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A Taste of ‘Filoxenia’ in the Square

By Calla M. Bai, Contributing Writer

With a stunning glass exterior that seamlessly flows into Harvard’s new Smith Campus Center, Saloniki offers food and atmosphere fit for both the urban sophisticate and the culinary minimalist. This Greek restaurant opened on Oct. 3 and offers its customers a dining experience elevated by its beautiful space. The dining area elegantly integrates the urbanism of Cambridge with the charm of Greece. It feels spacious and open with its clean, white furnishings, abundance of natural light, and a ceiling decorated with fresh greenery.

The mission of Saloniki is to put a spotlight on the concept of “filoxenia” — the hospitality that Greece is so celebrated for. This focus comes through in their food, from the carefully designed presentation of dishes to the thoughtfulness behind the flavor. Nothing says “home-cooked” quite like a plate of simple, fresh food and the plates at Saloniki offer just that.

Saloniki offers a variety of different proteins, including but not limited to grilled lemon oregano chicken, Loukaniko pork sausage, and spicy lamb meatballs. The “Herc — which can come as either a pita or a plate and features braised, honey-garlic pulled pork — is a truly comforting option. Juicy and rich, the tasty pork is thoughtfully balanced by some sides that come with every pita and plate. The salad, dressed in a tart citrus dressing, refreshingly cuts through the richness of the meat. The spicy whipped feta dip offers a tangy, creamy respite from the fatty pork, and the classic fries and brown rice make for a mild palette cleanser between bites. To complete your Saloniki experience, I recommend washing it down with their house brewed Visino limeade, made with sour cherries and mint.

The unsung hero of the plates, however, is the house-made pita. As you enter the restaurant, you can see a cook tending to the fresh pita dough on the grill, and such a display is made all the more impressive when you take the first bite. It is unlike most other pita breads: It is notably thin, unusually crisp, and uniquely chewy. Mild enough to be the perfect vessel for the rest of the meal, yet flavorful enough to hold its own, the fresh-out-of-the-oven pita is an unquestionable display of “filoxenia."

Asides from their plates, Saloniki also offers souvlaki, salads, soups, and a broad array of small dishes. Their souvlaki is locally sourced, and is accompanied by Greek fries, tzatziki, sliced and seasoned veggies, and of course, a pile of pita. The lemon chicken souvlaki is particularly tasty, as the meat is tender and has a classic char-grilled flavor. The salads are refreshing, and can be made more substantial with the addition of meat. The Santorini has a particularly well balanced profile, as the playful sweetness of the strawberries meets its match with the saltiness of the feta. There is a plethora of side dishes, which makes the detail put into each one all the more impressive. The zucchini feta fritters are made from scratch, lovingly garnished with cilantro, and sit atop a smear of garlic yogurt. They have a delightfully crisp exterior and a rich and creamy interior.

And of course, no home cooked meal is complete without dessert. Saloniki’s sweets are full of subtlety. The baklava offers a nutty, sweet, salty crunch that can double as dessert and a snack: A drizzle of honey and a touch of cinnamon tie the thin, flaky layers of phyllo dough and the nutty mixture together. The almond cake is dense and crumbly, and saturated with a unique lemon syrup. Finally, the loukoumades (Greek donuts) are ever so slightly sweet, pillowy doughnuts that bring the utmost satisfaction. The customer can choose between a drizzle of honey and cinnamon dusting, a nutella variation, and a more healthy alternative of sour cherry, honey, and yogurt.

While the flavors are sophisticated, the ingredients are simple and whole. The service is similarly superb. At Saloniki, I was greeted by employees who were not only exceptionally friendly, but notably patient as I learned how to pronounce “loukoumades." Each offering beholds a trove of textures and flavors, making the harmony of each dish a display of excellence. Saloniki has managed to capture the spirit of “filoxenia,” bringing its diners an overwhelming sense of warmth and hospitality with each bite.

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