20 December, 2014

Athinaikon @ Syntagma-Monastiraki

Friday yesterday, we had a casual day-off to use up the annual leave and went to central Athens for a stroll.

First we visited Benaki Museum to see an exhibition of El Greco. It is about friends and sponsors of the man in Toledo. The texts were more interesting than the materials on exhibition themselves, but the English translation was a bit painful to read (not really bad, but I tended to get lost when I arrived at the end of the phrases). It is a small exhibition with only one room and ticket is 5 Euro. If you want to see the museum itself, you should pay 7 Euro in addition. But if you are interested only in the exhibition, you can buy only 5 Euro ticket (as we did).

After Benaki, we went to Kolonaki and bought Nespresso capsules. I did not know the shop moved to Kolonaki Square (I heard that it happened in September this year). It is more convenient for me.

Then we looked for a place for lunch. I wanted to try Laundrette 2 which opened on Valaoritou Street, but it was closed (and to my regret, Brasserie Valaoritou was closed down). I wonder it opens only in late afternoon.

So we went to Athinaikon on Mitropoleos Street. It is situated in front of Cervantes Institute. Walking from Syntagma Square, you'll find it before arriving at the Cathedral. It is somewhere on the borders of Syntagma, Monastiraki and Plaka areas.

Athinaikon in Omonia (Themistokleous Street) is one of the older restaurants in Athens (since 1934), but Mitropoleos one opened in 2013, in a style quite different from the original one.

Although it was a weekday and 3 o'clock, the place was bustling and almost full. Some tables were occupied by groups of friends who were having Christmas-Year End lunch and some were having late lunch after Christmas shopping.

This was my 2nd time here and GH's first.

As soon as seated, a waiter brought us a bottle of tap water and bread basket right after. The bread was served with black olive paste. When I came here the first time, our waiter asked us if we wanted bread or not, but not this time. I guess you can refuse if you don't need it, especially because it costs you 1.20 Euro per person.

We did not have problem with it, because we wanted bread anyway. It was fresh and tasty as well as the olive paste.

We ordered only 2 plates, because it was meant to be a light lunch. This is stuffed lamb wrapped in vine leaves and served with oven baked potatoes (11.70 Euro). It was one of the dishes of the day.

It was a well executed dish.

And linguine with vegetable sticks and tomato sauce (7 Euro).

You don't see the vegetable sticks, which were hidden under the pasta. They are carrots and zucchini cut in match stick size, which added crunchiness to the pasta. A pleasant dish.

We shared above 2 dishes and were fine.

At the end we were offered free dessert.

One was yogurt with syrupy grapes.

The other was halvas made with butter.

Both really good, much above the average.

The bill, with a bottle of coke, came to 23.10 Euro plus 1.85 Euro obligatory tip due to the season.

It is a nice restaurant which offers well cooked Greek food for a reasonable price. It is highly recommended if you happen to be in the area and want decent Greek food.

Mitropoleos 34, Syntagma
Μητροπόλεως 34, Συνταγμα
Tel. 210.3252688, 210.3251598

I took a look at Spyromiliou Arcade (the building occupied by Attica Department Store and Zonar's). It did not look so Christmasy, but it was busier with a new restaurant opening in front of Pasaje. I think it was called City Bistro.

13 December, 2014

White Elephant @ Halandri

Visited White Elephant in Halandri.

Now in Athens there are Red Elephant, Pink Elephant and White Elephant and all of them are between Ambelokipi and Halandri. The Red and Pink Elephants are Indian restaurant and White Elephant is Japanese-Chinese, if I understood well the concept.

This is not sort of the restaurants I would get attracted, but it happened that a friend of ours bought a coupon of this place which she could not use in time and gave it to us. It cost 39.90 Euro for a sushi meal for 2.

The location is just by Agia Paraskevi metro station, which actually is in dimos Halandriou.

The premises have garden and a pool. It should be really nice in warmer seasons, but now it is winter and everyone was inside.

There were actually several groups & couples of people there, but we were taken to this corner maybe because we were with a coupon. Later another group with coupon were led here. Although we requested a table for non-smokers, the our actual table was next to (unofficial) smokers' corner and we needed to change tables.

