for as long as i can remember, rotisserie panama stood on the corner of jean-talon and outremont. it has withstood the test of time and remains a constant in the neighbourhood’s ever-changing restaurant landscape. oddly enough, after nearly 3 decades of seeing whole lamb roasting and chicken grilling through the restaurant’s windows, i only recently became a patron of theirs.
walking through the door, i took it all in. the open kitchen where meat is grilling, chicken and lamb being hacked, the rows of fresh fish waiting to be cooked, diners sitting at tables draped with checkered tablecloths… we were warmly greeted by the hostess and ushered to a table for four. although we were a duo, we were happy to be given a larger table at the center of the room rather than a smaller one at the back. i prefer being in the middle of the hustle and bustle over being relegated to a dark corner. the bigger table also worked out because we planned on ordering ourselves a feast!
to begin our exercise in gluttony, we ordered the pikilia platter to go with our complimentary basket of bread. the platter included beans, olives, tzatziki, taramosalata, tirokafteri, skordalia, feta, stuffed vine leaves, and spanakopita. this was by far the most impressive pikilia i have ever come across. it was a beautiful mountain of cold appetizers that could have easily fed four people. my favourite of these culinary samples was the tirokafteri, a whipped feta spread made with roasted hot and mild peppers. it was creamy, spicy and deliciously addictive. the tzatziki had a respectable amount of garlic without being tongue-numbing to the point of not being able to taste the rest of the meal. the taramosalata, a carp roe spread, had a subtle taste and was delightfully less salty than the ones i’ve had at other restaurants. everything in the pikilia platter was delicious, but if i had to pick a least favourite it would have to be the skordalia because it wasn’t particularly noteworthy. the subdued flavour of this cold garlic mashed potato spread just paled in comparison to everything else on the plate.
we continued our meal with the fried zucchini and eggplant. the vegetable slices came in varied sizes with a dollop of tzatziki as accompaniment. i liked the simple presentation. i found the batter to be very thin, loosing its crispness quite rapidly and leaving you with flaccid vegetable slices at the end of your fork as you finish off the last of the dish. i also found that a heavy hand was used with the salt.
moving on, we attacked the fried calamari. the large mound of squid was a balanced mix of rings and tentacles. this dish did not suffer from the thin batter syndrome that affected the fried vegetables. the batter was light and crispy without being oily. the calamari was cooked expertly, retaining some bite but avoiding rubbery territory.
we were starting to feel full from all the food eaten thus far, but they were all categorized as appetizers – a prelude to our main course. no need to worry though; we’re not amateurs. armed with the knowledge that doggy bags were always an option, we paced ourselves and saved room for the pièce de résistance: the roasted lamb. available only on fridays and saturdays, the lamb is roasted whole during the day and is ready just in time for supper. here, the meat isn’t carved, it is hacked with a big cleaver. therefore don’t be surprised if there are pieces of bone in your plate. the half-pound of lamb that we ordered was a respectable portion for two people. the mix of crispy skin and moist meat was simply seasoned with salt and pepper. it was good in its simplicity and didn’t need anything more.
moving on to dessert, we opted for the loukoumades, golden balls of deep-fried dough. dusted with cinnamon, sprinkled with sesame seeds and drizzled with honey, they were delicious. the man at the table next to us, a regular at panama i surmised from his interactions with the staff, jokingly told our waiter to bring us some greek yogurt. the next thing we knew, a plate of greek yogurt & honey was brought to our table – on the house! that was a very nice gesture. the yogurt was thick and unlike the ones that i am used to, it was slightly sweet and not tangy. the golden honey was hands down the best i have ever had and would happily eat it by the spoonful. that’s saying a lot since i do not like honey. our friendly waiter suggested that we use the loukoumades to scoop up some of the yogurt. i am glad he did because the combination was simply divine. to finish off the meal, i had my first taste of greek coffee. the small serving was bold and satisfying.
i like this restaurant for the freshness and simplicity of its food. the portions were generous and the presentation was rustic. it felt like we were sharing a family meal in someone’s home. the service was good, but more importantly, so was the food. as my friend likes to say, you know a meal was delicious if you burp afterwards and it still tastes good.
my go-to greek place had always been marven’s, but panama is a game-changer and will now be a part of my regular rotation. it may have taken me years to make it here, but i am glad i finally did.
789, rue jean-talon ouest
payment methods: cash, credit cards
sun to thurs 11h – 23h
fri to sat 11h to 24h