Small eatery, big flavors

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Entertainment,Alexandra Greeley

Tucked away in a small corner near Mount Vernon Square is an equally small kitchen, presided over by a young and enthusiastic Greek chef, Dimosthenis "Dimo" Koulouas. At the Tel'Veh Cafe & Wine Bar, this young man is charged with creating unusual, tempting small and main plates.

Although Koulouas was born in Silver Spring, he has spent most of his life with his family on the island of Lesbos in Greece, where he immediately blended in with his traditional Greek family and began absorbing Greek culture, especially the food. "In Greece," he said, "eating is a ceremony conducted all around the table. It is a must."

Honoring mealtime traditions, however, has been only part of his training. "I helped my mom cook," he said. "I was the youngest kid, and she would say, 'Grab this, grab that.' ... I want to grow up in the kitchen. I liked being in the kitchen."

If you go
Tel'Veh Cafe & Wine Bar
Where: 401 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Info: 202-758-2929; telvehdc.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 4:30 p.m. to midnight

After high school, Koulouas went to Greece to attend seminars held by world-class chefs. He was eventually hired to work for several of Greece's elite hotels, including the Athenaeum InterContinental and the Alkaios Hotel in Athens. Koulouas first became an executive chef when he was only 23. However, most of his family moved to the Washington area several years ago, and the young Koulouas followed along.

Answering an ad online, he was hired by D.C.'s Kellari restaurant, noted for its Greek and Mediterranean cuisine. "The manager loved me because I am Greek," he said. "Also because I had had experiences in hotel restaurants in Greece." Eventually, Koulouas became the restaurant's executive chef.

In this present job, Koulouas incorporates many Greek traditions but produces the dishes with classic French methods. "I like to experiment," he said of what may best be described as a kind of Greek fusion cooking. "I wake up in the morning and think, 'What will I cook today?' There is always something that motivates me." He may turn to his large cookbook collection, of which his favorite is Auguste Escoffier's "The Escoffier Cookbook."

Today, his relatives are proud of what he has achieved, but at first, some of them thought his career choice a bit strange. Fortunately for Koulouas and for his patrons, his sisters and his father encouraged him to follow the culinary path.

Q&A

What is your comfort food?

Cookies, my cookies, especially the peanut butter ones. I make a basic dough and throw in whatever is tasty and enjoy them with a cup of coffee or glass of milk.

Which is your favorite restaurant?

Niwano Hana in Rockville. For Greeks, sushi is really exotic. And of course, Agora.

What's in your fridge?

Because of my wife, I eat a lot of chicken and salads. Sometimes I sneak in seafood.

Which is your luckiest day?

The day I got married.

Which is your favorite basic ingredient?

Extra-virgin olive oil -- Greek.

Recipe

Lobster-Fennel Strudel With 3 Cheeses

Serves 4 as main course or 12 as appetizer

Strudel

1 cup chopped red onion

1 cup chopped scallions

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus 2 tablespoons for sauteing

14 ounces lobster meat, cut into half-inch cubes

1 piece fennel, shaved fine with mandoline

1/2 cup melted butter

8 pieces of phyllo dough (1 pound package of frozen dough)

Salt and pepper to taste

Sauce

1 shallot, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup white wine

1 quart heavy cream

3 ounces bleu cheese

3 ounces freshly grated Parmesan

3 ounces provolone cheese

1/2 cup chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Saute the onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil till soft and add the scallions; cook for 1 minute. In mixing bowl, put together lobster, fennel, onions, olive oil and season to taste.

Remove the phyllo dough from the box, unfold and cover with a damp towel. Place 1 sheet of phyllo on the work surface and brush lightly with melted butter. Repeat with the remaining sheets, brushing each with melted butter, stacking when done, being sure to keep the unbuttered phyllo covered.

Place the lobster mix on the nearest third of the phyllo stack, being sure to leave a 2-inch border. Gently lift the bottom edge of the phyllo stack to cover the filling and fold the side edges over. Continue to roll the stack away from you until the filling is completely sealed in and the seam is on the bottom. Place on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 25 minutes or till the phyllo turns golden. In the meantime, make the sauce by sauteing the shallot in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat until soft. Add the white wine and cook until reduced by half. Add the cream and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the cheeses, and stir gently until the cheeses have melted. Spoon some sauce on each plate, cut the strudel into 4 pieces, and place 1 piece into the middle of the sauce on each plate.

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Alexandra Greeley

Special to The Washington Examiner
The Washington Examiner