Aris Tsekouras helms the kitchen after years cooking in upscale kitchens in Greece; plus he brings a passion for baking fresh bread. Greece’s mild climate allows for a bounty of fresh vegetables and they are celebrated on the table. Tsekouras’s menu mirrors that celebration with vegetables often taking center stage on the plate at the Bethesda restaurant.
He roasts gem-hued beets and serves them alongside yogurt, pickled blackberries, smoked walnuts, carob, and basil. Simple fingerling potatoes are fried to a light crisp before meeting the satisfying creaminess and tang of tzatziki, feta cream, thyme, and cured egg yolk.
Roasting intensifies the natural sweetness of heirloom carrots while adding an earthy depth and deep golden edges. At Melina, Tsekouras serves them on a tightly composed plate of smoked Manouri cheese, spiced granola, and pickled raisins. Vegetables also head to the front of the line in the maitake mushroom “souvlaki” with smoked graviera cream with hazelnuts, cured egg yolk, and truffle balsamic dressing.
That’s not to say that meat and seafood don’t receive the same treatment. Tender, slow-roasted lamb neck gets a boost from the salty, nutty Kefalograviera cheese, plus sweet roasted peppers, grapes, tomatoes, parsley, and pickled onions. It’s served with pita Tsekouras bakes at the restaurant. Meanwhile, a visually stunning plate of beef tartare with lemony avgolemono foam, cabbage, wild fennel, and egg yolk.
Melina is named for co-owner Dimitri Moshovitis’s daughter, and the libations also take inspiration from her name. Meli means “honey” in Greek and that ingredient finds its way into many of the drinks. For example, the aptly named honey bee blossom combines vanilla vodka, peach cranberry, honey syrup, bee pollen, and citrus. The Bouboulina, named for a Greek naval commander and heroine of the Greek War for Independence, has smoky mezcal, roasted beets, lime, honey syrup, and fennel.
The main focal point of the light-drenched, 3,593-square foot restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows is a Koroneiki olive tree, symbolizing friendship and peace. Located on the ground level of the building, Melina has seating for 80 and an additional 10 seats at the bar.
Joining glitzy, French-Arabic sister bistro Julii at Pike & Rose, it’s the second full-service restaurant in that area from the Cava founders. Julii opened in 2018. Meanwhile, Cava’s empire is now more than 150 outlets strong.
Opening hours at Melina are Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.