I live in DC, which is a great place to live and visit. I try to make the most of it. However, I also love to leave my home and see what the world has to offer. Come and join me!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Food Glorious Food! Eating (vegetarian) in Greece

I am a vegetarian (yes to eggs and dairy, no to fish or any kind of animal), so eating when I travel usually requires a little bit of research and forethought, and in less veggie-friendly areas food is not the highlight of the trip, to say the least. In Scandinavia I survived mainly on cottage cheese and Wasa crackers, apples, and chocolate bars. I lost four pounds in two weeks. My food restrictions are a personal choice so I accept that fabulous eating and culinary adventures will not always be a part of my tourism experience. Which made Greece all the more of a pleasant surprise!

I had read many trip reports describing the wonderful vegetable side dishes other visitors had enjoyed, so I wasn't worried about being able to get a decent meal. I didn't know if I would be looked at askance for not ordering a "main" course, and thought that I'd have to seek out specific meze restaurants to be able to order several vegetable sides without a meat focal point, but I figured I could just wait and deal with food until I got there. I learned the Greek phrase for "I am a vegetarian," which is "Imei hortofagus."

I had no idea what awaited me. Namely, the best food I've had in my entire life. I'm sure I've had individual meals that have topped the individual meals I had there (though nothing specific comes to mind), but as an overall culinary experience I have never had it so good, not even in my own kitchen. And I love to cook and greatly enjoy my own cooking! In fact, when I got back home it took me several days to readjust to the food. I could barely bring myself to eat anything because it was never going to be the same as in Greece. I was sure I had gained five pounds but when I weighed myself the scale hadn't changed an ounce. I should've eaten more!

Despite my pre-trip impression, all the tavernas and restaurants I went to offered small plates. In fact, most didn't offer "main dishes" except in the more touristed areas such as Athens. Greek families, many of whom dined at restaurants in areas I would have expected to be tourists-only (always a good sign!), always had lots of small plates on their tables, never individual meals. This made food ordering easy in some ways--no worries if there's one thing on a complete meal plate I can't eat because everything is ordered individually--but harder in other ways. Usually as a vegetarian I'm confined to one or two menu items. Having to choose from among a dozen or so was a challenge for me! But I suppose that's the good kind of challenge.

THE FOOD

I didn't find a lot of variation in terms of taste from North to South or on the island of Naxos (the only island I had a chance to visit). Though I'm sure there were some dishes that were indigenous to each area, the reliance on fresh vegetables and olive oil, with maybe a little parsley or oregano for flavor, was the same throughout the country. Greek cooking is not spicy, and I don't think the Greeks have the palate for it. I like black pepper a lot but at some places the ground pepper was so old it had formed a giant clump inside the shaker. I took that as a sign to enjoy my food the way it was prepared.

There were some (vegetarian) dishes that were common to most menus:

Horiatiki Salata, which literally translates as "village salad" but is known to the world outside Greece as Greek salad and listed as such on the English menus. Its ingredients are very standard: tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper (usually bell pepper, but sometimes another mild variety of pepper), red onion sliced into thin rings, a few black olives of the local variety, and a slab of feta cheese, with dried herbs (oregano and thyme usually) sprinkled on top the cheese and olive oil poured over all. Occasionally large chunks of raw garlic were also included. I read that originally horiatiki was just sliced feta with red onions, and something about the two is an amazing combination. My habit was to load the fork with tiny bits of feta and little slices of onion together. The saltiness and creaminess of the feta were perfect with the aromatic bite of the onion. It didn't make for the most socially acceptable breath, but I would hate to miss out on a culinary adventure just because of worrying that my exhalation might be overly fragrant at very close range.

Spanakopita/Tiropita/Hortopita: Spanakopita is one of the Greek dishes that has caught on in the States, but actually it isn't that big of a thing there in restaurants. It's more commonly available as a quick lunch or snack from a bakery. We did order it from restaurants occasionally, when it tickled our fancy. A tiropita is basically a spanakopita without spinach; it literally means "cheese pie." A hortopita is a spanakopita made with wild greens rather than spinach; because the overriding experience of a spanakopita is cheese, filo, and butter, I didn't find that a hortopita tasted any different than a spanakopita.

Yiyandes, sometimes rendered Gigandes: Giant white beans, about twice the size of canellini, are prepared in a tomato-base sauce that has a little garlic and onion in it, probably some thyme and bay leaf are used for flavoring. I also detected cinnamon one of the times I had them. They were always perfectly cooked, firm but not at all underdone. I am a big fan of the legume, so I was always happy to see these on a menu.

