Athens Restaurants and Greek Food
As Athens was our first stop in Greece, we were looking forward to eating some nice Greek food. We had fond memories of the Greek food when we lived in Chicago: gyros, saganaki, grape leaves, spikoza, etc. Little did we realize the the food we though was Greek was not how the Greeks ate. For example:
- The gyros we ate in Chicago were mostly lamb. It was almost impossible to find lamb gyros in Greece. And, rather than put the meat in a pita bread with tahini sauce, it often came on a plate with a small piece of pita bread next to it. But they do use pita bread sometimes, but often you will find french fries that might be rolled up in it.
- Saganaki was usually serviced sizzling hot in Chicago. At one point, it was flamed at your table with the waiter using lemon to put out the flames. In Greece, it seems to be a piece of cheese (often gruyere) that came to you heated but not as hot as we would have liked….more like a little bit above room temperature
- Hummus in the US has a lot more flavor than the hummus we ran into in Greece
And while discussing the differences between what is really Greek and what we perceived as Greek:
- We only heard O-pah in one place, and that was a very touristy restaurant
- Greek music is not just “zorba the Greek” music. In fact, we only heard that once (in the same tourist restaurant). Actually, after hearing Guantanomera almost once an hour in Cuba, it was a relief.
- But what we did find were a lot of clothing that shouted “ancient Greece” that were targeted to tourists as no Greek would wear them (white, toga-like with a greek design). But the tourist were buying these. The normal Greeks dressed like you or I.
After a few disappointments in our perceptions, we realized we had to change what Greek food should be based on our limited knowledge and just enjoy what Greek food in Greece was. Our Athens’ dining experiences were:
- The Eris, an outdoor-centric spot in the Plaka where we began with nice stuffed grapes leaves topped with an egg-lemon sauce, a less than satisfying saganaki made of gruyere cheese, and two basic, but nice entrees: fried calamari and baked baby lamb wrapped in grape leaves and stuffed with tomatoes and cheese. Our Nemean wine was a 2016 Agrhioghitika (an indigenous red varietal) from Papaioannao Estate.
- Two 21, a sidewalk restaurant in Psyrri (with music, of course) where we began with a delicious Dakos Salad (tomato, feta, olives, capers and herbs on previously dried bread that is moistened by the juices of the salad’s ingredients), followed by two equally good seafood dishes: grilled octopus and a whole grilled seabass. The evening’s wine consisted of a bottle of 2017 Domanie Costa Lazard, a blend of assyrtiko and sauvignon blanc.
- Dionysus Zonar’s, a lovely, pricey, upscale restaurant that has a unique setting on a hill with a perfect view of the Acropolis, including the Parthenon, the Kerameikos and the arches above the Theater of Herodes Atticus. Incredible during the daylight, it is awe-inspiring at night, when the Acropolis and these structures are lit. But while the view was incredible, and the prices steep (about $200 for the two of us), neither the food nor the service matched the atmosphere. We had two dishes: The grilled seabass with fennel risotto was indeed good. Veal carpaccio with baby arugula, parmesan flakes and mushroom confit was less than expected. Nor were we excited by the Greek cheese selection, all five of which were relatively bland (although we can’t really blame that on the restaurant). This being said, we did find the kasari and the manouri cheeses acceptable, but found the minora to be distasteful. The wine, 2017 Vivlia Chora Estate Asyrtiko, Sauvignon Blanc blend from Paggiao in Thrace (Northern Greek) was fine, although it tasted like it was dominated by Sauvignon Blanc. Joyce ended up with one more glass of white wine (a 2017 Malagovzia from Antonopulos Winery (in Achaia) and Tom with a glass of Berta Giulia Chardonnay Barrique Grappa. The service was acceptable, but not particularly accomplished.
- Geros Toy Moria, which claims to be the oldest restaurant on the Plaka Steps, was packed (largely with tour groups rocking to the Greek music). We sat at a table outside, on the steps, where we began with a saganaki and Tom’s grilled lamb chop (blade vs rib). Unfortunately, it came only a couple minutes after the appetizer, which didn’t give him time to enjoy the saganaki. Meanwhile, Tom had almost finished his lamb (and saganaki too) before Joyce even got the fried calamari she ordered. Our wine was a pleasant 2017 Bouter Agiorgitiko from Nemea. While we loved the atmosphere and were fine with the food, we found our server extremely difficult to deal with (we were told he was the owner’s brother). Although there was certainly a language barrier, he was much more intent on telling us what we wanted, than in even trying to understand what we wanted. Luckily, Stephanos, one of the younger servers, recognized and sympathized with our difficulties and, even though we weren’t at one of his tables, ensured that we got what we wanted.
- Pozania Taberna, a restaurant in the Exarchia district of the city, offers one of the nicest facilities and the best food selections we found in the neighborhood. We began with fava bean puree with onions, capers and olive oil as an alternative to hummus (interesting, although we will stick with hummus). Although the appetizer came quickly, the wait for the main courses was extreme—despite the fact that the restaurant had very few patrons. But when the dishes came, we enjoyed them. These were a whole grilled sea bream and a veal and rice cabbage roll with lemon-egg sauce. The server brought a complementary sweet of lemon curd with coconut along with the check.
- Spieze, the appropriately, yet inauspiciously named place we stopped for a fast, informal bite (two lamb/beef gyros) between visits to the Acropolis Museum and the actual Acropolis.
As we were in Athens for 4 nights, we decided to rent an apartment through Expedia and choose the “Acropolis Apartment 17 MATROZOU ST, Athens, Attica 11741”. The owner was very good at responding to all of our questions in advance and we arranged an airport pickup through her. The person who picked us up also lived in the building, gave us our keys and was around if we needed help (we never met the owner). It was exactly as it was portrayed on the web site. The place has a bedroom (soft bed), living room and a small kitchen. The kitchen was very well supplied although we didn’t do any cooking. The unit had a washing machine (drying the clothes on a back balcony which had a clothes line and clothes pins), refrigerator, microwave, hot pot and some standard things that are often missing in rentals such as oil, aluminum foil etc. The hair dryer was very good and didn’t fry your hair like some of the ones in a hotel do. The unit also had a night light outside of the bathroom but was very helpful at night. It was a 10-15 minute walk to the Acropolis and about 25-30 minute walk to the Plaka. Although it was a nice way to spend 4 nights rather than in a hotel, I think we’d choose a different area if we were to return.
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