Where to Ilona, in the South End, a lively neighborhood spot at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Tremont Street. The restaurant opened in early summer and specializes in Eastern Mediterranean cuisines. Deep turquoise suede covers the banquettes, pale pink is on the chairs, slender vertical pendants hang over a long bar, and a large mural of a woman with red-flowered hair by Republic of Georgia native Giorgi Shanidze graces one wall.
Why To sample plates from countries whose cuisines you may not know and some you may know with other names. Salt cod fritters here are called by the Greek word bakaliaros; lobio, red beans with onions and cilantro, is a version from the Republic of Georgia. Share sardines, octopus, mussels, meatballs, spicy Lebanese potatoes, and other unusual mezze.
The Back Story This is the former Parish Cafe space, now owned by Irakli Gogitidze from the Republic of Georgia and Greek native George Axiotis (the duo also own the Greek restaurant Kava Neo-Taverna in the South End and the Latin spot Puro Ceviche Bar on Newbury Street). Ilona is a venture with chef Jesus Preciado from Colombia.
What to Eat Flowered blue plates hold cigeri hummus, a Turkish dish in which the familiar chickpea puree is topped with delicious chicken livers. Shish barak here is a really crisp savory phyllo pastry stuffed with lamb and pine nuts. The Iranian dish of tahchin, crispy, saffron-colored rice topped with pistachios, is very pretty but lacks flavor. Roast lamb doesn’t come with fava beans, as billed (they’re green peas) and the meat looks dry and tired.
What to Drink The wine list is adventurous in terms of geography: Georgia, Macedonia, Slovakia, Hungary, Greece, and Armenia, in addition to Italy, Spain, France, Austria, and Portugal (bottle prices average mid-$50s); they’re mostly safe middle-of-the-road pours. When we ordered a Georgian white wine by the glass, our waitress warned us that it’s very sweet, so we stayed away from it.
The Takeaway Ilona is light and airy with bright bursts of color. Staff hasn’t quite gotten the hang of smooth service. Though everyone is gracious, they’re not attentive, so you may have to ask for clean dishes between shared plates or hail a waiter to order. A thumping bass from the sound system makes the room thunderously noisy. But sometimes that’s what a neighborhood restaurant is — a stylish place to drop in, share a plate, hug a friend. The noise enhances the celebration. 783 Tremont St., South End, Boston, 617-207-7742, www.ilonasouthend.com. Mezze, salad, and kebabs cap at $14; entrees at $32.