From The Washington Post, December 21, 2021 at 8:00 a.m. EST
By Tom Sietsema, Food critic
Unrated during the pandemic
Aris Tsekouras never had to audition for the top cooking slot at the new Melina in North Bethesda. His bread, which he promoted on Instagram, did the job for him. One taste of the chef’s koulouri, or sesame sourdough, was sufficient proof of talent for the restaurateur who ended up hiring him at the modern Greek establishment.
“So much love into something simple,” says Dimitri Moshovitis, among the founders of Cava, the Mediterranean fast-casual brand. “This is the guy I want to run this restaurant.”
Melina joins Julii, an upscale French-Mediterranean restaurant, also from the Cava creators, in the high-end Pike & Rose complex. The fresh face borrows the name of Moshovitis’s 12-year-old daughter and honors the influence of matriarchs in the owners’ business, says Moshovitis, whose co-founders include Ted Xenohristos and Ike Grigoropoulos. Created in 2011, Cava has grown to more than 150 stores. Introduced in November, Melina is already one of the best restaurants to alight in Montgomery County in recent memory.
You can taste what I mean by asking for the tuna tataki. Slices of raw tuna are nothing new, but they seem novel when they’re fanned over a base of crumbled cauliflower jump-started with pickled mustard seeds, enlivened with lemon dressing and ringed with shimmering chive oil. A quick encounter with a blow torch gives the tuna a rosy complexion.
Raise your hand if you’ve seen beef tartare on a menu. Is that a sea of hands going up? No appetizer has had more exposure during the pandemic, partly because it’s a smart use of meat trimmings when restaurants are trying to be as frugal as possible. Melina rewards takers with raw beef shot through with minced pickled cabbage, pickled mustard seeds, cured lemon — ingredients associated with Greece’s beloved stuffed cabbage, but topped off here with a crisp rice cracker.
Octopus makes almost as many appearances on restaurant menus as beef tartare. The version at Melina is Greek to the extent the grilled seafood arrives with balsamic vinegar and fava bean puree, along with luscious caramelized onions. The elusive floral note wafting from the dish, which is brightened with a parsley emulsion enriched with the octopus-braising liquid, turns out to be vanilla, which the chef adds as contrast to the salinity of the centerpiece.
Read the rest of this stupendous review at https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/2021/12/10/melina-restaurant-review/
Melina. 905 Rose Ave., North Bethesda. 301-818-9090. melinagreek.com. Open for indoor dining 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Prices: Mezze $12 to $20, main courses $20 to $44. Sound check: 70 decibels/Conversation is easy. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restrooms.