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Porta Taverna on Eastlake


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I think I had given up on Greek food in Seattle. It had been at least three years since I’d set foot in a Greek restaurant and I hadn’t given it much thought. When I lived on Capital Hill I used to go to Byzantion pretty regularly and, for a time, I thought it was very good. By the last time I went there it seemed to have descended into profound mediocrity. There had been two good Greek restaurants in succession in that cursed space on 1st and Union (University?, where Marcha y Tapas was, most recently). Other Greek places I’ve tried were uninspiring at best, plus with the advent of some good Turkish places in town, my jones for Eastern Mediterranean food was well served. I’ve heard consistently good things about Yanni’s, but I’ve never been. So, then how the hell did I end up at Porta Taverna on Eastlake a couple weeks ago when I needed to come up with a place to meet a friend for dinner? My best guess: divine inspiration and citysearch.com advertising. äüîá ôù Èåþ!

I had passed Porta a couple times in the last year, mostly on my way to Pomodoro, another favorite on Eastlake. The evening in question, I was having one of those Eastern Med joneses and turned to citysearch to locate some place on/near Capital Hill. The first place that popped up, due to paid advertising I presume, was Porta. Perusing their menu online I was very intrigued by the items I was unfamiliar with, and the lack of the standard 10 or so that are virtually always present. If fact, the top of their menu states: “Here you will find many traditional Greek dishes rarely served in restaurants outside of Greece.” A-men! There are in fact a number of typical items (calamari, horiatiki salad, dolmandes, souvlaki, saganaki, etc.), but they seem to have kept the stuff I like and lost the rest.

We started with calamari, one of my favorite things. Porta’s is bare bones, no flavored breading or ten-ingredient aioli to hide behind. Just straight ahead lightly breaded squid, cooked to the right consistency and served with a garlicky tzatziki sauce. Beautiful.

Almost a quarter of Porta’s menu is comprised of very tempting dips. A complete dinner of pita and dip is definitely not out of the question. We chose one called Kopanisti made with feta, bleu cheese, mint, lemon and spices with pistachios scattered over the top and drizzled with sweet wine. It was a food epiphany, unique in flavor and highly addictive. Bring the trough.

My friend wanted to try the dolmades, which I wasn’t so interested in. Porta’s are excellent, served warm and heavily seasoned; like little wrapped lamb burgers with pine nuts and currants mixed in.

The last, and best thing we had, was the Arni Salata. Sauteed morsels of lamb with bacon, peppers and onions, served warm on a bed of greens, sprinkled with feta. Too damn good to be called a salad if you ask me.

I was so enthused about the place that I took scrat there the following weekend. Unbeknownst to us it was Orthodox Easter and they had a band for the evening and were obviously expecting a big crowd. With no reservations we got put in a round mini-booth in the front of the restaurant. Turned out to be a great seat. Because of the special event, they were only offering a limited menu.

For starters we had the feta/blue cheese dip, but were disappointed that the calamari was not available. Our server suggested the octopus. Braised and then flash fried, served atop basil vinaigrette, very crisp yet tender, this was just tremendous. Unquestionably the best octopus dish I’ve ever had. We, uhhh, had it for dessert too. We attempted to order the lamb salad, but apparently didn’t yell loud enough, over the music, for our server to understand us. Again, a happy mistake, as we got some tasty braised lamb shoulder with a great rice pilaf. The band that night, Balkanarama, was really fun and there was much spontaneous dancing. With a few rounds of ouzo, I was in a very Greek state of mind.

The owner, Demetri Georgakopoulos, who runs the front of the house , is a very warm, welcoming person. Overall service is very casual, proficient and friendly. I’m going back soon!…

Edited by tighe (log)

Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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tighe, scrat, MsRamsey and I (they kidnapped me!) made the scene at Porta Taverna last night for dinner, and it was just as described above - very good! The place definintely feels like a funky, comfortable neighborhood hangout, and though it was a little slow when we got there at 8:00, it was full and jumping (and a bit loud, for me) by time we left. Sadly, their deep frier was on the fritz, so no kalamari or crispy octopus :sad:. The dishes are designed to be shared, so that's what we did:

Fava Skordalia - "and exotic blended dip of bread, garlic, yellow split peas with olive oil, lemon, kalamata olive and fresh herbs". I wasn't very excited about this item from the menu, but I have to admit it was very good. Much like a hummus, but much lighter and brighter tasting.

