Archive for the ‘Greek’ Category

Argo (Thera 847 00, Greece Phone +30 2286 022594  )  seems to have impressed its share of patrons as the place was fully booked on an evening that was very quiet for most of its local competitors. Even the other local top gun, To Ouzeri, looked empty in comparison. But reserve your table weeks in advance…if you want to eat in company of the stunning view of the caldera (not all tables have a caldera view). 

I ordered some of their “recommended” dishes:

Patatina – Argo cooks superb classic Greek food, but their patatina is some sort of “cosmopolitan” invention of their own. In this instance , they reduced fried potato of superb quality into the delicate shape of vermicelli (inspired by the Chinese potato bird nest??)  and topped the whole thing with some scramble eggs. It is not the invention of the decade, but it was well executed 8/10

Fava bean purée had superlative flavour and texture. And this is coming from someone who has fava beans as one of the Main ingredients of his country. Fava beans has a unique taste, though, here in Santorini, because of its volcanic soil. 10/10

White egg plant is one of the main ingredients of Santorini. It was simply baked but revealed some serious sourcing. The cooking was as flawless: seasoning and timing that showcased superb know-how / technique. Excellent 9/10

Giaprakia – Greek stuffed cabbage rolls (ground meat, rice, mint) served with fries and yoghurt sauce. The presentation is elegant, the genuine traditional flavours vibrant. Quality ingredients are used. A benchmark yiaprakia. 10/10

An assortment of fresh seafood (mussels, shrimps) was timely cooked in a delicious tomato sauce. As I explained elsewhere, I tend to perceive Chefs who cook seafood with great care (the case, here) as capable of cooking everything else (vegetables, meats)  with brio, and this entire meal was an example of just that. 8/10

Overall food rating (categ: Mediterranean/ Greek): 9/10

Service: 10/10

Bottom line: Argo could cook some of the best Mediterranean food of any major food city in the world. Even the service, at Argo, was of prime mention (my main waitress, Angelica, would not be out of place in a Michelin star restaurant). Both Argo and the Old tavern of Psaras were the highlights of my foodie adventures in Greece. Next time I will be in Greece, I will happily eat again at those two restaurants and will make a detour by  Thessaloniki, the capital of Greek Macedonia, as well as visiting the Peloponnese as many Greeks I know have raved about the dazzling food in both locations.

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The old tavern of psaras (Erotokritou ke Erechtheos 16, Athina 105 56, Phone: +30 21 0321 8733) is located in the very touristy area of Plaka

If you meet someone complaining about plaka’s  food been touristy, he is certainly not wrong, but then he needs to eat at places like the old tavern of psaras. The  food, here,  is genuinely Greek. 

I discovered this tavern after a joke with a local. I argued with him that Plaka was the worst place for a foodie. He responded that I needed to try the old tavern of psaras, and that I should let him know how things went.

The tavern is situated at the top of a flight of stairs of Plaka, in an area called anafiotika. 

Feta cheese ravasaki – the folks at Fato o Mano should come here and have a taste of how grilled feta cheese, sesame seeds and honey does rarely fail in the hands of the Greeks. An example of a benchmark feta cheese ravasaki (dazzling flavours, superb ingredients). 10/10

Boiled octopus in vinegar and olive oil – loved the rustic presentation. they do not go rustic because tourists are looking for that. The cooking is rustic because it is genuinely traditional. big pieces of semi firm octopus (the texture I grew up to consider as the right texture for octopus, in the fishermen village of the Indian Ocean where i was born), with a good chew. Superb maritime flavour and exquisite seasoning. 9/10

Baked Chicken in lemon is very Mediterranean and, of course, very Greek. Delicious traditional sauce, the quality chicken cooked expertly. This is one of my preferred classic Greek / Mediterranean dishes and although not a dish that is hard to execute, I cannot say that it has always been as great as this one that they made at the OToP. Excellent 9/10

Fava purée- after the refined versions at R41 and Argo, I was ready for a rustic rendition of the Fava purée, which is what the OToP offers. Another successful traditional dish 7/10

Overall food rating: 9/10 Flawless traditional Greek cuisine. To the local who has recommended the old tavern of psaras, you know your food really well, buddy! 

Avli Tou Thodori (Platys Gialos, Mykonos Phone: +30 2289 078100) is right on the beach of Platys Gialos in Mykonos. There is a small street with two mini food stores as well as the public bus stop. If you leave that tiny street and get on the beach, Avli is the first restaurant you will find on that beach.

raw sea urchin – the gonads fresh, their maritime fragrance in evidence. Next time, dear Avli, try to leave them in their shells (way more fun to espy), but hey…I liked it like that, too!

Some excellent freshly baked pita bread made an appearance.

