When Greek Goes Chic

Lola's got class, but the Continental has that tasty authenticity.

While living in Athens last year, I flopped at learning Greek. Despite this setback, and the fact that the sun never quite tanned my glowing white skin, I did gain an appreciation for Greek cuisine. There's nothing like warm pita bread dipped in tzatziki (yogurt dip) or that honey-soaked baklava that manages to make even Krispy Kreme doughnuts seem inadequate. Once you've experienced the fresh ingredients, herbs and spices, exceptional olive oil, and overall simplicity of Greek food, it's impossible to forget. But what sort of complex relationship does the city of Seattle have with Greek cuisine? To understand the full spectrum of Greco options available in the city, I decided to visit two very different restaurants, the first being entrepreneur Tom Douglas' newest venture: Lola. Upon entering Lola, I noticed that the atmosphere was sophisticated and the tables were overflowing with chatty couples and families. The large room was surprisingly simple and even comparable to the effortless decor of the Mediterranean cafes (minus endearing old men in fishing caps and with the addition of groups of yuppies). The menu was extensive and the dishes savory looking. We eventually chose to share the smoky eggplant spread ($3), which was delicious and perfect for dipping warm pita into; tzatziki ($3), tasty but a little thin; Dungeness crab tagine ($20), with tender chunks of crab and veggies; and the Lola Sampler ($18). The last included an abundance of super-Greek food like fresh squid and dolmades but also other items that seemed, uhh, not so Greek—multigrain pita bread (a Northwest thing?) and a dip I couldn't identify that tasted like nothing in particular—as well as disagreeably salty chickpeas. Overall, service was excellent (and reservations essential, as we barely squeezed in for an early dinner). But some waiters did appear harried because of the crowd and the noise, and the restaurant didn't have the relaxed atmosphere associated with dining in Greece, where families seem to compete over who can sit at the cafe the longest. Everyone at Lola seemed in such a hurry. Lola was impressive, which isn't surprising considering that's what Douglas' restaurants do best—impress. The food held true to many elements of superior Greek cuisine (fresh ingredients, spices, olive oil, and simplicity), but honestly, even the simplicity was a little too fancy for me. Where was the gooey moussaka and zesty gyros? And since when did sweet goat's milk pie take the place of baklava? Tired of being expensively "impressed," I wondered if it was impossible to find Greek food in Seattle that was authentic, not designed to fill a niche. After listening to my complaints about the rebirth of Greek cuisine as hip dining, a friend suggested a family-run, charming Greek cafe in the U District. Enter Continental Pastry Shop, the other side of the Greek food spectrum from Lola and now my favorite Greek restaurant in Seattle. A bold statement, I know, but few deserve it more than the cafe's owners for the last 30 years, George and Eleni Lagos, and their son, Demetre. The restaurant is plainly decorated: white walls, various photographs of distant Greek isles, a selection of Greek products in the corner (the largest selection of Greek wines in the Northwest), and best of all, a gathering of family and friends at the very center table . . . most authentic. The service was wonderful, and with the help of our waitress, we ordered an overabundance of food, all from recipes brought over from the island of Evia. The tzatziki ($5.95 with warm pita) served before our meal was thick and creamy without being too garlicky, and, as Demetre assured us, homemade like everything served at the cafe. The chicken souvlaki ($6.95 with fries and salad) was tender, the traditional gyro (with the lamb-beef mixture for $4.50) perfectly complemented by more of the incredible tzatziki, and the spanikopita ($7.50 with fries and salad), flavorful when combined with the slabs of feta. Meatballs came as part of Athena's plate ($13.95) and were served with a tangy sauce that accentuated the spices of the meat and almost made us too full for the homemade baklava ($2.50 a slice). Almost too full. The atmosphere is one of the most compelling things about Continental, and the people are so friendly, it's easy to understand why Demetre says Greek restaurants are essential to the Greek community dispersed throughout Seattle and that they help Northwest Greeks nurture and enjoy their culture. Continental isn't striving for the same niche that Lola is, and though I appreciate the refined atmosphere and delectable food at Lola, I'm convinced that Continental Pastry Shop is where Greek food is done right in Seattle. Not only because the tzatziki is thick and the greek wine plentiful, but also because it truly feels like a laid-back neighborhood cafe in Athens . . . with the occasional Northwest rain shower. hlogue@seattleweekly.com Lola, 2000-B Fourth Ave., 206-441-1430, DOWNTOWN. Breakfast 6–10 a.m. Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Sat.–Sun.; lunch 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Sat.–Sun.; dinner 4–10 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., 4–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat. Continental Pastry Shop, 4549 University Way N.E., 206-632-4700, UNIVERSITY DISTRICT. 7 a.m.–11 p.m. Mon.–Wed.; 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Thurs.; 7 a.m.–11 p.m. Fri.

 
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