Delicious food doesn’t happen by accident. The first-class dining at Little Greek Kitchen is the result of years of effort, passion and skill!
Meet the Chef
Chef and owner Pamela has lived all over the world. After settling in Okinawa, she and her family missed the fresh Greek food they enjoyed while living in Greece, so she began making homemade yogurts and cheeses. After sharing them with friends, she and a partner opened Little Greek Kitchen together.
Steadily moving from one step to the next, Pamela went from working out of shipping containers on a vacant lot on the island of Ikei, to today having a lovely restaurant on Okinawa, with seats for over 20 and beautiful ocean views!
When I met Pamela, she impressed me by how she managed to be engaging and attentive to all 20 people in the restaurant – while still personally preparing food and serving courses! Her passion for her food was overflowing. We talked about her philosophy, her cheeses, and a bit about all that it has taken to get where she is today.
For Pamela, having clean ingredients is Number One. She uses no chemical additives or artificial flavorings/colorings in her foods, and knows that a big reason for her successful cheeses is that she uses the highest quality milk possible. Pamela does this by keeping her farmers to a minimum; she knows them well, takes time to visit the farms and play with the baby goats, and can personally verify that the milk is up to her standards.
Located in Nagahama on Okinawa, you’ll drive through a residential area to find the restaurant. It is one of two commercial spaces below residences; see the map at the bottom, and look for the sign you see here! Don’t park in the dirt lot next door because it locks at night. Make a reservation in advance using FaceBook Messenger – reservations are required!
Lunch is at 12:00, Thursday through Monday; children are welcome. Dinner is at 6:00 Friday and Saturday, and you’ll need to leave the kids at home (a great excuse for a date night)!
Homemade Cheese and Yogurt
Cheese and yogurt are edible artforms, and Pamela is an award-winning artist. Her creations begin from the best raw materials – and that is literally raw, in the form of raw milk from Okinawan goats and cows (she has a rare license to collect raw milk). Her farmers are masters at their crafts, and have spent decades learning how to consistently provide some of the best dairy in the country.
She makes her products by hand. When you try her yogurt, you’ll realize it has actual full-bodied, characterful flavor – not just the sour taste you’ll get from store-bought Greek yogurt, and completely different from the sugar overload of sweetened yogurts. Pamela uses vegetarian rennet, does not use calcium chloride to thicken her cheeses, and her chèvre is sometimes made without even needing salt!
Feta is her main cheese, served generously with meals at the restaurant, and sold in stores marinated in olive oil with herbs. This marinated cheese, called “Yomitan tyrí,” blew my mind. Usually, I prefer cheese without added flavors – but this opened up a whole new world to me. I put the first bite in my mouth, and all brain function ceased except for cranial nerves carrying scents, textures and tastes to my brain. The herbs are perfectly married to the smooth, rich cheese – and the judges agree. The judges for the Japanese Cheese Award 2018 gave this cheese the silver medal out of 231 other cheeses!
Dinner is Served
Get ready for some fresh Greek cuisine! The menu changes seasonally, but Little Greek Kitchen serves a multi-course meal, from drinks in the beginning all the way through coffee and dessert at the end.
Aromas fill the restaurant and whet appetites for what is to come!
A well-crafted Greek salad waited for me upon arrival: crisp cucumber, fresh herbs, smooth olive oil with no bitter or grassy flavors, olives (really delicious, their flavor fills your mouth), tomato, onion and green pepper, all accompanied by a nice serving of feta.
The homemade bread was fantastic. It had an even crumb, perfectly dense and moist interior, and just enough crunch in the crust. Use it to get all of the olive oil and feta off your plate!
Spring for the homemade ginger soda! It has just a touch of honey, and the fresh ginger will rock your world and clear your sinuses (in a good way).
We sampled some cheeses brought fresh from Central Coast Creamery in Paso Robles, CA, along with Pamela’s chèvre and pomegranate jam. The Little Greek Kitchen chèvre and jam were delightful. The cheese had a mild tartness, pleasant and less tart than a typical goat cheese, but the pomegranate jam added some tang back with fruity notes, too.
I wrote in my tasting notes that, up to this point, all of the flavors were in perfect harmony. Nothing clashed, and that continued throughout the rest of dinner.
