Part of the fun of dining at Nostos is tagging the celebrities — Maria Callas, Anthony Quinn — whose near-life-size photographs grace the chalk-white walls of the Greek restaurant in Vienna. Owner Peter Pagonis says the black-and-white images help explain the name of his restaurant, rooted in the Greek word for nostalgia, “the desire to go back to where you were born and raised.”
I’ve yet to check a trip to Greece off my wish list. In the meantime, Nostos delivers some of the sun and flavor I expect to see when I get there. A visit invariably starts with my favorite dip: fish roe, lemon juice and olive oil whipped into pink clouds and quickly dispatched with triangles of warm pita. The food engages the senses. Saganaki provides a floor show when a slab of fried cheese is splashed with brandy and set aflame at the table, and spanakopita sounds off with an audible crackle — and a shower of flaky pastry — when diners bite down on the spinach- and feta-filled phyllo packets. Eggplant layered with cinnamon-spiced ground beef and béchamel-topped potatoes makes for a comforting moussaka.
In the small-world department, the Nostos-branded red wine on the all-Greek list is produced by the former owner of Taverna Cretekou in Alexandria. Based on syrah and other grapes, Nostos makes a nice companion to the juicy grilled lamb chops.
Some dishes are more compelling than others, but the hospitality is consistently warm. Regulars, for instance, might be greeted with gratis swordfish skewers, which are otherwise $18 on the appetizer list, including a beet salad. (Pagonis jokes that recipients of the gift swear it’s better than the same version on the menu. “One is free,” he figures; “you pay for the other.”) While the restaurateur wants people to enjoy their meal, he says the best compliment is when departing guests tell him, “We had a good time.” Good times are ensured when lunch or dinner concludes with a nutty, gooey, raisin-laced pastry sandwiched with scoops of vanilla ice cream.
Since my last meal, Nostos reopened for lunch, Wednesday through Friday, and takeout is doubly improved: Not only do orders come with the option of curbside pickup, bottles of wine are available for half-price.