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Nominated for: BEST Greek
You can learn a lot about Greece from the place mats at Desfina. Crowded onto each sheet of crinkly paper are a drawing of the Parthenon, a map of Greece, and a history lesson. "Western Civilization and Democracy were developed by the Ancient Greeks," it says. "Aristotle argued that the earth is round 1800 years before Columbus. Hippocrates was the father of Modern Medicine."
You can learn a lot about Greek food from this book I found in the library: The Foods of Greece, by an Athenian journalist. It's a wonderful coffee-table affair that paints a glowing picture of a cuisine of mint and feta and parsley, of roast lamb and eggs and seafood, of fresh cheese and hand-cracked green olives.
You can forget all that stuff, though, when you sit down to dinner at Desfina, a cozy little taverna offering authentic Greek cuisine, tucked behind the Cambridge courthouse. There are only two things you need to know here: one, Greek restaurant food bears only a slight resemblance to country cuisine. And two, at Desfina a man will come to your table and light a piece of cheese on fire.
It's true. Just when you think you've seen every novelty food in the book -- when you've had your fourth purple potato salad, your second ostrich fillet, your third fish-on-a-plank -- well, just then, along comes the waiter at a tiny Greek joint with a cigarette lighter and a slab of fried sheep's-milk cheese doused in 151-proof liquor, and whoof! You're a kid again. The blue fire dances around the plate. The edges of the cheese sear into a guilty pleasure, like the crusty bottom of a fondue pot. The old guys at the bar clap. Desfina isn't exactly going to revolutionize Greek cooking as it's understood in the United States of America, but boy, did it score with that cheese.
As always, there are exceptions. The flaming cheese ($5.95) is extinguished with several squeezes of a cut lemon; the juice adds to the natural zip of the sheep's-milk cheese, and the resulting puddle of lemon and oil makes great bread-mopping. Also profoundly unbland was the skordalia ($3.75), a very smooth dip that tasted so powerfully of raw garlic that the people at our table made a deal: everyone eats it, or no one does.