The Gossiping Gourmet: Olive Pit chef has trained under some greats

October 19, 2011|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • Chef Yianni Koufodontis, owner of the Olive Pit Fresh Mediterranean Grill in Huntington Beach, left, with Ariel Ratajczak, a waitress at the restaurant.
Chef Yianni Koufodontis, owner of the Olive Pit Fresh… (STEVEN GEORGES,…)

What does a chef do after he has trained at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and worked under haute cuisine celebrities such as Daniel Boulud in New York and Wolfgang Puck in Beverly Hills?

If your name is Yianni Koufodontis, then you go back to your roots and open a restaurant spotlighting the cuisine closest to your heart — in this case, Mediterranean. Thus was born The Olive Pit Fresh Mediterranean Grill, first in Brea and then Huntington Beach.

This restaurant in a strip mall at the northern edge of Surf City has an outdoor patio, a floor to ceiling glass fronted dining room, plain ocher colored walls and an open ceiling with red rafters.

Even without knowing all this background, after eating there, you will know that someone very special is in the kitchen. In this simple and pleasant looking eatery, we were wowed by some of the best classic Greek dishes we've ever eaten.


What distinguishes Chef Yianni's cuisine (besides his great cooking) is his emphasis on healthy low-fat, low cholesterol and natural ingredients. For instance, we were delighted to see that the dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) were prepared with turkey instead of lamb, or you can have them vegetarian style.

We were even more delighted when we tasted them. They were simply the best ever, erasing the memory of all previous dolmades. The filling was an irresistible mixture of balanced flavors, tender meaty turkey, rice, pine nuts, currants and dill. Lifting them up yet another notch was a perfectly balanced and lightly sweetened lemon sauce.

Taking our taste buds on another trip was melitzanosalata, a smooth pureed eggplant dip flavored with walnuts, tahini paste and very good olive oil. An underlying subtle sweetness accompanied each bite while the tongue picked up different nuances reverberating like a good wine.

We eschewed the mundane pita bread and yummed it up with spoons. Once again Chef Yianni balances flavors beautifully. It seems to be his special talent that we continually appreciated throughout the meal.

Our eyes popped when our amiable server placed one prodigious spanakopita in front of us. The overstuffed triangle of pastry, measuring at least six inches on a side, was filled with a mildly-flavored spinach and feta cheese mixture. The flaky phyllo dough seemed to have a dozen perfectly browned crispy layers. We just wished that the filling had a little more zip.

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