The coupon included 2 glasses of wine (or sake) and 1 bottle of water, so we did not have to order anything to drink.

The 1st starter was prawn tempura and baby spinach salad, which was supposed to cost 16.50 Euro.

Here I have a disclosure: I lived in Japan for 30 years of my life.

And I say that the tempura butter here was wrong. It was too spongy. It was like home-made tempura than something made at restaurants. And, there was no sauce (in Japan, it is normally eaten with dashi dipping-sauce, or with some salt). I would call it a some Asian-fusion buttered prawns, which tasted good, if you don't think it was a tempura.

The other starter was edamame, which is young soybeans. In Japan, it is a favorite beer companion. It was quite good (it is difficult to go wrong with edamame), although I thought they put too much grainy sea salt.

First sushi was salmon and prawn nigiri. Here the rice was wrong; it was not cooked to core. Probably they did not use a good rice-cooker or did not use a right setting. The salmon and prawns were good. Original price is 8.90 Euro for a set of 3 each.

And 2 sorts of maki. 1 was salmon ura-maki with spicy mayo and the other was smoke salmon-maki with avocado. Original price is 9.80 Euro each (not each piece, but each bar).

There the problem with the rice persisted, but it was less noticeable because of the proportion of  fish and avocado was quite large. I'd prefer maki to nigiri here.

To finish was a glass of sorbet for 2. From the start, the waiters kept on saying that we would have lemon sorbet, but what actually arrived was strawberry sorbet. Weird. If they did not have lemon sorbet, they did not have to tell us that they would bring us lemon sorbet (more than once).

And they gave us normal receipt, which shows that the reduction on the coupon was genuine.

All in all, the food was not bad, especially for someone who is not actually Japanese (or Far-East Asians who have frequent contact with Japanese food). The price, however, seemed too high for the food they offer. If you do not mind paying extra for nice environment, it might be fine, but I do. I would rather pay for the food than for the interior decoration.

It is not my sort of restaurants, as I had suspected even before the visit.

And I did not like this statue at the entrance. What do you think?

Ag. Paraskevis 124, Halandri, Athens
Αγ. Παρασκευής 124, Χαλάνδρι, Αθήνα
Tel. 210-6855581

06 December, 2014

Walking around Omonia Square

I walked around Omonia Square on 28 November 2014 and these are photos that I took then.

The reason to uploading these pictures is to remember the current situation of the area.

Omonia is not one of the nicest areas of Athens. Or I'd rather say that it is almost a symbol of urban degeneration. Tourists are often warned: Do not go around Omonia and never book your hotel in the area even the rate is very attractive.

The fame of Omonia was such that a couple of years ago, two large hotels on the square, Acropol and 2 Fashion were closed down and they remain inactive since.

There were talks and attempts of revamping the square from time to time, but has never really accomplished. The government's latest project of renovation "Rethink Athens" (pedestrianization of Panepisthimiou Street, which runs between Syntagma Square and Omonia Square) has suffered a setback as the European Commission has decided against the funding recently. Athens is still trying to convince the EC to change its mind.

How is the situation now?

Here is the square.

It was 9 o'clock in the morning and there was nothing menacing. There was quite a lot of cars and commuters (I took pains to take the above shot without cars so that the view was unhindered).

As in the other areas of Athens, new bakeries have been popping up. I found a new outlet of Attika Artopoieia (this chain was used to be named Attiki Fourni, but has changed its name recently; I have no idea why).

Hondos Centre is still there. This is one of the flag shop of the retailer and has been here as long as I remember (the years I remember are not long, but at least 10 years). If you are interested, there is a cafeteria at the top floor and you can have a nice view.

There are many stalls selling koulouria. It is a bit similar to pretzel. In Turkey, these dry, circular and sesame-coated bread is called Simit and in both countries people eat it typically as breakfast or snack. It tastes unexpectedly better than it looks, especially when it is fresh. If you have never tried it, you should. One koulouri costs 50 to 60 cents.

A tyropita shop selling "Divine Cheese Pie". It is a shop called Gianniotiko, which has another outlet on Panepisthimiou Street. I don't remember that it had an outlet on Omonia Square. There is also a souvlaki shop of the same name just next to it.

