SF's culinary melting pot encompasses no end of different cuisines, but great Greek food is something of a rarity in the city (the long-running Kokkari Estatorio notwithstanding). Charles Bililies is hoping to diversify the local Greek food scene with his new spot, Souvla, which opens in Hayes Valley tomorrow. Named for a common type of Greek restaurant where meat is roasted on a spit, Souvla is a fresh take on the fast-casual souvlaki joint, with counter-service offerings accented by chic decor and local produce.
Bililies, a Greek-American Johnson & Wales and Cornell graduate, got his start as Thomas Keller's culinary assistant before taking the same job with Michael Mina and then serving as RN74's assistant GM. He'd host traditional Greek lamb roasts for friends on his days off, and when he found that the quality of the sandwiches he made with the leftovers far exceeded that of local souvlaki joints, he set out to open a place of his own. Tony Cervone, Kokkari's chef de cuisine, acted as a consultant, helping Bililies nail down his recipes.
The menu at Souvla is fairly simple: a choice of protein (lamb, pork, chicken, or vegetarian white sweet potatoes) is served either as a pita sandwich or a salad bowl, with accompaniments like harissa yogurt, fennel-citrus salad, pickled red onions, and feta cheese. The pita is baked fresh daily at a local bakery from Bililies' family recipe, and the team has enlisted Bill Corbett, pastry chef of the neighboring Absinthe Group, to develop a gluten-free version (it's still in the works). The savory options are rounded out by a choice of potatoes: either roasted in the meat drippings from the rotisserie, or served as fries with lemon, olive oil, and mizithra cheese.
Bililies also worked with Delfina pastry chef Jessica Sullivan to develop a Greek frozen yogurt recipe, served out of a special machine at the front of the restaurant. The treat can be topped with olive oil and sea salt, baklava crumbles, or sour-cherry syrup. The beverage lineup is 100% Greek as well, with four wines (a white, red, rosé, and sparkling), Mythos lager, Tuvunu iced mountain tea, and a sour-cherry soda. Here's the full food and drink menu.
Brian Ford of Metropolis designed the 35-seat space, which is nearly unrecognizable from its days as Sebo. The white walls and bright skylight are intended to evoke the spirit of restaurants in Greece, and photos of a Greek souvla and its owner (including one in which he balances a chair on his hand while chugging a drink as a "sobriety test") adorn the walls. There are also some copper pieces from a Greek restaurant Bililies' grandfather owned in Boston in the '50s, recovered after it burnt down. Souvla is launching both lunch and dinner right off the bat, opening from 11 am-10 pm, Tuesday-Saturday. Reservations aren't needed, as it's intended as a drop-in spot, but they may begin renting their communal table for parties once they hit their stride.