When he was looking for a chef for his modern Greek restaurant in North Bethesda, Dimitri Moshovitis, a founder of the fast-casual Cava chain, knew exactly who he wanted: Aris Tsekouras, whose koulouri, or sesame sourdough, reminded the restaurateur of the bread of his youth. “So much love into something so simple,” recalls Moshovitis.
Bread turns out to be just one of the chef’s talents at Melina, named for Moshovitis’s 12-year-old daughter. His beef tartare and grilled octopus are special, too. The former is raw beef shot through with minced pickled cabbage, pickled mustard seeds and cured lemon — ingredients associated with Greece’s traditional stuffed cabbage. The latter, brightened with a parsley puree, comes with an elusive floral note: vanilla, which the chef adds as a contrast to the salinity of the octopus. The chef thinks outside the forum with a skewer of grilled portobello mushrooms on smoked graviera cream — a meat-free souvlaki prettied up with grated cured egg yolk and newly rethought with farro and hazelnuts.
The meal that transports me to Sunday in Athens is the lamb neck. Plied with roasted red peppers, the feast is served in the folds of parchment paper with pinches of nutty kefalograviera cheese and trailed by side dishes including fried potato and pickled onions. The idea is to make your own gyros with the help of the accompanying oregano-freckled sourdough pita.
A lot of thought has gone into the restaurant, dressed with faux olive trees, roomy booths with mirrors at eye level and theater-length white curtains in the floor-to-ceiling windows. Kudos to whoever thought to stock the restrooms with changing tables — black ones, to match the walls.
905 Rose Ave., North Bethesda, Md. 301-818-9090. melinagreek.com. Open for indoor dining. Entrees, $20 to $44.