I never went to Porta Taverna, which I now deeply regret. Nothing about the modest little Greek bar and hangout especially allured me; a guy I went to high school with owned it, but he was a year or two ahead of me, and I hardly knew him. In the distant past I had misspent many nights playing darts on the Eastlake premises when it was a crummy sports bar called Rory's. I have only myself to blame for this bad association with the location, and because of it I've been missing out on the lamb all this time.
The new version of Porta (called Porta by the Market, located on Virginia between First and Second) has plenty to recommend it, but all I can think about is the lamb. It's not a complicated dish—just stewy-sweet chunks of meat braised with caramelized onions, served with feta and cushy grilled pita—but, as the menu gleefully screams, it's "A Porta original!" and it's exactly rich enough without being overwhelming, as well as warm and delicious and eminently satisfying. A friend was equally enamored of what we called the Tower of Pork—a three-tiered plate-stand extravaganza of excellent pork skewers with tzatziki, red onion, tomato, feta, pepperoncinis, olives, and more warm pita—and indeed, the resultant small triangular sandwiches were extremely tasty. It didn't have anything on the lamb, however.
Part of Porta's bar is backed by a plate-glass window, and behind it a creeping fog was enveloping the deserted street. Inside, the atmosphere was dim and soothing, uncrowded for the moment, a good refuge even before the lamb. Upon being quizzed about the retsina, the highly amiable bartender offered samples of the wines, cautiously describing them as "an acquired taste" and "piney." One sip reminded me instantaneously of an un-misspent night in a Greek hillside town acquiring said taste; it's resinated, pushy, and head clearing (not to mention great with the on-the-sweet-side lamb).
The owner, the amazingly handsome and alarmingly suave Demetri Georgakopoulos, was lurking about, and he (suavely, amazingly) recognized me from our collective distant past. He regaled me with tales of converting the space from the upscale fiesta-themed El Niño (the bar is where the kitchen used to be; much florid ironwork was pried out; it all, of course, took much longer and was a lot more work than anticipated). The night to be at Porta, I was instructed, is the last Saturday of every month, for Greek Top 40, house, and hiphop music and what sounds like an insane party. Otherwise, there are DJs, and an unusually international crowd, and a burgeoning scene, this last evidenced by two beauties in spangled tube tops who came in and perched at the end of the bar. As we turned our attention to the lamb, Demetri turned his attention to the new arrivals, who, obviously already acquainted with his considerable charms, giggled and called him, affectionately, "D."
Porta by the Market is located at 113 Virginia St (374-1301).