The single most conspicuous change in the square, I believe, is the new outlet of Veneti bakery. It has also many tables and chairs in front of it.

The building was once occupied by a self-service restaurant-cafe called Neon, which had another outlet in Syntagma. Both were closed down. Although the premises in Syntagma were taken up by another restaurant, this one in Omonia had been unoccupied since 2010 till December 2013.

And to my surprise, I found a reminder of Neon on one of the tents of Veneti.

This is very nostalgic for people who know Athens for decades.


My walk did not end in Omonia. I walked into the area between Athinas Street and Tsandari (Pireos) Street, where is now an Indian-Pakistani-Chinese quarter. My impression, though, is that Indian-Pakistani-Bangradeshi are more eminent here and the Chinese on the other side of Pireos Street (so-called Keramikos area, which should not be confused with the area immediately by the Keramikos metro station, which is called 'Gazi').

At some points, you feel as if you are somewhere in India or Bangladesh. I guess this is a barber shop, judging from the sign of scissors.

And now there are many Indian/Pakistani fast food outlets. (This one was closed just because it was too early in the morning; many opens only after the lunch time).

An Indian/bangladeshi/Pakistani restaurant I have never heard of. Attractive.

It is situated on Geraniou Street, which once was too shady that even I would try to avoid. It is still not a nice and shiny, but it felt much better than before.

Another restaurant of which name you can read only if you know Arabic. As it says "Grill House", it should be a kebab place.

I remembered my days in Birmingham, UK.

Then I walked into Evripidou Street, behind the Vegetable section of  the Varvakio Central Market.

Here also, the feel was much less seedy than before.

This newly restored building is occupied by a new grocery shop with eat-in section, called Karamanridika tou Fani . It sells cured meat products of Sary and meze dishes to eat-in.

Just across is the street is another famous pastourmas shop, Miran.

And next to Miran is another of the genre, Arapian.

This part of Evripidou Street is now frequented by foodies, from Athens and abroad and it is almost a tourist attraction.

Overall, my impression from the area was positive. Although it is still a seedier part of Athens, but it did not look like a slam anymore.

Hope it gets even better!

30 November, 2014

Tomas Kebab @ Neos Kosmos

Last Sunday, the weather wasn't nice and GH did not have any good idea what to do. So I convinced him to explore a bit Neos Kosmos area of Athens.

I pass there more often than he do, to change Tram to Metro. I have seen some some interesting shops, but have had never chance explore it properly.

Our main destination of the day was a small kebab shop called Tomas.

Although it is a really small shop with only 3 or 4 stools, it is also quite famous because of its media exposure. Its specialty is Armenian kebab, Mr. Tomas being an 'Armenian'.

As many of you already know, Armenians came to Greece in various points in the history. Some came during the Ottoman period, many came after a disaster in Asia Minor and the subsequent Population Exchange, and also in more recent years. Because of this history, many 'Armenians' do not really look or sound different from the 'Greeks'.

The menu is shorter than typical one of ordinary souvlaki shops, but has some exotic choices like, Isli keftedes, falafel, hummus, or lachmatzoun. Main dishes are only kebab, chicken kebab, or chicken shish, and giaourtlou (i.e. the kebab with yogurt on top).

I ordered kebab in pita (1.90 Euro) and GH a giaourtlou (8.40 Euro with 4 kebabs). We took two stools and Mr. Tomas had his man serve us water and glasses.

At one point, 3 men came into the small shop and it got really stuffed. If you'd like to eat quietly, you'd better take out or, if you live nearby, have the food delivered.

Here is my kebab in pita.

The kebab was wrapped in a non-oiled pita together with sliced tomato, onion and parsley. As fried potato and tzatziki were absent, it was not as filling as normal souvlaki wrap and it almost tasted like healthy. Kebab itself was tasty and relatively dry as I like it.

GH's giaourtlou was like this.

From the bottom of the metal dish, there was a layer of pita, then yogurt, kebab, yogurt, tomato sauce, and spices on top. I like this less than mine, because kebabs got soggy due to moistness of yogurt. But, I do not like giaourtlou to start with, so you do not need to listen to me.

