The food at Asteras Greek Taverna is delectable. Everyone who has tried it seems to agree, and prior to my visit I felt like the only person who hadn’t tried it. The restaurant itself is located in a beautiful heritage home in the Old City Quarter of Nanaimo, and splashed with an incredible tile and flower veneer. As you step inside you’re immediately hit with a wall of light and noise. It’s a bustling atmosphere—so remember your reservation, especially on a Thursday or Friday night. The details in the interior seem authentically Mediterranean, such as the multitudes of archways, the bright blue fireplace tiles, and the flowered decorations on the roof.
Despite an almost overwhelming presentation, the architecture is eclipsed by the menu of 40 dishes, all very traditional. For families, or dates with big appetites, Asteras also serves several platters that feed two to four people each. The prices are on par with other middle/high-end restaurants in Nanaimo, with entrees resting at $20 each, and the appetisers at $7.50. The hosts are also happy to make reasonable substitutions, of which I took advantage twice.
My guest and I purchased the number one platter to share, which came to $54. We were started with a giant helping of Greek salad, loaded with feta and flavourful olives. It was very fresh and had a delicious mild dressing. This was followed quickly by creamy hummus and grilled pita, topped with another savoury olive. Be warned, the serving sizes of the appetizers would have been enough had I not come with an appetite.
The enormous main course followed, complete with roast lamb, falling off the bone with flavour. The savoury smell was notable even in the cozy restaurant filled with food. The lamb was accompanied by two servings of moussaka, a potato and eggplant vegetarian casserole. Two large cheese and spinach spanakopita were served on the side, wrapped in perfectly crispy phyllo pastry. Two keftedes (greek meatballs) were served on the side and, strongly seasoned, instead of the usually-offered dolmades. As if that wasn’t enough to fill us up, a heap of lightly breaded calamari, lemon roasted potatoes and rice, and thick sliced carrots were piled on the side. We finished our visit with crème caramel, a sweet custard dessert that worked well against the salty cheeses in the other dishes, but felt underwhelming compared to the rest of our meal.
The dishes in the platter were well cooked and flavoured, and I don’t think I’ve had a better feast in several years. However, our visit was lacking in service. The servers were friendly, but there were simply too many full tables for them to look after everyone properly, and we didn’t even get the chance to order drinks.
If you need immediate service and a fast dinner, don’t show up at Asteras on a busy night. I’ll certainly be back again, although early in the week, so I get a chance to enjoy my meal in a quieter atmosphere.