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Yanni’s Greek Taverna

Like lamb to a slaughter….

Most restaurants in town serve both lunch and dinner. And while at most of those places, the difference between the two meals is minor (the lunch menu missing only the most high-end steaks and chops, the most complicated entrees, the dinner menu slightly less cluttered with salads and sandwiches), at some it is huge. At Yanni's, for example, even though the only major discrepancy would seem to be the minor omission of one protein: the roast lamb.

Before, I'd always dropped by Yanni's for dinner, always early enough that I could be sure the two lamb dishes — the kokinitso (lamb rubbed with Aegean spices) and the arni me patates (rustic leg of lamb with roasted potatoes) — wouldn't be sold out. In good weather, Yanni Stavropoulous and his kitchen crew prepare that lamb on a large grill right in front of the restaurant, and you can smell it for miles away. I love that lamb, and I also love the feel of this restaurant at night — a rickety, crowded, loud and friendly joint, with two dining rooms and a small kitchen crammed in the back, the entire setup following the body lines of a classic neighborhood diner (which Greek restaurateurs also do really well). Though I generally frown upon any kind of forced interaction between customers and floor staff (waiters who sing, sushi bars that insist on making their cooks yell "Kanpai!!!" every time a customer walks through the door or knocks back a shot of sake), I don't mind all the shouts of "Opa!" at Yanni's, since most of them are attended either by the delivery of a plate of flaming saganaki or the pouring of complimentary shots of ouzo.

Two weeks ago, I finally made it to Yanni's for lunch. It was busy — the main dining room full of couples and families and businesspeople who'd materialized out of nowhere for gyros, lamb pitas and moussaka — but the service was friendly, cool and unruffled by the crowded floor, and the place seemed even more welcoming than it does at dinner. I ate avgolemono soup and slowly deconstructed the lamb pita in front of me, unfolding it and using the pita to pick up individual bites of last night's roasted lamb garnished with onions and tzatziki. It was delicious — delicious in the way that only great leftovers can be.

Still, it seemed somehow wrong to be sitting at Yanni's without having an entire leg of lamb in front of me, without having one of my favorite guilty-pleasure meals in the entire city. I consoled myself with saganaki and a couple of cold beers, regretting only that I couldn't hang out long enough to see the lunch menu roll over into dinner.

 
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