We bought also lachmatzoun to take away. As I ate it only the day after, having reheated it with microwave, I cannot really comment how nice it was, but can tell you that it was pretty hot, as Mr. Tomas warned us.

It was not the best kebab I have eaten, but the best ones I have eaten cost much more than 1.90 Euro. I found it a quite enjoyable snack. And it was nice to meet charming Mr. Tomas. So why not? It is just 3 minutes walk from Neos Kosmos Metro & Tram stations.

Tomas - Τομάς
Sarkoudinou 43, Neos Kosmos, Athens
Σαρκουδίνου 43, Νεος Κόσμος, Αθήαν
Tel. 210 9015981
(It does also delivery in neighboring area)

Afterward, we had coffees at a cafe restaurant called Pastor and then stopped at Kostis to buy some sweets.

It is such a pleasure to explore unknown areas of Athens.

29 November, 2014

Tarte Tatin @ Το Τσάι

Hello everyone,

I am testing something again.
This photo was taken by my Canon camera and transfered to my Android mobile phone using Wifi.
Although my mobile has a decent camera, real cameras still take better pictures.

By the way, this is a Tarte Tatin we ate yesterday at a tearoom called To Tsai in Kolonaki. The tart was too sweet for me, but the white tea called White Angel I had was quite good.

I believe that the place is non smoking, which is very important in winter.

We'd go back for some more tea.

27 November, 2014

Thalias Mezedotechnion @ Gyzi

Visited Thalia's in a Thursday evening.

It is not situated on a busy street; if you don't live in the area, there is a very little chance you find it by chance. But nowadays we search for restaurants on internet. If you do so, Thalia's is not difficult to find; it is very much discussed and praised.

And that was why we found ourselves at Thalia's.

The decor was more modern than I had imagined. Seeing the photos on the internet, there should be a courtyard, but in this season, the seating is limited to indoor space.

The menu is not very long, but there is a good variety. There are both meat and seafood & fish dishes. Our waiter, Giorgos, informed us that everything was made by his mother Thalia.

Again, according to information on internet, they came from the island of Tzia (Kea) to Athens and opened this place recently.

That evening we had a friend with us and could order more dishes than usual.

First to arrive was a salad. I don't recall the name (maybe Thalia's salad?), but do remember the contents. This is a mixture of tzatziki, tomato, onions on the bed of crashed smokey aubergine.

Mr. Giorgos suggested us to mix everything before we eat. First we ate tzatziki and aubergine separately, and afterwards we mixed it together. It was delicious in both ways.

Here is lachanodormades (cabbage rolls), from Today's dishes. Classic dish, made with good ingredients. When I eat lachanodormades in tavernas, sometimes I found the texture of the mince a bid odd. Probably because the mix something other than meat and rice. This version here was like your mother's; there is nothing incomprehensible inside.

These are pastourmadopita and hortopita. The pie dough was obviously handmade and, although were deep fried, there was no unpleasant oiliness. Only problem that some parts of dough were not cooked and remained raw, which was a shame.

Biftekia (burgers) were served with fried potatoes. The mince was evidently from a good cut and there was not tough bit. I would have preferred it with less oregano, but still it was good and juicy bifteki.

The last dish was fried cod and garlic sauce. I forgot to take the photo of cod, but I did the garlic sauce (skordalia). It was with walnuts. I ate it without bothering to put it on the fish.

At the end they offered us a free dessert of semolina halvas with orange peel.

Together with bread and half a kilo of red wine, the bill came to about 45 Euro, that is 15 Euro per a head. We all agreed that it was a good value for money for the quantity and quality that we got.

The location is a bit out of our way, but it is worth a trip; we would like to revisit to try other dishes.

Thalia's Mezedotechnion- Θάλειας Μεζεδοτεχνίον
Koutsikari 47, Gkyzi, 11522 Athens
Κουτσικάρη 47, Γκύζη, 11522 Αθήνα
Tel. 215 5207098

22 November, 2014

To Lychnion @ Ambelokopoi

Since GH changed workplace last year, we rarely go to northern part of Athens (here I use 'northern' in the sense of anywhere above central Athens). Last week, however, we happened to go to Panormos for a coffee with friends. After the meet-up, only GH and I decided to eat.

