{sstar}{sstar} (2 stars) Mourayo

1732 Connecticut Ave. NW (near S Street). 202-667-2100.

Open: for lunch Tuesday through Sunday noon to 3 p.m.; for dinner Monday through Saturday 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., Sunday 5:30 to 10 p.m. AE, D, MC, V. Smoking in bar area only. Not wheelchair accessible. Metro: Dupont Circle. Valet parking at dinner Thursday through Saturday. Prices: lunch appetizers $4.25 to $11.95, entrees $12.95 to $14.95; dinner appetizers $6.95 to $11.95, entrees $14.95 to $24.95. Full dinner with wine, tax and tip about $50 per person.

The front window of the restaurant is thrown open to a lovely spring afternoon, filling the room with sunshine and a soft breeze. There is good food on my table -- whole dorade with just-cracked pepper and a squeeze of lemon -- and the conversation with an old friend is easy, like the simple white wine we're sipping. "This food is very calming," my tablemate says, as she runs yet another fold of pita through the saline, fresh-tasting whipped fish roe -- the classic taramasalata -- on a plate of dips. Before we know it, a quick catch-up session in Dupont Circle has stretched into a lazy two-hour lunch.

Launched in March by the owners of the nearby La Tomate, Mourayo is Greek for mooring or safe harbor, explains Natalina Koropoulos, who presides over the small dining room as hostess and den mother ("Why didn't you finish your soup?" she might stop to ask, and your excuse had better measure up). Soft Greek music plays in the narrow restaurant, which is decorated to suggest a sleek yacht. Faux portholes dot the clean white walls, and servers in Greek sailors' caps and shirts navigate the tightly packed tables. The waiters seem eager to tell you about the day's specials or share details of a favorite dish.

This is not the place to expect chicken-and-egg-yolk soup, moussaka or even baklava. Instead of sending out a fleet of the traditional dishes found in many Greek restaurants on this side of the Atlantic, Mourayo attempts to expand its customers' horizons. A meal can commence with squid ink soup, as dark as midnight and mysterious in flavor. In the beginning, the restaurant offered the soup gratis, in a demitasse, and frankly, that is how it is best introduced. A little of the liquid, thickened with pureed potatoes and leeks and supporting a single shrimp, was plenty. Grilled octopus shows up as a single curled tentacle, thick as a garden hose, with a dab of fava bean puree and octopus ink vinaigrette. Daunting as that sounds, the seafood is tender and pleasantly smoky; chef Matthew Vardaris, an alumnus of Felix in Adams Morgan, is proud to say it has become a top seller, despite its appearance. Of the seafood starters, the most universally appealing is probably sauteed shrimp draped in a chunky tomato and feta cheese sauce, a zesty foil to the sweet shrimp.

Alternatively, there are more familiar savory pastries, such as the pretty phyllo triangles, flaky as can be (psst, the dough is made right here) and filled with molten white cheese. Precise zigzags of spinach coulis color the plate. Beggars' purses fashioned from phyllo contain both cheese and roasted peppers, and cheese is again the focus in a third appetizer, sesame-crusted ovals of goat cheese delivered with a grape-strewn lettuce salad. The delicate crunch of the crust gives way nicely to the warm softness of the cheese.

With several exceptions, the homier-sounding dishes are the ones to seek out. Soujoukakia -- ground beef spiked with fennel, cumin and anise and shaped into fat bullets -- is a special that deserves frequent play on the menu. Hearty but not heavy, it is completed with whipped potatoes and tomato sauce, and very easy to like. You will also leave this restaurant happier if you try the lamb cut into tender cubes and scattered over a mound of slippery orzo with a light tomato sauce.

Yet some days, the food here tastes as if no one's minding the kitchen. As much as I enjoyed that freshly sweet whole dorade, brought to the table for display and filleted by a waiter, I was disappointed later by a whole red snapper that smelled past its prime and was cooked to near mush. A multiplicity of tiny bones didn't help. Some of the dips on the sampling platter are dense as paste (fava bean puree) or lack proper seasoning (garlic and lemon are AWOL in the hummus). A little more attention could rescue other near-successes. Goat soup is abundant with carrots, asparagus and the namesake meat, but its thin stock needs more seasoning. And lamb chops, nicely flavored and lapped with a wine and shallot sauce, tend to be overcooked. Just when I start to get frustrated, however, along comes a dish -- maybe a special of veal shanks on a bed of lentils or a dessert of moist pound cake with poached pears -- that tells me I'm in the right place.

Mourayo is not as ambitious as the first-class Zaytinya downtown, with its dozens of innovative mezze, nor is it as traditional as the respectable Mykonos Grill in Rockville, which serves spinach pies and stuffed grape leaves in a room painted to look like a faraway Greek village. What this newcomer does is offer enough enticements to lure you in and enough attractions to keep you coming back, even as you wish the sailing were sometimes just a bit smoother.

Ask Tom

After a server at Galileo in Washington opened a bottle of wine for Susan Hellman and her spouse one recent Saturday night, "he did something that neither my husband nor I have ever seen done before," the Herndon reader related in an e-mail. "He poured a 'tasting' amount into a glass, swirled it around some, then poured it into another glass, swirled it around in that glass, then poured it into a third glass. He then poured another 'tasting' amount and gave it to my husband for his approval. He approved, the sommelier poured our glasses, and left. However," she continued, "he took the third glass with about an inch of wine in it away with him. When on the other side of the restaurant, he drank it! Have you ever heard of this?" Called for comment, chef-owner Roberto Donna says it is not Galileo's policy for the staff to drink wine unless a patron invites a server to do so, which some customers do with a special or rare wine, though typically only a sip or so. Donna went on to say that the three waiters in the room where the Hellmans were seated "do not drink"; he surmises that what the couple saw was probably a waiter smelling the wine he removed from their table. While he didn't witness the scene, the chef says he finds it hard to believe that a waiter even had time to drink ("An inch is a lot of wine!" ) on a busy weekend shift. As for all the swishing at the table, some restaurants like to "season" stemware by swirling a bit of wine in the glass before pouring; aside from exposing the wine to air -- and the theatrics -- this is the chance to change glasses if there's any dishwashing soap residue in them.

Got a dining question? Send your thoughts, wishes and, yes, even gripes to asktom@washpost.com or to Ask Tom, The Washington Post Magazine, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include a daytime telephone number.