Update Visit, January 2016
Several years ago, I wrote about a brand new Mediterranean place in town, Souvla. I didn't visit the restaurant itself then, but had their wrap at a catered event, and really enjoyed it. And then somehow I forgot about Souvla, until recently, when I was looking for a casual, fairly healthy, option for a Saturday afternoon lunch.
Since my original review, Souvla has prospered. Their original Hayes Valley location lead to another, bigger location in Nopa, and, more recently, a third outpost in the Mission. For this visit, a group of 4 of us went to the Nopa location, as we were more hopeful that we'd find seating there than in Hayes Valley.
Overall, we had an ok meal. I do like that Souvla is basically a healthier version of things I usually enjoy, aka, I normally slather my fries in aioli, there I slather them in Greek yogurt. I love ice cream sundaes, there I have frozen Greek yogurt.
But, overall, it was fairly lackluster for me. I really enjoyed my fries and dipping sauce, but, besides that, nothing was particularly worth going back for.
Souvla is a fast-casual restaurant. You order at a register, receive your beverages and a number, and the food is delivered to your table. Food came very fast, within 5 minutes.
They seem to do a very large takeout business, but it seems like it would get packed and cramped very quickly inside.
This area had a big communal table, plus a few smaller tables and counter seats.
"American homestead pork shoulder with minted Greek yogurt, cherry tomato, pickled red onion, cucumber, and feta cheese wrapped in fresh and warm pita bread."
Protip: if you are splitting, you can ask to have it cut in half, which they did (although they didn't bring two trays).
"Crispy fries tossed in olive oil, lemon juice, herbs, and mizithra cheese."
Souvla has no ketchup available, but for $1, you can add a dipping sauce for your fries, a little pot of any of the Greek yogurt based sauces that they use inside the sandwiches and on salads. Choices are mint, garlic, harissa, and "Granch", and we ordered all but the harissa.
The menu at Souvla is small. For entrees, you can have a sandwich or a salad, in four varieties: pork, chicken, lamb, or veggie (sweet potato). For sides, there are also only 4 choices: salad, soup, 2 types of potatoes. Dessert? One item (Greek froyo!), 4 flavors.
So, a small, focused menu, but, the range is actually fairly wide, including great veggie options and lighter salads. Perhaps only pescatarians would be unhappy with the lack of seafood option?
|American Homestead Pork Shoulder Sandwich. $11.|
For the entree, I had to choose between a wrap or salad. Now, both are not things I generally eat, but, I remembered how good the pita wrap was when I had it at an event, so I was pretty excited by the wrap. But everyone also raves about the salads, so those were tempting too, perhaps with pita on the side? In the end, I opted for a wrap.
Then, choice of protein. Lamb was easily out side I hate lamb, but the chicken was quasi tempting because it comes with pea shoots, fennel, "Granch" sauce, and mizithra cheese, all of which sounded great, but ... I really don't like chicken, so I ruled it out. The veggie option, roasted white sweet potato, also sounded interesting, as it too had pea shoots and mizithra cheese (and toasted walnuts and garlic sauce), but, since I was splitting with Ojan, who wanted meat, I ruled that out.
Which left the pork shoulder. I don't generally like pork (besides bacon and pork belly), but, I had some really, really good pork shoulder just a few days prior, so, I was actually excited about the idea of pork shoulder. Sadly, this one comes with feta cheese (instead of mizthra, and I'm not a huge fan of feta), and it comes with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and pickled red onion as the veggies (none of which sounded exciting), and the minted greek yogurt sauce (my least favorite), but, overall, it seemed like the best option. Side note: I wonder if I could mix and match ingredients to do something custom? Order the chicken one with pork instead? I didn't see any customizations really available, but perhaps they do it?
Anyway. I didn't really like it.
The pita was the part that made me the most sad. It wasn't warm. It tasted kinda stale and dry. Where was the magic pita I remembered? "Fresh and warm pita bread", it was not. Really disappointing.
The pork shoulder was not juicy as I remembered either. It was also kinda dry and just didn't have any flavor. No crispy bits, no moist bits, just, boring chunks of pork.
The feta/tomatoes/cucumber/red onions were fine I guess, but, again, not what I like.
So, overall, very blah. Not flavorful, not fresh, not really tasty.
Protip: if you are splitting, you can ask to have it cut in half, which they did (although they didn't bring two trays).
|Greek Fries. $4.|
For sides, there is Greek salad (meh), avgolemono soup (double meh), "juicy potatoes" (Ojan had these before and said they weren't good, or "Greek Fries". So, Greek Fries it was.
The fries were very good. They came in all different sizes, and I got quite a bit of joy whenever I'd find a crazy long one. The fries were crispy and very flavorful, well seasoned with tons of herbs, plus the olive oil and lemon that I didn't distinctly taste, but, I'm sure helped amp up the flavor.
My group ordered two baskets of the fries, and I only took a photo of the basket in front of me, but, you may notice something kinda lacking in this photo: the cheese. This batch really barely had any cheese, but the other batch was loaded with shredded mizirthra cheese. I really liked the cheese, and the inconsistency between the orders was striking.
The fries (and dipping sauce) were the highlight of my meal, and I even went back and finished the cold fries rather than having more froyo. They were that flavorful and addicting. I'd gladly get these again.
|Mint, Garlic, and (not pictured) "Granch" Greek Yogurt. $1/each.|
All were a much healthier option for dipping fries than my standard choice of aioli. I appreciated this, but was skeptical, as I don't tend to really like yogurt, and, well, I love aioli!
