Bryan Richardson
Eleni's Philoxenia
112 NW 9th

Eleni's Estiatorio
7712 SE 13th Ave

Homer crafted two enormous and magnificent epic poems, The Odyssey and The Iliad. Likewise, Eleni's has created their own Greek masterpieces, in the form of two restaurants, which share a similar menu as exhaustive as The Odyssey's list of characters.

For those in search of a sleek downtown eatery, visit Eleni's newer northwest branch, which opened its doors only a few months ago. For those in search of comfort and romance, the original location offers warmth, candlelight, and a Sellwood address.

We began our Eleni's feast with fresh bread and a bowl of high-quality, fruity olive oil and olive tapenade; after which, we ordered a smorgasbord of orektika (appetizers). The first to arrive was the melitzanes yemistes, a roasted eggplant stuffed with tomatoes, peppers, onions, zucchini, and garlic topped with feta and kefalograviera cheeses. The dish had a complete flavor that revolved around the sweet core of goat cheese and vegetables, while the eggplant borrowed a zesty fullness from the tomato sauce.

Afterwards came the feta me filo, a filo dough pastry layered with feta cheese and drizzled with honey. Their signature filo was prepared perfectly--a delicate latticework of dough that maintained enough structural integrity to carry the cheese. Then came the garithes me skortho, a circle of tiger prawns sautéed with olive oil, garlic, and lemon, bathed in sherry and a light cayenne chili sauce. The prawns were a little tough, and failed to assert much flavor; I wished they could've absorbed the spicy flavor of the sauce, but regardless, we soaked up the tasty broth with bread and got plenty of use out of the dish.

The prize of the evening was definitely the gigantes, a shallow bowl of enormous lima beans sautéed in olive oil with garlic, peppers, and tomatoes, lightly spiced with fresh chili pepper. It sounds too easy, but somehow this simple combination created a beautiful harmony. The intricate strains of chili pepper brought the whole chorus of tastes to life; It was one of the most satisfying and original dishes I've ever had.

If you're in the mood for meat, try the kouneli stifatho, a rabbit quarter simmered in tomato sauce with baby onions, citrus, and spices; or order the arni kampa, a leg of lamb with carrots, celery, garlic, fresh thyme, and rosemary served with pasta.

To finish we ordered yiaourti me meli, a dessert from Crete: dense, rich mounds of Mediterranean yogurt dressed in candied orange rinds, raisins, almonds, and ladled with warm chocolate sauce and honey. Everything tasted delicious, but the flavors of each individual part didn't contribute to a unified whole--the effect was a chain of isolated flavors that could've done more. Considering the perfection of their filo dough, I'd recommend trying their galaktoboureko, a filo pastry layered with light orange-vanilla custard and topped with tart lemon syrup.

With a satisfying balance between strong Greek flavors and graceful restraint, Eleni's asserts itself as a local classic.