Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 3: Octavio Madrigal of Theo's Restaurant

John, the lovable and sometimes cantankerous waiter who's worked at Theo's/One's-A-Meal for 28 years, remembers everyone who's ever walked through the doors. Either that, or he's great at faking it with warm handshakes.

Today, he serves up some of Chef Octavio Madrigal's favorite dishes of both the American and Greek variety. First is the Chef's Special: rainbow trout topped with two shrimp and confettied with diced tomatoes, served with potatoes and veggies.

The butterflied fish was very fresh and thankfully unencumbered by sauce. You could taste the moistness of the trout; despite its obvious grilling, it wasn't even slightly dry. And the potatoes! Mashed from scratch and adorned with a spicy Greek red gravy--made from cream, Parmesan cheese, and peppers--they may have been my favorite of Madrigal's creations.

Another fish dish at Theo's is the popular salmon kebab platter.

Two skewers of salmon chunks divided by grilled vegetables lay on a pilaf of rice. The salmon--never frozen--was perfectly cooked and charred, simmering in olive oil. Roasted veggies were surprisingly tender and the lemon potatoes were a solid addition (though I prefer mine made with butter and doused in cream sauce.)

The dinner combination platter arrived last: a plated buffet of gyro meat, keftedakia, dolmades, spanakopita, tiropita, and a dip of Tzatziki.

The names were intimidating...but the flavors were succulent. Greek noshers know that Theo's is one of the best places in the city for gyros. The shaved lamb is crispy on the edges, yet juicy. The thick cucumber-and-yogurt tzatziki sauce is the perfect accompaniment.

Keftedakia are Greek meatballs, and these are covered in a rich tomato sauce that soaks into a bed of lemony rice. They taste like a more herb-heavy version of Italian meatballs, heavy on both oregano and flavor.

Anything phyllo-doughy is good in my book, and the spanakopita (filled with spinach and feta) and tiropita (filled with a feta cheese blend) are big hits here. Flaky browned edges heat the feta inside until the mix is gooey. Obscenely delicious.

Finally, I tried the dolmades--the Greekest of all foods. A mixture of ground meat, herbs, and rice wrapped in grape leaves, the dolmades are surprisingly light, without a hint of grease. They're topped with a mild and creamy egg-lemon sauce.

It's hard to find freshness like this at a 24-hour joint.

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Mandy Oaklander
Contact: Mandy Oaklander