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Mythos Greek Taverna offers plateful of reasons to say 'Opa!'

CLEARWATER

Opa!

It's a Greek exclamation without a specific translation in English. For practical purposes, it is the equivalent of shouting "Yippee!"

There are a lot of people shouting "Opa!" at Mythos Greek Taverna in Clearwater's ICOT Center. Let's look at why that might happen.

It might happen because of the saganaki ($6.99), the classic appetizer of flaming cheese, here kefalograviera. The cheese is sauteed and brought to the dining room on a hot metal dish and doused with rum before being lit and . . . Opa! It's the kind of dish that gets the attention of the entire dining room when it's served. The cheese is an assertive, grassy sheep's milk variety, and it is hard enough that the pyrotechnics serve to soften it up more than melt it. The sweetness of the rum offsets the saltiness of the cheese. Definitely "Opa!" worthy.

An appetizer platter ($11.99) covers a good bit of the available options, with five items that sound exotic, but do have easy translations. There are dolmades, the rice-stuffed grape leaves with a little tanginess. There are hummus and melitzanosalata, the spreads of chickpea and eggplant, respectively. And there are two that are most memorable, the tirosalata (whipped feta) and the tzatziki (cucumber-yogurt), which are very generous with the garlic. It doesn't overpower the stars, but it doesn't sit in the background, either. Another "Opa!"

Among the entrees, several were worthy of exclamation. The Chicken Mylos ($15.99) is a saute of chicken breast, artichoke, mushrooms and peppers in a sweet-spiced tomato sauce served over rice. The Yemista ($11.99) is a tomato and bell pepper, each stuffed with an herby mix of rice and ground beef cooked in sweet spices. The kebabs are long skewers of plump pieces of chicken ($14.99) or filet ($18.99) and gilded with well-grilled mushrooms, onions and tomatoes.

And a dessert of baklava cheesecake ($5.99) initially raises eyebrows. How would you improve on baklava? Seems a bold move to even try, but it works. The honey taste is carried in the filling, and a topping of nuts and phyllo shavings provide the texture. Eaten side by side with the house baklava ($4.99), dare I say the cheesecake might even be preferable.

Okay, disclosure time. Most of the choruses of "Opa!" floating around the room are probably for the five belly dancers that made their way around the dining room on a recent Saturday night dinner. The best way to avoid being invited to join the belly dancers is to keep strict attention to your food. Of course, the converse is also true, if you have always wanted to belly dance.

There were a few dishes that inspired less excitement, though. A lamb shank ($15.99) had nice flavor, baked in an herby tomato sauce, but the tough cut needed more slow cooking to tenderize the meat. And the cut was more than just the shank, including the knee joint, making it a little awkward and a lot of bone. The traditional pastitsio ($10.99), Greek lasagna, hit all the standard marks, which include a thick layer of creamy bechamel sauce on top of layers of beef and pasta. But, like the lasagna at most Italian restaurants, the pasta was cooked to a point that it didn't lend much texture, defeating the allure of pasta in the first place.

There are some interesting drink choices on the moderately priced wine list. The Greek sangria is sweet and tastes strongly of blackberries, and popular Greek wines are on the menu, including a white based not on grape, but pine resin. "Opa!" indeed.

The location has a bit of Greek history. It was once a location of the Acropolis empire, then an independent that maintained the Acropolis name. Tony Mouhourtis started off as a bartender at the beginning, and when he had a chance to take over as managing partner with new chef Dimitri Kariabas, he decided a renovation and name change were in order.

Service was friendly, though pacing was an issue. On two visits, food came out very quickly: The appetizers arrived, and the salads before the appetizers were finished, then the entrees nearly as we got to the salads, before the appetizers were cleared.

But maybe that just goes with being so excitable.

Jim Webster can be reached at jwebster@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8746. He dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.

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Mythos Greek Taverna

13575 58th St. N, Clearwater; (727) 538-4273; mythos

clearwater.com

Cuisine: Greek

Hours: 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. until midnight Friday, 5 p.m. until 2 a.m. Saturday

Details: AmEx, V, MC, Discover. Full bar, outdoor seating, live entertainment, reservations suggested

Prices: Entrees $11 to $24, appetizers $4 to $12

Rating out of four stars:

Food: ★★★ Service: ★★ Atmosphere: ★★★

Overall: ★★★

Mythos Greek Taverna offers plateful of reasons to say 'Opa!' 05/31/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 5:30am]
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