September 2004: Mourayo
A delicious opportunity to sample a largely unfamiliar cuisine.
There's a world of Greek cooking beyond moussaka, but you'd never know it from the menus of local Greek restaurants. Mourayo, a new Greek restaurant on Connecticut Avenue just above Dupont Circle, explores the varied cooking of Greece and its islands. The specialty of the restaurant, run by the owners of the popular La Tomate across the street, is seafood ("mourayo" means "mooring"), and the handsome dining room seems modeled on a luxury yacht. In good weather, the front windows can be opened to the street.
As in most Greek restaurants, the selection of appetizers is extensive. If you want familiar items, order the Symposium Edesmata, an assortment of spreads and dips such as taramasalata, tzatziki, and skordalia (mashed potatoes and garlic). But there's much more to explore: unsalted anchovies with John Dory caviar; cardamom-spiced clams in white-wine sauce; shrimp dumplings—more like fritters—over red-pepper coulis; a Beggar's Pouch of manouri cheese and roasted peppers enclosed in phyllo; and sesame-crusted haloumi cheese with grapes and greens. Best of all has been a daily special, an eggplant-and-feta salad that can be scooped up with warm pita. There's a selection of seafood appetizers that the menu claims are ideal with ouzo—and it's right.
The centerpiece of the menu is a list of whole grilled fish, including branzino, dorade, red snapper, sole, and striped bass. The grilled dorade tasted wonderfully fresh and was perfectly cooked with crisp skin and moist flesh. The personable waiters, in Greek sailor uniforms, will bone your fish or leave it to your own skills. Another frequent special is fish cooked in a salt crust. It requires about 40 minutes, but the fish that emerges from the salt is flavorful and worth the wait.
Pork loin, moist and flavorful, is served with figs, honey sauce, and manouri cheese. A chicken breast was nicely grilled and served with a sauce of eggplant, tomato, and thyme. Lamb chops were overcooked but served with a lovely white-bean purée and a sauce made from sweet red mavrodaphne wine. One of the most interesting dishes is a delicious goat soup from the Peloponnese, bony cuts of goat and vegetables in a rich chicken broth.
One of the pleasant surprises at Mourayo is the desserts. The best is one of the simplest—a pile of thick, rich yogurt dressed with honey and walnuts. Also worth ordering is the house-made ravani cake with a sauce of moscato wine and a poached pear.
The wine list has a good selection of bottles in the $30 range, and the staff is helpful in recommending wines from the largely unfamiliar Greek list.
1732 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-667-2100. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner daily.
ATMOSPHERE: Art deco with a nautical theme.
FOOD: Greek, specializing in grilled seafood.
SERVICE: Pleasant and attentive.
PRICE: Moderate. Lunch main courses, $12.95 to $14.95. Dinner main courses, $18.95 to $24.95. Dinner for two: about $95.
VALUE: A bit expensive for the neighborhood.
BOTTOM LINE: A delicious opportunity to sample a largely unfamiliar cuisine.