Exec Chef ‘Little Pano’ True to His Roots

Kyma specializes in the Greek technique of wood grilling and basting whole fish with olive oil, lemon, Santorini capers and Tuscan kale.

By Marcia Caller Jaffe

Expecting a sparse Sunday night early dinner, we were surprised to find an overall full house with a heaping Jewish crowd. (Maybe it was a pre-bolster up for the high holidays.)

No newcomer to the Buckhead dining scene, Kyma has been the sleek understated sibling in the Buckhead Life lineup with the full-blown treasure, Chef Pano, also known as “Little Pano,” at the helm. Son of scion Pano Karatassos, he is charming and available to mingle with guests. Pano has his own product line of honey, olive oil, and feta, and recently premiered his new book “Modern Greek Cooking,” which he autographed and sells for $37.50. It has a total of 100 recipes for meze, entrees and desserts.

Kyma specializes in the Greek technique of wood grilling and basting whole fish with olive oil, lemon, Santorini capers and Tuscan kale. Whole fish with clear bright eyes are displayed on ice in the front entrance to make this solid case. On our night, there were five fish offered in this method explained by the server as “unilaterally charred flat cooked by the steam coming up,” plus whole fish specialties of royal dorade, arctic char, and salt crusted sea bass lavraki.
Coincidentally, at the adjacent table Shelley and Scott Kaplan and Rosalind and Phil Haber came for their “fav” bronzini (lavraki) and added fingerling lemon vinaigrette potatoes with fleur de sel and chives, a traditional Greek preparation.

Speaking of traditional go-to Greek dishes, the cheese saganaki, sautéed graviera cheese with ouzo, lots of lemon, and olive oil, came out sizzling. Note that Kyma does not employ an entertaining flaming presentation in order to protect guests’ clothes and overall safety.

Nonetheless rich tasting sans show.

The blood orange martini was the table favorite.

Cocktail-wise, the table favorite was the blood orange martini that remarkably held its chill.

Sunday night bottles of wine are half price. I had one glass of hearty Papagiannakos Cabernet Sauvignon, which “seemed” like a bottle.

Our favorite appetizer was the ahi tuna tartar over wild mushrooms à la grecque with shredded filo tuille. In this case, it wasn’t what was on top that counted, in favor of the rich mushroom and tuna base. Salad-wise the colorful watermelon, Vidalia onion, house feta, and garden herbs was a colorful pair with the romaine greens with crumbled croutons and mizithra cheese and a light toss dusting of feta dressing.

A worthy piscine entrée outside the “special white fish” list was salmon souvlaki skewered and sautéed over pearl barley risotto, arugula coulis and lemon. Not so oddly, many dishes don’t shout about the arugula, but this one was heavy on the coulis drizzle, which was verdant and calm. An additional side green was lightly caramelized Brussels sprouts with leaks, olive oil, lemon and chives.

Dessert … had to try a few. The lemon manouri cheesecake with almond crust and lemon center and saffron yogurt emulsion was the table favorite. Next was the banana kataifi, roasted in shredded flower, flourless chocolate cake, and yogurt sorbet, which filled the bill for a gluten-free diner. Always have to try the baklava, here as a boureki with candied pistachios, pistachio ice cream (not too sweet) was a rolled version of the traditional treat. I particularly prefer the triangular flaky tradition with less compacted sweetness.

What I’d try next time: trout “yemista” stuffed with traditional spinach rice, tomato, capers and scallions, gold quinoa salad with preserved lemon and pine nuts, and eggplant stew with layers of caramelized eggplant, tomatoes and onions, and chocolate lava cake with cinnamon ice cream to top it off.

Chef Pano hard at work plating dishes for hungry diners.

The postscript is that Kyma is authentic and lovingly pampered Greek cuisine that has endured for 18 years (chai, for good luck) with its healthy, light, non-touristy approach.

Pony-tailed Pano said, “My Greek culinary home base started working under my own grandmother in Athens, … learning from relatives is the best! I remain true to my roots.” Later he trained under three of America’s top chefs: Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Eric Ripert. That sounds rather humbling. Little Pano is one of the countries’ most celebrated Greek seafood chefs, who also studied at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. “To be the best, learn from the best.” Dad must indeed be proud.

Greek food, like Israeli food and Italian cuisine, for that matter, is bound with love of family and tradition.