Zucchini patties, sometimes called "zucchini burgers" on the English menu: Shredded zucchini is mixed with creamy cheese--probably feta and something else, flavored with dill, and probably a little bread crumbs and/or egg to hold it together and deep-fried. This is a favorite dish of mine at a local Mediterranean restaurant in DC, Zaytinya, and the experience in Greece was even better. The dill was kept in check so it just provided some color rather than tasting like a pickle, the inside was warm and creamy and the outside crisp. The cheese provided a tang, but it didn't overpower entirely the taste of zucchini.

Gemiste: For gemiste vegetables are hollowed out and stuffed with a rice mixture. The most common vegetables were tomatoes and peppers; I had read of zucchini, eggplant, and other vegetables being served in this manner but I didn't run across any. I don't like rice, so I'm not a good person from whom to take advice on this dish. I ordered it twice. Once was a disaster--emotionally and culinarily (see my account of dinner at Albatross in Galaxidi for details)--when the wonderful tomato and pepper were stuffed with what tasted like minute rice in tomato sauce from a box that seemed to have expanded to fill my plate and all nearby plates when I took the tops off the vegetables. The second time, on Naxos, it was actually quite lovely with the rice filling having a texture closer to risotto, creamy and cohesive. Ground lamb is sometimes added to the rice filling of a gemiste, so if you're vegetarian be sure to ask your waiter.

Fried potatoes: self-explanatory, though at one place (Elaias in Athens) instead of having french fried sticks the potatoes had been cut in rounds about 1/4 inch thick. French fries were usually not a standout dish, mostly because they had been standing out (har har). Fries must be served directly from the fry basket and eaten in a reasonable amount of time to be worth their calories, but the Greek pace of meals often meant they were cold by the time you got to them.

Oven potatoes: A much better way to enjoy Greek potatoes is from the oven. I don't know how they make them and I really wish I did. Potatoes (don't know what variety) are peeled, tossed in very lightly flavored olive oil, and baked to absolute perfection. I tried this at home with some yukon golds, but I overcooked them and they were too sweet when roasted in this manner. I just got some mixed fancy potatoes from Trader Joe's to try; I'll report back. Everyplace I tried oven potatoes I was not disappointed.

Mushrooms: We were lucky enough to be there during mushroom season, and a lucky happenstance it was! The Greeks appear to use only seasonal ingredients, so if you don't see mushrooms on the menu I apologize for getting your hopes up. Everyplace we saw grilled mushrooms we ordered them. Most of the time, we were served what appeared to be a variety of Oyster mushroom, lightly tossed in olive oil and cooked on a hot grill (I don't know whether it was a fire grill or an electric; I suspect fire). The delicate fluted edges were just singed and crackly when they were brought to the table with a half a lemon for squeezing over. They were the most sensational mushrooms I've ever had. In the US, such mushrooms are $8-$16/pound fresh; a big plate of prepared mushrooms (half a pound at least) ranged from 6-8E. Bargain! In Meteora the grilled mushrooms were white button, which wasn't as exciting but they were equally as well-prepared. I caution you to stay away from mushrooms on Naxos, however, as they were white buttons served in a gloopy, greasy, congeal-y cheese sauce. After trying them once, I stayed away when I saw them listed on the menu at other restaurants. It appears that's how mushrooms are prepared on the island.

Tzatziki: A dip of yogurt, feta, and shredded cucumber flavored with dill. I'm not a huge fan, as I my palate is overly sensitive to dill and I don't like cucumber enough to care for it shredded.

Yogurt/eggplant/fish roe salad: We learned this one the hard way. Except for the Greek Salad, most things called "salad" are really dip. Yogurt "salad" is yogurt mixed with feta. When we had it the feta was so briny it was hard to eat any of it. Eggplant salad, melitzanesalata, is pureed eggplant mixed with yogurt and feta, sort of like a less flavorful baba ghanouj. K and I ordered it only once, and it tasted of mayonnaise to me (*shudder*). Fish roe salad, taramasalata, which I knew enough to stay away from, is a puree of fish eggs, yogurt, and feta, and is an alarming 1950s shade of reddish pink. I half-expected to see it heaped into the center of an elaborate jello mold and surrounded by tiny sausages on colored toothpicks. Perhaps it is delicious and I should not unfairly malign it, but I don't think I can ever get past the appearance.

Eggplant: In addition to eggplant salad, there will probably be another eggplant preparation on the menu. I think the key is to have grilled or roasted eggplant served warm. Fried is not good. Cold is not good. Warm, drizzled with olive oil, and served with tomatoes and/or feta is good.


