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Wednesday, December 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 35.0° F  Overcast
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Vasilis' Take Five on Willy Street serves Greek standards
Comfort at the corner
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Maybe the fifth time's the charm for Vasilis Kallias, with his fifth Madison-area restaurant, Vasilis' Take Five: Vittles & Vices. Kallias, who was also behind Opa Café and Lounge and the Mercury Café, brings new life to the former Corner Store with what he's termed Greek and Mediterranean fusion food. And the outlook is mostly promising.

The space is open and airy, with the side door kicked open during warm months. It's the type of place you could dress up or down to visit. The ambience is casual, but no one would blink an eye if you showed up in heels to drink a martini.

Usually I'm a Plaka fan for Greek food, but Take Five is a decent alternative for those craving sheer comfort food. Daily specials bring back dinosaurs from Take Five's predecessors, like breaded pork souvlaki and grilled pork kabobs, and both are worth the deviation from the regular set list.

The sampler platter is decked out with dolmades, cheese pies, mini spanakopita and eggplant-chickpea hummus. The rice in the dolmades is a bit pasty and dense, but I'd order the cheese pies à la carte again in a heartbeat. The spanakopita differs from the cheese pie only in the filling. This time it's spinach inside the filo dough - but the mixture's texture is a bit too homogeneously mushy.

The lamb meat in the gyros looks surprisingly similar to Tofurky franks, but compressed meat in gyros is, for better or worse, kind of the standard. All in all, the sandwich is a tasty handful of meat, onions, tomatoes, and cucumber yogurt sauce in pita.

The "sautéed vegetables" seem to be missing in action; they were left off the moussaka and the lamb shank dinner. Still, both of these entrees were large and satisfying.

The moussaka is a high rise of layered mashed potatoes, eggplant, ground beef and arrabiata sauce, and more potatoes. This weighty serving of casserole, to me, is disproportionately starch-heavy compared to the beef and eggplant, which I see as the traditional centerpieces in this dish. And the sauce is rather sweet (arrabiata is usually kicked up with spice). But all things considered it still tasted pretty good. I took some home and finished it the next day.

The lamb shank, too, is an entrée I'd have again. I like anything that makes me feel like a Viking when I'm eating it, and this certainly did. I got a club-shaped, bone-in piece of meat on my plate, and if I hadn't been with company, I'd probably have stuffed a napkin into my shirt and gone to town, like eating corn on the cob. The meat was tender, and I particularly enjoyed the option to dab it into the red-wine cherry sauce. The bed of mashed potatoes, however, was grainy, lacking both fluff and creaminess, and the sautéed vegetables arrived as a raw slaw.

With only eight entrees on the menu, it was surprising that the dessert list was almost as long. The desserts are shipped from a Chicago bakery, and despite the range of selections, the two we had were flops. The pistachio cake was white on white with a sprinkle of pistachios. It tasted...white. I don't know how else to say it.

The baklava was about the size and shape of an egg roll, not layered but rolled up like a log. The filo dough was soggy; it had lost the light, flaky separation of layers that can make baklava divine.

However, my biggest reservation is that the menu screams of fall and winter to me, with its heavy bent toward meat, starch and often cream sauces. I'd love to see lighter fare as the heat starts to crank.

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