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Avli Estiatorio takes Greek dining up a notch


566 Chestnut St., Winnetka; (847) 446-9300;

Hours: Open at 11 a.m. daily for lunch and dinner.

Prices: Tapas, $7-$9; entrees, $11-$23; desserts, $3-$6.50.

Try: Avli flatbread, grilled seafood plate, bread pudding.

Tips: Reservations accepted. Sheltered courtyard. All-Greek wine list. Private dining room.

In a bite: When it comes to food, wine, ambience, Avli Estiatorio has plenty to recommend it.

Any number of suburban restaurants have Greek fare on their menus, and many do a passable job.

But try finding a place that goes the extra mile and serves traditional Greek dishes with creative flair. The challenge escalates when you look for one with a well-conceived wine list and fine-dining ambience.

One such venue that fills the bill is Avli Estiatorio, which opened in late 2009. Tucked in the Laundry Mall in downtown Winnetka, the restaurant occupies attractive space that has previously housed a number of eateries, most recently Harbor House. Owned by Louie Alexakis, Avli Estiatorio (the name translates to courtyard restaurant) presents the handiwork of executive chef Ruben Villanueva. Wine Spectator magazine last year gave it an award of excellence, and local publications have recognized it as a destination restaurant.

The meze list encompasses familiar favorites, including such spreads as melizanosalata (eggplant), taramosalata (cod roe) and skordalia (garlic). Stuffed grape leaves, char-grilled artichoke halves with capers, lemon zest and olive oil, and skewered chicken with pita and tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber) are available, too.

We recommend Piaaz Avli, a tasty version of Greek-style pizza. The shareable flatbread presented a delicious assemblage of caramelized onions, kalamata olives, tomatoes, feta cheese and fresh basil.

Seafood scores high among appetizers and entrees. Especially memorable was the Poseidon plate: a generously sized mixed-grill featuring octopus, calamari and shrimp with just the right balance to its olive oil-lemon dressing. Grilled red onions also joined the party.

For another enticing taste treat, try the Scottish salmon baked in parchment with fennel, leeks and ouzo. This entree came with a choice of sides, including the vegetable medley that brought together green beans, sweet potato, zucchini, eggplant and peppers.

Moussaka, pastitsio, braised lamb and oven-baked chicken also were among entree possibilities.

Avli’s desserts are made in-house, and our server’s recommendation was right on the money: bread pudding from a recipe of Greek culinary expert and consulting chef Diane Kochilas. Buttery rich, this confection picked up flavor from dried figs, currants and orange peel preserves, plus an extra bonus from a Mavrodaphne Cabernet Sauvignon sauce.

“Chocolava,” the restaurant’s inspired take on baklava, blends layers of phyllo with chocolate, chopped walnuts, sugar and cinnamon. A scoop of vanilla ice cream completes the decadence.

A cool Mediterranean blue color scheme blends nicely with the dark wood trim in the main dining room, where framed black-and-white photos give rise to thoughts of travel to the Greek Isles. And don’t forget about Avli’s canopied outdoor courtyard: with its flowers and interior walls to block jarring views of the street, it is a restful place to dine.

Thomas Witom is a local free-lance writer.

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