All in the family


It's an American institution: The small, neighborhood ethnic restaurant, run by mom and pop with a wait staff of stray cousins, aunts and uncles. The menus are a bit worn, the decor is nothing fancy, and the food is to die for. Cypriana fits this mold in many ways. Here, you'll find Greek cuisine that's authentic but of a down-home variety that appeals even to the steak-and-potatoes crowd. And the prices are more than reasonable: Dinner, plus a Greek salad and glass of house wine, cost less than $10.

We visited on a Saturday night, not anticipating that the place would be packed solid with a 20-minute wait. But that was OK, because the aromas floating out of the kitchen were a treat for the senses. The dining area was cozy and cheerful, brightened with simple murals of Mediterranean country scenes. We were shown to our table by one of the youngest members of the family, barely a teen-ager.

We started off with one of the more adventurous appetizers: octopus ($6.25), charbroiled with virgin olive oil, fresh garlic and lemon. It was quite a vision, sprawled all over the platter, seared tentacles and all. It had a mild flavor and texture that resembled chicken – yet, a distinct briny quality. Better yet was the kotopita ($3.65), a tongue-twister name for a simple phyllo pastry, layered with chicken, Greek herbs, mushrooms and peppers. This delicate, flaky meat pie would please just about anyone.

The dolmadakia ($3.75) resembled spunky, little beef and rice burritos, only they were moistened with olive oil and wrapped in bittersweet marinated grape leaves. They were even better when dipped in tzatziki sauce ($3.50), a combination of sour cream, dill and cucumbers.

Some dishes sound substantial before you even lay eyes on them, such as souvlaki ($7.25): a hefty portion of beef kabobs, seared with roast onions and peppers, and served over a bed of rice pilaf. My guest's combo platter ($7.95) also was an enormous amount of food, including gyros and one quarter of a rotisserie chicken, basted with lemon, garlic and herbs. There also was plenty of rice pilaf, and delicious stewed green beans.

For dessert, we asked the waitress to surprise us, and she selected a trio of pastries. We weren't surprised that the traditional baklava ($1.65) was the best of all, featuring a triangular slice of honey-soaked phyllo dough, topped with cinnamon and chopped nuts.

Cypriana is an excellent choice for a hearty meal at bargain prices, in a cheerful, bustling setting. The noise level doesn't lend itself to intimate dinners, so save it for those times when kitchen clamor won't get in the way of a good time. Dining here was a real treat.