Karma kitchen

Mrs. Lucas and I are chided by various parties for praising the Greek Village Inn so highly without having experienced the Hellenic heights of Symposium Restaurant and Pizza House.

Katie, our daughter, has a classmate who lives in Fairfield and commutes daily to Sacramento for high school. When they want to hang on the weekends and take in a movie, they meet halfway in Davis, the site of Symposium. Opportunity knocks.

As is her wont, Mrs. Lucas does not want to be part of the review. So with “Brandi” in tow, I hoof it from First and F to Eighth and M streets, the location of the seen-better-days shopping center containing Symposium.

Symposium has seen better days, too. “Worn,” Brandi says. Succinct but true. The only element missing for stepping out of Sherman and Mr. Peabody’s Way Back Machine into the 1970s is plush, orange, shag, nylon, polyester carpeting.

There are several photos of co-owner Contilo Pandeleon with dignitaries like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Pandeleon, who started the restaurant in 1977 with her husband, Nikos, presides over the evening’s activities from a corner table in the front of the dining room.

Like siren song, the beef sweetbreads beckon. But I’m quickly tied to the mast—and not in a good way—after a blast of Brandi’s withering grumpy ice-queen grimace. Innards aren’t her thing. Very well, tzatziki for everyone.

The service is fast and efficient. However, Brandi gets a lime in her fizzy water after asking for a lemon. A pity the flaws in our meals weren’t as minor.

That said: The somewhat runny tzatziki—spelled zatsiki on the menu—is well rendered, a crisp blend of yogurt, cuke and garlic. The yogurt is homemade, the menu informs. Good pita on the side.

Brandi, the vegetarian, votes for the large Peasant Salad. It’s your basic salade grecque, as they say uptown: tomatoes, cucumber, feta, kalamata, green peppers, onions, a serious sifting of oregano, doused in oil and red wine vinegar. It’s the equivalent of the Horiatiki at Greek Village Inn, which, at $9.25, costs 70 cents less.

And tastes 70 times better. One bite of a hard, very much unripe tomato is instant confirmation. The other vegetables don’t taste real fresh. The feta doesn’t delight as much as GVI’s.

In the plus column, the Hellas is happening, although it’s difficult to create a truly awful lager. Might be a good niche market to explore. The daily soup special—$3.25 a cup, $4.25 a bowl—is avgolemono, which the waitress describes quite accurately as lemon rice soup. A cup at Symposium is 70 cents less than one at GVI but doesn’t taste as rich or as smooth.

The $14.95 Grecian chicken breast recommended by the waitress overstays its welcome in the pizza oven. Its aridness is incapable of cure by the sauce of white wine and lemon. More basil and oregano would be welcome.

Twenty-five varied options appear on the Greek Pizza portion of the menu. Large-size pies range from $14.50 for just cheese to $20.25 for Yianni’s Special. For Yianni, Contilo and Nikos’ son, too much of everything is just enough, to quote the Grateful Dead: bacon, sausage, salami, pepperoni, olives, shrimp, mushrooms and—allegedly—fresh tomatoes. Roll of Tums sold separately.

Nikos’ Special is not nearly as crowded: salami, ham, pepperoni, olives, mushrooms and feta.

Of the pizzas, Brandi can enjoy six: numbers 1, 2, 18, 20, 23 and 25. Most intriguing to me, and, therefore, of least interest to Brandi, is the Spicy Greek, with pepperoncinis, crushed red pepper, olives, onions, fresh garlic and feta. The owner favors No. 20, Spankotiro—spinach and three cheeses for $18.95.

Based on our dining experience, regret is expressed over overlooking pizza.

Is it an off night? A new chef? Crappy selection at the farmers’ market? A karma thing? Or just poor menu decisions? It’s tempting to want to believe there’s some extenuating circumstance. Based on the broad spectrum of persons praising Symposium for its authenticity and tasty fare, it seems impossible our meals could be so pedestrian and worthy of only two stars. And yet they are.

On the return to First and F streets, we elect to ease the pain with scoops of stracciatella at a gelato joint we passed on the way to dinner. It’s closed. Of course. Bad karma all around.