In a city where per capita restaurant numbers are getting closer to bubble-bursting potential (à la Bitcoin) with each passing year, staying power holds an incredible amount of value. Cheers is in order for Congress Street’s Emilitsa — a bastion of elegant dining that celebrates its 10th anniversary this month.
Long considered a special-occasion restaurant by most locals, Emilitsa remains one of the most romantic rooms in town. Combining near-perfect lighting, minimalist decor and warm shades of sunflower-yellow and oak, the space has a feel that is both approachable and metropolitan in nature.
A full meal at Emilitsa remains an experience fit for a true celebration, but thanks to a redesigned front-of-house and accompanying new bar menu, the restaurant is now perfectly suitable for an hour or two of weeknight respite.
Emilitsa’s updated bar menu is tailor-fit for those looking to get a taste of what chef Niko has to offer without having to shell out a day’s pay, and thank the gods it exists for that reason alone. It allows those who might feel plebian or otherwise unworthy the opportunity to taste some of the best food coming out of any kitchen in Portland. That, in my opinion, is a beautiful thing, and something other area restaurants of this caliber could benefit from following suit if they haven’t already.
Cocktails at Emilitsa are strong, confident and godlike, developed by bartender Katie Wiskoski with true purpose, and all for $13. Ariadne’s Revenge – a variation on the classic gin fizz – brings citrus, raspberry and rosewater to the table for an impeccable degree of balance and charm. Oenomaus’ Last Chariot Ride centers around a smoky/spicy base of mezcal and St. George green chili vodka, rounded out with aperol, jalapeño simple syrup, fresh lime and smoked sea salt. For fans of spirit-driven cocktails, Sazzy Goes to Greece brings together Bulleit Rye, cane sugar, Ouzo and lemon oil for what is essentially a Mediterranean take on the Old Fashioned, and a stiff one, at that.
All of Emilitsa’s cocktails, as well as the restaurant’s excellent list of Greek wines (poured by the glass), pair beautifully with the new menu of bar snacks. Smoked pork ribs with anise-citrus glaze, grilled lamb chops with pomegranate au jus and daily souvlaki are just a few offerings worth sitting at the bar for, all priced at $13 or less. It’s a quiet distillation of Emilitsa’s broader, more extravagant dinner menu and an excellent introduction to the restaurant for the uninitiated.
Though it’s difficult to find a single word to describe an evening – short or long – at Emilitsa, “relaxed” most certainly fits the bill. The complete and utter lack of pretension shared by co-owners/brothers John/Demo Regas and chef Niko Regas (Demo’s son) is refreshing to say the least, especially given the quality of the experience they’re offering. It’s a fitting testament to the Greek concept of philoxenia, or taking care of strangers.
WHERE: 547 Congress St., Portland
HOURS: 5-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
AMENITIES: Full bar, reservations, dinner, chic décor, upscale atmosphere
BOTTOM LINE: A shining beacon of honest of fine dining in Portland’s Arts District, Emilitsa is perfectly suitable for celebrating an anniversary or similar milestone with a loved one. Thanks to a new bar program, it’s also an excellent option for anyone looking to duck away for a quick solo bite and a well-crafted cocktail or thoughtfully chosen glass pour of Greek wine.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes