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April 2000: Alekos Taverna

Housed in the stately former home of Sir Walter Raleigh restaurant, Alekos Taverna has preserved the exterior. Inside, the color scheme is a familiar Greek blue and white with a few classical statues and friezes amidst the stucco walls and arches. The room is comfortable, the service is attentive, and the prices are reasonable. The cooking won't win any awards, but for the most part it is nicely done, and a few dishes are even better than that.

Appetizers go far beyond the usual Greek salads, dips, and stuffed grape leaves, although Alekos Taverna does them well. Stuffed grape leaves, accompanied by a bright lemon sauce, come vegetarian or filled with beef and rice; both are good. Special treats are the imam baldi, half a large eggplant stuffed with diced tomatoes, onions, olive oil, and fresh herbs, and pan-fried codfish with fresh garlic, olive oil, and mashed potatoes. Two combination platters at $9.95—one meat, the other fish—are each enough for three. One has fried shrimp, squid, and codfish along with taramasalata, while the other, a cholesterol bonanza, features sweetbreads, Greek sausage, liver meatballs, and fried cheese. The sweetbreads were so tender and full of flavor that they should be added to the menu as a separate item.

The old standbys will neither disappoint nor excite. For $8.95, diners can try reasonable portions of tasty moussaka, pastitsio, stuffed grape leaves, or spanakopita. For a dollar more the restaurant offers a combination of the four.

Better bets, although a little more expensive, are the other main courses, almost all of them broiled. The lamb shish kebab comes in perfectly cooked one-inch cubes. The meat isn't from the tenderloin, but it is good quality, well marinated, and cooked as ordered. Chicken fanciers should go for the broiled half chicken, nicely herbed and moist, rather than the chicken kebab, which was overcooked. Broiled lamb chops were excellent. There are always one or two daily specials of braised lamb with a vegetable.

Fish dishes were uneven, but a busy night might have thrown off the averages. A weeknight brought forth a perfectly broiled red snapper, while a similarly prepared whole flounder was overcooked. Alekos offers shrimp or flounder stuffed with spinach, feta cheese, and herbs. The flounder was hardly a cutting-edge dish, but it was correctly prepared and good on a chilly evening.

Desserts, including rice pudding and baklava, are house-made and good. Greek offerings dominate the wine list, which ranges from simple reds and whites for $15 to a 1994 Boutari Naoussa reserve for $29. Retsina and rodytis are available.

Alekos Taverna, 11301 Fern St., Wheaton; 301-946-5596. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two: about $50.

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