A taste of Greece

Blue — Greek on Granite, a restaurant that opened this year at 5 Granite St., makes it easy to get a taste of Greece without having to leave Ashland.

I recently went there with a friend. We chose to sit inside to enjoy the blue decor. There is also street-side seating in front of the restaurant, as well as a secluded, fenced-in side patio with Mediterranean potted plants.

I chose the Greek sampler plate ($16) as the fastest way to get a taste of the array of dishes offered at the restaurant. My friend, who had been there before and already had a favorite dish, chose souvlaki ($16) — grilled marinated chicken, beef or falafel that comes with a pita, sautéed greens, pasta and a yogurt dipping sauce called tzatziki. She said although chicken has become ubiquitous and boring, Blue marinates it to give it a great, unique flavor.

When her dish came, she gave me some of the chicken to try. I agreed with her assessment about the flavor, and chalked the dish up as something I might order in the future.

Since I'm a novice when it comes to Greek cuisine, my sampler plate arrived crowded with mysteries. (Later, with the help of some Internet searching and a paper menu I brought home, I was able to piece together what I had eaten.) I ordered the sampler off a section of the menu near the appetizers, but this was definitely a full meal.

Spanakopita was made of spinach, feta and dill wrapped and baked in buttery, flaky phyllo dough. To me, anything that includes phyllo is wonderful, and this was no exception. The dolma, herbed rice stuffed in grape leaves, and falafel, little flash-fried golden brown balls of mashed chickpeas, were both tasty.

Then I tried the tzatziki, a dipping sauce made with Greek yogurt, cucumber, garlic and mint, and instantly regretted that I had eaten even one bite of the dolma and falafel without dipping it in the cool, spicy tzatziki.

The only thing from the sampler plate that I didn't care for was the pastitsio, layers of tubular pasta, lamb and beef congealed in a bland, creamy sauce.

The Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, feta cheese and kalamata olives provided a fresh, zingy counterpoint to the other items on the sampler plate.

I had heard that Blue offered retsina, a white wine flavored with pine resin. At least 2,000 years ago, Greeks began sealing porous wine vessels with pine resin to keep out oxygen. Even after airtight vessels were developed, the practice of flavoring wine with resin continued.

My fear was that the retsina would have a pitchy, turpentine flavor, so I asked my server about it. He quickly offered to bring me a small sample in a wine glass. It was actually a flavorful, drinkable wine — not too dry and not too sweet — with no turpentine smell or taste, so I ordered a glass ($6).

Unfortunately, my server forgot to bring me the wine until after I had finished my meal. He also forgot to bring my friend's appetizer of calamari ($11), flash-fried baby squid with some of that delicious tzatziki dipping sauce. He excelled at explaining the dishes and drinks and offering advice, but never checked in on us during our meal to see if anything was missing.

The highlight of the evening was the baklava ($6 alone or $9 a la mode), that traditional Greek dessert of phyllo layered with chopped nuts. This was the best I had ever eaten, with a hint of nutmeg and a sweet, clear sauce. I had it with my tardy glass of retsina, which was actually not a bad combination. Blue — Greek on Granite has joined my short list of places to go for exceptional desserts.

The restaurant is open every day from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Call 541-708-5150 for information and reservations.

Reach Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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