Winter Luxuries

The last days of January found me in Athens, with José Andrés, the renowned chef-humanitarian, his wife Tichi, and Zaytinya’s concept chef Michael Costa. We strolled around the city tasting dishes and sipping wines and cocktails at some of the most talked-about restaurants and bars.


We had compiled a list of suggestions, but José surprised me when he chose Birdman, the Japanese-inspired Pub, for his fist afternoon bites and drinks in Athens. I had proposed we try a few cocktails there later in the night, since it was already past four, but this didn’t stop José from ordering most of the truly wonderful seafood and meat bites chef Ari Vezenes cooks on live fire. He loved the chicken liver and heart, even the Iberico Katsu that I was afraid would not meet his high standards… 

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Dinner was at Bobena fish tavern in Kesariani, arranged by avgotaraho producer Zafiris Trikalinos, ‘one of the world’s most incredible delicacies,’ according to José who could not stop eating it, especially freshly cured as we had it in various dishes throughout our meals. Fortunately, Tikalinos Avgotaraho is available in the US and ideal for a precious Valentine’s meal.

The taramosalata with avgotaraho was as I remember it from my early childhood when this iconic Lenten meze was prepared with this precious Greek fish roe –before cheap cod-roe from Norway and Iceland became available. We We also had linguine with avgotaraho, and loved the two kinds of home-baked breads, and the delicious sea-urchins from Chanea, Crete. The chef chopped and served us his incredible slow-roasted eggplant salad, and José created his avgotaraho-sprinkled olive-oil-fried eggs, as well as a sweet version of meringue lightly sprinkled with avgotaraho


Before our visit to the Central Market the next morning, we stopped for coffee at Mokka, the usual coffee spot. Besides the traditional Greek/Turkish coffee prepared on hot sand, Jose tried the  cold brew which he loved. And we were surprised when visitors commented that these days Athenian cafés serve some of the best coffee in Europe.


January is a particularly good time for fish in Greece, and José was enchanted to find live karavides (langoustines) sold at a price that to me seemed exorbitant, but apparently it was considerably less than Spain or the US. He bought quite a few, and, at the newly established Hasapika restaurant in the Market, he proceeded to cook them for us full of joy! It is obvious that cooking is his favorite job and he misses it now that he is involved with World Central Kitchen and so many other things that keep him away from the kitchen. He simply boiled the langoustines in ‘water heavily salted similar to the sea,’  then peeled them and offered us sublime bites. He then braised some with olive oil and lemon, and fried eggs in their delicious sauce! For me this was one of the most memorable meals I ever had!

We then had a brief tasting at the humble Diporto, the old tavern José remembered from his previous visit, 20 years ago. Even after those incredible langoustines, the beans, chickpeas and fava still tasted wonderful, José exclaimed, as he was eager to be photographed with Mitsos, the old, tireless cook.


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It was a pleasant, not too cold afternoon, and José and Tichi decided to visit the Parthenon. Then we all met at Pharaoh, the much talked-about new restaurant which has become the young Athenians’ favorite, but it is unfortunately small which makes it particularly hard to get a reservation.

Chef Manolis Papoutsakis’ homey dishes may not have included much avgotaraho, but José loved them, while chef Michael Costa besides the food enjoyed the jazz music, well-chosen by the DJ who plays old vinyl records on the turntable. We enjoyed the chestnuts stifado, with pearl onions and warm spices, a dish from the mountains of Crete, and José loved the humble rice with cabbage and leeks, and the rare monkfish avgolemono with ascolymvrous –the thorn particularly loved in Crete. The slow-cooked zygouri (1-2 year old lamb) risotto was exceptional, as was the lamb, and rabbit. As for the long wine list, it included some new Greek natural wines, along with an eclectic selection of international labels.


José, along with everybody else, were delighted and he immediately posted on his Instagram: Amazing NEO Taverna, celebrating the traditional dishes of Greece with touches of Crete island in a cool place, with awesome food and unique Greek wines with many indigenous grapes and awesome music.”

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Next morning I took chef Mickael Costa to Stani, the old loukoumades (fried dough-puff) and dairy shop, where my father used to take me and my sister when we were kids. It still makes THE best traditional, crunchy loukoumades in Athens.


On our way back, at a busy sidewalk we came upon a lady selling exquisite wild greens, in neat clean bunches: nettles, vrouves (white mustard shoots), mallow, chicory, sorrel, wild arugula. 

