Monday, June 26, 2017

It's All Greek to Me

Unless you have a Greek translator along for your journey, it might be impossible to write the name of your restaurant in English. I've gotten around that by displaying photos of the restaurants' signs along with the food photos.

Our first restaurant in Athens was near our hotel 18 Micron Str., located slightly northwest of Monastiraki Square, but more about that later. This trip we are eating modestly and trying to taste a wide variety of classic Greek dishes. On our first night we ambled around the corner and were accosted by a waiter eager to gain our patronage, as is the custom. We declined the invitation but took a menu and checked out other establishments for 30 minutes before returning.

Since more vegetables are on my radar for desirable foods to select, so  Santorini fava made the cut. They were not  green,
                as I had expected, but very pale. The color did not affect the familiar pungent taste. The pureed fava  was topped with marinated red onion, oregano and parsley. It was good although the portion may have better suited a table of 4, so it was generous. I made an effort to eat it as it was intended, with a squirt of lemon, but preferred the beans without lemon. Less olive oil would have made the lemon unnecessary.

The second starter we tried was a Russian Salad. It was great for a potato fix. For a man who cannot pass up an order of meatballs, Greece is the place to go. The excellent  fried meatball appetizer satisfied my husband's desire for meat.

My entree was the rustic sausage that came with French fries. Again there was oregano or perhaps marjoram used to flavor the meat, along with paprika. They were flavorful and distinctly unlike other sausages I have tried during my travels to other European countries.

We tried a Greek beer named Mythos that had a stronger hop taste than we prefer. After dinner the waiter brought  a  dessert that I cannot identify with any certainty. My best guess was that it was made with course grained semolina, sugar, and cinnamon.

The following evening we stayed even closer to the hotel by eating across the street at Oineas, a bright, airy place with sage green furniture, advertising art trays, posters and product containers displayed everywhere.

The 75 year old owner had been collecting product containers, posters, metal advertising signs and ad art, since he was a teenager.

Even the bathroom area was cluttered with advertising posters for cosmetic products, as well as tins and  bottles.

The food was classic yet distinctive, like the decor. Classic Greek recipes were tweaked into versions appealing to modern palates.

The bread was good on its own, but even better with the black olive tepanade that was served alongside it.

Fix, another Greek beer was on offer, so we tried it and had several more during the trip. Our first course consisted of mussels in a lemon grass infused broth. Great idea.



My man about town ordered the pork fillet covered in a mixed mushroom port sauce, then topped with thinly sliced and fried onion rings. Our conversation ground to a halt the minute he took a bite, so we can safely surmise that it was delectable.

The roast lamb was excellent with the decidedly "gamy taste" that I prefer, yet find very seldom. Unfortunately, it was bathed in olive oil and even though delicious, I've decided to pass on lamb again unless it's grilled, The potatoes, however, can swim in olive oil with no complaint from me, unless someone refuses to pass the salt.

On our return to Athens, after 4 nights on the Peloponnesian Peninsula, we came back to Oineas.We started the feast with scampi and what I believed to be an eggplant sauce. It was so good we slathered the leftover portion onto bread.

I tried the lamb ribs because they were grilled and not oily. It was the perfect choice for me, and the French fries were flawless, although too few in number. The thyme sprinkled over the meat and the spicy yogurt sauce only added to this flavorful lamb selection.

My husband ordered the veal chop and was similarly satisfied with his choice.He received a perfectly cooked medium rare chop. We were recognized by several waiters and the owner as being returning customers. They rewarded us with a complimentary dessert of house made cheesecake with mango and chocolate sauce.

Right alongside the ancient Agora near its museum, there are many restaurants that, as you might expect, are geared to providing tourists with quick meals. We stopped by Antica because we were more interested in a rest than food, and requested one Greek salad and 2 forks.

With a lifelong avoidance of feta cheese, it took some culinary courage to taste this dominant ingredient, but I managed and was rewarded with a sweeter, creamier, less crumbly version of what had passed for feta the first time I tried it. I'm no longer worried that I may have to eat it again, and may actually order it intentionally.

