Eleni's Philoxenia logoOur best attended Restaurant Roulette evening came to a close after approximately 2.5 hours. Our group of twelve were the last patrons in Philoxenia at closing. After this meal, I reached certain conclusions: a dinner with twelve people is a long dinner (that’s good,) a table with twelve people will probably receive so-so service, especially if waited on by primarily one server, and a table of twelve people will have an extremely difficult time figuring our their part of the bill, especially when the bill is all in Greek and the lighting is poor.

Although it wasn’t easy with such a long narrow table, I tried to keep track of much of the food that was ordered for this review. Some of the appetizer type items that came to my attention included: Dolmathakia (stuffed grape leaves (very leafy in this case;) marinated grilled calamari with lemon vinaigrette (seemingly the evening’s most enjoyed item;) celery root salad??, tiger prawns (more like kitty prawns;) and filo dough filled with a blend of Greek cheese and mint and spinach (there seemed to be a deep fried version of this and a braised version of this, I liked the braised version better.) For entrees people indulged in pasta with mussels, clams, prawns and scallops; pasta with salmon, nutmeg, cognac and cream tomato sauce; pasta with walnuts, pine nuts, garlic and dill; orzo with seasonal forest mushrooms, pancetta and sage; rack of lamb; a halibut special; mousakka; filo dough stuffed with lamb, tomato and cheese; and one inventive individual, Feta Me Filo, feta cheese baked in filo dough with Ouzo, served with honey (dinner and dessert, all in one!) There were three disappointed indivuduals at the table when orders were placed, two because all of the bunny had already hopped away, and one (me) because they had taken my favorite entree off of the menu, grilled chicken with red pepper yogurt sauce. We all survived though, and judging by all the sharing and the $614 bill, no one left the restaurant hungry.

Between engaging in as many conversations as possible, trying food, and keeping track of what was ordered, I really had no idea if people liked their food and the restaurant. Because of this, I solicited opinions of RR members to tell me what they thought. Here is what people kindly sent me:

Marnie and Leo’s review of Eleni’s Philoxenia

Leo and I are both great fans of Greek food, so we were excited to try Eleni’s despite the fact that we couldn’t even pronounce the restaurant’s name. A pop over to their website did nothing to quash our fears that we would sound like fools while ordering but we figured the staff would be used to a lot of pained attempts and pointing.
Wine
We began our meal with a bottle of wine. It was a 2003 Megas Oenos, Skouros, described as “A very stylish Xinomavro with cherries and suave smokiness.” We aren’t so sure how something can taste “stylish”, but the wine did not disappoint. It was lightly tannic but developed into a smooth and full bodied wine as it breathed. It matched nicely with the rich flavors of the food. (Hey Marnie, it’s the Pearl District. Things there are required to taste “stylish.”) ****weird editorial comment
Appetizers
For a starter, we had the Piato Poikilia, a two part appetizer beginning with three dips and culminating in a sampling of three other options from the extensive appetizer menu. It’s restaurant’s choice what you’ll get so your results may vary. Of the dips, the Tzatziki was the hands down winner, though the Revithia and Skordalia were excellent as well. Also served; Gigantes (giant lima beans sautéed with veggies and topped with feta), Dolmathakia (stuffed grape leaves), and three fried Perogies stuffed with feta and spinach. All were excellent and were made all the better by a quick dip in the Tzatziki.
Entrees
For our entrees, we ordered two of the night’s specials; the halibut and the rack of lamb.
The halibut was served with a lemon yogurt sauce and was accompanied by lightly steamed veggies. There was a healthy use of garlic throughout but the flavors all melded together in a way that seemed greater than the sum of its parts. Excellent, really. The fish was light and flakey, and meaty enough to hold up to the rich sauce.
The rack of lamb was tender and flavorful. While not the best rack of lamb that Leo’s ever had it certainly ranked well. In his opinion, it lacked a certain bite to it that would have put it in league with some of his favorite restaurants but it was still excellent on all accounts; tender, juicy, flavorful, cooked to perfection. It was served with garlic noodles and some lentils. The noodles were excellent but the lentils were a touch too al dente for his taste. Not poorly done, but he wouldn’t have minded if they were cooked a touch longer. Again, though, the flavor was excellent. (Hard lentils suck!!!) ****weird editorial comment #2
Overall Impression
Leo and I were very pleased with the food. The flavors were everything we loved; rich, varied, intense and well utilized. The menu selection was perhaps too extensive, making it hard to choose a dish, but if that’s the worst you can say about the menu, you know you are doing well. The prices were high by some standards, but for the quality, we felt it was reasonable and plan to go back again soon. Panda gave two paws up for the leftover lamb bones, and my dance partners at the salsa club would likely give a big thumbs down for eau de garlic which encased me like a cloud for the remainder of the evening.

Thanks so much Marnie and Leonardo for your great review. It saved me so much typing, weird editorial remarks aside

Here’s what Geri had to say:

I loved the calamari, quite possible the best I’ve ever had. My seafood medley entree was nothing special. I thought bringing out the appetizers over such an excruciatingly long period of time was unacceptable. I understand it’s hard to serve a table of 12, but I thought they failed on that point. I’d give the food a 7 and the service a 5. Not nearly as good as some of the other places we’ve been.

Frank:

I think Frank already emailed everyone who attended his review, but to paraphrase him a bit: The tiger prawns were small, the calamari was very good, the filo dough with feta cheese (kilitsounia) tasty, but the lamb was so-so. His and Grace’s favorite item, the large stuffed filo dough filled with lamb and tomato sauce.

Michael thoughts:

The appetizer was the Calamari in olive oil and lemon aoili, which was delicious and not too gummy. My entree was the Salmon fettucine in nutmeg, cognac and feta. It was great. I shared with four outher people. It is one of my top three meals I have experienced in the dining group.

Thank you fellow diners for sharing your thoughts. My opinion? I agree with Geri about the service, although this might always be an issue with the largest RR groups. I’ve never particularly been wowed by the service at Philoxenia on other occasions either though, but it’s probably not that bad considering the owners of Philoxenia are the same people who owned the legendary Satyricon, the scariest, grungiest, and most popular punk music club in the history of Portland. It’s probably lucky the servers don’t come and try to bash our heads into the table at the beginning of the meal.

I missed my favorite chicken dish a great deal, but one reason behind this is because I don’t do tomato well, and never do lamb, so Greek food can be a minefield for me when ordering. My pasta with walnuts and pinenuts was good though, just extremely simple. The grilled calamari was excellent as always, certainly one of absolute best in town, however, the servings were smaller than usual (maybe because there were at least six at our table.) I would have liked to have seen larger servings of olive tapenade served with the bread though, the containers were so small I felt I should be using an eyedropper to disperse it on top of my bread.

The more times I go to Philoxenia, the more I find it authentic Greek (or in this case Cretan, as Crete was not a part of Greece until 1913.) In Greece the service can be very slow, often to the point of frustrating, many things are exceptional, but an equal number are so-so, and it helps to love lamb, tomato, and filo dough. Philoxenia at this point isn’t a perfect restaurant, but Portland has no perfect Greek restaurants. Most of them are average, below average, or just plain frightening (the Greek Cuisina for example.) I’ll continue to support Philoxenia, but maybe next time I visit I’ll just have two or three servings of the grilled calamari, and two glasses of Ouzo.

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