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06.2005

Massachusetts Beverage Business

archivedFeaturedArticles

Paul Delios

Article By: Fred Bouchard

PAUL DELLIOS • 4$ • Owner/Chef • Meze Estiatorio, Charlestown

PROFILE Paul Delios and Bill Galatis are upholding the Greek Revival in New England. The all-Greek menu at Meze Estiatorio - their stunning 24O seat dining room in City Square Charlestown overlooking the Zakim Bridge - is itself a symbol of the New Boston. It's not 'classic' Greek but demotiki - contemporary with international touches. Sommelier Foti Stamos' all-Greek wine list (with room for Greek-American offerings) neither bows to convention nor needs apologize to tastes. In a wry comparison of Delios (5'11") to a pillar of the Greek culinary renaissance, I asked, "Paul, to which order of Greek columns do you belong - Doric, Ionic or Corinthian?" After a moment, the burly chef grinned and responded: "Corinthian, because the acanthus leaves show artistry through the strength. Cuisine is nutritious but can also be a work of art."

ASSIMILATING FAST I grew up in this business as a kid. Like most Greek-Americans when they came over, my grandfather, uncle and father opened restaurants. In America, Greeks were a generation behind the Italians and two behind the Irish. Being self-conscious about their difficult language, they feared that Americans wouldn't accept their food. Tony's Spa, their Chelsea diner, served only American food. They'd serve what they knew from Greek cooking that Americans would eat: baked haddock, prime rib, roast chicken, rice, eggs and potatoes. When I was four, I'd wake up when my father got up at 2AM to go to work, so mom asked dad to take me with him. Dad and grandpa sat me on a bucket to peel boiled potatoes for home fries.

HIGH RISING My love affair with food began while working in my dad's bakeries - Mrs. Foster's in Lynn and Kane's Donuts in Saugus - though it was more chemistry than cuisine. I grew my apprenticeship with lots of old-timers into a catering business, Rosamarina's, through being vice-president of the Saugus Italian-American Club. I ran the kitchen at Gannon Golf Course in Lynn, then opened Paolo's Trattoria in Charlestown in 1999. When Bill Galatis and I met in 2OO2, we thought the time was ripe in Boston to open a restaurant featuring authentic Greek cuisine, with a contemporary approach. We tested nearly every dish on Meze's menu - moussaka, my grandmother's lamb shanks - first at Paolo's.

GREEK RENAISSANCE Greek immigrants were afraid of failure. At home, they survived two World Wars, decimation and subjugation under the Turks, occupation by the Germans, and their own Civil War. Then terrible governments: corrupt Communists followed by do-nothing Democrats. The Greeks, with poor funding and terrible marketing, exported whatever junk wines they produced. Now since the '8Os, Greece is undergoing a renaissance. Through European Union's open doors, Greeks now travel freely, experience Europe, find new ingredients to cook with, enjoy investments by the Germans, Italians and French. The economic upturn, the 2OO4 Olympics, and more aggressive marketing have positively affected the Greek wine industry. Wineries are hiring enologists from all over, planting more, and making great wines, like this (Gaia Estate) Agiorgitiko we're enjoying. They're finally getting overdue exposure.

BULL by the HORNS At Athens' food and wine show last year, I was knocked out by the universally high quality and variety of the foods, wines, displays. The Greeks are grabbing this bull by the horns! They're becoming adventuresome. Last time over, I remember we were standing amid the Temple of Zeus' 5O-foot columns in Nemea, looking up at the mountain and across at the ancient athletes' gymnasium, drinking straight Merlot planted by hand by winemaker George Polybos to blend with his reds - what a sweet moment!

SETTING the PACE Greek restaurants in New York - Molyvos, Milos, Avra - opened long before us, but never shared our staunch faith in Greek wines. Now they're watching what we do. When we announced going all Greek, it had a deep effect on importers. We get our wines from AKG Imports, Boutari's boutique wines from United, and Ruby Wines. Bob and Ted Rubin helped us broker an agreement to bring in wines we need through Americus in New York.

RECENT CONVERTS Greece's nine demarked growing regions stretch from north (mainly indigenous reds) thru the Peloponnese, to the islands, notably Crete (mainly whites). Greece has dozens of fine native varietals, like Moschofilero (crisp, racy, green-apple white) and St. George (aka Agiorgitiko, whose handling, soil and climate can make it light as rosre or deep as Merlot). With European Union funds, the wineries are buying new equipment, building facilities, hiring international enologists, and pressing for change.

