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Bigger is better at new Ikaros

It didn't move far — just one block up Eastern Avenue — but the new Ikaros is a world apart from the original, which the Kohilas brothers opened in 1969.

Sometimes bigger is better. The new Ikaros, which opened last summer, has things the old one didn't, like a banquet facility on the building's second floor and a dedicated bar space, separated from the main dining room by a wall partition. The bar seems like a nice place to wait for a table, but when we visited, most guests kept close to the hostess stand instead, which seemed a bit overwhelmed.

The good news, for anyone concerned about the city's veteran restaurants, is that Ikaros was packed. You could play it safe and visit on a weekday. But I wouldn't. Saturday night at Ikaros is fun.

The dining spaces at the old Ikaros were cozy but cramped, and after four decades, a little worn out. The new dining room, which occupies the ground floor of a massive corner property, has the broad dimensions of an Athenian courtyard.

On a Saturday night, when the dining room was full, a duo played Greek music on guitar and bouzouki, the big, white-walled room took on a taverna atmosphere.

But the real reason to show up on a Saturday, or a Friday, is the rotisserie, another thing the old Ikaros didn't have the space for. You can see it, a free-standing, glass-fronted cabinet, as soon as you walk in. It's a thing of beauty, and you can tell there are good things waiting for you.

Provided on a menu insert, these offerings are listed by their Greek names only, so you'll have to do some asking.

The most basic preparation is kontosouvli (think souvlaki), basically boneless spiced lamb on a spit. We enjoyed this, but we were much more taken with the exohiko, a roll of lamb meat that's been stuffed with feta cheese and vegetables. There's more juiciness and variety of flavors in this country-style preparation, and it makes for a pretty presentation, too.

Know that the kokoretsi is organ meat like kidneys or sweetbreads, seasoned with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper, wrapped in intestines. It's a lot less scary than it sounds, but we had to convince our waitress we knew what we were getting ourselves into. If you're inclined to like this kind of thing — I am — you'll love your first meeting with kokoretsi, which has the dusky appeal of rumaki, the classic appetizer of chicken liver wrapped in bacon. For Ikaros, just being able to offer it to customers is a source of intense pride.

There are other items listed on the new menu insert, but some of them were available at the old Ikaros. It's a little confusing. One of the genuinely new items is gigantes, which resemble in taste and appearance very large lima beans. They are tossed with carrots, onions, parsley and garlic, then heated in Ikaros' new brick oven. The result is fresh and mellow, as is another appetizer, a block of oven-heated and simply dressed feta cheese.

The balance of the menu are the Greek staples that Ikaros has been serving with success for 40-plus years. I'm always happy to see appetizers like the pretty pink taramasalata, a spread made from fish roe, and the tender pieces of octopus sauteed with herbs in white wine. Anchovies, though nothing special — they looked right out of a tin — taste good spread onto the good, crusty bread that Ikaros brings, quickly, to every table.

Along with the rotisserie, the larger space has also given Ikaros room to display its fresh fish, something Xenos Kahilas said he's always wanted to do. We enjoyed the direct flavors and moist textures of whole red snapper, prepared with olive oil and lemon, and served with wedges of buttery oven-baked potatoes.

Ikaros is happy in its new home, and from the looks of a Saturday night crowd when the place was bursting at its seams, so are its loyal customers.

If you can't go on a night when the rotisserie is working, you'll still have plenty to choose from — classic Ikaros dishes like roasted leg of lamb, pastitsio and fried cod, layered with endive and skordalia, a Greek garlic spread.

It all goes down well with a glass of inexpensive retsina and there's always room for honey-sweet treats, made on the premises, like baklava, galaktoboureko and kataifi.

richard.gorelick@baltsun.com

Ikaros

Rating: ***

Where: 4901 Eastern Ave., Greektown

Contact: 410-633-3750, http://www.ikarosrestaurant.com

Open: Lunch and dinner Wednesday through Monday. Closed Tuesday.

Prices: Appetizers $4.95-$11.95 ; entrees $15.95-$33

Food: Traditional Greek specialties, with new menu items from the rotisserie.

Service: Neighborly, but harried on busy nights.

Best dishes: Roasted leg of lamb; fried cod with garlic spread; exohiko, rotisserie lamb stuffed with feta and vegetables.

Parking: Parking on the streets of Greektown is not difficult.

Noise level: Bearably boisterous.

[Key: Superlative: *****; Excellent: ****; Very Good: ***; Good: **; Promising: *]

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