Helen Greek Food & Wine sommelier Evan Turner is a fan of all things Greek, but even the language provides him pleasure. He says there is no better (or more fun) word in the world for "watermelon" than the Greek "karpouzi." It's pretty good, but not as lip tickling as what Helen chef William Wright does with the cucurbitaceae. And though most dishes at Helen are described on the menu entirely in English, Turner insisted that this must be dubbed Halloumi Karpouzi.
It's an accurate description, which tells diners the two most prominent ingredients: halloumi cheese and watermelon. But it's far from a complete one. First the firm cheese, typically a blend of goat and sheep milks, is grilled until its sharp corners form a series of dark-brown blisters. The bouncy, tangy bites are an ideal foil to juicy, lightly chilled slabs of sweet watermelon. It's marinated in ouzo for a light taste of licorice, but isn't markedly boozy.
The cheese and melon are draped with mint leaves and finely sliced onion. A few olives are dispersed around the dish, too. They rest in a pool of pistachio-mint pesto, a salty slurry that's at once bright and nutty, and completely its own self.
But the most curious/lovable touch is a petite glass included with the dish. It's a watermelon shrub, half watermelon juice and half red wine vinegar. At first sip, the proportion of acid may make you wince. But then you'll go for another sip. And take another bite of watermelon and cheese dipped in sauce. Then another sip. It works. Brilliantly.
The dish is part of Helen's brand-new summer menu. Other additions include an ultra-tender, herb-rubbed leg of lamb served over a tangle of orzo and greens. It's even better complemented by the grilled briam, a plate of baby squash, eggplant, peppers and potatoes grilled and served in a pool of spicy tomato vinaigrette with feta. Saffron youvarlakia are meatballs composed of a mix of beef, lamb and rice. They're served in an egg and lemon (avgolemono) sauce that's so sunny a yellow, it can't help but make you smile.
And if you're looking for watermelon outside of Rice Village, there's always Helen in the Heights, where the Juicy Karpuzzi (yes, it's spelled differently there) cocktail combines that familiar watermelon shrub with cucumber tequila, ginger ale and cilantro.