THROW OUT the ROSIN Somebody - possibly (producer) Achaia-Clauss - made a bad mistake in the '5Os marketing retsina (dry white wine, strongly flavored with pine resin) to the USA as 'the wine of Greece'. Ancient Greeks used the resin to seal and preserve shipped amphoras and kegs. Fact is, it's one of the least consumed wines in Greece. Greeks typically drink deep, bold reds and refreshing, non-resinated whites.

The RIGHT GUY As we got close to opening, I told Bill that I knew continental wines - Italian, French, Spanish - but confessed I was not up to speed on Greece. He said, 'Well, I may have just the fellow.' Next day, I met Foti Stamos. Foti, who doubles as general manager, puts his heart and soul into his work: he eats, drinks, sleeps wine. He and I work very well together; he's constantly bringing new wines for Meze, and keeps us up to speed on new developments. He's proud to educate the world on man's most ancient varietals, still being made in Greece.

GREEK LIST Our first wine list had 9O Greek wines out of 15O, with 3O each Italian and American. Our idea was to stick with Greek wines and roots: the Italians were of ancient Primitivo line, the domestics by Greek-American vintners - Lolonis in Napa, Pindar and Duckwalk on Long Island. We ran Lolonis' entire line for a while, but we could not get Topolis. Then our staff sat down and took notes on every wine we tried: 6OO wines in 3 months - what a challenge! It made me respect winetasting as a demanding job! That list won a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. Our current regular list has 6O Greek wines, and - as we've build a name for ourselves among Greek vintners - were building a cellar and going after reserves.

WIDE RESERVES Our reserve list is a work-in-progress that is Foti's baby. (The list includes Greek-made international varietals, like Lazaridis' Cabernet Sauvignon and Domain Katsaros' Cab/Merlot, and Italian wines from ancient vines, like single-vineyard Aglianicos of Feudi di San Gregorio in Campania and Nero di Troia of Rivera in Puglia.) (Major producer) Boutari allocated 84 cases of their boutique portfolio for the East Coast; 42 cases went to New York and the other 42 came right here.

MAKING BIG WAVES The Greek renaissance is going on all across the country - Washington, DC, San Francisco, Atlanta. Even Chicago's Greektown, which is huge and serves up mainly old-school Greek 'soul food' (like spaghetti and meatball Italian), is upgrading both the cuisine and the wine list. It's kicking up to a higher level. And it started back at the source. I can name you restaurants around Athens - 48, Up On The Roof, Right & Left, Mets, Mamakos - where chefs are updating the cuisine markedly. Hilton Resorts asked Milos in New York to open in Athens, so they're importing American lobster and some California wines to give Greece a taste of America.

HOT REDS When they prove popular by the bottle, we sell them by the glass. Some are blends with French varietals to beef up marketing and flavors. I use Lolonis Zinfandel to sauce kondrafileto (sirloin); Anastazi's reserve blend goes in a sauce for paithakia (lamb chops). Sweet Mavrodaphne goes in a peppercorn sauce for brizola (tenderloin).

HOT WHITES Nasiakos Moschofilero, Heliopolis Assyrtiko. We do carry Champagne (Perrier Jouet) and domestic bubbly (Westport Rivers, Roederer Estate).

BEERS Alpha from Athens, Keo from Cyprus.

SPIRITS Ouzo in the creme brulee is our signature dessert. Ouzo also goes into Cretan tomato sauce for shrimp. I deglaze pan-fried saganaki cheese with lemon juice and Metaxa brandy. Barman Steve Tartaglia has a range of single-malts, tequilas, and vodkas; his drinks have Greek names. Steve's "Mykonos Martini" is Stoli Vanilla and fresh mint shaked with white grape juice.

LAST READ Sideways was truly one of the best movies I've seen. It showed the disfunctionality of men who are perceived as pillars of manhood. At the end of the day, men are just as messed up emotionally as women. I'm reading Melissa Layton Turner's amazing biography of Emeril Lagasse. He and I had similar lives: grew up in Massachusetts, watching bakers at work. He took a chance going into a seedy area of New Orleans after Commander's Palace and keyed its regentrification; I did something similar at Paolo's, livening up that end of Charlestown.

PHILOSOPHY Zorba the Greek! I live life as full as I can, in tune with my surroundings, and close as I can to nature. It sounds corny, but it brings peace to my soul.


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