Service and Greek fare at modest prices greet guests at Mill Creek's Kafé Neo
Mill Creek's Kafé Neo offers diners indoor and outdoor seating and a variety of Greek menu selections.
Special to The Seattle Times
|Sautéed garlic shrimp||$8|
|Rack of lamb||$20|
15130 Main St. (Mill Creek Town Center), Mill Creek 425-357-0512
Hours: Dinner 4-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 4-10:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 4-9 p.m. Sundays; lunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; brunch 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays- Sundays; happy hours 3-6 p.m. and 9 p.m.-close daily and all day Sundays.
Prices: $$/$$$ (Lunch $5.50-$10.95; dinner mezedes $5-$10, entrees $10-$20.)
Drinks: Full bar; rotating draft beers; practical wine list with inexpensive options by the glass or bottle.
Parking: Free on street or in nearby lots.
Sound: Moderate to loud.
Who should go: A good bet for lunch with the gang, happy-hour nibbles, dinner with the family or a date-night escape.
Credit cards: All majors.
Access: No obstacles.
It's the dinner rush at Mill Creek's Kafé Neo. A young hostess with dark bangs framing a perfect porcelain-doll face shows discretion beyond her years as a family of three crankily debates the question of where to sit.
Not in the lounge, says mom, who doesn't want to squeeze in between a party of eight and the large-screen TV. Not in the dining room, says Dad, where all the booths are taken and the only option is to huddle at one end of a table for eight. The teenager argues for the sidewalk even though the summer night simmers.
The hostess resists refereeing but does a little tactful coaching by pointing out that very soon the sun will drop behind the trees and the temperature will dip accordingly. She soon had the family settled outside, everyone smiling.
Mill Creek's Kafé Neo is the newest of three in Snohomish County, and the only one to offer a full bar and table service. Shimmering mosaic tiles and walls painted to look like sun-faded terra cotta give the former Zinnia Cafe some old world glam. Ample portions of good Greek-American fare at modest prices attract families with young children, seniors on a budget and couples on a date, but what impressed me most is the professional, team-oriented service.
The staff adheres to a list of "commandments" posted at the service station. It includes admonitions such as: "Don't lean, it looks sloppy;" "Safety is your responsibility;" "Respect your tables and your fellow employees," and my favorite: "Guys is a four-letter word."
Cheerful even when the place is slammed, prone to the occasional wisecrack, these women (they are 99 percent female) remember faces, names and ask after absent family members. They are mother hens hellbent on tending their chicks.
"We keep running out of water glasses," one confided that very hot night. "I'll steal some from the bar," she promised, and did.
Kafé Neo's dining room hums like the Porsches that crawl along Mill Creek's manicured main drag, but the kitchen hits a few speed bumps.
I had one disheartening meal where the diced lamb stuffed into roasted red peppers tasted like last week's leftovers, and a whole trout covered with bitter, burned garlic was overbaked and dry, with a leathery slice of Serrano ham tucked in its gaping cavity.
Yet, on another night, the kitchen cooked an exceptional rack of lamb, crusty and juicy, deeply embedded with the flavor of garlic, pepper, lemon, herbs and spices. At $20 it's the priciest dinner entree, but a tremendous value for two four-rib racks plus crisp rosemary roasted potatoes and sautéed vegetables (mostly zucchini and carrot, severely and routinely undercooked.)
But wait, there's more! As with all entrees here, the price includes a small tossed Greek salad or soup, of which there are two. I would choose the tomato-rich, carrot-sweet, feta-topped lentil soup over pleasantly lemony but unremarkable avgolemeno.
Kafé Neo's $14 dinner plate is another good value. Not only can you choose soup or salad, but your starch and protein, too. Grilled skinless, boneless chicken tenders, though moist, were thickly coated in oregano. I'd stick with roasted lamb, falafel patties (crisp and zesty) or gyro meat.
That savory, peppery blend of lamb and beef, however, is most at home rolled in thick, soft pita with a blizzard of feta, tzatziki, red onion and crisp, vinaigrette-tossed lettuce. Among the 18 gyro combinations available are kalamari tenders and teriyaki chicken, plus one vegan and four vegetarian options.
My preferred way to eat here is to graze on mezedes. Hold the "Ouzo Frappé." Bring me a glass of Greek rosé and this lineup of small plates: garlicky sautéed shrimp; chunks of charred loukaniko, a spicy pork and fennel sausage cooked with orange slices; saganaki, pan-fried cheese made with a salty, tangy wedge of sheep's milk kefalograviera; and beef souvlaki paired with complex, cumin-heady charmoula sauce.
After a big, fat Greek meal like that, I have no room for more than a bite of baklava, which is among the dessert tray's two dozen mini sweets, each a mere $2.
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org
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