If you’re looking for a place to dine on a beautiful day, head to . The gorgeous patio and wonderful, light fare make it a perfect destination for a nice meal.
The name Avli Estiatorio means “the courtyard restaurant” in Greek. So it’s fitting that while its interior dining room is lovely, its outdoor space is really special.
Diners walk through the restaurant at 566 Chestnut St., within the Laundry Mall in Winnetka, to access the enclosed patio, which features brick walls covered by vines and planters. Trees with red and green leaves line the border and the marble tables with black metal chairs are shaded by huge umbrellas.
While a sign at the door says that it’s a casual Greek restaurant, it’s easy to feel underdressed in jeans. The place is frequented by older couples and families who tend to dress fashionably or in business clothes.
Our server came over soon after we were seated to take drink orders. Avli boasts an impressive selection of more than 115 Greek wines available by the glass or bottles ranging from $20 to $100. The selection earned it a 2010 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. The menu also features a nice selection of craft beers like Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA ($6) and 3 Floyd’s Gumballhead ($5.50).
After bringing out our beers, our server asked for our appetizer order. He suggested the Greek pasta salad ($7) and skewered artichoke halves ($8). We took him up on the salad, which he offered to make as a double portion, but decided to stick with the single order and try the fried zucchini chips ($9).
My boyfriend adores zucchini, but I was skeptical since my previous experience with fried zucchini had been disappointing, with the vegetable left mush and tasteless. But these were truly excellent, as the thin slices--still crisp and sweet--were covered in a nicely herbed batter that worked very well with the side of cool garlic potato spread.
The pasta salad is a mix of orzo and black-eyed peas mixed with basil, multicolored bell pepper confetti, lemon juice and olive oil. The flavors blended beautifully in the light dish, perfect for an outdoor meal.
For entrees we again asked for recommendations and our server mentioned the stuffed chicken ($15), which we’d already been eyeing. We ordered that along with the fish of the day ($22), which was a whole sea bass broiled with Greek olive oil, oregano and lemon. When I asked for a side suggestion, our server asked if I’ve ever tried dandelion greens ($3-$6 a la carte). Since I hadn’t, he said I should definitely order them.
The fish is worth getting just for the presentation. Our server showed delicate finesse as he filleted my bass, severing the head and tail and gently lifting out the bones, though warning me to look out for any he missed. He also offered a secret for eating dandelion greens, saying I should temper their bitterness by adding olive oil and lemon juice and offering me a bowl of lemon slices.
The fish tasted as beautiful as it looked, the flavor of the light, flaky meat brought out by adding a little lemon juice. Our server’s trick worked well for the large bowl of dandelion greens and the blend of sour, bitter and savory made for a powerful and novel taste.
The chicken was also excellent, a rich blend of tender breast covered with melted cheese and stuffed with warm spinach and feta. It came with a side of perfectly cooked broccolini and mashed celery root, which tasted like a less-starchy version of mashed potatoes. Both dishes were quite big, and after two appetizers we wound up taking significant portions of them home.
The food at Avli Estiatoria is so good it’s worth going any time of year, but enjoying it on a beautiful day is pure bliss.