Fans of Greek food in the North End of Tacoma were pretty much restricted to “It’s Greek to Me,” which was Greek fast food: good flavor marred by styrofoam. Then “It’s Greek to Me” became “It was Greek to Me,” and the answer to good Greek food was again that one word Tacomans hate to utter: Seattle.
(One exception: No one should miss the Greek Festival at St. Nicholas in Tacoma, which provides great food at reasonable prices, plus live music and dancers, but only once a year.)
Recently we heard about Zara, which opened in a nice corner space on Pacific Avenue after Sea Grill went to wherever mediocre seafood restaurants go when they die.
We made a reservation, thinking that Friday night might be crowded at Happy Hour. Parking can be a bit tricky. The Tacoma City “Drain Motorist Blood” Parking Fee project runs until 6:00, so we were hoping for a parking garage where we could redeem a parking ticket. We drove around the block four times but could not find it. Our friends reminded us when they showed up that the parking garage has a barely-marked entrance off of Commerce St. (one block up the hill from Pacific.) NOTE TO THE ELDERLY OR PHYSICALLY CHALLENGED: Although there is a huge sign on Pacific, the restaurant entrance is off of Commerce as well. If you park on Pacific, you face a steep walk up.
Zara is comfortably and beautifully set up. The circular bar area looks right down on Pacific and 14th. The tables are widely spaced, and the kitchen is open to the restaurant but located at the far end of the place, which was fine with me. Something about watching cooks sweat…
Our hostess greeted us immediately and seated us in a completely empty section. Our booth provided both padding and good support. Later the hostess returned and asked if we wanted a better seat for the belly dancers. We declined, but it was nice to have options.
There must have been a shift change, because we met a total of four servers in about ten minutes. After quite a delay, we ordered wine off the wine list (by the glass $6-$13). Then we ordered our salads, which they kindly split for us and served in separate bowls. One half a salad was more than enough for each of us, and the nice assortment of greens and vegetables was accompanied by a tiny bowl with Greek olives and a pepperoncini. Then we ordered our entrees. The server was helpful with suggestions for those who didn’t have much experience with Greek food.
My mixed kebap was good but not great. The lamb was done right but a bit chewy, even for lamb, the chicken done right. The yoghurt-based dipping sauce was fine but not memorable. It came with some grilled mixed vegetables, including what I think were grilled cucumbers rather than zucchini. There was a mountain of rice pilaf. (You can also substitute a spicier rice free of charge.)
Dessert was of mixed quality. Our companions mentioned that the baklava had been better during their first visit. The chocolate decadent cake was truly decadent, moist and flavorful without being flooded with sauce.
Our first take on Zara: Energetic, flashy, but not life-changing, sort of like the belly dancers. We plan to go back.
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