• Restaurant website
  • Location: Pearl District
  • Price to dinnerize two people: About $50, booze extra

I parked the car about a block away from Eleni’s (I was meeting Sara there for dinner), got out and tripped over about a dozen tipsy Santas coming from a rally in the park. I looked around and saw HUNDREDS of Santas, dressed in everything from fur-trimmed red Lurex catsuits to the pillow-bellied real deal.

What in the world? As I pondered, a lady Santa ran full-tilt into me, grabbed me by the shoulders and kissed me right on the mouth. “MISTLETOE!!!!” she hollered, and handed me a tiny candy cane before running to her next victim.

I stood there, poleaxed, with but a single thought: “350-pound ladies should NOT wear red fur miniskirts,” which is probably sexist and weightist and completely irrelevant when you’ve just been the victim of a drive-by smooching. After awhile I walked into Eleni’s and asked the maitre d’ what the heck was going on outside.

“There are a lot of Santas,” he explained, which wasn’t much help.* Sara arrived about then, and we turned our attentions to dinner.

Eleni’s is sort of a tapas/dim-sum/sushi place, Greek-style. A look at the menu posted on the window outside should tell you it ain’t exactly your average budget-minded gyros hangout. The idea is that each diner orders a plate or two for the entire table, which then noshes its way to happiness with a bottle from Eleni’s excellent winecellar. (Did you know there’s a Greek Sauvignon Blanc?)

The menu is a complication of small dishes with a few entrees. In true Portland style, Eleni’s lists ALL the ingredients, and the waitstaff is quite happy to help you find dishes that don’t clash with your lifestyle, food intolerances or moral convictions.

Eleni’s unfortunately, also has the signature Pearl District lighting scheme, i.e., it’s about as illuminated as the inside of a spanakopita, so reading all that menu text is a challenge. Sara and I gave up and just asked the waitress what she liked.

We wound up with Feta Orektiko, three chunks of feta cheese topped with tomato slices, Garedes Me Manitara, four grilled prawns with mushrooms, and Gigantes, about a half-cup of great big beans sauteed with tomato and zucchini. It was absolutely delicious and, contrary to popular trends, Eleni’s doesn’t go for that supersize, cram-the-plate-with-food thing. It was nice not feeling all weighted down with food at the end of the meal.

Of course, we’d need to stop off for dinner on the way home–three plates is not enough for two people but at Eleni’s prices we weren’t about to order more. We did sample the desserts–the chocolate mousse was really nice, the creme caramel a bit too bland and clammy for my tastes.

Would I go back? Yep. Probably for lunch, though, when prices are less, or at least we’re not looking for dinner.

*Despite living in Portland now for about seven years, I’d never before encountered the PDX tradition of SantaCon. Apparently, on the Saturday night before Christmas, everyone dresses like a naughty Santa and heads into the Pearl District for a rally. They elect the naughtiest Santa–knowing Portland, THAT oughta be a trip–and then adjourn to the brewpubs to make merry and get thoroughly plastered. It would seem that Portlanders take seriously the old bumper sticker: “Keep Portland weird.”