The Main Course
Perfect lamb chop, juicy spiced chicken, shrimp scampi, homemade phyllo with feta and zucchini, dolmades (vine leaves actually from Greece, stuffed with rice and herbs), pomegranate couscous and homemade yogurt dip.
What a meal. The pictures say it all!
I discovered Little Greek Kitchen through a stand in a shopping mall selling cheese and yogurt. I reached out to Pamela as soon as I tried her food and made a reservation for dinner; our ensuing discussion let her know I was super interested in her cheeses. This turned into a delicious opportunity for me!
Guests were enjoying their coffee or mint tea before dessert was served, and Pamela snuck through the conversations to bring me something special: an aged goat and cow milk cheese, with an ash rind, that she had never given to anyone before. Here it is:
This cheese was a new experiment for Pamela, and it was a huge privilege that she allowed me to try it first and asked for my feedback! Pamela explained how she made it, gave me the slice and anxiously awaited my response.
I put a bite in my mouth, and I immediately knew it was something special. I was enjoying it so much, and trying to evaluate it for such an awkwardly-long pause, that Pamela ran off to the kitchen to let me formulate my opinion without her there.
These are my notes I took (comparing it to one of my favorites, Humboldt Fog, an award-winning goat cheese from Northern California):
- Similar to Humboldt Fog (HF)
- Aged less than one month
- The cheese was flipped every 15 min at one point – labor intensive!
- Saltier than HF, but milder tartness – BETTER than HF
- Bit of penicillium/mushroom flavor from the rind – lovely texture and flavor contrast compared to the center
- My tongue is THRILLED –
- Drier than HF – about 1/2 height, truncated cone shape – but smooth, refined
What a treat! This cheese was fantastic, and I gushed as soon as Pamela came back. She is knocking it out of the park! Pamela then shared some slices with the rest of the guests. One guest turned down their slice (they didn’t eat the chèvre, either; what a loss!), but Pamela gave it to me and I was happy to have a second piece!
We then tried a sakura cheese from an internationally-famous cheesemaker that works in Hokkaido. This cheese is award-winning, with a marvelous and unique texture, but besides fresh cream, there was just one other flavor, and it was hard to place. It was odd. It wasn’t fruity; I didn’t appreciate cherry flavor at all, though I heard one other guest say they did. It was unique. Honestly, I’ve never tasted anything like it…but there was no question that Pamela’s cheese was my favorite (Later, I learned the source of the flavor: this cheese is made with yeast from sake, not bacteria! No wonder why I couldn’t place the flavor!).
A nice anise cake with cherry Greek yogurt on top! No coasting to the finish here – this cake was a perfect touch of sweetness to cap off the meal.
Sweat and Tears and Years
Every element of this meal was delicious – wonderful flavors, aromas, textures, all done just as it should. The cheeses and yogurt individually require great skill and patience to create, and then master. But the greater accomplishment was how it all worked together. All of the flavors were like an orchestra filled with unique contributions adding to a beautiful whole.
The enormity of this task should overwhelm us. Most that have a meal at Little Greek Kitchen will enjoy everything about it, but how many reflect on everything that goes into it?
High-quality milk has to be sourced from farms (and goats in Japan aren’t typically milked, they are just eaten). Cheese and yogurt recipes are perfected through trial and error. Pamela monitors, cuts, drains and shapes the cheese curds. Yogurt has to be maintained at proper temperatures, then drained to get that lovely thick texture.
What other challenges are there? Making phyllo and bread dough, mixing spices, menu planning based on seasonally-available ingredients, working with unfriendly competitors, hiring and training an assistant, planning décor, and minor details like financial planning and taking care of family. Add in international sourcing of some ingredients for fun!
What Matters Most
I could stop here, but there’s more. Meet Pamela, and you’ll find a wonderful human. Her accomplishments are already impressive (and there’s more to come!), but she didn’t lose sight of being a good person. Her success hasn’t come overnight; she has given untold years and long nights and so much of herself. Knowing her efforts makes me even more appreciative of her amazing food, but it is because of that effort that the quality of the final product is no surprise.
Go to Little Greek Kitchen. Enjoy an incredible meal. And be sure to eat the cheese!