A yin to the yang

Yianni’s Bar & Grill

6628 Fair Oaks Blvd.
Carmichael, CA 95608

(916) 482-0796

Don’t judge a restaurant by its exterior. Sure, Yianni’s Bar & Grill looks like some hoary San Francisco or South Shore haunt, whose bedraggled white sunporch—where the imposing, white-haired owner often holds court—seems several decades overdue for a facelift or five.

But the regulars couldn’t care less. Yianni’s neighbors along this aging stretch of Carmichael are primarily auto shops and thrift stores. To label Yianni’s curb appeal as underwhelming is an understatement. Yianni’s looks to be the yin to the yang of Ambience, the ever-so-highfalutin’ eatery a couple of blocks away.

But enter Yianni’s main dining room and feel the rush Dorothy must have experienced stepping off Aunt Em’s porch into the Technicolor Land of Oz. Warm polished wood wainscoting lines the walls. A large, L-shaped bar, also of polished wood, dominates the interior, its capacious polished wood storage space filled with spirits. There’s a reason “bar” gets first billing ahead of “grill.” If Yianni isn’t a tip-off, the varieties of high-end ouzo behind lock and key positively shouts “Greek served here.” And indeed it is, at both the bar and the smattering of tables and the trio of booths that fill the rest of the space.

This food is prepared by Gerry, just as it has been for more than a decade. Gerry is of Irish descent, says Nadine, the irrepressible waitress. Gerry deflects questions by lunch pal, Amy Palmer, a frequent contributor to Inside Arden, regarding the spice enlivening the prodigious pork loin, which, like nearly all of Yianni’s entrees, is more than capable of feeding two. Sage and oregano are part of the mix, but there’s something more, and Gerry isn’t spilling. Says Amy: “The pork loin was not especially tender, but it was served with a delicious gravy. The asparagus was well-prepared with a traditional yogurt-dill sauce. The fried potato wedges were delicate, garlicky and carbo-licious. I had to fight the urge to gobble up every single one and upped the incline on the treadmill a notch during my post-lunch workout.”

The mixed grill showcases Gerry’s abilities with Greek spicing. The chicken drumstick is redolent with lemon, oregano and garlic, but not tart. The two hold-by-the-bone-and-devour lamb chops also exhibit a lemony lilt. They’re pink, but cooked through. The pastitsio, Greek lasagna, is flaky and flavorful. The dolma holds more meat than rice, and the spanakopita, with its spinach filling, is spot-on. Similarly, the avgolemono, rice soup, is lemony, but not sour, creamy but not syrupy. Pert near perfect, which is exactly what Yianni’s Greek salad is. All the traditional ingredients combine seamlessly in a lemony—go figure—dressing that doesn’t overpower.

There’s a bit of this and that in the seafood bisque, which has a chocolaty quality to it, almost like Mexican mole. Adds Amy: “Another highlight is the escargot, prepared with to-die-for garlic butter sauce in beautiful golden shells. Yianni’s would be a great place to sample escargot for the first time, with pita bread and tasty garlic toast at the ready.”

Yianni’s is justified in branding its garlic bread “famous.” The chunky hummus and stack of pita triangles are equally addicting. So is the tsatsiki that accompanies the keftedes, beef and pork meatballs spiced up by Gerry with nowhere to go but down the hatch. Plenty of meatballs and flawless Parmesan french fries to go around—and then around again. There some American offerings at lunch. Forget them. Go with the heaping mound of green-lipped mussels, and save some famous garlic bread to sop up as much as possible of the epic wine-and-butter sauce they float in.

Amy sums up nicely: “Unusual flavors and some gems on the menu set Yianni’s apart. It’s definitely worth a try, especially on a Friday night.”