Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Review: My Big Fat Greek Restaurant, Scottsdale AZ

Something I recently noticed is that absolutely *nobody* on the Chowhound message board makes much mention of the local chain My Big Fat Greek Restaurant.  Maybe it's the cheesy name, maybe it's that they have enough locations around town to look like they've already gone national, maybe it's that they use sigmas in their signage so that the name actually reads "My Big Fat Grssk Restaurant".  Who knows.  All I knew was that I was getting hungry, and a couple of friends had just invited me along for the trip.  Who was I to refuse good company?

The decor of the restaurant is generic, with standard-issue laminate topped tables, silverware rolled in Aegean blue napkins (have I mentioned how much I despise rolled silver?  I'm coming to your restaurant to have you do the work, SET THE TABLE!) and a mural of a Greek village along one wall.  Don't look at the mural too long, you'll realize the artist had no idea how to do perspective drawing.  Or maybe they wanted to get the picture from lots of different viewpoints at once.  But I digress, this is about the food, not the art on the walls.  Perusing the menu, I noticed they had a decent number of classic Greek dishes such as spanakopita, moussaka, bacon cheeseburgers, BBQ chicken pizza, and fish & chips.  I'm used to seeing one or two out-of-left-field American items at ethnic restaurants to appease the poor fool who doesn't like eating interesting food but got dragged along anyway, but when well over a dozen items on the menu are American, it's time to start thinking about changing the name of the restaurant.  I also noticed a number of typos peppered about the menu, including a drink "fit for the GOD'S" (their capital lettering, not mine) and an "Agaen" wrap that I'm pretty sure was supposed to be Aegean, but instead was a clear lack of attention to detail all over Agaen.

We got things started off with a bunch of appetizers.  The first to arrive were dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and fried calamari.  The calamari was one of the better ones I've had.  The meat was for once succulent and tender, and the breading was light enough that it didn't overshadow the calamari.  The dolmades left something to be desired.  Four tiny dolmades came on the plate (they were the size of nigiri sushi, to give you a frame of reference) and were quickly devoured, mostly because there wasn't all that much on the plate.  These were... bland.  You could tell there was seasoning in there, but apparently downtown Scottsdalians are either frightened by proper levels of seasoning, or haven't realized yet that eating garlic on a date is taboo only if done by one person.  A moment later, the waiter arrives with our saganaki (kefalograviera cheese flamed tableside).  An "Opa!" from the staff and a quite impressive fireball later, we dug in.  This is one of those dishes that no matter what you do to it, it's exactly what you expect.  It's cheese, they set it on fire, what more could you ask?

We were almost done with the appetizers when out from the kitchen come our Greek salads.  We move our appetizer plates over to the side, and see in front of us a plate of Romaine lettuce topped with chopped tomato, feta, and green bell peppers.  The lettuce was glistening from the dressing, but the dressing just didn't taste like anything.  I searched the dish high and low for some kind of flavor at all, and all I got was a little sweet from the tomatoes and bite of the peppers.  The feta and dressing just sort of snuck around hoping that they wouldn't get noticed.

After a short wait which would have been unnoticeable had the waitstaff not rushed our salads out of the kitchen, our main courses arrived.  It would have been nice if the waitstaff had thought to clear the appetizer and salad plates before the mains came.  With their full hands, they ran into quite the traffic jam as we moved our first course plates off to adjacent empty tables so they could put our main course down.  My choice tonight was the Aegean Spaghetti, pasta with olive oil, garlic and a blend of mizithra, feta, and parmesan cheeses.  As far as pasta dishes go, this one was a disappointment.  The spaghetti was overcooked, the feta melted into a congealed blob at the bottom of the dish, and again everything was just bland, bland, bland.  There should have been the nuttiness of the mizithra, the sharp tang of the feta, but instead it might as well have been just noodles in olive oil.  I've had better versions of this dish at Old Spaghetti Factory, seriously.  It isn't that hard of a dish to make.  Everyone seemed halfway pleased with their dishes, but there certainly wasn't any rampant enthusiasm for any of the dishes on the table.

The dinner for four came out to about $96.  For what we got, it seemed like it was right where it should be.  However, there are much better choices for Greek food in town, namely just about any mom-n-pop joint you can think of.  My Big Fat Grssk, er, I mean, Greek Restaurant just glides along in its mediocrity, refusing to pay attention to the small details that would make it great, almost proud to be as dull and mainstream as any other chain restaurant out there.