I have a small obsession with Greek food. Not that I have eaten a lot of “authentic” Greek food, but I keep dreaming of the moment when I will be sitting in a café in Mykonos enjoying it. So, even when I am stuffing a faux gyro in my mouth I imagine that it’s real, and that makes me feel better inside. Alas, it’s not real and it never has been…BUT with that being said, my number one dining partner and I decided to have a date night at Portland’s local Greek restaurant, Emilitsa, because I needed to eat and dream of an island hugging the Aegean Sea where I might one day sit eating my truly authentic Greek food.
We walked into a bright restaurant that was bustling with life at 8:30 on Friday night. The modern décor is simple and clean with exposed brick walls that make it feel like you are snuggled into a West Village restaurant in New York. The bar was packed and there wasn’t an open table in the place, so we were thankful that we had sprung for reservations. We were very promptly seated and handed a drink menu. Their drink menu is fantastic and only features Greek wines and a nice selection of Greek and local beers. The waiter was kind enough to explain the wines so we could order something to our liking (me similar to Pinot Noir, Mark similar to Cabernet).
I ended up with the Boutari, which was very full-bodied and spicy. I loved it. Mark ended up with the Harlaftis. It was, indeed, a Cabernet I found upon investigation. It was subtly rich and extremely pleasing. I would recommend both if you also enjoys Pinots and Cabs.
After whetting our appetites with a bit of alcohol we were ready for some serious mezethakia (appetizers). We were sent some complimentary hummus from the kitchen, but we knew we’d need more to experience all Emilitsa had to offer. Never ones to shy away from anything scallop, we went for the Htenia me Ouzo. Large sea scallops were wading in a light ouzo-tomato cream with dodoni feta. It was, in one word, incendiary. I dream about scallops like those. The ouzo cream sauce was otherworldly. I couldn’t believe the symphony of flavors that was playing in my mouth.
The other mezethakia we decided we couldn’t live without was the Kefalograviera me Syka Saganaki, pan fried sheep’s milk kefalograviera (a hard, salty cheese) with baby Turkish balsamic peppered figs. The cheese was earthy and delicious, while the figs added the sweetness needed to balance out the intense flavors and saltiness of the cheese. Overall, very solid and I would have it again in a heartbeat.
The wine was pumping through our veins now and we were well on our way to calling this our favorite restaurant in Portland, but we still had to get through the main course. We both decided Greek Comfort food was the way to go. I can never turn down lamb in any form and I had never, ever, had lamb’s neck before so ordering the Lemo Arnou was a no brainer for me. This dish was an all-natural grass-fed lamb neck, slow braised in a mastic yogurt honey sauce and then served with olive oil pomme puree and fire roasted florina peppers. It was perfectly fresh and definitely heavy. I loved the subtle gaminess of the lamb paired with the light sauce and pomme puree. I would go back a hundred more times to eat that dish again. Perfection.
Mark is obsessed with Emilitsa’s Moussaka, and really, who could blame him? It’s the best I have ever had. Beautiful layers of organic oven roasted eggplant baked with a ground beef mixture and then topped with a Greek yogurt béchamel sauce. I must say, even I have been dreaming of and craving this dish since we went. The béchamel is so light and delicate, but certainly not lacking in flavor. It adds the subtle creaminess to the dish that I have never experienced with Moussaka before. Usually I just think it’s too heavy and creamy. I know Mark wants to go back for this dish sooner than later.
It was a beautiful fall night out at what I will certainly say is my absolute favorite fine-dining restaurant in Portland. The flavors and intense, the wines are rich and the atmosphere is supremely cosmopolitan. We can’t wait to go back and try more things from the menu, or even stick with the ones we know we already love. Greek food has never been nearer or dearer to my heart.