Greek lamb kleftiko baked in parchment paper, mixed with cheese, carrots, pepper. A classic of greek cuisine that is very simple to make, but you need a good palate to get it right. Their Chef has that good palate, and when he cooks his classics, he does it with the heart and soul of a talented old world artisan Chef. 8/10

Traditional Greek donuts come in different varieties. Theirs was not a benchmark of its kind, but it was delicious and done well. 7/10

I went back a second time, days later, to test some few menu items that involved not just sourcing, but the cooking technique and the kitchen brigade was as inspired as on my initial visit. 

Overall food rating  8/10

Bottom line: I picked 4 of their top  10 in Mykonos. Avli did beat them all, with Yialo coming second. It is not only a restaurant offering good food, it has also a nice interior as well as superb service and it is right on the beach. 

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To Ouzeri (Thera 847 00, Greece  Phone: +30 2286 021566) is one of the most popular and finer  restaurants of Fira, the capital city of Santorini. 

Fried battered cod fish balls, beetroot and garlic cream/ this had superb taste and flavour, the balls of fried  cod fish not oily at all. The presentation is done with care. 8/10

Giouvetsi veal stew in tomato sauce served with orzo pasta, Parmesan cheese. Another excellent dish showcasing some serious technique (timing, seasoning were all examples of what they should be), the Chef having an excellent palate. I liked how Avli in Mykonos made his stew, and yet Ouzeri managed to deliver a tastier one. 9/10

Overall Food rating (Categ: Greek, Mediterranean) 9/10

Bottom line: In Santorini, I preferred Argo  a tad more (Argo  is so fun, with food to match and if you can snatch a seat with the caldera view, go for it! ), but Yes, culinary-wise, Ouzeri is on par. Genuinely Greek and tasting great. 

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Mykonos was exactly like in the postal cards. No one will argue with you if you saw better island in your life, but Mykonos was as pretty as the hype wants you to believe. It was about the exact same omnipresent whitewashed houses, colorful doors, and eye candy waterfronts that we can all see in the ads. If you like beaches and whitewashed houses, there you go. 

I stayed at Platis Gialos, to enjoy both its beach as well as its restaurants (it is a beach area with an effective night life, mini food markets, spas, etc). Its beach does not have the soft white sand of some of the islands of the carribean, but it is very clean, its golden sand and blue water certainly easy on the eyes.

At Platis Gialos, I paid a visit to 3 of their most popular restaurants: Nikos Gallop, Yialo Yialo as well as Avli Tou Thodori. Avli was the best of the trio, followed by Yialo. As for Nikos, my meal, there, will not help you to understand its popularity. The effect of the free drink they offer to their patrons, at the end of the meal, could, perhaps, better explain that exploit (of being popular).

At 15 mins drive from Platis Gialos, you will find Mykonos town. From some angles, its waterfront is very easy on the eyes, although, to be fair, some parts of it is also utterly ugly. Regardless, this town deserves a detour while you are on the island. In Mykonos town, I ate at the very popular Fato o Mano, which I reviewed here.

All in all, Mykonos being touristy, one might expect average food. In that regard, Avli and Yialo fought back and proved that a touristy location can offer serious cooking too. I learned, while I was there, that Avli and Yialo are not alone, in that fight, as at  least 10 other restaurants are cooking food that are superior to what most of the local restaurants are offering. If that is true, Good, then, for Mykonos.

From the beaches of Mykonos, I took a ferry for a stopover in Santorini, the other famous island of Greece. 

The hype, there, is on such things such as the fabled caldera views with its sunset, the emblematic blue domes, particularly the mother of all blue domes, the one of the city of oia. All of them will be as impressive as your imagination will want them to be, but please do not be too picky about the blue domes…they are just blue domes and it is certainly not their fault if our imagination have elevated them to what they can’t be.

Imagination, overhype, it does not matter: Santorini worths a detour. They just have to work on their 3rd world airport, an airport that is simply a shame by western standards (poorly trained staff that are as confused as the system they are working for). 

In Santorini, I ate at Argo  as well as Ouzeri, two of their best restaurants in the capital city of Fira. Argo  has a Chef whose cooking was almost as amazing as watching the nearby caldera view. Ouzeri was on par as far as food is concerned. I also tried Restaurant 41 on the beach of Perivolos, reviewed here.

That Santorini had its caldera views marketed  as one of  the things to see once in your life,  virtually anyone who did not live under a rock … got that. But who knew that such a touristy location could hide great kitchen brigades such as the ones of Argo, Ouzeri, and many more. 

My last stop was in Athens. 

Historically, Athens is, obviously, a giant. But it also has a beautiful coastline that is easy to access using public transportation. 

In Athens, do what the tourist trapping advertisements are suggesting: stay in central Athens in the vincinity of Plaka. As a tourist, you will be trapped, anyways, so you may as well get the most out of it.

Outside of Athens, if the gorgeous mountainous landscapes on your way to Delphi does not seduce, then you know you are in an advanced stage of personal depression. 

