hungry for Hellenic hare
Seeing the name "estiatorio" in a Greek restaurant was the first sign. After all, this is Portland, Greek population nil. And I am not sure if even one visit to Greece is enough to rekindle the memory for the Greek word for restaurant, especially when there are more obvious terms like, "taverna." The use of this word alone made Eleni's a great beginning in my quest to dine at all Greek restaurants in Portland.
(So what, if there are less than six of them.)
Also, they often have rabbit on the menu. Rabbit Stifado, a rich stew laden with pearl onions, is probably the most common form of eating bunny in Greece. Eleni's rabbit came braised in a tomato and wine bath on a mound of slightly overcooked rabbit food. Cooking vegetables a little too long is surely a sign of real Greek food. Overall, this bunny was mild, clearly domesticated, with the slightest hint of nuttiness. Let's be honest, it tasted like chicken.
But let's rewind from the rabbit and I'll tell you about the wine. Poor Greek wine does not get much love in the western part of the U.S. Living in Portland for almost two years now, I rarely see it in brick and mortar commerce, and if I do, it's usually Boutari Moschofilero, which there is nothing wrong with but variety is the spice of life. My dinning partners, wine pros Beau of Beau's Barrel Room and Becky of Kramer Vineyards and with my lovely fiancé , Justin, and I were ready for something new and delicious. And Eleni's was ready to give it to us with their expansive Greek wine menu. The best wine to eat mezedes with is no doubt Moscofilero, with its mineral taste and refreshing finish. The salty, gooey saganaki, garlicky revithia, and crispy kalamarakia were all made that much better with the wine.
Skouras 2010 Moscofilero
Revithia: vampires beware
Saganaki: Did you order some flaming cognac with your fried kefalograviera?
Kalamarakia: olive oil pan fried squid.
The onset of entrée envy hit me quickly with Becky's Arni Me Filo. Chunks of tomato braised lamb leg suspended in a red pepper purée and cheese wrapped up in a giant phyllo packet, represents everything that is awesome in the world.
The Soutzoukakia Justin ordered was stacked. Soutzoukakia is Asia Minor Greek comfort food - meatballs that are twice cooked. Once in the fry pan, and then to the oven in a tomato sauce spa. Eleni's offers her balls on top of "Crete risotto" or spaghetti. Don't forget the feta topper to complete the stack. Although, I cannot lie and say this was better than my Aunt Mary's version, but it was certainly everything that embraces what comfort food represents: rich, soft, flavorful and belly filling. Beau ordered the same, but with spaghetti, so I won't bore you with almost the same picture.
Photo taken by Justin
I don't usually comment on service, but I will note the service was definitely "Greek Style" in that, once we got our main dishes, our server abandoned us - almost for good. This happens in Greece because you can kick it like a cricket at the table for as long as you want, and the service doesn't want to hurry you so they do not check on you. But this was probably not the case - they were either short staffed or there was fresh blood in the door needing more attention. Either way, the Eleni's experience was excellent and I would gladly return after finishing my Greek restaurant quest.
7712 SE 13th Ave
Portland, OR 97202