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, the selection of Santorini fava seemed a fine choice. 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 any 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 very 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, Bairaktaris, 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, The Psiri Grill House, 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. A word of caution, the chairs were leaning against our table.

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. But I'm getting ahead of myself. We started our meal with hummus accompanied by a tasty little flat bread, and a tamboule salad, made with bulgar,parsley, tomatoes, onions, and mint with a lemon and olive oil (what else?) dressing. they were both refreshing on a hot day.

This restaurant provided me the perfect meal for our last evening in Athens. If we had discovered Psiri Grill House sooner we could have gone back several times. It's on our list for our next trip to Athens. The interior space was appealing, so a table there would be desirable.

Souvlaki was the last item on my bucket list of what I had hoped to try eating in Greece. By the way, 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.

In my strong drive to find a classic lamb souvlaki, to round out eating my way through Greece, I failed to notice the broad selection of seafood being offered by this restaurant. I can't wait to try some.