Where to: Bar Vlaha, a Brookline restaurant showcasing the cuisine and culture of the Vlach people, nomadic shepherds of central and northern Greece.
Why: It is the latest project from Xenia Greek Hospitality, the restaurant group behind spots such as Krasi, just nominated for a James Beard Award. Like other Xenia concepts, Bar Vlaha runs on philoxenia, a Greek notion of hospitality wherein strangers are treated as friends. There’s also lamb leg roasted on a spit.
The backstory: Culinary director Brendan Pelley (Pelekasis, Doretta Taverna & Raw Bar) credits the Vlachs with laying the foundations of Greek food. For inspiration, he traveled to central Greece, off the beaten tourist path — discovering eye-opening pies and rustic sourdough bread, freshwater fish and simple farm-to-table fare. His journey helped inspire the food and experience here.
What to eat: Dough is a star of executive chef Kathryn McCoart’s menu: Begin with house-made village-style sourdough bread. It’s worth it for the incredibly good sheep’s milk butter alone, but don’t skip spreads like galotyri, a creamy, tangy cheese dip. There are several pita, or pie, variants: The alevropita, a crisp, thin crust topped with feta, is a good starter order, but there’s also manitaropita (wild mushrooms and house-made phyllo) and aradopita (cornmeal, greens, and feta). You could have a meal made up entirely of salads and vegetable dishes such as braised giant beans with tomato and feta, stuffed cabbage with avgolemono sauce, and potatoes roasted in lamb fat. Or move on to larger plates, like karavides, a rich, comforting, delicious dish of crayfish and orzo; moschari me damaskina, beef cheek with prunes; or meat and fish from the grill. For dessert, there’s a log of rolled baklava and kataifi with olive oil ice cream.
What to drink: Do you like silly names? Do you like cocktails? Welcome to Bar Vlaha, where you could try the Freaky Greeky Tiki or the Bros Before Vlahos (made with lamb-washed Scotch). I recommend the Phantom of the Opa, however: a smokey, piney tipple of whiskey garnished with a plump, syrup-steeped black walnut. There are also extensive, intriguing lists of regional Greek wine and spirits.
The takeaway: A stylish space, tasty food and drink: great. A restaurant where you’re instant friends with the staffers and the people next to you at the bar, where the night gets buzzier and looser as it wears on: even better. The philoxenia is strong with this one.
1653 Beacon St., Washington Square, Brookline, 617-906-8556, www.barvlaha.com. Appetizers $3-$14, main dishes $14-$58, desserts $8-$10.
Devra First can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.