By Pamela Schipper | Photography by Hilary Schwab
Louis Yiallouros is a man on a mission: to create a relaxed gathering place where sometimes far-flung neighbors can share great food any day of the week. His modus operandi? Mediterranean meze—dolmades, scallops, souvlakis, lamb kapama, asparagus ala plancha, artichoke bruschetta and more— all sized to share and guaranteed to stimulate both appetite and conversation. Select an assortment with friends! It’s just plain fun.
People seem to agree. At late lunch on a recent Tuesday afternoon, the aptly named Taste is busy. At least two-thirds of the 68 seats in the restaurant are taken. Casual diners sit, offset by the restaurant’s sophisticated vibe: burnt-umber paint and burnished wood, sconce lighting and delicately etched glass. Taste opened on Jan. 20 for dinner, but lunch is a more recent addition. Louis notes that a following has built quickly.
It’s hard to arrive at just one reason for Taste’s almost overnight popularity; the restaurant has so many strengths. They all come back to family, though— the Yiallouros family’s legacy in the kitchen and the restaurant business, and the care that restaurant staff shows to each diner who walks through the door.
“I grew up in Ashton,” Louis explains. “I’ve lived out here for 27 years. My father and mother opened up their first restaurant in 1971. My grandparents owned a restaurant on 15th and Eye streets [D.C.] in the ‘50s and ‘60s.” He pauses. “It’s in my blood. I really enjoy what I do.”
This Tuesday, Louis’ father George walks through the restaurant. A distinguished- looking older man with a lovely Greek accent, he hails from Cyprus . He opened Greek Boy next to the old Pike Theatre on Rockville Pike in 1971, and today his authentic Greek recipes inform the menu at Taste.
“My recipes are family recipes,” says Louis. “They came from my father and mother. My father’s from Cyprus, and my mother’s parents were from Cyprus.”
Our knowledgeable server, Danny Creedon, suggests the scallops. Jumbo and pan-seared with a wild mushroom risotto, they’re the restaurant’s biggest seller. It’s a dish that Louis is proud of, but not one that makes him much profit. “People can’t get that dish anywhere around here,” he says. “We use a porcini mushroom risotto, and porcinis cost you $30 a pound. My scallops cost me $2.25 a scallop. I sell for $15 bucks for three scallops. It costs me more than $8 to give a dish for $15.”
But he wouldn’t have it any other way. Serving consistently good dishes that are made from the freshest of ingredients is important to Louis. At the end of the day, after the new restaurant’s honeymoon period is over, people will come back for the food, he says.
Plates soon tile our table. My dining companions and I share many mezes: the hearty avgolemono, chicken soup with dill and orzo in a rich lemon broth; the artichoke bruschetta, grilled baby artichokes and pesto bruschetta topped with pecorino; the flavorful and delicate dolmades, vine leaves stuffed with rice and beef that are topped with avgolemono lemon sauce; the pan-seared fluke, both smoky and sweet with candied fennel; and the grilled lamb chops with ratatouille Provençal and Greek verde sauce. Each dish is different, and food for conversation. Danny, our server, points out that fennel is both herb and vegetable. Another talking point!
Time to Mix It Up
At dinner and beyond, camaraderie at Taste also builds around mixed drinks— fanciful martinis, mojitos, cosmos and sangria. “I was blessed with a true mixologist,” says Louis, “and he’s amazing. The essential thing is that he’s the only one who can really do it well here. No one can replicate his drinks, even by recipe. His name is Joey Tellier.” The wine list presents domestic and international wines, including—of course— a number of beloved Greek wines like the Cavala, 2009 (white) from Santorini, the Kir- Yianni Akakies (rose) from Xynomauro and the Averoff Katogi (red) from Metsova.
For all that, Louis says, “We don’t do happy hours. We don’t promote alcohol.” But he does feel that “you need to have that one night when you just have a good time.” On a recent Friday night, Taste brought in a D.J., pushed the tables back and offered dancing. “Women dance,” Louis says. “It was amazing. We stayed open until 1:30 a.m.”
And if some of his guests end up having a little too much fun? “These are my regular customers,” says Louis. “You need a ride home, you need something, we’ll give you a ride home, we’ll call you a cab… anything.”
That’s because his customers are like family. “Olney is a wonderful place,” says Louis, “very stable.” One gets the sense that Taste, with its sophisticated vibe, fresh food and warm heart, is just where it’s supposed to be.
Taste is located in the Olney Shopping Center, 3418 Olney-Laytonsville Road, Olney. The restaurant is open Monday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday from 12 to 10 p.m. Takeout is also available. For more information, call 301-774-2500 or visit www.tastemeze.com.
This story was published in the May/June 2011 issue of Montgomery Magazine.