Yamas brings a bit of Greece to Bethesda
The Greek language is economical (that word itself has Greek roots). Yasou means hello and goodbye. Yamas means cheers and to our health. So raise a glass and with a hearty "Yamas!" toast Tony Alexis, who restored Greek dining to Bethesda.
While cheerfully imparting a Greek lesson via phone, Alexis talks about seeking more job satisfaction and his return to the restaurant business after a 15-year absence. A relative had a space available in a Bethesda building he owned. And so Frascati's former home emerged three months ago as a Greek taverna.
Accommodating about 50 people, Yamas features wooden booths, a bar and fair weather patio seating. Along one wall a panorama links a hillside village with the shore below. A blackboard at the entry lists specials. Busy hands are visible toiling in the open kitchen on the left.
Fast, casual and healthy are the watchwords. Soups are made fresh daily. Avgolemono, the lemony chicken and orzo soup, "just like Yia Yia (grandma) makes," is a perennial. Lentil and bean soups rotate.
Alexis is proud of serving antibiotic-free, grass-fed meat and antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken.
"We are very demanding of our vendors," he says. "It's part of our signature concept to serve the kind of food we would feed our family."
The meat for the grass-fed burgers is ground in-house. The eponymous Yamas buger is unique; it is a lamb burger with feta and tzatziki (yogurt sauce).
The house-made gyros, or "yeeros," as he says, are 70 percent natural beef, 30 percent lamb. They don't just show up as sandwiches. A gyro platter, a special one night, is a full meal salad, meat, basmati rice and two sauces, tzatzaki and sun-dried tomato.
The natural, grain-fed chicken, marinated overnight in lemon, olive oil, basil, oregano and red wine, meets a happy end on the rotisserie. Platters range from a quarter chicken to the whole bird with one, two or no side dishes. A choice of one dipping sauce comes with the order.
Our succulent bird (a half chicken) is a generous portion, enough for a second meal. Roasted vegetables are a welcome side dish. The Opa fries, potatoes fried in olive oil and topped with feta cheese, are a delicious discovery. Tzatzaki is the sauce offered. We would have preferred skordalia, a garlic sauce with more punch, but we weren't asked.
The Taverna mezze menu consists of small plates like the typically Greek lemon-kissed marinated octopus, zucchini fritters, falafel and house-made dips such as hummos (chickpeas), tzatziki, baba ghanoush (eggplant), taramosalata (fish roe) and wonderful pita. These plates are also available after 10 p.m. in the bar. Others, such as calamari fried in olive oil, are served from 4 to 10 p.m. in the dining room. Mezze selections go well with drinks. A full bar is available.
I can't resist making a meal of small plates and the Frixos platter fills the bill. The feast includes spanakopita, a savory spinach-feta filo pastry; lokaniko, fennel-accented Greek sausage grilled with lemon, and paidakia, perfectly grilled lamb chops.
Specials like pastitsio, the tasty Greek answer to lasagna, topped with bechamel sauce; moussaka (baked eggplant, meat and bechamel), and keftedes (Greek meatballs) are available all day.
Salads, small and large, stand on their own or become a meal with add-ons like chicken, gyro or falafel. Unusual combinations sometimes turn up, such as the mixed salad that has greens with banana peppers, beets, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, cranberries and croutons.
A mug of steaming Greek coffee is the perfect companion for a slice of galaktoboureko, a custard-filled Greek filo pastry or a nutty, not too sweet piece of baklava.
Happy Hour, or Happy Ora, is 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, and karaoke time is from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays.
Whether it is a quick lunch, a hearty dinner or a late-night mezze, Yamas aims to please.
Yamas Mediterranean Grill
4806 Rugby Ave., Bethesda
301-312-8384, fax 240-235-4205
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun. noon-11 p.m.
Style of cuisine: Greek
Credit cards: All major cards