Ikaros (Oakland)

Ikaros Greek Restaurant (four visits)
3268 Grand Ave., Oakland CA
L/D Review Dates: Oct 2021 (2x) / Dec 2021 / February 2022

This well-established Greek restaurant was a fav of ours – not perfect, but one of the very few Greek restaurants in the EBay. It was reliable and affordable. We were sad to see it seemed to close during the long lockdown months. But not for long! When I checked the Web, we discovered that Ikaros had reopened. The new owners are George and Rochael. The interior has been brightened up with fresh paint with the center half-height partition removed. The staff is all new, but service remains quite good. Ikaros does a fair amount of take-out business at both L/D.

Although the menu is basically unchanged, a few new dishes have appeared. The change in chefs was obvious to us – the old favorites were not quite the same. Most of the changes are good ones, thankfully.

Grilled Octopus: A nice amount of well-grilled, tender octopus atop a spiced-up hummus. The hummus is tangy and zesty with an abundance of capers. It’s excellent dabbed on the thick slices of lightly toasted ciabatta, which are brushed with fruity Greek EVOO.

Fried Kalamari: Not the most attractive fried calamari – a rather muddy medium brown. But this was a very tasty version - seasoned but in a balanced and non-salty way. The batter coated the squid rings evenly, fried up crispy without drying the squid out, and didn’t fall off when you picked up a piece with your fork. The house aioli is more of a caper mayo, and was very similar to a tartar sauce without being called one.

Avgolemono Soupa: Unlike many versions, the chicken pieces are roughly chunked and very visible. Ikaros is more generous with the amount of chicken than most kitchens. My spouse orders this every time we come; he loves this soup. However, it’s not a true avgolemono as it is not thickened with egg. Eliminating the egg takes away the danger of the soup curdling.

Lamb and Pork Souvlakia: Skewers are priced by the number ordered; available ala carte or as regular plate with sides. Lunch cook overcooked the requested med-rare, but the dinner cook was right on-point. Ikaros is the only kebab place we know of that offers pork kabobs, which are very good. Despite what people think, pork is the most popular meat in Greece, not lamb. Rice pilaf tasted like brown rice, not our fav. Other options are cold orzo salad or steak fries.

Tzatziki: The yogurt seems to vary a bit. It’s thick and creamy, but sometimes is very mild (which Spouse likes) but sometimes is more sour (which he doesn’t but I’m fine with).

Flank Steak over Greek Salad with leafy greens: The photo looks yummy, but what I received was nothing like the photo. Greek salad usually doesn’t have any leafy greens at all. I was expecting a base of greens with a nice cupful of marinated raw veggies on top. What I received was a standard mixed green salad with (non-marinated) three modest wedges of different heirloom tomatoes, a few raw sliced cucumbers, and a very small spray of very thinly sliced red onions. No olives, hardly any feta, and dressing (which was good) was on the side in a small cup.

The flank steak was marinated in yogurt, which was good as it was more well-done than medium-rare. Left unmarinated it would have been like eating shoeleather, but as it was, it would have been acceptable – if the steak hadn’t been ice-cold from the refrigerator. The salad was fine if I’d wanted a regular green salad. But the flank steak was left in long, sloppy slices without being cut through all the way. This was visually unattractive, which makes me hope this was merely a kitchen slip-up. I would not recommend this dish if this is the way it’s usually presented to diners.

Pastitsio My first visit’s flank steak salad was disappointing. But I struck gold on visit 2 with this order of pastitio. I used to make this at home, being one of the best potluck casseroles. It’s similar enough to Italian-American food so even kids will try it, yet just different enough to be a nice change from the ever-present lasagne casserole. My version of pastitsio used a soft creamy custard topping, but Ikaros does a heartier version with a rich bechamel mixed with a hefty amount of manouri, the ricotta-like Greek fresh cheese. The base is penne pasta, cooked soft with a tomato-based, cinnamon-scented meat sauce.

The presentation is very clever: Ikaros uses the brown individual-sized pottery ramekins usually used for French onion soup. The creamy-topped ramekin is run under the broiler to give it an attractive bit of browning. It may not look large, but the bechamel makes it very filling. I brought half of it home.

Special: Whole Branzino, grilled, with mixed vegetable side: Branzino is the size and shape of a trout. Also similar is how the skin crisps up beautifully when pan-fried. At about 1.5-2 lbs., it makes a good meal for one person, or for 2-3 to share with a multi-course meal. This was well-executed, with tasty crispy skin and sweet juicy flesh. We shared this, and really enjoyed it. We would be happy to order this again.

Galaktoboureko: This non-standard version looks like a flattened eggroll, but inside the rectangular filo wrapping is a warm, delicate custard, slightly stabilized with soft cooked rice. Dusted with cinnamon, it’s lovely with a cup of black coffee. We don’t care for their iced tea or Greek coffees, sadly.

Summary: We’re happy to report that Ikaros seems to have settled quickly into a reliable, better than average eatery, and we hope the neighborhood supports it. The cooking has been updated and is that critical half-step higher than before. With easy parking and good service, it’s a great addition to our regular rotation.

Two lunches and two dinners, two people: with tax but without tip, $90–$120