Saturday, August 7, 2010

PIA'S -- A QUALITY RESTAURANT WITH GREAT FOOD


Pia's Greek restaurant can be summed up  in one word:  quality.  Right off, I want you to know I am not Greek, and I have no extensive experience with Greek food.  Some of my friends are Greek, and I've tasted their Baklava, Pastitsio, Moussaka and Greek Lamb.  I've even made all of those at home with good results, thanks to my friends' recipes.  But I'm hardly a connoisseur of Greek cuisine.  What I am, though, is someone  who recognizes quality, and Pia's is quality.   


Four of us ate there recently, and all four of us have enough dining experience to know when a restaurant is cutting corners.  In the present economic environment, it's something I'm wary of.  There were no corners cut at Pia's.


We skipped  appetizers and went right to the entrees.  It's not that we didn't want appetizers.  It's just that we didn't want to be bringing home a ton of leftovers.

With our reasonably priced entrees came a basket of assorted warm buttered (with olive oil?) breads and a delightful house salad with fresh greens, chickpeas, red onion, tomato and cucumber. We all requested the house dressing (champagne vinaigrette) and started our first oohs and aahs, as we all were enthralled with the dressing.  We took turns trying to guess what was in it:  lots of parsley, a hint of lemon, olive oil, champagne vinegar, a bit of mustard and some honey?  It's anybody's guess because Pia is keeping the recipe a secret.  Sleuth that I am, I was determined to crack the code.  (A future post will be on champagne vinaigrette -- I think I've come close to cloning this fabulous dressing!) We talked about it for a solid week as I scoured New Bern to find the right champagne vinegar.  The dressing is so good, we each cleaned our cups of it -- we didn't care if the salad was gone, we just wanted more champagne vinaigrette!
House salad with champagne vinaigrette on the side (in cup at  top left)
My hubby and friend Danny both ordered the Danish Bleu Filet Mignon (a grilled 8-oz. Sterling Silver Filet Mignon  topped with Danish bleu cheese herb butter over roasted fingerling potatoes and chef's vegetable).  In case you don't know, Sterling Silver beef is premium aged beef -- high-quality stuff.  Fingerling potatoes are my hubby's fave -- also high quality.   Guy asked for his steak sans bleu cheese, and Danny asked for bleu cheese on the  side.  What can I say?  They're just not adventurous.  Both were happy with the thick-cut filet, though, stating in each case that it was cooked and seasoned perfectly.  Not only was it crazy tender, it had the wonderful flavor of aged beef, something that Guy especially appreciates, since we age our own beef at home.
Guy's filet mignon with fingerling potatoes and fresh veggies

Danny put his bleu cheese on top of his steak.

Joann ordered Asparagus-Bacon Alfredo, a special not on the menu, and was not disappointed.
I had Corfu Chicken and Shrimp Pasta (sauteed chicken tossed with artichoke hearts, baby spinach, wild mushrooms and Kalamata olives in a Greek tomato-garlic sauce served over angel hair pasta finished with grated Romano cheese).  It was not only delicious, it was two meals with lots of big shrimp and juicy plump chicken.
Who could possibly eat dessert after a meal like that?  Guy couldn't even finish his 8 oz. filet and took half of it home to cook with eggs the following morning.  I took home his veggies and half of my entree which became my dinner the following night.  Joann, though full, insisted she had to order baklava, since she is a fan of the sticky sweet dessert.  Baklava is one of those things I don't really appreciate and can live without.  The uber-sweetness and the mix of flavors has just never done anything for me, and I can pass on it with no problem.  But when the dish came to the table, the presentation alone made my mouth water.  Four little pieces of baklava, with fresh orange slices atop a nice mound of sweetened whipped cream, made me think I might still be hungry.  Then Joann gave the verdict:  "This is the best baklava I have ever had."  Joann is no slouch when it comes to food.  If she said it was that good, I had to taste it to see for myself.  My hubby, who hates baklava as much as I, also had to taste it.  The verdict was unanimous -- we are all converted devotees.  When we go back to Pia's for our next dinner, I will be ordering her baklava for dessert.  It's not uber-sweet like other baklavas.  Instead of honey, Pia uses orange juice in the syrup for a more natural flavor.  And in this baklava (as in all of Pia's dishes), the flavors blend perfectly.
What else can I say about Pia's?  The service matches the quality of her food.  Our water glasses never got down past half full.  Pia came to our table to see how everything was, and we had a delightful conversation with her.

The restaurant is small, but when you enter you sense that something is special here.

Something is very special indeed.  This is my new go-to restaurant, and my hubby agrees.  Amazing, since we've not been very easy to please in New Bern.  Most restaurants fail to meet our tough standards.  Either they give me a salad with brown ends on the lettuce and a dressing I don't like, or the entree has a poor-quality protein, or there isn't enough protein in the dish, or....  You get the point.  Pia's passed our test on every level, and I can't wait to go back.

Pia's is one of five area restaurants participating in the Art & Wine Festival August 26, 27 and 28.  A 4-course meal with wine pairing is available for the all-inclusive price of $55 per person.  Tickets may be purchased in person at the Convention Center or Craven  Arts Council & Gallery, or online at the festival website.

Please note that I have received no payments, discounts or free stuff for this review.  These are my opinions and were not influenced in any way by Pia's Restaurant.

UPDATE:  Chef Pia informed me today that, because of health reasons, the New Bern restaurant is closed.  Her recent heart attack has made it very difficult for her to commute daily from Greenville to run the restaurant.  Fortunately, she has another, larger restaurant, in Washington, NC, run by her husband.  We plan on going there soon to get more of her sumptuous food.   Her official website, which is under construction, has menus and background information on Chef Pia, and is worth a visit.

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