Few-frills Yanni’s Greek Grille fuses cuisine with solid results

I’ve written a lot during the past few years about how much I enjoy the experimental fusions popping up around the valley, involving Korean, Japanese or Indian flavors fused with elements of, usually, Mexican and Asian cuisines. So I had to smile when I saw spanakopita and kotopita spring rolls ($4.50 for two) on the menu of Yanni’s Greek Grille, a smallish spot in a strip mall on a quiet section of Las Vegas Boulevard South.

If you’re familiar with Greek food you know spanakopita usually is a layered dish with phyllo, spinach and feta as the main ingredients, and kotopita is much the same with some kind of meat (in this case chicken) and sometimes a vegetable (spinach here). And usually, the dishes are baked in large flat pans, and you’re served a square. The idea of putting it inside a spring roll-type wrapper intrigued me.

It turned out to be a pretty successful marriage, the wrapper actually being phyllo, it seemed, and baked, which meant there was no grease at all. The only problem was that the filling was bland in the extreme and needed onions or scallions or something to make it more interesting; the accompanying tzatziki just wasn’t enough.

Much better was the shawarma pita, part of a value meal with side dish ($11.25). I’d chosen hummus as the side and it was served with the spring rolls, accompanied by warm, puffy pita rounds. The hummus was a good one, a workmanlike base that gained depth from a float of fruity olive oil. The shawarma was deeply seasoned and the thickly shaved meat had crispy edges, as though it had been sauteed a bit after being cut from the spit, and was piled high, with just a bit of lettuce and a drizzle of a tahini-infused sauce.

The filet mignon kebab ($14.99) piqued our curiosity, especially at this price. It was a bit of a surprise, though a pleasant one: The meat was medium-rare as ordered, lightly seasoned so the beefy flavor predominated and characteristically tender. The orzo-rice pilaf on the side had more flavor than most thanks to adequate seasoning, but the Greek salad on the side was meh, in large part because it was mainly iceberg.

Service throughout was fine, but know that Yanni’s is a few-frills kind of place. We overheard an employee tell a customer they’d recently doubled in size, and it appears to have been primarily a counter-service spot before; they still do a lot of takeout, which may be why the dishes tended to come out more quickly than we would’ve really liked. There are a number of tables with chairs on the new side, the flatware in jars and napkins in piles. The requisite posters of Greece decorate the walls, as well as some painted accents in Greek blue.

But the expansion has apparently made way for entertainment; on a raised platform near the front were several traditional musical instruments and a poster announcing a weekend jazz event. Yanni’s isn’t a fancy place with an extensive menu, but a man we took to be the owner said beer and wine were coming soon. When the music cranks, we figure there will be a lot of people yelling “Opa!”

Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.com and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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