In Howard County — land of many chains — good locally owned restaurants easily stand out. But Xenia Greek Kouzina, the new restaurant nestled within a business park, would stand out regardless of its location.
For starters, the restaurant’s interior is gorgeous. The sleek glass accents throughout remind you of a hip Miami or Mediterranean restaurant. The neon blue lights and blue decor throughout are a nod to the restaurant’s Greek origins, as are the massive pictures of Greek cities, columned structures and all. The massive hanging glass instillation is stunning and reminiscent of artsy waves. With a mix of cozy booths and square tables, the restaurant’s warm interior makes you feel like you’re eating with family — a royal family, but family no less.
The culinary magic happens in large part because of head chef and partner Konstantinos “Kosta” Kontogiannis. The executive chef and Greek native is behind the robust menu filled with scrumptious Greek-inspired dishes with plenty of fine dining flair rarely seen outside of larger cities.
The staff goes out of their way to be attentive but not pushy. They’re knowledgeable without being condescending. The food is perfectly plated without being fussy.
In a word, the restaurant is perfect. That’s not something I say lightly. I’m extremely picky. I believe that when you’re spending hard-earned money for fine dining, it needs to be flawless to justify the bill. Xenia is most definitely worth it.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room. The restaurant feels similar to Ouzo Bay, the Atlas Restaurant Group-led Greek spot situated in tony Harbor East. Both restaurants feature sleek glass decor with blasts of blue neon lights. Each has a flashy fresh fish display in front of its kitchen. And each restaurant features a bold, big-city bar. Kontogiannis used to work for the Atlas Group before he worked at The Watergate Hotel.
Where the Xenia veers away from the Harbor East spot is in its menu, which is more extensive and impressive.
The pasta dishes are next level. Maybe it has to do with the fact that chef de cuisine Rich Sladek used to work a number of top restaurants, including Masseria, the Michelin-starred Italian restaurant in Washington, D.C., which is frequented by the Obamas.
The Thesauros Tou Aigaiou, a homemade squid ink pasta with a zesty three-tomato sauce, combined with large shrimp, tender littleneck clams and bouchot mussles, is a star in its own right. So is the Papdella Mekima, a flavorful slow-braised lamb with tomatoes, herbs graviera and holy basil atop pappardelle pasta. Even the orzo is basically made with voodoo. Its tomato and cream sauce blends well with the creamy risotto-like starch for a hearty side.
Vegetarian options extend beyond the bread service of soft, hot pita triangles.
The grilled vegetables, a side dish of marinated summer squashes, eggplant, baby peppers, charred brocollini and asparagus is a visually stunning mix of Crayola factory-colored veggies.
The lemon potatoes are also worth ordering. The small potatoes are perfectly cooked and have a slight crispy skin to go along with the lemon butter.
The summer vegetable pasta features roasted corn and summer vegetable pasta with mushrooms, aged graviera and Meyer lemon sauce. And there are also four hearty salads on the menu to satisfy the most discerning vegetarian.
The restaurant really kicks it into overdrive with its meat and fish offerings.
The whole fish — we ordered the popular bronzino — comes to the table head and tail on, deboned, filleted, peppered with capers and seasoned to perfection.
The beef filet is impeccably cooked and topped with a heavenly circle of bone marrow butter.
The lamb chops come in an offering of four and are beautifully plated with holy basil oil and a slightly sweet 25-year-old balsamic vinegar.
As for dessert, the coconut cream pie reminded me of paradise. In addition to being Instagram-worthy, the creamy, circular custard-like dessert wasn’t overly sweet and packed in coconut flavor. It was the perfect ending to a perfect meal.
It’s exciting to see a restaurant like Xenia Greek Kouzina pop up in Howard County and continue the recent momentum in fine dining here.