7712 SE 13th Ave, 230-2165
It saddens me to write this review. My undiscovered secret will soon be considered one of Portland's finest restaurants, marked by lines out the door and lots of write-ups in those dumb "Best of Portland" tourist guides. But as a public service announcement to people who appreciate good food everywhere, I write on.
Eleni's is a small six-month-old Greek restaurant, smack in the middle of Italian restaurant row in Sellwood. In a departure from the typical Americanized Greek restaurant, Eleni's serves more than just the basic feta, olive, and basalmic vinegar salad. The appetizer list includes classics such as spanikopita and some simple salads, but also features unusual Greek dishes. All are made with simple, fresh ingredients and spices, and rely on the basics of Greek dining, demonstrating an authentic, sophisticated understanding of seasoning.
The tzatziki, for example, is made with a thick yogurt that isn't sweetened at all. Mixed in are lots of greens, garlic and onions, and the dish is garnished with fresh dill, chives, and parsley, and served with olive oil. A light and crispy bread is also served with every meal, but the tzatiki is good enough to be eaten alone. The bread is served with a simple olive paste that is made with quality Kalamatas, olive oil, and garlic. You could order and eat appetizers alone and be totally satiated.
But it's the entrees that really rock. There are usually a couple specials, four or five pasta dishes, a few salads, and various kinds of meat. On my last visit I had the pan-seared sea bass special, which was a tender, fresh whitefish seasoned with rosemary. One of the key characteristics to Greek food is lots of salt, and lots of flavor; the rosemary added a distinct, grilled flavor, but it was just balanced enough to reflect the quality and taste of the fish. Other specials are equally well-planned including rack of lamb and other yummy Greek animals.
The place is not cheap, but for the caliber and amount of food that they serve, it's very affordable. Appetizers run $5-$10, while entrees hover around the $15 mark.