Atmosphere: Greek country-style. Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. Price Range: House specialties from $5.25 for stuffed vine leaves to $8.25 for broiled lamb chops. Seafood from $5.80 for cod with garlic sauce to $9.35 for seafood shish kebob. Credit cards: All major credit cards. Reservations: Recommended on weekends. Special Facilities: Parking lot; children's menu; the front door is at parking lot level.
For persons unfamiliar with Arlington, The Phoenix may be tricky to find, but it is definitely worth the effort.
On our first try we missed the restaurant completely. The Phoenix is in a detached building with its own parking lot on North Fairfax Drive, but because of the way the building sits the name of the restaurant is partly obscured. Nearby construction also contributes to the confusion. The restaurant is about a half-block walk from the Clarendon Metro station, scheduled to open Dec. 1.
Inside the restaurant, the atmosphere is relaxed and pleasant. The Phoenix is styled to recreate a Greek taverna, with white stucco walls and dark beams accented by gleaming copper plates and charming prints. When we arrived, taped music was playing, but later, to our delight, two musicians provided Greek tunes on the piano and electric mandolin.
With a few exceptions, among them veal parmigiano, $7.75, and stuffed flounder, $7.95, The phoenix concentrates on Greek food. The menu dividess the main course into two categories -- seafood specialties and other house specialties. A helpful addition to the menu is the description underneath each selection. Without them, for example, we would not have known that kalamari, $5.90, was baby squid. The waiter also explained various dishes when asked.
For starters, my husband and I split an order of feta cheese and kalamata olives, $1.75. This was brought quickly with our drinks and a large basket of assorted hot breads, including pita bread, which our daughter pounced on.
Among other intriguing appetizers listed were saganaki, $2.85, described as kasseri cheese grilled in butter and served in flaming brandy, and chilled or hot hors d'oeuvres for two, priced at $2.85 and $3.25 respectively.
Next we were served salads of mixed lettuce, tomato, onion and olives, topped with the slightly tangy feta cheese. The salad accompanies baked eggplant with a meat filling, $5.75. My husband found a compromise in the daily special, a combination platter of spinach pie, stuffed cabbage and pastitsio, for $5.95.
Of the three dishes, he favored the spinach pie (spanakopita), a mixture of spinach, rice and cheese in a delicate filo pastry, with a touch of lemon flavor.
The pastitsio, as our waiter had described it, resembled lasagna without the tomato sauce. It is comprised of pasta filled with spiced ground meat and topped with bechamel sauce.
Having a taste of all three, I pre-each entree. A meal-sized salad is available for $5.50.
Chossing a main course from the number of mouth-watering selections was not easy. Strong contenders were shish kebab, $7.85, and moussaka, ferred the cabbage leaves stuffed with beef and rice in a cream sauce.
My own selection, souvlakia, $6.25, won the taste test, however. Perfectly seasoned pork tenderloin chunks were braised and served in their own juices. The souvlakia came either with rice pilaf or on pita bread and with a choice of vegetable.
The children's menu listed a hamburger for $2.25 and a cheeseburger for $2.45 and spaghetti and meat balls with a salad for $2.60.
Our 6-year-old predictably chose a hamburger, which was thick and as large as the roll it was served on. With the hamburger came french fries, the thin, crisp kind that can make a trip to a fast-food restaurant worthwhile.
When it came to desserts, our daughter insisted on a visit to the pastry cart she had spotted across the room. The waiter explained that not all the desserts available were represented there, but patiently accompanied her to make a selection. She wound up with creme caramel, $1.25. My husband tried the baklava, also $1.25, which was satisfactorily brimming with honey and nuts.
The meal, including a glass of house wine, two colas and coffee, cost $21.85, without tip.