|<< previous next >>|
“Where to Eat in Greece (Santorni, Paros, Athens)”
As many of you who read this pages regularly know, I just returned from a 10-day honeymoon in Greece. Craig and I wanted to go somewhere neither of us had been before, and we wanted to head somewhere relaxing. We weren’t looking for a jam-packed sightseeing trip. We really wanted to relax and be lazy. Our goal was this: eat, drink, nap, sun, rinse, and repeat. And that’s pretty much what we did. It was the most indulgent vacation I’ve ever taken and I still haven’t managed to pull myself out of my post-honeymoon stupor.
I loved both Greek islands we visited, and while we wanted to try to visit a few more islands, like Crete, we didn’t want to overtax ourselves by packing and unpacking every other day and shuttling from place to place. So we chose just two islands and a couple of nights in Athens to see the Acropolis and check out the city.
I’d heard that I would get sick of the food in Greece, but that didn’t happen. I loved the food. While it’s no Italy, it has delicious local foods (tomatoes, feta, olives, fish, octopus, lamb, sausages were among our daily eats) all prepared with assured simplicity and wonderful seasoning. There are some chefs who are pushing the envelope and being a bit ambitious with their recipes, but my favorite dishes were really the simple ones we had in the local Tavernas. Here’s a short list of places to stay and eat while in Santorini, Paros and Athens.
Santorini is one of the most exquisite places I have seen in my life, rivaling the coastline of Capri. But it’s a tricky island because the exquisite parts are limited to the North end, also known as the Cliffside, where white Cycladic homes are built into the side of the cliff, perched over the Aegean Sea like ivory parachutes ready to fall. Unfortunately, because of the prohibitive cost of hotels on the Cliffside and lack of knowledge about the more reasonable options, we didn’t stay on the Cliffside, and if we were to do the trip again, we would have. Some places I’d recommend in descending order of cost: Perivolas, Chromata, Atlas Apartments.
But we did end up in a spectacular new hotel (it was all of 45 days old) called Carpe Diem in a small medieval town called Pyrgos by a curious series of events. We were booked at a resort on the beach in Kamari (the southern tip of the island) called Kastelli. When we arrived, we were greeted by a lovely woman named Abigail who literally walked outside to welcome us personally, ushering us inside and offering us fresh squeezed juice on a sofa in the hotel’s pretty marble lobby. When she learned that we were on our honeymoon she got a glint in her eye and said she’d be right back. When she returned she told us that she had an offer for us. Her company had just built a new luxury 10-room hotel in Pyrgos, a town in the center of the island (actually the highest point in Santorini).
“It’s much better for honeymooners,” she said. “And we’ll offer it to you at the same rate as your room here.” She showed us the website which made it look like paradise—infinity pool, classic white architecture, great views of the island, and private plunge pools and terraces with every room. We were hesitant and were expecting a hitch, but Abigail seemed sincere. She insisted we’d love it and so she packed us (and our luggage) into her little car and drove us to the hotel personally to show it to us. If we didn’t like it, she said she’d take us back. We never went back to Kastelli. We spent four insanely beautiful days at Carpe Diem, taxiing back and forth to the Cliffside (the only drawback) for afternoons of shopping or late dinners.
The rooms are gigantic and serene, each one about 700 square feet, with two bathrooms, a walk-in closet, sitting room, flat screen TV, free wifi, and private terrace and plunge pool (amazing). What’s more, you’ll be pampered by the general manager, Demetris Tzimos, who has lived and worked in the hotel business in Santorini for 14 years and who is the consummate host (we started to call him Mr. Rourke). He will arrange everything for you, from trips to the Volcano and Hot Springs (a really fun afternoon activity), to dinner reservations, taxis and suggested excursions. (He also serves breakfast all day long, so you don’t have to worry about oversleeping and missing your morning meal that is included with your stay.) He arranged dinners for us at two wonderful restaurants in Oia—Ambrosia and 1800.
When we arrived at Ambrosia—an antique-filled restaurant on the cliffside, we were taken to the best table in the house, a small table for two right at the edge of the intimate terrace overlooking the sea and the crescent shaped moon hanging above. The view was magical, and so was the food (we had a terrine with eggplant and goat cheese to start, and fish and lamb as our main courses). The service friendly and very attentive. The owner, Panayiotis Vassilopoulos, sent us a delicious flourless chocolate cake for dessert on the house. Clearly, Demetris has very good relationships with restaurant owners and they treat his guests especially well.
Our experience at 1800 was also exquisite, with service on par with the best restaurants in Manhattan. The restaurant is housed in an 18th century Captain’s house, with many of the original details that survived the earthquake restored. We were seated up on the wide terrace under the stars and were treated to champagne (on Demetris) and wine (on the restaurant), which got the evening started off quite nicely. While the food was not as good as at Ambrosia, it was a very good meal (especially the sea bream carpaccio) and the setting was, again, just breathtaking. It’s really hard to walk around the Cliffside in Santorini without saying over and over again, “This is so beautiful.” It gets pretty redundant but it’s impossible not to keep saying it.
One afternoon we spent shopping in Imerovigli (one town south of Oia on the cliffside), and watching the sunset at the Blue Note, a great local taverna with a terrace that sits directly across from the setting orange and pink sun, and shared a platter of family style hot mezzes—zucchini fritters, links of local sausages, round spinach pies, square cheese pies, and the famous tomato fritters. We washed the mezzes down with a few cold pints of Mythos and watched the sun slip behind the caldera before walking along the Cliffside down to Fira for dinner at Selene, another stunning restaurant with a terrace in the shadow of the moon, under a sky lit with twinkling stars overlooking the sea. Selene is a bigger restaurant and the service was not as polished as our other restaurants. If you only have two meals to have, skip Selene, and make it Ambrosia and 1800.
