Sunday, May 24, 2015

Get Me To The Greek Mediterranean THROWDOWN: Opa! vs. Yiamas

There are two good Greek restaurants in Taipei: Opa! Greek Taverna, formerly in a fantastic space near Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall (now in the brightly-lit and utterly soulless ATT 4 Fun), and Yiamas Greek Taverna just off Anhe Road across from Far Eastern Shangri La Hotel (where Toast used to be - I'm sad that place closed, I liked their ceviche, but happy to be within walking distance of a Greek restaurant).

I want to review and rank these two places based on their actual food, but honestly, the food is about the same. A few notes:

Hummus: used to be fantastic at Opa!, now merely good. It is also good at Yiamas but my homemade hummus is still better. It was silkier at the old Opa!, but something has changed at the new one...mostly related to texture but it could use more of a kick generally. I'm wondering if locals didn't like the old recipe.

Lemon chicken: I haven't tried this at Yiamas yet but at Opa! it's as good as ever, and a huge serving.

Moussaka: Very good at both restaurants, but my husband says it was better when Opa! was still in its old location. It was like heaven, he said, and when we went to ATT 4 Fun, it was still good but had an air of microwave about it. Not surprising as they must have a much smaller kitchen.

Htipiti (or roasted red bell pepper and feta dip): excellent at both restaurants.

Lamb ribs: excellent at both restaurants. You get more lamb for your money at Yiamas, but the ribs at the old Opa! were more tender and less chewy. No idea how they are at the new Opa!

Desserts: more or less identical at both restaurants.

They are literally almost like two copies of each other. The menus are virtually identical and prices similar, to the point where I wonder if one didn't steal the other's. So you could really go to either and get a similar food experience.

This is where ambiance comes in. Opa! used to be in a neat space decorated with murals inspired by Grecian scenery. I happen to like street-level restaurants in atmospheric side lanes in bustling neighborhoods with vibrant street life. I am less a fan of large shopping malls (that is to say, I hate them, especially in Taiwan where the ceilings are low, the aisles are narrow, the teenyboppers walk around like they couldn't ever be in anyone's way, and the music is blasting and usually terrible). I also hate what they do to street life: walking down a lane crammed with boutiques, restaurants, cafes, tea shops and vendors is interesting. Walking by shopping malls, giant monolithic buildings and apartment complexes without street-level retail space is not interesting (even when they have street-level space it often lacks atmosphere and liveliness). For this reason Xinyi is my idea of Hell: wide roads full of cars and slow traffic lights racing between hulking shopping malls with almost nothing of interest going on at street level (I do not think the shops along the pedestrian walkways between the department store buildings are particularly interesting: I want to see local businesses, not Crocs and Krispy Kreme).

I do not like the mallification of Taipei.
I do not like it in any way.
I do not like it in a tree, I do not like it in Xinyi.
I do not like it on the road, I do not like it with a toad.
I do not like it in my hood, I do not like it, it's no good.

It's not just no good, it's destroying the city. If I wanted to flit between hideous monoliths crowded with teenagers playing terrible music, while the streets are dead to pedestrians, merely conveyances for cars and scooters, I'd have moved to fucking Beijing. YUCK.

And now Opa! is in one of those monstrosities. It is brightly lit, overly white, noisy and modern, and completely soulless. It sucks the joy out of the food. I didn't realize how much I valued being able to walk in from the street, open an actual door, maybe pass by a front garden with some plants or at least walk through a neighborhood with some liveliness to it to get to dinner in a comfortably lit, comfortably decorated space that isn't too hard-edged or bright and jarring...but I do care about these things.

Plus, if every restaurant is in a freakin' shopping mall, how are they going to have kitchens big enough to make quality food, and how are we supposed to enjoy eating outside on the few nice days we get in Taipei?

The Diner is in ATT 4 Fun too, though at least it has its own entrance. But I liked the Diner on Dunhua S. Road, where I had a shot at having brunch outsideand now it's closed, so I rarely go to the Diner anymore. (The one on Rui'an St. should still be there, but they once told me they didn't take reservations only for me to show up and be asked if I had a reservation, so screw them).

Anyway, enough of my rant. Yiamas is in a street-level space with moody lighting and a comfortable feel. It's not too bright, and it's not white at all. They have a full-sized, not mall-sized, kitchen. I don't feel like I'm a mannequin on display there, I feel like a person having a romantic birthday dinner with her husband. My glass of wine doesn't look like grape juice under the bright LEDs, it looks like delicious, murky wine. I want to eat the food there, because the atmosphere makes me want it.

So, in a head to head of the two Greek restaurants in Taipei...

Sorry Opa! - I really liked you once. Get a real location, not some ugly white box in a shopping mall, and I may like you again.

The match goes to Yiamas.

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