happy surprise these had been soaked in salt water and tasted pleasantly mellow.

The lettuce itself was, on the other hand, just the same watery disgrace as in any ordinary lunch restaurant. The soggy and dripping green snippets reminded me of the Amsterdam zoo, where the sea cow is incessantly munching lettuce heads that someone, at regular intervals, tosses right into the muddy-green water which is the sea-cow’s home. The pre-booked Saturday guests of a charming mid-town restaurant are no sea cows; they don’t die if they don’t get lettuce all the time and if someone offers them lettuce nevertheless, they don’t appreciate if it floats. Dry lettuce is a matter of 30 seconds of spinning; one really doesn’t have to serve lettuce soup, unless one needs to satisfy some hidden urge to punish one’s guests.

If you’re not someone who requires a carefully designed plate of food, featuring sticky sauce doodles, heaps of watercress and fresh thyme, shaved Parmesan, splashes of balsamic vinegar and roasted pine nuts together with half the food of an ordinary meal, you will appreciate the Taverna’s abstinence from silly food decorations, fake ingredients and postmodern re-inventions of traditional dishes. This place is a great reminder of what going to a restaurant means (lettuce notwithstanding). Here, you are paying for the food as it is, not for some dressed-up stand-in.

A note about the retsina, however: if you have a sensitive stomach (which I seem to have – which I didn’t know), take something else. There’s plenty of choice.

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