Parakalo: Greek cuisine with a few twists

The bar-restaurant Parakalo (Greek for “you’re welcome”) is the place for chillin’ on the Boardwalk.

'Parakalo' (photo credit: AVIAD BAR NESS)
(photo credit: AVIAD BAR NESS)
There are a number of Greek restaurants in Tel Aviv, but to the best of my knowledge,  only one of them is on the beach. Parakalo (Greek for “you’re welcome”) is located on the stretch of boardwalk currently being extended from Charles Clore Park to the old city of Jaffa, and the restaurant’s sprawling outdoor seating area encompasses small tables suitable for an intimate dinner, large tables that can accommodate families and groups - and a lounge area with low tables surrounded by couches, ideally suited for sipping drinks while catching a cooling breeze blowing in from the Mediterranean. 
Parakalo boasts a full bar, with an interesting selection of that most distinctive of Greek spirits, ouzo. We chose to have our ouzo in the form of two of the restaurant’s four specialty cocktails (NIS 49): Corfu - ouzo with white vermouth, melon liqueur, elderflower syrup and tonic, garnished with a large sprig of basil -- and Mykonos, ouzo with passion fruit, ginger and lemon, garnished with fresh pineapple, mint and a thick cinnamon stick. The former was mellow and smooth, while the latter was fruity and refreshing.
The food menu at Parakalo comprises six sections: Cold Mezze (NIS 25-59, or five for NIS 79), Warm Mezze (NIS 32- 56), Pastries (NIS 44-56), Salads (NIS 39-44), Main courses (NIS 67-109) and Desserts (NIS 32-42). With a total of 17 mezze, three salads and three savory phyllo-dough pastries, there are plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians.
As is de rigueur at any Greek meal, we started with an array of mezze, accompanied by wedges of grilled Greek pita. The cold mezze we enjoyed the most were the beetroot with feta and garlic spread, a combination that neither I nor my dinner companion - who actually hails from Athens -- had ever encountered before; the taramasalata, rich creamy tarama (called in Israel Ikra, it is salted and cured roe of fish), with tiny shards of purple onion; and the potato salad, which was very light on the mayonnaise and heavy on the dill.
The long list of warm mezze presented us with many tempting choices; think of warm mezze as tapas, and it would be easy to make a complete meal out of a well-chosen few. We were surprised to see moussaka among them, since it is generally a more substantial and filling dish. And in that respect, the version here is no exception; nevertheless, this restaurant’s moussaka is different from the norm, as the beef was not ground but finely shredded, and the eggplant was barely discernible. Still, in its own way, the dish turned out to be rather satisfying.
Another classic Greek dish - spanakopita, or spinach pie -- is also different at Parakalo. In Greece, it is like a Borek (burekas) that can be eaten by hand; here, it is a large, round puff pastry filled with a creamy mixture that is half spinach and half cheese, requiring a knife and fork. It was very good indeed; and served with a complementary arugula salad, as well as large dollop of extremely garlicky tzatziki, it could easily pass muster as a main course.
Additional familiar Greek dishes - souvlaki and gyros - are to be found in the main course category; but at a seaside restaurant, we could not resist one of the two assorted seafood dishes in a sauce of lemon, butter, white wine, garlic and herbs. The generous portion of extremely fresh and perfectly cooked seafood was delicious, once we squirted a bit more fresh lemon juice into the mix.
Our very friendly and knowledgeable waitress did not hesitate when it came to recommending a dessert: the eponymous Parakalo baklava is nothing like the Arabic version; rather, it looks exactly like the round spinach pie -- layers of the most delicate phyllo pastry enveloping sweet cheese combined with a paste consisting of ground nuts. Served with fluffy whipped cream, it was an exceptional finish to a meal that had its share of pleasant surprises.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Not kosher.
Nahum Goldmann St. 6, Tel Aviv.
Tel. (052) 444-6225