The best Greek restaurants tend to be holes-in-the-wall like Flagstaff’s Greek Islands – a glorified shack with cheap plastic chairs, a leaky patio roof and some of the tastiest gyro meat I’ve ever laid tongue on. Plastic ivy and tacky wall murals are commonplace at these skeevy little jewels, with gimmicky plate-breaking and shouts of “Opa!” to please tourists.
So The Ivy’s trendy, industrial-meets-Mediterranean décor comes as a bit of a shock, especially given the strip-mall banality of co-owner Christodoulos Komitis’ older, better-known eatery, Cyprus Grill. Not here. The lounge’s design is practically plucked from the pages of a luxury home and garden mag – envision concrete floors and open ductwork, sunny yellow walls, scrolled ironwork pendant lamps and a chic party room with cascading water wall. If The Ivy was personified as a Grecian goddess, she would be the beautiful yet substantive Athena.
Chef Komitis’ food is rich and expressive, the best dishes drawn from his Cyprus roots. Meats are prepared with care, and his tomato sauces would play in Palermo. Gyro meat is moist and well-seasoned, served with cool tzatziki on fluffy pita bread ($7) or jazzed up with peppery hot sauce and chicken breast in The Ivy club ($11). Crisp vegetables and tangy house-made dressing make Greek salad a more advisable side than the soggy, signature lemon-soaked fries, which despite their limpness are still pretty darn delicious. The flaky pastry and nutmeg-tinged spinach filling of the spanakopita ($9) appetizer stands out thanks to a generous application of creamy, herbaceous pesto.
Sail past the bland chicken and lime cilantro salad ($12), made edible only by liberal douses of a vinegary citrus dressing, and let your culinary compass lead you to flank steak ($24) and lamb skewers ($17). The latter is beautifully seasoned and charred to hold in the lean meat’s intense flavor and natural juices, and just a hair more delicious than the flank steak, served pretty and pink with spinach and roasted fingerlings. Both pair nicely with a glass of red wine or a sturdy cocktail with a good masculine/feminine balance, like the Oak-Soaked Peach with Colorado whiskey, Montenegro and peach schnapps ($9).
The Ivy’s seafood dishes are stunning. Mussels with robust soppressata ($14) comes in a dark, luxuriant tomato sauce, the mollusks assuming a velvety texture that takes second place only to melt-in-your-mouth Chilean sea bass ($33). Oft-mushy eggplant – the bane of many-a-picky-child’s existence – firms up nicely when breaded and served beneath plump shrimp piled with spicy marinara ($12). The sauce is chunky, slightly sweet and addictive enough to warrant sopping up with extra pita. It’s also great with the shrimp Santorini pasta ($13). Both the mussels and shrimp-eggplant combo are offered as starters, yet could easily be promoted to entrée status with added sides.
Not everything here would please the gods. Service is slow at peak times and a few dishes could use tweaking – but as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Beauteous surroundings, delectable gyro meat and seafood starters worthy of Olympus make it likely The Ivy will take root and grow into a Mediterranean must-try.
Contact: 1890 W. Germann Rd., Chandler, 480-699-6189, ivyaz.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
Highlights: Mussels with spicy soppressata ($14); shrimp and eggplant with spicy marinara ($12); The Ivy club ($11); spanakopita ($9); flank steak ($24); Chilean sea bass ($33); lamb skewers ($17); Oak-Soaked Peach cocktail ($9)
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