DINING OUT

Eating out is a great tradition in Greece, or so it seemed to me. There were many, many family-owned non-chain restaurants everywhere we went--which was admittedly tourist areas. Until we got to Athens, at least half the patrons were Greeks who appeared local, half tourists. In Athens the proportion veered wildly toward tourists, but there were just so darn many of us it was hard for the Greeks to compete!

Technically, there are several different types of sit-down eating establishments in Greece. An Estiatorio (easy to spot it's a cognate with "restaurant") is more formal and slightly more expensive, a Taverna is more informal, and an Ouzerie serves ouzo with food incidental to it as the Greeks rarely drink without eating. I observed this on Naxos when even at the beachside bar a beer was served with a small bowl of peanuts or chips. While these divisions may still be going strong in non-tourist areas, I didn't see any difference in price, formality, or menu among the establishments that called themselves by the various demonimations in the places we visited.

In tourist areas, it is common for the owner or a waiter (usually a family member) to stand outside the restaurant and try to get you to eat there. The most aggressive behavior we observed was in Thessaloniki in the restaurant alley off to the right at the top of Aristotle Square. The touts were actually grabbing K by the arm and pulling her into their establishments. It wasn't scary or anything, but it was quite annoying. Everywhere else it was just talking, no touching. While I am normally very averse to the hard sell, and will walk away from anyone who gives it to me out of principle, you'd never find anyplace to eat if you did that in Greece! We actually found our favorite restaurant in Athens, Ksenios Zeus, when the owner solicited us so it just takes adjusting your mindset a bit. But I wouldn't recommend putting up with being grabbed!

Generally the menu is posted outside a restaurant with prices listed. Menus are almost always translated into English. This makes it easy to scan and see if you're interested and if the restaurant is in your price range. In the tourist areas we didn't find great variation in prices among the restaurants in a given area. I know there are fancy restaurants in Greece and particularly in Athens, but you're unlikely to find yourself in one accidentally. I found the prices for food to be extremely reasonable. The prices were much less expensive than eating out in Western Europe (UK, France, and even Italy), and were actually cheaper than an equivalent meal in DC.

As in most of Europe, the Greeks go out to eat late, but not as late as I thought. K and I generally went out for dinner at 10, but we came after the bulk of people had already been seated. Some would arrive after us, of course, but we seemed to be the tail end of the rush. The earliest I ate was 9:30 and I didn't feel like I was an Early Bird Special by any means.

When you enter the restaurant, you can usually choose where to sit. It is best to travel while it's still possible to eat outside because that way you are not enclosed in a box of smoke. While all restaurants are theoretically required to have a non-smoking section, "non-smoking" and "section" are both interpreted very loosely. Our favorite was our visit to Albatross, a narrow restaurant with three booths on each side. One side of the tiny restaurant is non-smoking. I am not sure if smokers are contractually obligated not to blow smoke directly in the faces of customers seated in the non-smoking section. We were seated on the non-smoking side, and a full ashtray was whisked off our table as we sat. Since most of the places we ate were at least half tourists, we actually had no trouble enjoying a relatively smoke-free meal. Only at a stop in a cafe in a non-tourist town were we surrounded by smokers.

After you've been seated a little while, the waiter will bring you the menu and after a while a basket of bread, usually with no butter and definitely not with olive oil. You will be charged a "cover charge" for the bread whether you eat it or not, usually around .80E. It may be that you can ask for the bread to be taken away and not to get charged the cover, but at 80 cents I never felt it was worth making an international incident of it. Unfortunately, bread is one of the few things that does not appear to be a strength in Greek cooking. For the most part, it was white bread with the taste and texture of Wonder bread. Not very appealing. There were a few exceptions, but only a few. That's ok, you don't want to fill up on bread anyway.

After a while the waiter will come around for your drink order. The tap water is perfectly drinkable in Greece, but all Europeans, Greeks included, drink only bottled water in restaurants. Again, I'm sure we could have asked for tap water, but we wanted to do as the Greeks did so we got bottled. A liter and half is 1.50 to 2.00E. Getting bottled worked out well as it made us hydrate. We would get a liter and half at lunch and at dinner and drink the entire bottle between the two of us. When I was on my own it was harder. Sometimes I'd get a whole liter (and drink it!), which was a bit much, but a half-liter wasn't quite enough.

While most restaurants have bottles of wine we never bothered with that. You can order house wine, red, white or rose, by the half-liter or liter. A half-liter is the perfect size for two moderate drinkers--you get about two small glasses each. We loved that. The house wine was always drinkable and sometimes very good. If you're a real oenophile, you'll probably want a bottle, but for those of us who just like to enjoy some wine with a good meal it was perfectly acceptable. And did I mention it's 3.50-6E for a half liter? The half-liters were served in adorable copper or glass carafes.