Kopanisti - "feta, bleu cheese, fresh mint, lemon and spices blended together covered with pistachios ans sweet wine syrup". This was very rich and strongly flavored with lots of garlic. The wine syrup drizzled on top was like a thick balsamic, but milder. Yummy.

Vassili's Arni Salata - "a mixed green salad with tomatoes, sauteed lamb, bacon, bell peppers, onion, garlic, herbs and spices, topped with geta cheese". Well, it had bacon, so we had to order it. A great mixture of warm, sauteed ingredients on top of fresh greens. This would make a nice meal in itself.

Garidhes Saganaki - "sauteed prawns and artichoke hearts smothered in a rich spiced tomato sauce, feta cheese, and then baked, w/rice pilaf". This was really good and the sauce had an unusual sweet spice that we couldn't quite place - my guess was allspice.

Paidakia - "grilled lamb chops searved rare, marinated in oregano, lemon and olive oil, with rice pilaf". These were like like juicy, tender lamb lollypops, nicely charred on the outside. Mmm, mm.

We ordered one each of the two desserts on offer. I don't remember the names, but one was an orange custard baked in filo and the other was sort of like a rolled baklava with nuts (almonds? pistachios?) in filo. Both were very weak and dissapointing. Not to put it too strongly, but these were some of the worst desserts I've had in Seattle. Pass.

I'll be back when they fix the frier, though. :smile:

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Yanni's deep fryer supplied us with some of the crispest, most tender calamari ever. Another neighborhood(Greenwood)winner worth a special trip. Everything else was good, too and the whole chicken is a real bargain at just $4 more than a half. We had a meals worth left to take home. Call if you want to go.

Judy Amster

Cookbook Specialist and Consultant

amsterjudy@gmail.com

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  • 2 years later...

I finally made it to Porta's new location today, for lunch. They're not simply rehashing what they did at the Eastlake location but have refined their dishes, particularly in presentation. The space is also much nicer than the original location and I like the look of the white tables and chairs against the otherwise dark brown interior.

We started with kopanisti, a dip made with blue cheese, mint and pistachios. It has been one of my favorites at Porta from the beginning. It was particularly good this time but the portion has been severely pared down.

For lunch I had spitofesai (sp?), fennel sausage with sauteed peppers and tomatoes, sprinkled with feta and thyme. Really tasty if you like strong fennel flavor (fennel seeds were also sprinkled over the dish). Scrat had the pork souvlaki that was presented on 3-tiered plate stand with tzaziki and various veggies on top, two skewers of grilled pork in the middle and a plate of pita on the bottom. Dramatic presentation, but a little challenging to manage on a small table. With the entrees at $8, this is one of the better downtown lunch values I've seen.

One sad note: they no longer have the octopus on the menu. Something about not having the kind of grill they need in the kitchen. I may have to buy one for them...

Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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I finally made it to Porta's new location today, for lunch. 

One sad note: they no longer have the octopus on the menu.  Something about not having the kind of grill they need in the kitchen.  I may have to buy one for them...

Hmm, I had a bite there last Friday night. Had an octopus and endive salad that was served in a martini glass. It was good, but I really disliked eating at this bar. Maybe I would like the place more at a table - or with some company, in order to share plates. The overall menu didn't really appeal to me. It was very quiet in there at 8:30 pm.

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  • 5 months later...

Any current experiences at Porta? I'm supposed to pick a Greek restaurant for an early dinner toorrow and trying to decide between Lola & Porta...

Do you suffer from Acute Culinary Syndrome? Maybe it's time to get help...

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