I didn't even know what was coming. I returned from Zenon Taverna's bathroom in the basement to learn that while I'd been gone, my companions TL, LB, and JL had ordered two sets of the meze for us all to share, one fish (psaromezedes, at $18.95 per person) and one meat (kypriaki mezedes, at $21.95 per person). Either meze requires a minimum of two people ordering it, so for the four of us this decision was perfect. According to TL—who had suggested Zenon Taverna after going there with a different group—we were in for a major Greek-style feast.
Both mezes come with a set of cold dips and appetizers; by combining the fish and the meat meze, we were able to check out the full arsenal. Both come with a fresh green Cyprus salad of romaine, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, feta cheese, olives, and caper leaves (on which I found sharp thorns!); scordalia, a garlicky, lemony potato dip; tarama, another lemony potato dip but with red caviar mixed in; a beet salad dressed with olive oil and vinegar; and a seafood salad with squid, crab, shrimp, and celery, again with olive oil and vinegar. The octopus salad—same as the previous but made solely with chunks of octopus—and the salad of boiled potatoes and green peppers dressed in olive oil and vinegar came out as part of the fish meze, and with the meat meze came tzantziki, a yogurt and cucumber dip; melitzanosalada, an eggplant dip; and a dish of tahini, a rich sesame dip.
Everything came out at once, along with a basket of assorted breads and warm strips of pita, and I felt immediately overwhelmed. There was too much to eat, too much to try! After a little while though, I began to see that most of the salads had been dressed the same way, in olive oil and vinegar (if you hadn't gathered that already from the descriptions above), and many of them were much too sour and acidic. I found myself gravitating towards the ones that weren't, such as the tzantziki and the melitzanosalada, or pairing the more acidic salads with tahini as a creamy antidote. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed myself immensely, but I definitely had to eat many of the dips and salads with something creamy and/or pita bread in order to alleviate the vinegar sting on my tongue.
We spent a while making our way though the cold appetizers, and then the hot dishes started coming out, seemingly also in a flood. Among the first to arrive was this beautiful plate of fried calamari, which was hot and crisp and just greasy enough. It was one of my favorites, and I'm glad there was plenty of it.
On the left, grilled halloumi, smoked pork loin, and chunks of "Cyprus sausage." On the right, the "Cyprus meatball." I liked the meatball the best; it was juicy and flavorful, almost like the filling of a Chinese pork dumpling, shaped into a log and dropped into the deep fryer. The grilled halloumi was good while hot but complete rubber once cold.
Souvlaki and sheftalia: the former, chunks of grilled pork; the latter, grilled pork meatballs. Again I found myself liking the meatballs the best—these weren't dissimilar to the ones above, though they were grilled instead of fried.
Char-grilled octopus, squid, and enormous shrimp; pieces of quail. The seafood dishes were good although a bit uniform in preparation and taste, and the quail was decent.
As with the halloumi, once the octopus and squid chunks cooled off, they turned pretty rubbery. The key with this meal is obviously to eat fast…an impossibility considering the rate at which the dishes arrived.
The last dish to come to our table was a platter of broiled salmon, broiled (unknown species) white fish, and stuffed mushrooms with crabmeat. The salmon tasted just a bit fishy and the other fish was overcooked, so after we sampled them the fillets went mostly untouched. And neither LB nor TL like mushrooms, so it was up to the ladies to polish them off, although both of the men tried some of the stuffing inside.
I had a good time with this meal, although more for the feeling of bounty and surprise (what's coming to the table next?) than for the food. While I liked many of the items that came out, others were a pass. It's a great way to try out a lot of different things at once, though, and it's fun to do with a group. For the price, it's not a bad deal for the experience.