After another while, when you've closed the menus and put them aside, the waiter will come take your order. For two people who have been sightseeing all day, three dishes was enough, though we often ordered four because we couldn't decide! In the States, or at least in DC, tapas, meze, and other small plates are literally that--small plates about four inches on each side with a small serving that's enough for two people to each get a taste. In Greece, a "small" plate is enough for a single person's entire meal.

The food comes out as it's ready, and you serve some onto your little plate and dig in! Don't eat too quickly, though. No real Greek would finish dinner in under two hours. K and I managed to stretch it out to an hour and a half each night, and even alone I usually stayed put for an hour. It's a nice exercise to be leisurely over a meal. Quite a difference from scarfing something microwaved in front of the TV (not, ahem, that I would ever do that). "Turning the tables" is not a concept in the lexicon of the Greek restauratuer.

After the food is gone, the wine drunk, and the conversation thoroughly conversated, you must ask for the check. No matter how obvious it is that you're done, the waiter would never be so rude as to bring you the check without asking, thus implying that you should vacate your table. This is weird for an American. Where I live, it is rude to call for the check, as it implies that your server is not paying sufficient attention to your cues that you're done. When your plate is pushed back, silverware arranged in the universal symbol for "I'm done," and napkin placed on the table, the server comes over and asks if s/he can bring you anything else, and then you say just the check, thank you. To summon the server shows impatience and is a de facto criticism that your server is too slow. So it really took me a while to be able to ask for the bill without feeling uncomfortable.

Especially because you often have to do it twice. It is a tradition in Greece to provide a sweet finish to dinner gratis. Normally this is fruit--watermelon and grapes were in season while we were there. Some places served a proper dessert, I assume as a nod to tourist preferences, cake and ice cream being the norm in those instances. In Athens this custom had fallen off for the most part, and we got fruit or dessert only once. If you do receive dessert "at the home" (a joke between K and me based on a doesn't-quite-translate experience she had in Kosovo), after you're finished with that you have to ask for the check *again* and then it will be brought to you.

After you recover from your shock at how cheap it is (around 24-32E for two people, including wine, water, bread, and food), you pay the bill in cash. I never saw anybody paying with a credit card at any restaurant and I don't know if it's even possible. Americans tip, and everyone knows it. I don't know how much Europeans tip, and I don't think Australians tip at all, but a tip is expected from us and I don't mind. We usually left 10%.

Then you wander back to your hotel, trying to maintain the slower pace of life by strolling along. Also, because you're so full you can't move very fast.

INFORMAL EATING

If you don't want to eat a full sit-down meal, you can grab something from a bakery or get a souvlaki. I never had a souvlaki, as they are meat, but the people walking around eating them seemed to enjoy them just fine. Bakeries will generally have a spanakopita or tiropita, often in two different sizes, which is nice. They are usually heated by microwave, which is not optimal. All that work to put together the flaky phyllo layers and then gum it up in the microwave! Even with the microwave, though, they're still good. But not health food by any stretch--lots of butter or olive oil, lots of cheese, and a weeny bit of spinach. A large piece will run you about 2E, though if you sit down it will cost you more.

I believe historically there has been a difference between bakeries that sell savouries and bakeries that sell sweets, but most of the bakeries that sold spanakopita also had some sweet pastries. I didn't get a baklava until my last day in Greece. It was quite good, but very rich and sweet. I am allergic to walnuts, but there was enough variety that I could find one that was all pistachio. Depending on the bakery, you can also get cakes and chocolates. A sticky farina cake was available in the middle and southern half of the country; I liked it very much but I love the grainy farina (Cream of Wheat) texture. K wasn't as much of a fan. The bakery-made chocolates were all very high quality.

There are, of course, tons of little carts and corner shops where you can pick up snacks. A popular brand is 7 Day and I got some sesame bagel chips to have as a snack on the ferry. They were delicious! I wish I'd discovered them earlier in the trip. Well, on second thought, I ate quite enough as it was. I also got some "gemiste," little sandwich cookies (gemiste means stuffed, which is why it has the same name as stuffed tomatoes and peppers). They all sell ice cream novelties as well. I adored the Choco Magnum drumstick-like cone.

There are a fair number of little shops that sell what looks like gelato. I tried a couple different places and was disappointed every time. For all the give and take between the Italians and the Greeks, the Italians have clearly kept their secret gelato recipes secret. The ice creams I had were icy and thin and too sweet. Jess said the gelato shop in the square with the fountain in Naxos town was good, but I didn't get a chance to try it.

