I’ve always had an affinity for Greek food, partially because of its similarly to Israeli cuisine: the fresh tomatoes, cukes, olives, fresh cheeses, grilled white fish from the sea, pita-like bread, herbs for dressings, and the passion of the hometown chef. This is certainly the case at Vas Kouzina, a year-old newcomer making inroads on the Roswell dining scene.
Vas is chef-owner Billy Liakakos, who oversees the bustling kitchen with authentic details, true to Greek cuisine, along with Jo-Anne, Vas’ wife of 21 years, who works the floor bringing details to diners who envision themselves in Santorini among the restaurant’s white and blue plastered décor. The fun doesn’t stop with the ambiance.
Vas Kouzina, which according to Vas has way exceeded its first-year expectations, is going to continue to soar because à la Pano Karatassos in the old days, Jo-Anne and Billy are on-site tending to customers, making sure diners know the history of what they are eating.
Our server said, “Be sure and order a whole fish because Billy will come to your table and debone it.” And that he did, separating and identifying the segments: cheeks, belly, body, etc. Decades ago, my own grandmother ate the tail, and my brother and our Eastern European Zayde fought over the head.
There were two fresh fish by the pound – the traditional Greek sea bass and the Gulf red snapper (rotating with what’s fresh). Both are around $25 per pound, and that night the option started at two pounds – a huge portion for two – with leftovers for two nights.
Manager Victoria Kasarhis, who learned from world class master chefs in Greece, prepares some of the desserts, including the pana cotta.
She shares with enthusiasm the origins of their sheep’s cheese, aperitifs, sour cherry preserves, rose petals, pistachios, figs, Greek honey. “Most everything here is imported, the cheese, the wine, the triple-strained yogurts. Be sure and try the ‘Gigandes,’ giant lima beans, which are stewed and marinated overnight in tomatoes, dill and herbs. … And we do amazing things with cauliflower. … One of our other signature dishes is the Greek potatoes. Note we do not use ‘saucy’ butter. …Vas emulsifies the lemon with oil to appear creamy.”
Vas chimes in, “My parents moved here with us from New York (1995). We all liked the change of seasons in Atlanta. Mom makes the baklava.
“I continue to try new things. I’m making 4-inch petite gyros, which have been a big hit. Since opening in June 2018, we see loyal customers from Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, all over.”
Here are some helpful tips to get the most out of the experience:
Parking: A totally stressful circling “jam up,” maybe just ‘cause it was a weekend. Park for free at the Roswell City Hall and walk a very short block.
Greek salad: We knew not to expect lettuce, but like the feta crumbled in the salad. Victoria laughed, “That’s an American style. Old Greek men like their feta as a huge solid wedge.”
A novel talking point: A caper berry is not to be confused with a caper. They are used to bring out the flavor in many Greek dishes. It’s olive-shaped and colored, but jammed with seeds, a briny flavor and served with the stem. It’s the fruit from the caper bush, and again, according to Victoria, “used to pop in more flavor and is stronger than an olive.”
Greek wines: Mouth-watering notes and flavors: plum, cinnamon, smoke, vanilla, clove, black cherry, chocolate, honeysuckle. I had the red Omicron Nemea at $8 a glass.
Also, we closed the meal with a very clear aperitif, made from the sap of an evergreen tree, produced only from Kios (Greek Island), which will clean anyone’s sinuses.
Dessert, or Glyka: Baklava, baklava cheesecake to go one step richer, and a chocolate log with brandy and walnuts, beautifully drizzled on a thin rectangular plate.
And, yes there was some plate breaking, but I’m not ‘fessing up to it.
Vas Kouzina at 942 Alpharetta St. has seating for 60 (some outdoors) and reservations are recommended. The restaurant at 942 Alpharetta Street is closed Mondays. Its sister restaurant is the traditional Diner Bakery Company in Kennesaw with a full menu, barista bar and huge wedges of dessert.