Depending on who you are and where you've been, you probably associate Greek food with either the healthful virtues extolled during the "Mediterranean diet" kick of the 1960s or the grease-happy local grills that serve messy gyros and plates of buttered noodles topped with myzithra cheese. At the newly relocated Porta by the Market, owner and charismatic host Demetri Georgakopolous aims to serve a cuisine that is neither the former nor the latter, but an ever-so-slightly tweaked variation on the meals he encountered while visiting Greece, his father's home country, every summer as a child. At present, there are no gyros on the menu, and the cheese plate ($7) does not include myzithra, but olive oil, legumes and grains, fresh herbs, and vegetables—much-lauded components of the average Mediterranean meal—are well represented.
Herbs, especially, are put to good use at Porta. Rosemary scents the parchment-baked lamb ($18), tarragon bakes with chicken ($15), and mint and basil give the vinaigrette dressing on the octopus salad ($8) a sweet, bright green side note.
Georgakopolous adds giant, meaty baked beans to his entrée of loukaniko (fennel-infused sausage, $14), which he says is usually just served with sautéed serranolike Greek peppers, resulting in an unappealing gray/brown plate. He also adds carrots and celery to his thick, rich version of avgolemono (chicken, lemon, and egg) soup ($3 cup, $5 bowl) and uses substantive, nutritious wild rice instead of the more common (at least in America) white rice.
Among the virtues extolled in the Mediterranean diet is the abundance of seafood in place of red meat. Yet Georgakopolous' menu isn't big on fish, perhaps because his family is from a mountainous region. Pork, lamb, and chicken figure much more prominently; one prawn dish, one mussel preparation, and the octopus salad represent the ocean. No one's claiming that Porta is a health-food restaurant, and Georgakopolous runs a Greek restaurant, not a Mediterranean one, but my major, well, beef with Porta is that there really ought to be a piece of fin fish on the menu.
On my first visit, my guest and I couldn't resist starting with the sampler of Greek dips, served with grilled pita ($12; each dip is also offered on its own with pita for $5 or $6). Kopanisti, made with feta and blue cheeses as well as mint, jalapeños, and mavrodaphne (sweet Greek wine), is the most delicious and indulgent of the five; fava skordalia, yellow split peas blended with garlic, olive oil, and kalamata olives, is very good, too.
We proceeded with avgolemono and octopodi salata, the latter of which is presented warm with plump cured olives and fingerling potatoes on lamb's lettuce with the basil-and-mint dressing. I loved the meaty texture and smoky flavor of the darkly braised octopus and the salty/sweet olive-and-herb combination so much that I ordered it again on my second visit. My first guest enjoyed the salad as much as I did, but on my second visit, my companion complained: "In Portugal, octopus salad is just octopus, boiled and seasoned with olive oil, tomatoes, and herbs." Later, when I spoke to Georgakopolous, he told me he used to serve his octopodi salata almost like a shrimp cocktail—probably very similar to what my friend had experienced—but it wasn't a big seller, so he tweaked it. I kept my friend's comment to myself. Georgakopolous also told me that his octopus is from the Philippines. He tried using a more local product but prefers the smaller, more tender fish from Southeast Asia.
That second friend and I also disagreed on Georgakopolous' somewhat odd version of mashed potatoes. In garides Santorini($15), a prawn dish, artichoke hearts are added to garlic mashed potatoes and served with sautéed prawns and a cinnamon- and allspice-sweetened red sauce. Odd, yes, but it works; the tangy bite of artichoke gives the sauce a little something to stand up to.
Of Porta's lamb dishes, I can recommend the less expensive braised lamb ($10) over the parchment-baked "Bandit style" entrée ($18). The former is cooked for four hours and served simply with pita and feta; the latter's stewlike composition includes fragrant rosemary and vegetables, but despite its gravy, the meat is dry and tough. Georgakopolous told me he gets his meat from an all- natural supplier, but that distinction is not on the menu.
Georgakopolous, a Seattle native and "waiter by trade" who frequently visits the kitchen but prefers the front of the house, presides over Porta as if it's his home—and he clearly likes house parties. DJs and musicians set up in the evening, the room is big enough to host large parties (we encountered one, all wearing hats as if it were a hat club, on my second visit), and 20 by-the-glass wines are offered (nine of them Greek) along with plenty of specialty drinks and, of course, ouzo ($8), Greece's signature aperitif. In addition to dinner, Porta serves lunch, and a breakfast menu is in the works.
Porta by the Market, 113 Virginia St., 206-374-1301, www.portabythemarket.com, BELLTOWN. Lunch 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Wed.–Fri.; dinner 5:30 p.m.–1 a.m. daily.