Delphi will stun you as much as you love mountains and are a fan of the oracle, the twins of argos, apollo, etc…obviously, and for someone like me who qualifies as a fan of all of that, I certainly did not leave the site in a bad mood.

The signs that tourism is their bread and butter are numerous: well maintained buses for tourists, plenty of areas thought for tourists (Plaka, is an example), a subway system that is as easy to navigate as it is easy on the eyes, roads in great condition as well as an effort to post signs in english/french at some touristic sites. 

In Athens, I ate at the old tavern of Psaras, as well as Manas Kouzina-Kouzina. At the former, some Greek families were eating next to tourists, and I hope the tourists did realize that they were eating true traditional Greek food, done really well, because the Greek families felt like eating at home. The old tavern cooks superb Greek food. As for Manas Kouzina-Kouzina, I suspect it is not bad at all. I mentioned “I suspect it is not bad”…for reasons explained here. I also ate at taverna vizantino, which seemed to think that, because it is in a touristy area, where people just pass by, it can serve whatever it wants to people.  That shameful meal  is reviewed here. 

For North Americans: keep in mind that patrons at restaurants  are allowed to smoke on the terrace, but not inside. So you know where to sit if you want your food not to smell of smoke..

Nikos Gallop (Platys Gialos, Mykonos, Phone: 30 22890- 24306) is another popular restaurant of Platys Gialos in Mykonos, cooking cretan and mykonian cuisine. There is a small street with two corner stores, a spa, the public bus stop. There is just one street like that, in Platys Gialos ;) – On that street (a slope, actually), Instead of taking the direction of the beach, you head the opposite way, and Nikos is right there at the top of that slope. It is not even 5 mins walk between the bottom and the top of that slope.

Grilled red pepper suffed with feta was ordinary. This is a food item that relies on great produce. The produce was not bad, to be fair, but not good enough to make this dish memorable (which it can be) 6/10

Youvetsi with lobster. This traditional Greek baked pasta dish is usually made with beef, lamb or chicken, which are replaced by lobster, here at NG. Tomato sauce, shallots, garlic, red wine are the other components of that dish. They use orzo as the pasta. The dish could remind you of a tomato-based risotto (essentially because orzo is shaped like grains of rice), but it is technically not a risotto. Not bad and tasty enough, but not close to  the most delicious Youvetsi I had neither. The Greeks cook their pastas a bit longer than aldente, which I already knew, and that I did appreciate as it is, but keep that in mind if u like ur pasta to be aldente.    I think they should make their Youvetsi with lamb or beef as I am afraid the lobster does not add much, in a way of improved flavour, to tomato sauce based dishes. 6/10

Service: as it is the case virtually eveywhere in Platys Gialos, workers of the hospitality industry are aware of the importance of tourism in Mykonos and are trained accordingly. The owner offers a drink on the house (for eg, a glass of ouzo) to all his patrons at the end of the meal. 

Pros: It is not easy to attract more patrons than your competitor, in such a small area with so many restaurants. On the back of the hordes of people that kept coming in, on the evening of my visit, it is clear that NG won the popularity contest.

Cons: It is traditional cooking, I gather, but they can and should lift their game.

Overall food rating (Categ: Mediterranean): 6/10

Bottom line: They keep it rustic and homey, which is traditionally my preference, but this sort of food can and should be improved by better produce and superlative flavours. And that was not the case, here.  The bread was also an afterthought, and you are charged for it (this applies to most restaurants in Greece).

Yialo Yialo (Platis Gialos, Mikonos 846 00, Greece Phone: +30 2289 078916) is one of their highly regarded restaurants at Platys gialos (one of the popular beaches of the Island of Mykonos). It is located right on the beach. The cooking is casual Greek/Mediterranean, with a contemporary touch in the presentation.

Mykonian onion pie was freshly baked, and tasted great.  a great crust. it was stuffed with tyrovolia (a Mykonian soft white cheese), 3 types of local onions, dill. 8/10

tzatziki – I had stellar tzatziki in my life. this was not stellar, but really good (nicely balanced fresh acidity) 8/10

Herb crusted rack of lamb with baby potatoes and feta cheese mousse – the Greeks cook their lamb longer than what we are accustomed to in North America. Therefore, we are not in the same logic of the rose lamb rack’s meat that we tend to favor in North American. I was prepared to that. That layer of  crust on my rack of lamb is not my first choice, traditionally, but the lamb remained tender and was seasoned exquisitely.  

Greek Pizza had enticing fresh feta and  tomato flavours. A really good freshly baked pizza 7/10

Overall food rating: 7.5/10

Bottom line: Yes, Platys Gialos is a touristy area, but on the back of my meal, I cannot accuse Yialo Yialo of serving touristy food to its tourists. It has a talented kitchen with Chefs who have a good palate and seem to care about the little details that makes food better (freshness of the food, vibrant flavours).