Good Greek food, both expected and not Restaurant: It's not haute cuisine, but it's certainly high in attractions. From top-of-the-line selections like the lamb and the fish of the day to the inexpensive vegetarian entrees, Opa! has a lot to offer.

SUNDAY GOURMET

July 14, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

It's hard to pinpoint exactly why it's such a pleasure to eat at Opa!, Baltimore's newest Greek restaurant, and why I think it will succeed when so many have failed. After all, we're not exactly talking haute cuisine here -- that's just not the nature of Greek food. But Opa!'s freshly renovated dining room has a little more style than you might expect, the food is a little more varied and interesting, the service is excellent and the prices are moderate. What more do you want?

Well, you might want a view of the water like Harborplace's Taverna Athena had. But that's about all it offered that the new place doesn't.

(Georgette Stavrakas opened Opa! after Taverna Athena, her husband Spyros' restaurant, closed earlier this year.)

Yiannis Tsakiris, Opa!'s chef, turns out all the usual Greek specialties like gyros and souvlaki, dolmathes and spanakopita. But you can also start your meal with a half order of "Athenian pasta," tender fettucini tossed with burnt butter and cheese. The burnt butter, actually just browned to a rich gold, gives the pasta a pleasant, nutty flavor.

Specials like artichoke hearts and portobello mushrooms in an ,, avgolemono (egg-lemon) sauce are also a fine way to start. Or share the excellent taramasalata, a creamy dip made from fish roe that even people who don't like fish roe love.

Opa! has plenty of seafood, but it's hard to beat whatever the fish of the day is. The evening we were there it was a whole rockfish charbroiled with lemon, olive oil and oregano. Although I might have cooked it a little less, the flesh was white and flaky and so fresh it tasted sweet.

The baby rack of lamb, a chef's specialty, features tender little chops, cooked just pink, served with roast potatoes. Vegetables are classically Greek -- green beans or okra almost stewed with tomatoes.

The Greek salad is a surprise, though: various greens, including arugula, instead of the usual iceberg lettuce.

The fish of the day and rack of lamb are the top-of-the-line items, but there are plenty of dishes for around $10 or under, including a vegetarian section of entrees. These include a casserole of potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and green peppers; a vegetable kebab; and spanakopita -- spinach and feta cheese in flaky phyllo pastry.

We were only a little disappointed that the baklava we ordered didn't taste quite fresh -- after all, we had eaten an enormous amount before we ever got to dessert. We also had a square of walnut cake with freshly whipped cream to nibble on.

Those who scorned Taverna Athena as a Greek restaurant for tourists should give Opa! a try. It doesn't have the down-home charms of a classic Greektown eatery, but I think you'll find it has its own appeal.

Opa!

Where: 1911 Aliceanna St.

Hours: Open Tuesday through Friday noon to midnight, Saturday 4 p.m. to midnight, Sunday noon to 10 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers, $3.25-$6.95; entrees, $5.95-$16.95. Accepts major credit cards

Call: (410) 522-4466

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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