One kind of shop I didn't find was a Galaktopoleia. Literally translated this is "milk shop" (I'm guessing the name is related to the same root as galactose, a type of naturally occurring sugar in milk). These legendary establishments offer single servings of yogurt and all manner of dairy products. No such luck. We didn't see any anywhere, and believe me I was looking. I would have loved to have a yogurt snack in the middle of the day. I suspect this cultural relic has disappeared entirely, displaced by the more global preference for ice cream. We can't blame McDonalds for this one, though; it's not very popular in Greece and I only saw a few. Thank goodness for that!

CAFE CULTURE

There appears to be some sort of disconnect in the Greek tastebud and/or psyche. The food is fantastic, fresh, and unadorned. But their taste in beverages leans toward the terrible and the artificial. Colored sugar water abounds and it's hard to find real juice. And then there is...the frappe. The frappe is made with Nescafe (yes, instant coffee) and foamed milk, served cold. The cafes are full of people, not only in the afternoon but all day, drinking the stuff. It looks so wonderful, all creamy and foamy, and people relax for hours and watch the world go by over them. I am not a coffee drinker but K dutifully tried one. She said it was awful. I tried it. It was awful. The good news is you can get a cold chocolate, sokolata kria, instead. Yum! Grown up chocolate milk is nothing like the Nestle Quik I drank as a kid. It was rich high-fat content milk (I only drink skim at home) mixed with chocolate syrup and a few ice cubes to keep it chilled. It was sometimes topped with foamed milk or cream and drizzled with chocolate syrup. Let's not think about the calorie count. I found it a much better way to participate in cafe culture than the dreaded frappe!

RESTAURANT RATINGS

I'll use a three tier rating system. Recommend means I would absolutely go there again, even for two meals in a row. Neutral means the meal was totally fine and I wouldn't be averse to returning, but if given the choice I'd try someplace new. Don't Recommend means stay away. Luckily, there's not much in the latter category and for the ones that are the quality of the wine was generally inversely proportional to the quality of the food, oddly. Where the restaurant's signage is in Greek characters, I have given them in the form they appeared (all caps or title case) so you can recognize it. Where it is in Roman characters/English, I haven't transliterated back into Greek. Unless indicated, the cost is the total price for two if I was with K or one if I was alone and before tip.

RECOMMEND

City: Pristina, Kosovo
Restaurant: Home
Meal: Dinner
Dishes: antipasti (artichoke, grilled bell pepper, grilled zucchini); mushroom pasta with bechamel sauce
Dessert?: Honey crepe
Cost: 7.90E per person, plus water
Notes: The food in Pristina is wonderful, especially the bread. My favorite thing on the plate was the perfectly grilled zucchini. Servings are huge and when you can't eat the whole thing (which you can't), the waiter will ask if you didn't like it.

City: Pristina, Kosovo
Restaurant: Marche
Meal: Brunch
Dishes: Vegetarian breakfast of beans, egg, mushrooms, and the most amazing grilled tomato, with fresh squeezed orange juice.
Dessert?: no
Cost: about 8E per person
Notes: This was the perfect filling breakfast, and again with the amazing breads. I think I have paid the equivalent of 8E for just the fresh squeezed orange juice stateside.

City: Thessaloniki
Restaurant: Opto Pyri (Oπτo Πυpι)
Meal: Dinner
Dishes: horiatiki (Greek salad), yiyandes (white beans), fried zucchini patties, grilled oyster mushrooms, tzatziki, 1/2 liter white wine, bottled water.
Dessert?: lemon cake sprinkled with coconut served with gelato
Cost: 23.70E
Notes: What a wonderful first meal in Greece! Everything was just delicious, but my favorite was the grilled mushrooms. K was full at the end so I got most of the dessert. Heh. It would have been rude to leave it there, right?
Location: Go to the top of Aristotle Square, turn into the restaurant alley on the right (can't miss it). At the end of the alley is a square with a fountain, and Opto Pyri is on the square.

City: Dion
Restaurant: Isida (IΣIΔA)
Meal: Lunch
Dishes: Horiatiki, melatzanesalata (eggplant salad), water
Dessert?: no
Cost: 11E
Notes: We did not really know what eggplant salad was, but we decided to take a chance and order it. Lucky chance! In Dion, and nowhere else, eggplant salad refers to a whole eggplant that has been grilled, probably over a flame, then peeled and topped with olive oil, crumbled feta, and large chunks of raw garlic and served while still warm. It was one of the most delicious things I've ever had and K actually drove back through Dion (off the main road) while taking the car back to FYROM so she could have it again.
Location: Right across from the Archaeological Museum.

