Mountainous, verdant, and the largest island of the Cyclades, Naxos makes many appearances in Greek mythology. According to various myths and tales, Zeus was raised in a cave on Naxos’s Mount Zas; Dionysus (Naxos’s protector) met and married Ariadne (daughter of King Minos) who’d been left there by Theseus (after she’d helped him kill the Minotaur and escape the Labyrinth); and Poseidon first saw his future wife, the sea nymph Amphitrite, dancing on Naxos, as he was cruising by on his sea chariot.
Steeped in culture, and topographically different from its better-known cousins, Mykonos and Santorini, Naxos was chosen by Bua Food Group’s Lou Abin as the namesake of his second restaurant, Naxos Taverna at Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa. An elevated Greek taverna that’s at once stylish and comfortable, done in bleached woods, and a mélange of ivories, off-whites, and ecrus, with a versatile private dining room, Naxos Taverna is a departure from the typical taverna.
In place of such Greek comfort food items as avgolemono soup, souvlaki, or the de rigueur gyros, your tastebuds will delight in Chef Mark Andelbradt’s spin on traditional Greek fare, wherein the Director of Culinary Operations has taken a bounty of Mediterranean seafood-based cuisine and presented it in a totally approachable way.
Allow me to elaborate, by describing a recent dinner, there, with my pal, Dawn. We began with a few small plates, dips, and salads [as seen in slides one through four, above], including the Zucchini & Eggplant Chips (with Tzatziki), Muhammara (with Freshly-baked Pita), the Greek Salad (with Pickled Onion and Marinated Feta), and the Charred Spanish Octopus (with Crushed Potatoes and Romesco).
I’m not one for zucchini or eggplant, but Dawn assured me that they were delicious, I did dip heavily into the tzatziki, though, and was quite taken with the addition of lemon, which was fantastic. The pita was delivered seemingly straight out of the oven and paired beautifully with the Muhammara, a zesty (but not overly spicy) Syrian dip made from red peppers, walnuts, bread crumbs, and pomegranate molasses. I haven’t had a lot of Muhammara, but this one was definitely worth taking home and using on anything dip-able in my fridge.
The Greek Salad was a clever take on the classic, in that there were heirloom tomatoes in three colors, the red onions had been pickled, and the feta had been marinated. All told one heckuva salad. I’m a huge fan of octopus (whether grilled, fried, charred, or sashimi), and this gorgeously prepared and presented dish did not disappoint. The texture that would’ve made Goldilocks shudder with glee (neither too firm nor too tender); it was seasoned just right (the Spanish romesco sauce of puréed tomatoes and roasted red peppers adding just the right amount of piquancy); and the two long tentacles were styled beautifully on the plate.
We followed these with our mains, for which we opted a Whole Cooked and Sea Salt Crusted Skorpino (aka Scorpion Fish), and the Pluma Iberico (with Green Schug). The tender meat of the scorpion fish is sweet (due in large part to their hifalutin diet of shrimp, crab, squid, and lobster), and was balanced beautifully by the flavors it absorbed from the sea salt crust. Then came the Pluma Iberico, which knocked my socks off! The pluma, or ‘feather’ cut of the Pata Negra—a thin strip found at the neck end of the pork loin, just above the shoulder blade—is considered the wagyu beef of porcine meats, due to its tenderness and juicy succulence. And drizzled in the Middle Eastern sauce of green peppers, spices, and olive oil, known as Schug; this dish bordered on the sublime.
Following our Mediterranean surf-and-turf, it was time for dessert, which found up opting for the Baklava Cheesecake and the house-made in Ricotta and Olive Oil FroYo with a Pistachio swirl. I don’t know how I’ve gone this long in life (fast approaching a half-century) without ever having had Baklava Cheesecake. It’d seem like a no-brainer. Fortunately, Chef Marc had the wherewithal to put the two together in his brain, because it isn’t just good, it’s marvelous! The honey and crushed pistachios mix with the cheesecake to form a flavor explosion on the tastebuds; while the scoop of Strawberry Sorbet on the side is light and adds just the right amount of balance. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cheesecake Factory begins serving Baklava Cheesecake within a week of one of their execs eating at Naxos Taverna. And that FroYo! Let me put it this way: I can think of no better idea than Naxos opening a Greek FroYo window somewhere at Red Rock (near the pool, perhaps), so guests can just walk up and get a cone or dish to go. It tastes incredible, it’s very refreshing, and it’s better for you than ice cream. Talk about food for thought!
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