The Food Network's hugely successful show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives recently visited Niko Niko's Greek restaurant in Montrose. Amidst owner Dimitri Fetokakis's banter with hyper host Guy Fieri was this little nugget of information: Niko Niko's no longer slow-marinates its legendary lamb shank. Rather, it uses a new-fangled "food tumbler" which claims to achieve 24 hours worth of marinating in 20 minutes.
That's a big difference. I've been going to Niko Niko's for at least 15 years, starting back when Dimitri's mom ran the shop and Dimitri would occasionally deliver food on air to the Stevens and Pruitt radio show when KLOL was housed in an old house nearby on Lovett Boulevard. Since then, the restaurant has expanded greatly, taking over most of the block at Montrose and California Street. All positive changes, I'd say, but now they're marinating the lamb shank for only 20 minutes? I decided to check it out.
If you're unfamiliar with the lamb shank at Niko Niko's, there are a few things you should know. First, the dish is ginormous. Two lamb shanks are hidden under a heaping pile of potatoes, fries or rice. An accompanying Greek salad is big enough to be a meal on its own. The price matches the size: $17 with tax and tip. For lunch, two people could easily fill up on one order.
Taste-wise, Fieri is right on when he says this shank is "citrus forward," meaning that the lemon-based marinade is the first and dominating flavor. There's also a good bit of salt here, but neither truly overwhelms the wonderful flavor of the lamb. And after three hours on the oven, the meat is falling off the bone.
Honestly, it's been too long since I've had the lamb shank in the past (I usually get the roast chicken or pasticcio), so I can't say if the current shank is better or worse. There is certainly nothing subtle about its large flavors and portion size, but it makes an ultra-flavorful and ultra-filling lunch or dinner.