City: Meteora
Restaurant: To Kipos
Meal: Lunch
Dishes: horiatiki, grilled mushrooms, two bottles of water
Dessert?: no
Cost: 14E
Notes: With the suggestion of To Kipos, my guidebook redeemed itself after our bad meal at Paradeisos. The food was simple and the grilled mushrooms were white button rather than the oysters we'd been spoiled by, but it was a perfectly nice lunch and the owner didn't seem put out that we were there during an off hour and were the ONLY customers in the place.
Location: Drive down the road from the monasteries in the direction of Kalambaka. It's at a fork in the road.

City: Galaxidi
Restaurant: O Tosos
Meal: Lunch
Dishes: horiatiki, hortopita, water
Dessert?: Watermelon (only time we got dessert at lunch)
Cost: Didn't record, probably around 12E
Notes: Our Greek salad was served to us with the feta slab on the side, the only time we ever saw it that way. The Greeks in the restaurant were getting theirs the same way so I don't think it was a special tourist thing. The food was good and it was a nice location for a leisurely lunch.
Location: Waterfront. Look for the bright yellow tablecloths.

City: Athens
Restaurant: Ksenios Zeus (ΞENIOΣ ZEYΣ)
Dinner 9/7/07: horiatiki, grilled mushrooms, zucchini patties, spanakopita, oven potatoes, 2 bottles water, 1/2 liter white wine. 32E. (This was way too much food for two.)
Lunch 9/8/07: horiatiki, roasted peppers served cold with garlicky yogurt sauce, oven potatoes, water. 14.5E
Dinner 9/9/07: horiatiki, oven potatoes, grilled mushrooms, eggplant merakles, water, 1/2 liter white wine. Free dessert of walnut cake and ice cream. 24.5E.
Notes: This was our favorite restaurant of the whole trip. The food was divine, the bread (in stark contrast to most of the bread we had in Greece) was fantastic--rubbed with a cut garlic clove, grilled, and then drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt. The service was great. The location is great--right at the Acropolis, though you can't really see it through the trees. The oven potatoes are the best 2E you will ever spend on a food item.
Location: To get to the restaurant from Art Gallery Hotel, walk up Erechthiou toward to the Acropolis, and make a left at Areopagitou, the pedestrian path. Pass Areopagus rock and keep going along the pedestrian path (which is completely unlighted at a stretch; we were glad we'd brought our flashlights). The pedestrian path ends at a steep, slick, horizontally scored driveway that goes down and a little to the right. Ksenios Zeus is almost at the bottom of the driveway. To reach it from Plaka, walk uphill on Tripodon. When you reach a set of stairs off the left with a church at the top (where To Gerani restaurant is), take the stairs and go right (continue the same direction you were going on Tripodon). Ksenios Zeus is the equivalent of a couple blocks up from the church on the left.

City: Naxos Town
Restaurant: I Kali Karthia (H Kαλι Kαpδια), The Good Heart
Meal: Dinner
Dishes: Vegetarian plate, with stewed eggplant and squash, stewed green beans, oven potatoes, yiyandes, tomato gemiste, water. Wine was complimentary from the owner.
Dessert?: No
Cost: 6.50E
Notes: I was drawn to the vegetarian plate advertised on the sign board. It was nice to have a variety of foods even though I was eating by myself. The food was good, but very stewed and swimming in oil. It would have been nice to have something fresh on the plate. The owner was very nice and didn't charge me for my 250 ml of wine. I was wavering whether to put this in recommend or neutral; the service keeps it in "recommend."
Location: Waterfront

City: Apollona, Naxos
Restaurant: One of the ones on the waterfront--I didn't write down the name
Meal: Lunch
Dishes: Horiatiki, water
Dessert?: No
Cost: 6E
Notes: I took a bus tour of Naxos and we stopped in Apollona for lunch. The Greek salad was your standard Greek salad with its excellent tomatoes and cucumbers and good quality feta.
Location: In front of the tiny sand beach.

City: Naxos Town
Restaurant: Dolphins (Δελφινιας)
Meal: Lunch
Dishes: Organic potato salad, water
Dessert?: No
Cost: 6.70E
Notes: This was one of the best individual dishes I had on the trip. Potatoes are one of Naxos's primary crops. It was served room temperature, with potatoes, tomatoes, capers, olives, red onion, garlic, and olive oil. This is the one dish I have attempted to make at home (not quite the same, but still good).
Location: Waterfront

City: Naxos Town
Restaurant: Trattoria di Susanna
Meal: Dinner
Dishes: Pizza, called "Frescuria" and toppings were mozzarella, parmesan, cherry tomatoes, and fresh arugula; glass of red wine
Dessert?: No
Cost: 11.40E
Notes: As the majority of the Greek food I'd had on Naxos was so-so at best, I branched out into pizza. It was fantastic! The sign bragged about their good quality mozzarella, and there was no false advertising involved. The single serving pizza is huge, but somehow I managed to eat most of it.
Location: I have no idea. Go up to the square with the fountain and wander around for a really long time.