It's embarrassing to admit to going to the next restaurant 4 times on this trip. At first it was only for a drink, then it was to try the pork gyro which was ordered by another customer and looked so good I wanted to sneak a photo of it.

We ordered a bean soup and an order of moussaka before sharing the gyro. It was a very good and filling meal. My husband had wanted to order a 4th plate but our waiter dissuaded him because he knew that the portions were so big. We over tipped him in gratitude.

The restaurant seems to be comprised of several buildings taking up the entire northeast corner of Monastiraki Square, so our next sojourn was for filtered coffee (American style, brewed) and tea. We walked around to the side and sat there for a change of pace. The name and menu were identical. This was also on the side street that takes you into the Plaka without having to climb steep streets or stairs. For a quick diversion, one may stop by The Cathedral of Athens, a modern Greek Orthodox cathedral, with a lovely mosaic on its facade.

Finally, on what we had thought would be our last day in Athens, we returned for the meatball and rice dish we failed to order and the last time we ate at this restaurant. Trying to keep it light, I ordered 2 salads, mixed, and a plate of beets. Both filling, but nothing really special to an avowed carnivore.

Luckily for me, I was offered a taste of the meatballs cooked in tomato sauce and served with rice. They were so full of flavor they could have been made by my grandmother, the benchmark by which I judge all meatballs.

After planning our route to several Greek islands, we discovered that we would need to spend one more night in Athens, in order to leave Greece for our next destination, so we ended up in the Psiri neighborhood again. We went to a taverna on the street leading northeast of Iron Square.

It was mild weather, so we sat outside. After being seated we realized that sitting opposite one another was going to be problematic since the chairs on one side of the table were actually in the street, so we sat side by side while I took these photos.

After perusing dozens of Greek menus, I was almost giddy to find a restaurant that served lamb souvlaki. All I had seen for weeks were souvlaki made from either chicken or pork. They proved to be the perfect meal for my last in Athens. souvlaki was the last item on my bucket list of what I had hoped to try eating in Greece.

When you order a "chop" in Greece, you may expect a bone, but you can find a sliced fillet instead as seen in the photo of the pork chop ordered from this restaurant.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Magnum Force

As with Magnum Force, the movie, Magnum Ice Cream is another force to be reckoned with, and once tried, you will not be forced to take a second bite. They can be found in food shops, markets, and refrigerator cases all over Western Europe. If you can't find them at home, my travel tip is to try them during your vacation.

With all the ice cream shops and gelaterie in Europe, who could imagine settling for an ice cream novelty product? All across Western Europe you can find Magnum products and wouldn't consider it "settling" if you bought one. They're delicious and are now giving Dove bars a run for their money in the U.S. Perhaps that is why they seem smaller in size here, to compete also in size with the Dove bar, so the comparison will be inevitable between the two

The classic is the closest in comparison with the Dove bar, but the chocolate tastes richer and the vanilla ice cream itself compares well with Dove. The Almond also takes its cue from Dove's Milk chocolate and Almond bar. Which came first is a mystery to me.

The superiority of the Magnum seems obvious with the Double Chocolate or Double Caramel bars, with their duel layers of hardened chocolate encasing the soft chocolate, caramel  filling or the buttery, caramel filling.

The Magnum line is extensive in Europe, but imports to the U.S. have not kept pace.

A pale pink chocolate shell surrounds the raspberry and vanilla swirl ice cream on the Pink bar, while the Gold Bar is swirled with caramel.

The Gold is covered by a  thin, buttery looking,  white chocolate shell. Besides the rich tasting vanilla ice cream with a caramel swirl, the Gold bar also has a layer of dark chocolate on the inside of its shell. The taste of both bars is enhanced by the interior, dark chocolate layer.
The White is pretty much just that, white. Plain vanilla at its very best.

