Restaurant Guide 2013: Eleni's Philoxenia

112 NW 9th Ave., 227-2158, 

[GREEK CHIC] With a menu that reads like a Homeric epic, Eleni's offers some form of every Greek dish you have ever heard of—and many you have not. It can make narrowing down the selection a difficult but delicious task. Chef and owner Eleni Touhouliotis, who emigrated from the island of Crete in 1974, aspired to replicate the Greek dining style of long evenings spent sharing food, wine and conversation. It's an effective method for sampling an array of the tapas-style appetizers, salads and dips. Saganaki cheese ($10) is floured, pan-fried and served flaming at the table, extinguished with a hearty squeeze of lemon. Unfortunately the presentation is much more impressive than the flavor. But the dolmathakia (grape leaves stuffed with rice, herbs, pine nuts and golden raisins, $9) could stand as the quintessential representation of Eleni's—classic Greek with a personal twist. The savory little rolls are lent a subtle sweetness from the raisins and are break-a-plate good. The entrees, if you can make it that far, are heavier on the meat, such as leg of lamb or beef meatballs. Though the majority of the dishes highlight Mediterranean ingredients and flavors like garlic, lemon, yogurt and cheeses, Touhouliotis gives a nod to the Portland influence with locally raised meats and seasonal ingredients like kale and squash, typically featured in the nightly specials. Those specials are good, but are similar to others elsewhere. Go Greek and stay that way.

Ideal meal: Six friends, eight appetizers (make it two of the dolmas), a couple bottles of wine (opt for some of the Greek labels) and a few hours to enjoy the company.

Best deal: A $5 glass of wine and a grilled lamb pita ($8) at happy hour. Opa!

Pro Tip: Eleni's Estiatorio is her original location in Sellwood if you're not up for the downtown crowd.

5-10 pm Tuesday-Sunday. $$.


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