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DINING OUT

Grecian fare tempts in Lowell

Olympia Restaurant
453 Market St., Lowell
Telephone: 978-452-8092
Hours: Sunday and Monday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Tuesday- Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Major credit cards accepted
www.newolympia.com

There are three ways to experience authentic Greek food through the Olympia Restaurant. Diners can choose from a parlor-style function room, an extensive takeout menu, and a formal dining area. My companion and I selected the third option -- Saturday night elegance -- to savor the cuisine amid chandeliers and white tablecloths.

Formal didn't mean stuffy. We were perplexed to hear rock music upon our arrival, but eventually, the audio gravitated to traditional Greek songs. Meanwhile, we enjoyed the comfort of padded bench seats in a roomy booth.

The Olympia, which has been in business since 1952, is open seven days a week. It serves weekday lunch specials from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with lower-priced combination plates, and entrees with side orders for $9 or less.

Novices to Greek cuisine can start their dinners with three arrays of traditional items, as well as bountiful a la carte appetizers. We began with a ''combination of Greek specialties for two" ($14); a sampler platter consisting of pastitsio, mousaka, stuffed grape leaves, meatballs, and spinach pie.

Pastitsio is Greek lasagna, made of sautéed ground lamb, baked with ziti, and topped with béchamel (thick cream) sauce. Curiously, the fried meatballs came without sauce, though we found this lighter approach balanced the more filling items.

Mousaka, an irresistible layered eggplant dish, was our favorite. The grape leaves were stuffed with a combination of ground meat and rice, which was a tad salty, though typical for this dish. The spinach pie offered feta cheese and spinach, topped by gossamer layers of filo dough.

If we had been marathon runners, we might have chosen the Mega Combination ($27) instead. This über sampler included everything in the platter we'd ordered, plus feta cheese, kalamata olives, and loukaniko (Greek sausage). The middle ground would have been the stuffed specialties platter ($17); stuffed cabbage, grape leaves, and pepper.

As one might expect, the lead-ins to our main courses were Greek salads. The dressing was the mildly spiced, clear variety, rather than creamy, to offset the substantial entrees. The generous portions of feta cheese were sliced rather than crumbled. We also received a basket filled with large chunks of crusty white bread.

The ''surf and turf" dinners ($21) offered three choices of surf (stuffed shrimp, broiled scallops, or swordfish kebabs) and four of turf (chicken kebabs, beef or pork tenderloin kebabs, or lamb on a stick). Both of us were tempted, then seduced by other items.

My companion was pleased with his lamb and chicken combo ($20), preferring the lamb as moist and heartier fare.

Feeling decadent, I chose the house specialty. My 14-ounce serving of lamb rib chops ($25) came with salad, rice, potato, and vegetable. The seven seasoned lamb chops were fanned out next to green beans, white rice, and boiled potatoes that were bathed in a mild tomato sauce. The tender chops were cooked medium as ordered, but as good as they were, they were too much for my dainty appetite. Several chops came home in a doggy bag, to the joy of our teenage son.

For dessert, my companion selected an interesting presentation of rice pudding ($3.50). It looked to have been chilled in a teacup and emptied upside down onto the plate, then dusted with cinnamon. We thought it tasted a bit like tapioca.

I ordered the galaktobouriko ($3.50), a sizable wedge of custard-filled filo with light syrup. It was delightful, but after so many substantial courses, I surrendered after a couple of bites.

NANCY V. BURNS

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