100 Best Restaurants 2010: Mourayo

No. 46: Mourayo

Cuisine: It used to be that the flaming cheese known as saganaki—lit tableside—delivered most of the excitement in going out to eat Greek. At this cozy bistro, the drama is quieter but more intriguing. It offers a modern makeover of a traditional, often heavy cuisine—from the liberal use of Greek wines and ouzos in dishes to the focus on native cheeses. Even better, for all of the refinement, the cooking still retains an essential gutsiness.

Mood: A dynamic ceramic sculpture anchors the back wall, while flashes of dark Aegean blue, glossy wood, and servers dressed in captain’s hats and stripes lend the narrow room a nautical feel. With a recent expansion, there’s now a bar area plus a handful of additional tables. The best part about the renovation? A new entrance means no more blasts of frigid air in the main dining room.

Best for: A night of intense flavors and conversation.

Best dishes: Crisp butternut-squash keftedes, a sort of vegetable meatball with sesame seeds and raisin paste; nicely charred octopus with octopus-ink vinaigrette; an elegant moussaka with duck, eggplant, and kefalotyri cheese; grilled whole fish, especially the branzino.

Insider tips: Some platters, such as the symposium edesmata, a lineup of dips, are a mixed bag, with stellar (fava-bean purée; tzatziki; tyrokafteri, a spicy feta-and-hot-pepper spread) and not-so-stellar (hummus, skordalia, taramasalata) items. If you ask nicely, the kitchen has been known to let you order individual items or make substitutions.

Service: ••

Open Monday for dinner, Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

See all of 2010's 100 Best Restaurants

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.