Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New owners, same reliable Greek specialities

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There is one truth which I have found to be universal, or at least darned near close enough. If you're planning on dinner in a Greek restaurant, get there early -- really early (5:30 p.m. may not be early enough) -- or else be sure to make a reservation, especially on weekends. Either that or be prepared to wait for your table.

I don't know why it should apply to Greek restaurants in particular, but that has been my experience -- perhaps it's a testament to the popularity of Greek food. Whatever the reason, White Tower was no exception, with every table occupied before 6 p.m.

It has been more than a decade since I was last here, at which time it was under different ownership, and I don't remember it looking like this (my review at the time described it as sleek and modern). But now, apart from a few sunny tables near the entrance, the interior of the dining room is rather dark, with a decor that is almost overwhelming in its detail. What I was certain had to be wallpaper -- two walls of brick and one of rocks -- turned out to have been painted, painstakingly, surely. On one wall there was a Mediterranean mural, on another, an incredible trompe l'oeil of framed paintings -- I would have sworn the frames were real until I touched them and discovered they had, in fact, also been painted onto the wall.

One of the reasons I'd come back was because I thought there might be changes under the new owners (who also own Bibi's), but the choices are much as they were. Like most suburban Greek menus, this one offers only the most familiar Greek specialties (don't expect taramasalata, or octopus, for example) but most of what it does offer is well prepared and satisfying.

What also drew me back was readers' reports of a wonderful seafood platter, comprising garlic shrimp, calamari and mussels, at $26.95 for two. Alas, it wasn't to be. Yes, the platter does exist, but it turned out the mussels were frozen, and however much others may enjoy frozen mussels, I don't, and I recuse myself from ordering them. For some reason, the garlic shrimp don't appear anywhere else on the menu, as either appetizer or main course, so I can't report on them either, but the calamari are available a la carte for $11.99, and they turned out to be tender, crisp little ringlets that were nicely fried, although they deserved better tzatziki than the one they came with, which tasted more sour than tangy and didn't have a single shred of cucumber.

However, if there is one must-have here, it's the standout spanakopita. It's pricey at $9.99 for a smallish portion on an unadorned platter, but it's also superb, with the mellowest spinach and feta filling I can remember, under utterly greaseless and incredibly delicate phyllo pastry.

Whenever they're on the menu I never miss the Greek-style ribs, which are dry-rubbed with Greek spices, and these were nicely seasoned and perfectly tender ($26.99). Rack of lamb was another good choice -- four smallish chops but tender, flavourful and precisely as rare as ordered ($23.99). The tasty moussaka would have ranked higher if the bechamel topping hadn't been so solid ($18.99).

Another near-universal truth is that, whatever else is on a Greek menu, chances are there will also be liver and onions, and chances also are it will be good. It's true here, too -- a generous portion that was tender, tasty and smothered in particularly nice sautéed onions. They also do a decent job on simply pan-fried pickerel ($18.99)

Entrees include a choice of salad, and both the caesar and Greek salads were lightly dressed and excellent. Among the starches, the rice was nice and the wedges of lemony potatoes were good, but best of all were the fries, which didn't look impressive but turned out to be terrific.

On the other hand, attention to detail isn't a strong point: the broccoli, cauliflower and carrots were near raw (not just crunchy). And I can't report on the included garlic toast, because we never did get any.

Still, on the whole, dinner was far more successful than lunch, the best part of which was a turkey sandwich, which was packed almost an inch thick with moist turkey that tasted freshly cooked ($7.99 with fries or salad). Nothing else lived up to it. A burger was huge, and might have been a decent buy at $6.99 with a side, if its only faintly beefy flavour hadn't been overwhelmed by what tasted like raw chili powder.

What teeny bits of chicken souvlaki I could find tasted bland, and it took some serious digging around in the pita to find them, hidden among the veggies in more of that sour-tasting tzatziki -- a whopping $14.99, including rice or potatoes, and soup. Soups too, were disappointing -- even for avgolemono, this one was far too lemony, and a cream of mushroom du jour tasted as though made with stock powder, which was visible in the only partly dissolved lumps.

Servers were cheerful, and as helpful as they could be while rushed off their feet (more help was needed for a full house). There was no baklava, and all three of the ornate desserts had been made elsewhere. The wine list is very limited but moderately priced. Note: a friend with a bad back insists I mention how comfortable the chairs are.

For the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed by the Free Press, see the map below or click here.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 11, 2012 D3


Updated on Friday, May 11, 2012 at 10:23 AM CDT: adds map, fact box

11:05 AM: adds photos

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