Pistacchio helps round out the line in terms of ice cream flavors, but, sorry to say, this is not their best product. It is hard to top an artisan made pistacchio gelato, and the nuts don't improve the concept of this particular bar.
For the last item in this post, you see before you the Magnum Sandwich, a not  quite clear on the concept, ice cream novelty. Sure, the Almond Magnums are good, but they do not belong piggy backed onto an ice cream sandwich like an odd appendage. San Francisco's native ice cream sandwich, the It's-It   made it better decades ago, by simply covering the entire sandwich with chocolate. This version makes the sandwich half look like a mechanism for holding an Almond Magnum that had lost its stick.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The New Testaccio Market

It's been at least 4 years since the residents of Testaccio in Rome have had their daily market moved to an indoor venue 6 blocks from its former location on Via Luca della Robbia. For many years the old outdoor market suffered during inclement weather for lack of customers and discomfort for the vendors. The new building changes all that and even offers underground parking. Although this market has long hosted residents from all over the city, it is now easier for non locals to shop there. I'm pleased to be part of that group.

The primary purpose of the mercato is to supply fresh poultry, fish, pork, beef, cold cuts and produce to the neighborhood. The poultry can be quite varied as seen in this photo.

Now that the stalls have a roof over them, vendors are upgrading methods of keeping their products in better condition. For example, the fish monger can keep flies off his seafood by covering it with parchment paper that will not blow away in the wind. 

Most of the meats are now in permanent, refrigerated cases that keep them at optimum temperatures. This provides not only for preserving  freshness, but eliminates any worry one might have about contamination from insects and bacteria. That's a big improvement.

When renting apartments in Italy, I have occasionally cooked more than breakfast. This rib roast caught my eye, but the fantasy of a full dinner diminished as I imagined trying to clean an oven. If I was convinced it was Chianina beef, the fantasy may live on, but I'm not certain that it's sold outside of Tuscany.

Rome, like most of Italy, is pork centric, so you see it in many forms while you stroll through the mercato.
In this photo, there appear to be a combination of pancetta, the Italian, non smoked bacon; ham, and guanciale. The round, fatty piece is guanciale, the cured pig jowl that is  traditionally used in a traditional  Carbonara recipe.

Fruits and vegetables abound in the market and are interspersed with many of the other items sold there. It would be easier to shop if all products of a like kind were in the same area.

As things stand, there is a loose affiliation between food groups along with prepared foods. But you are bound to find exceptions with general merchandise in the mix.

Prepared foods are putting in a strong showing too. Today I saw a white Veal Ragu that looked every bit as good as those I've seen in restaurants. It was so entrancing, I failed to take a photo. 

Prepared, although not precooked, the polpette (meatballs) in these photos are at the very least a convenience food in Italy. Those below are actually cooked and ready to heat and serve.

Plenty of vendors are prepared to part with  baked goods including pastries, biscotti, rolls, breads and the ever favorite, here in Rome, Pizza Bianca, the Roman answer to focaccia. Even better, are the pizze with various toppings.

I highly recommend that anyone who has never tried a squash blossom nor a porcini mushroom "bianca" style pizza (without tomato sauce) give it a try here. They're two of my favorites, even though I still like the zucchini, as well as the potato and rosemary versions.

The typical pizza bianca, as well as the other pizze, may appear to have a cracker like exterior, but there's a factor of chewiness inside that raises them to another level. Pizza Bianca with its drizzled olive oil surface is delicious on its own, but even better when paired with any of the cold cuts and cheese sold at the mercato.

Gourmet shops selling these types of panini abound in Testaccio. So buy your own ingredients at the market or let someone else make one for you, but don't miss trying some.

Mercado Testaccio is also home to many shops selling clothing, shoes and handbags. Some are vintage, others sell only accessories, jewelry or leather goods. All live happily under one roof. 

On my most recent trip, I discovered Bee Joux, a shop selling women's accessories, including Italian leather purses and French jewelry. Even though I try to buy locally made products, the jewelry was too tempting, so I succumbed and bought a set, deluding myself into thinking it was still okay, since I had been to France on the same trip.

The tables with clothing piled high on top, with a bargain basement appeal, attract many customers, no doubt hoping to find an under priced treasure, but I couldn't bring myself to memorialize them with a photo.

If American vintners are willing to sell wine in boxes, how can I criticize Italian wine served up in plastic bottles? Whether bringing their own bottles, or purchasing a plastic bottle at the wine shop, Italians can satisfy their love of wine locally by paying for it by the liter. Casks of wine from all over Italy can be found at wine shops in Rome.