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Friday, July 11, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Restaurant Review

Yanni's spices and prices are nice — if you can take the wait

Seattle Times restaurant critic

Yanni's


7419 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle, 206-783-6945

Greek

**

$$

Reservations: accepted.

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays.

Prices: starters $4.50-$9.95; salads $5.25-$8.75; entrees $8.25-$17.25.

Wine list: approximately 30 Greek labels, all available by the tumblerful, most under $20 a bottle.

Sound: moderate.

Parking: none provided.

Beer and wine / credit cards: MC, V / smoking section (on weekdays only) / no obstacles to access.

If the name Yanni evokes an image of a New Age musician famous for his flowing tresses and romance with actress Linda Evans, you obviously don't live in Greenwood. Here the name Yanni conjures only one vision: a popular Greek restaurant owned and operated, since 1984, by the Avgoustiou family. Their casual cafe's blue-and-white storefront opens onto a Big Fat Greek dinner house beloved for its fried calamari, spit-roasted chickens, modest prices and generous portions.

From orektika (appetizers) to salates (salads) to Greek specialties including moussaka and a host of marinated meats, the menu is marked by the fragrant, flagrant use of garlic. Some people think that's a good thing, but it won't make up for some not-so-good things: overcooked meats and lengthy waits.

Ordering an appetizer is an exercise in excess. Most entrees come with a complimentary Caesar-ish salad or a bowl of light, lemon-lifted, rice-thickened avgolemono soup (choose me! choose me!). But don't let that stop you.

Tyropitakia and spanokopita are fat, flaky and delightful, one with an oozy, custardy feta filling, the other plumped with feta and spinach. ($7.75).

Keftedes ($6.25) are browned, lean, crusty Greek meatballs spiced just enough to add interest.

Skordalia ($4.50) — a potent garlic spread made with soaked bread, lemon and accompanied (as is most everything) by warm slices of Greek-style pita — comes advertised with the warning "for garlic lovers only." That admonition could easily extend to the breath-defying yogurt-and-cucumber tzatziki dip ($4.75).

Tzatziki acts as sauce or side for many menu items, including the gyros sandwich ($8.25), souvlaki skewers with sweet onion ($11.75-$13.25), and baked dolmathes — large, dill-infused cylinders of rice and ground meat wrapped in pickled grape leaves ($9.95).

Tzatziki doubles as dressing-galore for a feisty version of a classic Greek salad known in this garlicky guise as tzatzikosalata ($8.50). One could make a meal — for two — of this mountainous affair, or any of the other salads that arrive abundant with tomatoes, cucumbers, Kalamatas, peppers, and hunks of feta. (I'm partial to the refreshing, garlic-restrained, oil-and-vinegar-tossed Ellinikia Salate, $8.75.)

Fried calamari ($6.95) is the munchable ideal at Yanni's. Purists will want for nothing more than a spritz of the fresh lemon provided, though there's skordalia for squiddy-dipping if you're so inclined. The calamari's light, crunchy, salt-seasoned breading clings to a heap of rings and tentacles (it's also available with the full-entree accompaniment of soup or salad, and big chunks of lemony potatoes and steamed vegetables, $9.95). Kalamari plaki ($10.75) takes a simmer in a tomato bath with onion, zucchini, Kalamatas and bell peppers. This saucy entree begs for a bed of pasta — which it got the next day when I enjoyed the leftovers at home.

Moussaka has as many variations as there are Greek grandmothers. Yanni's version ($11.95) layers eggplant, potato slices and meat sauce. Capped with béchameland baked to a mashed-potato-like consistency, the texture is reminiscent of shepherd's pie, with hits of dessert-pie spice. Pastichio is a tweaked take on the moussaka — hold the eggplant, add a raft of pasta tubes baked in a casserole ($10.50).

I've got a beef with the beef souvlaki ($11.95). And the pork souvlaki ($11.75). And the pork brizola ($12.25) — a serious slab of blade-steak pleasantly seasoned with herbs and liberally sprinkled with feta. On various visits, each of these marinated meats suffered from overcooking, leading me to wonder: Am I the only (un)happy camper hoping for moisture when I take knife to flesh at Yanni's?

Chicken skaras ($11.95) was lovely enough to look at, its big bone-in breasts bronzed and broiled, but, like the herb-roasted rotisserie chicken, a house favorite ($11.50 half/$14.50 whole), the meat leaned distinctly in the direction of d-r-y. Faring better was arni paidakia skaras ($14.95), herb-and-oil-marinated lamb loin chops that could have left the grill sooner rather than later.

Later rather than sooner describes the kitchen's pace — which borders on excruciatingly slow if you're dining with young children, a common practice here. The Avgoustiou family acknowledges this shortcoming by begging for patience on their menu. Apologies not accepted: a 30-minute wait between courses (even on slow nights!) is too long for a neighborhood joint that caters to families.

While servers aren't as quick as they could be when it comes to seating customers, or as thorough at such tasks as clearing tables, they make up for it in other ways. They offer tastings from the all-Greek wine list, are happy to fetch a little more of this or that as needed, and thoughtfully describe the honey-sweetened pastries and exotic ice-cream options that make a fine finish to a filling Greek repast.

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or nleson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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