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Evening at Evvia

[whitespace] Evvia
Christopher Gardner

Roll Playing: The exhibition kitchen at Evvia lets diners see behind the scenes.

Greek menu bears gifts at Evvia, with its mythic flavors from the land of the gods

By Christina Waters

'It's more than wonderful," boomed our neighboring diner on the long banquette under the wall of colored glass. He was talking about the lamb chops, one of the many signature dishes that have made Evvia one of Palo Alto's top destinations. "Mine was even better," retorted his Texan tablemate, the two of them clearly Silicon Valley traders having a grand old time, jackets off and deep in the heart of a fine dinner. Only the crispy head was left of what had been an entire striped bass, taking up most of a platter the size of the Lone Star State.

Jack and I just grinned at each other, thanked them for their recommendations and ordered a glass of retsina ($5) --now that's Greek to me--and a glass of supple Naoussa, Grande Reserve 1992 ($7), a red wine from Macedonia, with which to wash down the excellent house bread. Evvia's hand-painted pottery echoed the colors of the Aegean. A fire danced in the hearth, whose mantel carried enough copper and brass to outfit a pirate ship--the twin of an equally lavish display of pots hanging over the kitchen counter.

Everybody's having a great time here--most of them dining family-style in large tables, sharing huge plates of food. Generosity, forward flavors and plenty of laughter--that's what Jack and I remembered about our times spent in Greece. And that's Evvia's secret. Suddenly you feel that you've turned a corner and entered a taverna on Paros-- only with an unmistakable Bay Area sophistication.

Everything on this menu appeals--little plates of feta and olives, pita and skordalia, the creamy potato and garlic spread of Greece. Pasta and moussaka, grilled meats and chops. There is nothing precious or timid about this food.

Though we felt sheepish about it, Jack and I decided to dive into the hearty recommendations we'd received the moment we sat down--we ordered the grilled lamb chops ($20.95) and the mesquite grilled striped bass ($24), and started things off with a shared order of one of our favorite Greek appetizers, grilled octopus ($13.50).

Perhaps if more people called for this wonderful seafood, chefs would have more experience preserving its tenderness. As it was, the marinated and grilled octopus was a bit chewy, but delicious. It arrived in a riot of crisp, chopped frisée, roasted red bell pepper strips and a heady vinaigrette of lemon and oregano, the flavors of the Mediterranean. We loved it, even while wishing for a more tender main attraction.

The wines were opening up to a rich fullness--the pungent retsina was one of those light versions reserved for tame American palates unused to the heady pine resin flavor of the Old World version. It is a haunting fragrance, however, superb with both our entrees.

The bass, served with a knife to remove the central column of bones, was perfection. Crisp skin, easily removed, embraced white flesh so moist it was almost creamy. My fish rode a wave of mixed greens--dandelion, spinach and chard--all gloriously braised in lemon, olive oil and tart juice of olives. It was an outstanding foil for the straightforward fish, sprigged with accents of fresh oregano.

Jack's lamb chops were classic. Zeus himself could have related to these thick, medium-rare, juicy chops, served with huge wedges of rosemary-scented potatoes that had somehow been saturated in lemon juice. They were as good as potatoes get--uncomplicated and glowing with flavor.

"You don't taste the chef," observed Jack over the last trace of crimson lamb, "you taste the food." He definitely had a point. At Evvia, flavor rules in Olympic proportions.

An electrifying chèvre cheesecake ($5.95), shaped like a Byzantine chapel, was topped with barely sweetened whipped cream and sitting in a pool of cinnamon-laced port sauce, sided with a fig. The fig, good enough to fight over, made a rich, mysterious complement to the creamy cake. Dionysian dining--and just a stone's throw from Stanford.

Address: 420 Emerson St., Palo Alto
Phone: 650/326-0983
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2:30pm, Mon.-Thu. 5:30-10pm, Fri.-Sat. 5-11pm, Sun. 5-9pm
Entrees: $13.95-$24
Cuisine: Contemporary Aegean

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From the May 28-June 3, 1998 issue of Metro.

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