Atmosphere: Cozy, Mediterranean, a bit formal.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Price range: $7.50 for eggplant parmigiana to $14.50 for seafood variety dish.
Reservations: A good idea on weekends.
Credit cards: American Express, Diner's Club, MasterCard and VISA.
Special facilities: Parking in shopping center lot; wheelchairs must negotiate one step to restaurant; high schairs and boosters available.
The plaka district in Athens is an area filled with taverns, restaurants and music -- a place to go for a lovely evening out. The same can be said for the appropriately named Athena Plaka in Fairfax.
When a friend recommended Athana Plaka for a family night out, we imagined yet another ethnic cafe set in a suburban shopping center and set out to sample yet another moussaka. We found that Athena Plaka not only serves fine moussaka, but a range of more sophisticated dishes as well. Furthermore, they do it with a touch of class that would please parents who somehow might find themselves out for dinner without their offspring.
But style is not only for grownups. Children enjoy being treated graciously, too. When one of our daughters left her napkin on the table, our waiter snapped it open and draped it across her lap with a flourish. She blinked in surprise, then smiled, happy for the extra attention. The fine service that we received on the Tuesday evening we visited Athana Plaka helped us relax at the end of a long, tiring day.
Athena Plaka, which is in the Courthouse Plaza shopping center, offers a tastefully decorated interior: lanterns and candles throw soft light on stuccoed and paneled walls. A trompe d'oeil mural on one wall and rows of hanging plants suggest sundrenched Greece.
Blue tablecloths are topped with white ones, and soft Greek music plays in the background.The atmosphere is quiet and subdued.
The menu offers an unusually good section of Greek appetizers, including baby squid and taramosalata, a piquant dip made with caviar. Entrees are fairly equally divided between Greek and Italian dishes, with a few additional possibilities such as coq au vin and steak Diane.
At first glance, prices seemed a bit high for a Family Out group. Many entrees are in the $11 range, and there is no children's menu. But our waiter said the girls could have any entree on the menu for half price. We expected this to apply only to our daughter was served at half price, too. Furthermore, the children's servings were generous enough for any adult.
The girls went Italian, ordering shrimp scampi, veal parmigiana and fetucine Alfredo. My husband and I chose Greek specialties -- moussaka, at $9, for my husband; spanakotiropita (feta cheese and spinach turnovers in filo pastry) at $8.50, for myself.
All dinners include a simple but large salad dressed with oil, vinegar and oregano. Sauteed potatoes and canned green beans accompanied our main course.
The food was as fine as it could be: the fettucine was al dente in a creamy sauce; the shrimp were large, plump and flavorful, and the veal was carefully cooked and topped with an aromatic marinara sauce and good cheese.
Both Greek dishes were delicious. The moussaka was well seasoned and layered in an attractive casserole. The spanakotiropita were large and plump with well flavored filling.
Athena Plaka's generous servings don't leave much room for dessert, but we decided to share baklava and creme caramel, each $2. The creme caramel was velvety, and the baklava dense and perfectly sweetened walnuts. It was just as well we shared dessert, since each baklava was at least twice as large as found in other Greek restaurants.
That seems the hallmark of Athena Plaka: there is double effort from both kitchen and staff to ensure that patrons leave well-fed and happy. We certainly did.
Our bill for two adults and three children, including tax and tip, was $54.80.