City: Athens
Restaurant: Elaias (Eλαιας)
Meal: Dinner
Dishes: grilled mushrooms, fried potatoes, two moussakas, tomato gemiste, water, wine
Dessert?: No
Cost: 50E for four people, including tip
Notes: This restaurant has a lovely rooftop with Acropolis view. Although it appears fancy, the prices were only one or two Euro above normal. The food was quite good.
Location: On Tripodon up from Plaka, across from To Gerani (I think).


NEUTRAL

City: Thessaloniki
Restaurant: Zythos
Meal: Lunch
Dishes: horiatiki, zucchini patties, water
Dessert?: no
Cost: Didn't write down; probably around 11-13E
Notes: Although it was late for lunch, when we sat down at 5:30 it was clearly too early for dinner. Despite the hour and the fact that the restaurant was mostly empty, the waiter seemed put out by the smallness of our order, which was uncomfortable. The waterfront location added a few Euro to each dish, though the food was no better than anywhere else.
Location: Waterfront strip between the White Tower and Aristotle Square.

City: Thessaloniki
Restaurant: Agora (AΓOPA)
Meal: Dinner
Dishes: Grilled mushroom, stuffed squash blossoms, arugula and parmesan salad, meatballs, water, and wine.
Dessert?: a slice of a moist cake, a farina square, grapes, and watermelon
Cost: 29E
Notes: Agora didn't quite live up to the Opto Pyri experience we'd had the night before. The grilled mushrooms had been soaked in too much lemon juice and were so sour they hurt my teeth and I couldn't eat them. The squash blossoms had been battered and fried, which I wasn't expecting. The wine, however, was excellent.
Location: In the Ladadika neighborhood in a little nook I could never find again if my life depended on it. K and I found it by wandering. The address is 5 Kapothistriou (Kαπoδισtριoυ).

City: Galaxidi
Restaurant: Albatross
Meal: Dinner
Dishes: Gemiste (two orders), tiropita, yogurt salad, meatballs, water, wine
Dessert?: What seemed to be a smooth molded plum pudding, maybe made of ground tapioca or arrowroot.
Cost: 28E
Notes: Our experience at Alabtross was quite dramatic, as I failed to ascertain that the gemiste would be made without meat. When the grandma asked me why I wasn't eating I had to explain that I was a vegetarian. Grandpa then proceeded to berate her loudly for several minutes, she spent the rest of the night crying and made me some gemiste without meat. Ironically, I don't even like gemiste and ordered it only because there wasn't much else available from the menu. Emotional drama aside, The food was ok but not great. The yogurt salad was way too salty to eat and the gemiste seemed to be made with minute rice.
Location: Up on the hill across from the church.

City: Galaxidi
Restaurant: Maritsa (Mapitσa)
Meal: Dinner
Dishes: Roasted eggplant with tomato and feta, baked potato, shrimp fettucine, wine, water
Dessert?: No
Cost: 32E
Notes: Maritsa was one of the more expensive restaurants we went to, and the only one K and I went to together where we had our own main dishes. I was sick as a dog with a cold and the baked potato hit the spot for me; I couldn't much taste anything. Though Galaxidi is a seaside village, the seafood was still quite expensive and K's fettucine with three head-on shrimp was 12E. The decor is adorable. We were given an all English menu, which I don't paricularly like. I enjoy being able to puzzle through the Greek. This place gets a neutral for the price and for the way they treated some Spanish tourists, banishing them outside on a chilly night under the pretense that locals wanted to watch the political debate--and then switching to music from the debate as soon as the Spanish couple was outside. It has great decor.
Location: Waterfront.

City: Athens
Restaurant: Museum Cafe
Meal: Lunch-ish
Dishes: Tiropita and an espresso
Dessert?: No
Cost: 6.50E (the coffee was 4E!)
Notes: The Museum Cafe is across the street from the Archaeological Museum. There's not much else there, especially on a Sunday, so we stopped in for a quick bite. It was fine, but nothing to seek out. I will say that they brought us glasses of tap water without us asking and kept them filled, which was a nice gesture. It costs more to eat in. I got some ice cream to go for 3.50E, which was not very good and not worth the price.
Location: Across from the Archaeological Museum.