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At Ergon Market we tried the freshly-grilled, sourdough Greek pita –very different from the crunchy-airy Zaytinya pita—which was drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with oregano and served with black, squid-ink taramosalata, which looked more impressive than it tasted. The lamb hunkiar, with mashed eggplant, and the shrimp saganaki were more interesting.

Nolan, star chef Sotiris Kontizas’ acclaimed small restaurant combining Japanese and Greek traditions, is always full. We only managed to get an outside table, braving the chill with portable heaters. We enjoyed zucchini and smoked eggplant salad with miso vinaigrette, raw shrimp and tuna in crunchy rice paper, and unusual fried chicken bites, among other dishes.



The last Athenian dinner for José and the team was at Kookoovaya, again lavishly arranged by Zafiris Trikalinos. He brought copious amounts of avgotaraho, which chef Periklis Koskinas served in various starters, mostly pairing it with morsels of  raw fish. I particularly loved the sea bream topped with blood orange slices and avgotaraho, but also the less sumptuous paper-thin fried zucchini and his rif on the traditional greens’ pie he simply accompanies with thick yogurt. 

Jose had a long discussion with the chef, and obviously would have loved to be able to get his hands on some of the exquisite fish the restaurant uses, but it was late and the kitchen was busy cooking for a large group of people…

Thinking back on my days with José in Athens, I would love to arrange for him to cook along with some of the chefs whose dishes he tasted. I only hope that he will soon return to Athens, which he characterized as a very interesting European food scene. Maybe he would also visit Crete and the north of Greece to sample wines and try his hand with our fish, vegetables, and meat, as it is more than obvious that the great José Andrés is certainly happier in the kitchen, cooking and creating for his friends and customers…






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Wandering in the Festive Athens Streets

All out festive, with lights, wonderful exhibitions and museums, and of course terrific shopping and restaurants, downtown Athens is simply enticing…



Leaving Kea and our garden, Costas and I spent a few days last week pretending to be tourists in the festive city. We had lovely drinks at the much talked-about, charming Heteroklito bar,  and were amazed to see streets at the busy Psiri area so  heavily decorated… At the always vibrant Central Market I visited Periklis Petridis’ incredible olive store ( 17 Aristogitonos str. –no website) where I tasted and bought incredible freshly cured, delicious olives from all over Greece. His slightly spicy olives from Volos were a revelation!

I arrived in the city a few days before Costas to see my best friend Maxine from New York. She visited her doughter, the talented Zoe Mylonas, and my old friend Alexandros, her ex-husband, whom we admired at The Long Day’s Journey Into Night . With Maxine we had a lovely Japanese dinner at Gaku, Syntagma and I especially loved their crunchy Seaweed Salad.  All around downtown Athens the most talked-about restaurants are Asian, or Asian-inspired, and certainly the most interesting and famous is Nolan, where we had a fabulous lunch the minute Costas set foot in Athens.  The adjascent Sweet Nolan was a temptation I could hardly resist, although I am not a particularely avid dessert eater… 


But once more, as always,  we enjoyed both the food and the atmosphere at ERGON Market, the Thessaloniki implant that a few years back took Athens by storm. There is no chance one can get a table without a reservation either for lunch or dinner these days, but I managed to sneak in and have lunch at the bar a few times. Costas and I loved our long leisurely lunch at Ergon with our friend Seth Rosenbaum who just flew in from Nicosia, Cyprus, for a few hours just to meet as!


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We started our cultural stroll of the city by visiting the incredible ΑΦΗ exhibit at the Benaki Pireos, and were amazed by the work of the talented old friends, whose work I always admired, photographed, and first wrote about in Tachidromos magazine in the early 80ies. 


I was particularely moved to see in the catalogue’s opening the old photo I had taken then. 


The very talented Marios Voutsinas, another very old friend, amazed me once more with his new studio and exhibition space at Psiri. His new collection of jewellery is mostly created using various antique pieces his late father, the famous theater director Andreas Voutsinas, had collected over the years. These tiny spoons are one fabulous example. 


We loved the work of Photis Kontoglou at the Goulandris museum, which included various other well-known artists he has influenced.  


At the main Benaki building, in Kolonaki, Yannis Moralis in Private is a small, fascinating exhibit. It includes among some beautiful paintings of his family, his whole studio, as well as childhood sketches, and the designs he had done for various buildings, the theater, and fabrics. 











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