Paros is a smaller, greener island than Santorini and has a much more intimate feel with quaint little fishing villages and lots of beaches (some sandy) peppering the coastline. We stayed at a stunning resort (also a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World) called Yria, right on Parasporos beach. Our days (every one was like Groundhog Day) required extreme effort. We’d have breakfast from the morning buffet (bowls of Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts or feta, tomato and olive oil sandwiches), then lay out by the pool—an oversized hourglass of blue lined with teak lounge furniture and outdoor living room styled areas filled with rattan furniture with billowing sheets of white muslin hanging from the exposed beamed ceilings. Gorgeous.
Then it was off down the rocky path behind the hotel to the beach for lunch at Maki’s Taverna (right on the beach) where we had great simple meals every day. Octopus marinated in oil and vinegar, salads of fantastic feta, sliced cucumber, olives and wedges of juicy ripe red tomato, and our favorite dish, something called sun-dried fish. Curious? We were too. This is how it was described by the jovial proprietor who fed us daily: “We have a local specialty here, you should try it. We take a fish from the sea (he gestured to the ocean over his left shoulder), and then we fillet it, split it down the middle, sprinkle it with salt, and lay it out in the sun (he gestured to the parking lot). Then we drizzle it with olive oil and cook it on the grill with herbs. It’s very good. We call it sun-dried fish.” Craig and I looked at each other and then at the parking lot, filled with gravel and a couple of motorbikes and topless Jeeps. “Sure, we’ll have it,” we said, not wanting to give up on a local eating opportunity. Lemme tell you, we fell in love with what we came to call “Parking Lot Fish.” It’s fleshy and meaty and super-flavorful and is the perfect match for a carafe of local white wine (Asyrtico is bright and crisp and perfect for most of the meals you’ll have in Greece), some local country sausages and a dish of tzatsiki and Maki’s griddled sunflower bread. After lunch it was off to our lounge chairs with the remaining wine for snoozing and reading until dinnertime. Yes, I know. Rough life.
In addition to our super rustic (and delicious) meals at Maki’s Taverna, the food we had at one restaurant in Paros surpassed every meal we had in Santorini. Now the service was not as good, and the setting, while pretty (a garden room cloaked in tangled vines), not as surreal, but the food was the possibly the best meal I’ve had this year. It’s found at a snug little whitewashed restaurant in the heart of the old town of Paroikia called Levantis, and it’s cooked by a chef by the name of George Levantis who’s seriously talented—the food was inventive, soulful and delicious.
If you go, be sure to reserve and come with patience, the service is slow (well, there was only one waiter for the entire room), but it’s worth the wait. Be sure to have the Greek-style mussels with spicy local sausage and ouzo. It would bring tears to the eyes of fisherman in Marseille, it’s that good. We also loved the house-made ravioli stuffed with gingered beets and soft goat cheese and dressed in a lemony froth of avgolemono sauce. Entrees were also excellent: a succulent fillet of Lavraki (a firm white fleshed fish) with a chickpea, coriander and olive oil sauce and ginger-braised fennel all set on top of a mound of green rice, and the slow-braised, honey spiced lamb with apples, prunes and almonds. Honestly, we need George to come to New York and cook. His food was incredible—every flavor was precise and articulate, and brilliant.
We also liked a quaint family-run restaurant called Tamarisko, which was recommended by a jewelry maker we met. You’ll find it located down a covered alleyway off the beaten path in Paroikia. When you find it, you’ll fell like you’ve reached a secret garden, all covered in lush green vines and twinkling lights. The food here is very good, and cooked from the heart by the family’s matriarch. There’s fish and meat, souvlaki and rustic stews, and we especially loved the homemade zucchini and cheese tart (like a quiche but so much better).
We were only in Athens for two nights, and the first night we ate at our hotel’s restaurant called Frame, which may have been one of the worst meals of my life. So if you are staying at the St. George Lycabettus Boutique Hotel, make a note NOT to eat there. In terms of staying at the hotel, I would recommend it. The rooms are roomy and nice, and most have terraces with stunning views of the Acropolis. They also serve an incredibly generous breakfast and brunch buffet every morning that blew me away. It was like a Bar Mitzvah spread, with smoked fish, salads, Greek donuts fried in honey, sausages and creamy scrambled eggs, fresh baked breads, slabs of briny feta and lusciously ripe tomatoes, and a buffet of pastries for dessert. My only hesitation in recommending this hotel is that it’s a hike to get up there (it’s at the base of Mount Lycabettus). If you prefer a little less of a hike uphill, then stay at the Grand Bretagne .
While the food at Frame was terrible (honestly, it was not edible), we did have a good meal at The Butcher Shop (Persefonis 41, closed Mondays), a cool bistro-styled grill and steakhouse in the hip former warehouse district called Gazi. After eating non stop fish and octopus for a week, it was nice to dig into some steak and sausages. But I can’t say we weren’t craving some of Maki’s Parking Lot Fish. And now that I’m back in New York, that craving is still here. I guess that’s a good sign.
|<< previous next >>|
Share ! Post a comment
No comments yet. Be the first to post!
Advertise on the
StrongBuzz site and emails.