Phil Vettel reviews Avli Taverna

CHICAGO, Ill., -- Chef Louie Alexakis, who has owned Avli restaurant in Winnetka for nearly 10 years, is taking his Greek-cuisine act to Chicago; specifically, Lincoln Park, where Avli Taverna has been doing very well for four months.

Alexakis strives to be more adventurous, more regionally varied than most Greektown restaurants, but there’s a lot of familiarity on his menu. For example, he offers saganaki - not the tableside-flamed version that was invented in Chicago, but a nicely composed dish of melted vlohotiri cheese topped with peppered figs and honey. It’s a tastier, better-rounded version of this classic.

Other starters include tender octopus, served in bite-sized pieces with fava-bean spread and ouzo-soaked pickles. Kataifi prawns are wrapped in shredded phyllo, which puff out like crunchy spines when fried, and served with a sauce made with boukovo, a paprika-like pepper.

My favorite entrée is the papoutsakia. The name means “little shoe,” and this grilled eggplant, stuffed with tomatoes, peppers and onions kind of looks like a slipper if you use a little imagination.

At the other end of the price range is the astakomakaronatha; I’m probably butchering the pronunciation, but it’s a traditional Greek dish combining lobster and spaghetti

Alexakis is pretty ambitious with his desserts. Bougatsa usually is simply custard-filled phyllo, but the chef imagines it as a mille feuille, stacking layers of phyllos, adding vanilla custard and topping it with preserved sour cherries. Gorgeous.

I give Avli Taverna, 1335 West Wrightwood Avenue, one star. This is not a restaurant trying to be the Next Big Thing; this is a cute, accessible neighborhood spot that is most definitely worth your attention.

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