Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

Civilized Seduction

How a local legend maintains her appeal.

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Her popular restaurant on Main Street doesn't look much different from many of the other eateries along Richmond's restaurant row. The decor also retains a retro coziness, complete with mismatched chairs, dark wood banquettes and ceiling fans, and it has many of the architectural features we have come to expect in these 100-year-old buildings. A big vase of large white gladiolas and the svelte black attire of the female servers add a touch of urban sophistication. And on a recent Friday night, Dikos was cooking for an energetic and noisy full house,.

During my years of dining at Stella's, I've noticed the particular grace and professionalism of the servers, seemingly cool and unruffled as they tend their tables, often assisting one another to keep the service smooth. I've also noted the admiration and respect that are often quietly voiced when Dikos is discussed, a gracious compliment to the boss.

Though many of the offerings, particularly the appetizers, are among the best-known Greek dishes, the food is perhaps best described as Mediterranean-inspired. But the kitchen also makes use of Virginia specialties, particularly crabmeat, which often appears in several guises among the specials.

As regulars know, chalkboards display the day's entrees ($23.95-$27.95), usually six to eight, and a few special appetizers. The paper dinner menu carries only starters, snacks and soups. Fish and shellfish account for several of the offerings, but carnivores will not be disappointed.

The Greek sampler plate ($10.95) is always a tempting way to start, but we decided to restrict ourselves to spanakopitas ($7.25). These spinach-filled pastries, shaped untraditionally here like horns, are wonderfully satisfying. We also ordered a kalamari appetizer ($8.25) from the day's specials: tender, marinated rounds of squid mingled with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and capers on salad greens, and finished with a zesty lemon and olive oil dressing — a perfect summer starter and a pleasant harmony of flavors and textures. The entrees are preceded by a small Greek salad with a generous crumble of feta and a basket of Stella's homemade bread.

The main dishes are an eclectic blend of classic touches and, often, the unexpected. I chose paella made with orzo — that silky, unctuous rice-shaped pasta — and a generous offering of shrimp, mussels and scallops stirred into an assertive and piquant sauce with a plethora of capers. My expectation was for something subtler, but sometimes bold can be seductive too. A pile of grilled double-cut lamb rib chops were meaty and rosy-pink inside. Buttery mashed redskin potatoes were a fitting complement, and rounds of zucchini were perfectly harmless.

A different crowd fills the restaurant for civilized and often unhurried lunches. The menu carries the mainstays, but the specials are on the chalkboard — mostly soups, salads and sandwiches. On a recent visit, a lamb burger topped with prosciutto and goat cheese with a salad on the side was a big hit. A sandwich of grilled ahi tuna, rosy-pink, seemed rather scantily and carelessly dressed, as if hurriedly thrown together for an unexpected caller.

Desserts, except for baklava, seem to be a familiar litany, but since all are made in-house, we didn't want to leave without one. We chose white-chocolate cheesecake with homemade peach ice cream (actually tasting of peaches). I'm not a fan of either white chocolate or cheesecake, but I was won over on my first bite — easy seduction.

The Richmond restaurant scene has changed enormously in the last 20 years, and it's a notoriously difficult business. In spite of a move several years ago, Stella's seems to hold steady to the course with the capable hands of Dikos at the helm. S



Stella's ($$$$)
2132 W. Main St.
257-9885 (reservations for five or more only)
Lunch: Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dinner: Monday-Thursday 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5-11 p.m.
No smoking




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