DON'T RECOMMEND

City: Meteora
Restaurant: Paradeisos
Meal: Dinner
Dishes: Eggplant salad, saganaki (breaded fried cheese), yiyandes, stuffed peppers (meat), wine, water.
Dessert?: Grapes
Cost: 20E
Notes: After a long drive to Meteora and an even longer drive within Meteora to find our hotel, which was up on a hill with a wonderful view but with nowhere to walk to for dinner, we were ready for something easy. Both of our guidebooks (Lonely Planet and DK Eyewitness) concurred that Paradeisos was good so it made our decision easy. Yuck! Apparently this restaurant is now resting on its laurels. After our Dion Eggplant Experience we wanted another so we got the eggplant salad. This was partly our fault as everywhere but Dion eggplant salad is a puree of eggplant, yogurt and feta and, well, that's just not great. This one tasted of mayonnaise, which was not our fault. The yiyandes were cooked very well but oversalted. The saganaki was too much breading, and too soft of a cheese. Overall, this was probably our very worst meal. The waiter refused to meet our eye so we could ask him to bring us the check at the end and we finally had to call out to him across the (now empty) restaurant.

City: Athens
Restaurant: To Gerani/Scholarcheio
Meal: Dinner
Dishes: yiyandes, horta (sauteed wild greens, served cold), fries, meatballs, fried eggplant, wine, water
Dessert?: I'm pretty sure, but I didn't write it down and I'm blanking
Cost: Prix fixe dinner for two with 5 dishes, wine, and dessert is 24E.
Notes: Another guidebook recommendation, another bad meal. We should have learned from the first time. I was nervous (and yet secretly excited) that the menu was wholly in Greek. It was going to take me a while to get through it with my slow reading and dictionary skills--I can't keep track of what order the letters come in the Greek alphabet--but still, fun! But it doesn't work like that. A waiter brings a tray of prepared dishes, everything the kitchen has on offer that night, and you choose your plates right from the tray. This doesn't result in the most freshly-prepared food. Even if they had been freshly prepared, the dishes weren't that exciting. The restaurant was packed, but it was all foreign tourists, not even Greek tourists, much less locals.
Location: Walk through Plaka up Tripodon. When you get to To Gerani take the stairs on your left and keep walking to Ksenios Zeus.

City: Naxos Town
Restaurant: Meze
Meal: Dinner
Dishes: Mushrooms in garlic sauce, fries, water, wine
Dessert?: No
Cost: 17E
Notes: I went to Meze with some people I had met on the bus tour. We each got our own dish, and we got 1/2 liter carafes of wine in both red and white. The good is that the wine was *excellent,* some of the best house wine of the trip. The food was terrible. The "garlic sauce" on my mushrooms was gloopy, greasy, and congealed. The fries were cold. My dining companion's octopus was undercooked, and my other companion's chicken was sort of grayish.
Location: Waterfront. The waiters wear orange t-shirts with the restaurant's name on it. This makes it easier to spot and avoid.

5 comments:

Kira said...

on the oven potatoes, use russets.

My mother's Greek potato recipe is to put the chunks of russet potatoes (usually a 5 lb bag) in a glass casserole dish, salt and pepper them, then sprinkle with oregano and minced onions. Then you pour in extra virgin olive oil (not too much, just about so that it's a 1/2 inch thick at the bottom), then lemon juice (to fill the dish, but not all the way above the potatoes), a very little bit of soy sauce (for the saltiness - kikkoman is the best, others leave a weird taste. And NOT low sodium), then add some water to help it cover the potatoes and so the lemon is not too strong. Then cover with foil and bake in the oven (I think on 350) for an hour or until the potatoes are cooked through.

She also makes this same recipe with chicken (but I too am a vegetarian so I only make it with potatoes). The liquid is great over rice as well.

Kat said...

Other places do nice eggplant salads as well. The key is to ask if the taverna's version is homemade. That's when you'll get the nice roasted version, usually sans feta and mayo. Lots of places use the store bought versions which come in massive tubs and are mayo based.

camilla bertolini said...

I have been to Greece for many years, and the fish roe salad (Taramasalata) is not as bad as described: it's only that colour when it comes from a package from the supermarket (and then I agree...it does not look very appealing!). When it's homemade it's delicious, and definitely something to try if you eat fish!

Anonymous said...

its been a great read...thanks a lot....like you I'm also a vegetarian n face the same problem as yours....

Alleina said...

we are leaving tomorrow for greece and am very thankful i just found this post!
i take good notes of everything
thank you