I was pleasantly surprised. The mint variety (left) fell flat for me, but I LOVED the garlic one. Tons of flavor, and it complimented the herbs in the fries amazingly well. This was also Ojan's favorite. After we got dessert, I actually decided to polish of the remaining, now cold, fries and all the garlic yogurt, as I actually preferred this to the froyo. Yes, really.
The "Granch" is the dip that was most recommended in reviews, and the one I ordered. It did not arrive with our food. I asked the person who brought our order, and he told me we could go order it if we wanted. I said I did order it. He again told me I had to pay and told me to go back to the register. I am certain I ordered it, and certain she repeated it back to me, so, I got more aggressive in asking for it. I didn't like arguing, but really, WTF?
The "Granch" turned out to be my second favorite, a greek yogurt version of ranch, with lots of herbs and spices. It was fine, but, in my eyes, pales in comparison to the very flavorful garlic flavor.
All flavors were not too tangy, and were a nice consistency for dipping, albeit a bit thick. I'd gladly get the garlic one again, and it was very worth my $1!
My "baklava crumbles & honey syrup" let me down.
The dessert menu contains only one item, but, it was really what I was there for: frozen greek yogurt. Only one size, only served in a cup, but with 4 toppings options: greek olive oil & sea salt, baklava crumbles & honey syrup, greek sour cherry syrup, and cretan wildflower honey.
They have a good system where you can order dessert when you order everything else, and they give you a separate receipt for it. Then you just approach the register when you are ready, hand over the ticket, and get your froyo. I really appreciated this, as it meant we didn't need to get back in line and pay again, and we also didn't need to feel rushed to get to the melting froyo.
|Frozen Greek Yogurt with Greek Sour Cherry Syrup. $4.|
One of my dining companions went for the Greek Sour Cherry Syrup, which I was tempted by, but decided against because "baklava crumbles" just sounded better. Texture! Plus, mine would have honey syrup too.
|Frozen Greek Yogurt with Baklava Crumbles & Honey Syrup. $5.|
The baklava crumbles were not crispy and didn't seem to include any filo dough. It was more a sticky paste of nuts and spices. Also, it was precariously perched on top, and nearly fell of as I walked back to the table. Ojan also did not like this, and only tried a single bite of the topping.
The honey syrup seemed to not exist. Did they forget? Was it part of the paste, not a separate drizzle? Not sure, but since we didn't like the paste, we didn't have any topping to compliment the froyo.
The froyo itself was very good however. It was tart, and healthy tasting, yet perfectly creamy. Usually healthier style froyo winds up icy, and that was not the case here.
Both Ojan and I agreed that this reminded us of Yogorino, a European style frozen yogurt shop that existed in San Francisco for a short time.
Anyway, I didn't really like this as much as I wanted. Yes, the yogurt was high quality, tart, and creamy, but my toppings let me down.
Original Visit, July 2014Souvla is a fairly new Greek place in Hayes Valley. It follows a fast casual model, more like a neighborhood souvlaki joint like you would find in Greece.
The menu is focused around a roasting spit (a "souvla"), offering spit roasted items (pork, chicken, lamb, and sweet potato for the vegetarians), served as wraps or salad bowls. There are only a few sides, including "greek fries", potatoes cooked in rotisserie drippings, and a classic Greek side salad.
They also offer dessert: legit frozen greek yogurt, with really interesting topping options: sour cherry syrup, olive oil and sea salt, baklava crumbles and syrup, or wildflower honey.
I've had my eye on Souvla since the doors first opened a few months ago, not because I like greek food, but because the chef worked under Thomas Keller at The French Laundry and Bouchon, and under Michael Mina at RN74. Even if greek isn't ever a goto cuisine for me, I can appreciate well prepared food of any type.
And well prepared it is. I haven't actually been to Souvla yet, but I was at an event over the weekend where they were one of several caterers, so I got to try a few bites. It wasn't what I'd normally order, but it was delicious, and now I REALLY want to visit the restaurant.
|Pork "mini" Souvla.|
The pork souvlaki is described as "American Homestead pork shoulder, minted Greek yogurt, cherry tomato, pickled red onion, feta cheese".
I took my first bite of this, not really expecting to like it. I saw trying it more as a research project than something I was really intending to bring me happiness. But ... it turned out to be totally delicious.
First, the pita bread. It was slightly crisp on the outside, yet beautifully fluffy inside. It had a subtle sweetness to it. Unlike any pita bread I've ever had before. It is made specifically for Souvla, but I wish it were available for purchase somewhere, as I really enjoyed it.
Next, the pork. As I said, I don't normally like pork. Crispy bacon? Obviously. Some salami? Sure. But pork shoulder? I can't say I've ever actually liked it. But this was good, incredibly moist, tender, and flavorful.
Speaking of flavorful ... the pickled red onions packed a punch. So much flavor there. As for other ingredients, I never found any cherry tomatoes in mine. The yogurt was tangy Greek yogurt, but I didn't taste any mint in it. The yogurt was nice for some creaminess, but I would have preferred it without. It is strange, I like yogurt, particularly with breakfast as part of a fruit/granola parfait, but I don't tend to like yogurt with my savory foods.
Anyway, overall, this was quite tasty, and far tastier than I ever imagined it would be. It made me really excited to check out the real restaurant and perhaps order something more to my liking, although honestly, I would be temped to get this again, just without the yogurt.
At the restaurant, this is available in a much larger size wrap for $10, or, as a salad bowl.