Emilitsa is the highest-rated restaurant in Portland on an online restaurant rating site, so it was important for me to get there to see if the hype was real. We had reservations and, after walking around town for a bit, made our way to the Congress St. restaurant for some Greek fare and good times. I was more excited than the Ultimate Warrior running to the ring to try the fabled Congress St. eatery.
My first impression of the restaurant as I walked in was that it looked really cool. The bar was on the left immediately as we entered. It was smallish, but really nice and modern. A waitress or hostess greeted us and led us to a table toward the end of the restaurant. It was long and thin with tables along the right side and the aisle to the left. At the end, it opened up to a table for larger parties and beyond that was the kitchen.
I sat and began to look at two menus – drink and food. I was impressed by the selection of beer, wine, and liquor, which included both classic and Mediterranean cocktails, but I wasn’t thinking drinks. I was more concerned about food and decided to go dry that night. When the waitress approached, I told her to keep the waters coming and my wife ordered Domaine Skouras chardonnay which came out quickly. At about the same time, we also received a plate of lentil puree with crisp bread courtesy of the chef.
Like I had with the drink menu before I decided I was passing, I picked up the food menu to thoroughly investigate my options. After a quick perusal, I saw a number of appetizers that interested me. I considered the scallops in creme sauce or either of the salad offerings, but couldn’t get the Thessaloniki Htipiti out of my head. It consisted of a spread of roasted jalapeno chili with whipped dodoni feta served with grilled pita bread. That seemed pretty delicious to me. When the waitress came for our orders, I chose that and my wife went with Spanikopita – layers of phyllo stuffed with spinach, feta and herbs, rolled into triangles. We decided to wait a bit before ordering the main course.
In order to ensure a perfect decision as to what I should order next, I needed a power-up for my brain, so I tried the crispy bread with lentil puree, onions, and whatever other delicious parts from which our gift of food was made. Scoop. Crunch. Whammo! It was awesome. The garlic, onion, and other seasonings made the puree delicious and the crunch gave it attitude. It was a great way to get started. I split my focus between making a decision on more food and eating as much of the food we already had as I could. I was hungry, playa.
To keep with a recent theme, my wife focused on vegetarian options for her meal, while I was generally looking for either chicken or fish. Under the menu category “ellinika trophima anesis” or Greek comfort food, I saw Pastitsatha Zeemareeka – chicken braised in a tomato, baby onion, and cinnamon wine sauce, served on a bed of fresh pasta, with grated mizithra-parmesan cheese. That sounded good to me. I decided I would have that. Mrs. Portlandeater took the vegetarian Bamies Meh Patates – okra and potato braised with extra-virgin olive oil, tomato, garlic, and sweet vidalia onion, crusty bread for mopping, dodoni feta and spiced olives. It was on like Donkey Kong, ping pong, and the Thong Song.
Shortly after making our decisions, we received our apps. My wife had two spanikopita – is that the plural for spanikopita? – on a bed of spinach. My plate was covered in a dozen pieces of pita with a bowl of chili cheese spread on the side. I tried a bite of the pita and it was good. I then smeared a copious amount of the cheese spread on the rest of the pita piece and plopped it in my pita piece hole. It was truly awesome. The feta and tempered chili heat made a delicious combo and with more than enough of the spread to go around, I covered my bread with a near-metric-ton of the stuff. My wife loved the simplicity and spinachicity of her spanikopita. We both cleaned our plates of the food and waited for more.
As we waited for our entrees, we discussed flux capacitors and their fluxual capacity, but in hardly a handshake and a high jump, the food showed up in all it’s glory. My wife’s just looked like a pile of vegetables in sauce, a piece of bread, and couple olives. Mine honestly looked like an Italian dish with red sauce and pasta though my olives gave a bit of a Greekish feel. I hoped that the Greekness of it would flow through once I got it in my mouth.
After watching my wife take a bite of okra and suggest that it was good, I dug into mine. My chicken was cut into pieces, so I cut a piece of that, made sure there was plenty of sauce on it, and drove it home. I instantly felt I had the Greek god of chicken in front of me. The cinnamon powered through the sauce combining with the wine to make a uniquely Greek preparation. It was a food experience that was very different, but different in a really good way. The baby onions were cut in half, golf ball-sized, and were a nice addition to the plate. I had to try the pasta next. It was all stuck together in a pile, which is actually how I like it. I feel that sticky consistency delivers a perfect texture. I gathered several strands, ran it through the sauce, and gobbled it up. It was incredible – doughy, fresh, and absolutely delicious. I was on cloud ten…nine was being rented – presumably by someone else at the restaurant.
We finished our meals and debated whether or not to order dessert. While I wasn’t overly hungry, I knew I could make room for the right bite. The options on the menu were cheesecake, custard, and baklava. After narrowing it down to the first and the last, we settled on Baklava – phyllo, walnut, cinnamon, honey – to share. It’s one of my all time favorites and this one came with a dallop of whipped cream and some sort of honey brittle. It was utterly delicious and exactly what I expected. We finished it, my wife had a coffee, and we were done.
Even though we didn’t have drinks other than one wine, it wasn’t a cheap meal. After tax and tip, it all came to $116. Emilitsa was awesome but pricey. It’s going into the rotation though, and maybe next time we’ll land a seat at the bar. That sounds like a solid plan. Until then, I will revel in the glorious gift of Greek gastronomic greatness that Emilitsa brings to Portland. You should go too, because I’m telling you to. If you don’t, you’ll be plagued by tarantulas in your bed at night.
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