There must be something in our souls that loves a humble little place, a place you don't have to get dressed up for. Pontos, a Greek restaurant hidden behind Wall Street in Norwalk, is that sort of place.
When we arrived on an early evening, the place was buzzing. The room is understated: beige walls, bare wood floors, and blue tablecloths. This family-run restaurant has been around for a couple years, proudly cooking authentic Greek dishes.
Two soups sounded promising. Sorva, barley-yogurt soup, was a hot, thick, tangy cup that we found interesting. Avgolemono was tart with lemon and soft with plump orzo.
To share, taramosalata, a meze or appetizer of fish roe whipped with mashed potatoes, lemon and olive oil, was fluffy and had a pleasing salty, seaside flavor. (The coral color is pretty, but it's dyed. In Greece you can get white, undyed, taramo.)
Tzakziki was thick, tangy yogurt, sharp with raw garlic and bright with fresh dill. There were few cucumbers. A soft white bread baked in-house is presented gratis, but if you want pita for the meze, you have to pay for it. One order of the warm, puffy, grilled pita went quickly. We ordered two ($2.50).
Xorta was, for me, the joy of the meal. Chicory leaves are "boiled and chilled" (evocative descriptions are not a specialty of the house). The cold salad was dressed in olive oil, lemon and thin slices of red onion, and was fresh, green and lemony.
The idea at Pontos is "family-style pass-around." The fish of the day is Mediterranean sea bass (market price $24.95) — two good-sized filets, crisp and moist, simply salted and boldly peppered. Yet we were underwhelmed by the plain presentation. Where were the fresh herbs? Greece is a land of fresh oregano, thyme, rosemary, dill.
Baby lamb chops (MP $25.25) were simply grilled, seasoned with dried herbs, salt and pepper. They were juicy and tender, and there were five of them. But sharing the platter didn't satisfy the men at our table.
Sides don't come with the fish and lamb chops, unless you order the platter ($5 extra) for orzo, tzatziki, pita, tomato and red onion. We ordered a la carte. Gigante beans were indeed large. The white beans were soft and pleasantly starchy. But the glossy orange sauce had surprisingly little flavor of tomato and dill. Fried potatoes were not the wonderful Greek pan-fried potatoes, but a platter of french fries. A description on the menu would be helpful.
You can eat economically at Pontos (a gyro platter is $12.95), and its proximity to Garden Cinema makes it a good place for a quick meal. But venture into meze and the market-price menu and you get sticker shock.
Pontos Taverna, 7 Isaac St., Norwalk, is open Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, 5 to 10 p.m. Closed Monday. Information: 203-354-7024 and www.pontostaverna.com.