I chose Lychnion, because I have read positive reviews about this place for some years and have been curious.

The building is a bit particular; it is an old monokatoikia (a house standing on its own) and inside is just like home, except for the big metal air-ducts passing near the ceiling.

Regardless of the ducts, the air was filled with smell from the grill. A tip: Do not come here with your nice clothes on.

In fact, the main dishes are almost exclusively grilled meat. If I remember well, there was only 1 stewed (mageirefto) dish.

I forgot to take the picture, but the first to be served was grilled slices of bread. It was nice that they were grilled, but the bread itself tasted a bit stale.

I did not like much the red wine, while GH did. It depends on taste.

Horta and tyrokafteri were fantastic. Especially the tyrokafteri. It should be fresh and there were large bits of Greek green hot pepper.

Here is a sausage from the starter section. Tasted fine, but was really small.

And here are beef (veal) burgers. They have also stuffed burgers, but I opted for simple one.

They had a good taste, but were rather greasy and contained some hard bits, which means that the meat wasn't from good cuts. Not the best example I have ever eaten.

At the end, we were offered halvas on the house. This was well made and wasn't oily at all.

I do not remember exactly how much we paid, but it should have been less than 25 Euro including tip (note, however, that we had only 1 main dish between us).

Although it was a weekday evening, 6 or 7 tables were occupied. It is quite good for such a small taverna.

All in all, to me it was just an affordable, friendly, neighbourhood grill-taverna. If you are in the area, you can drop by and eat reasonably fine without worrying about the bill. But for us who live in Piraeus, I don't think it is worth a trip.

To Lychnion - Το Λυχνίον
Louizis Riankour 17, Ambelokipoi, 11523 Athens
Λουίζης Ριανκούρ 17, Αμπελόκηποι, 11523 Αθήνα
Tel. 210 6990119

15 November, 2014

Where We Ate in Epirus - Part 2

The 2nd and the last part of "Where We Ate in Epirus" 2014, autumn collection.

In Monodendri, we stayed at a hotel called Archontiko Zarkada ( http://www.monodendri.com/ ). We paid only 36 Euro per night including breakfast. Really a good deal.

Breakfast was served in buffet style and the range was really good for what we paid (if you read the hotel review, you might see some negative comments about the breakfast, but it really depends on expectation).

We had bread, cakes, yogurt, fruits, eggs (boiled and scrambled), pies, unlimited serving of coffee, tea, milk and juice. Really happy.

On the 2nd day morning in Monodendri, we went down to the gorge. Before we go, we were told that it would take about 1 hour to go down and a bit more to come up. However, we made uncountable photo stops, it took about 3 hours to do the whole lot.

When we returned back, it was already lunch time. So we had lunch in Monodendri. I believe that Pita tis Kikitsas was open at that time, but we defied it and went to try Monodendri hotel. However, we were told that the restaurant was closed, even though in front of the hotel there were signs saying what they had for meal. Evidently they could not care remove the sign, even the restaurant was not functioning.

Not bothered to look for far away, we just entered a taverna next door, called Haradra tou Vikou.

Fortunately, they did serve a range of food any normal taverna serves. We had galotyri (which strangely tasted EXACTLY same like the one we are at Arktouros the evening before), salad, lachanopita (which was not with cabbage-lachano, but with horta and white cheese), and goat soup.

All fine, but nothing really stood out. I did not like that the food was served lukewarm. The portion size is not more than average, or I would rather say small for a Greek country taverna.

The bill was again about 27 Euro. Although we left happily, not so good that we'd want to go back for the second time.

I Haradra tou Vikou - Η Χαράδρα του Βίκου
Monodendri, Epirus, Greece

In the evening, we decided to try the restaurant of our hotel, which is named called Oksia.

We ordered tzatziki, 2 bean soups (fasolada) and veal in tomato sauce.

All the dishes were quite good, and the first time in Zagorohoria, the portion size was on generous side.

At the end, we were offered free chocolate cake and, unexpectedly got 10% discount (down from 27.50 Euro to 25 Euro), probably because we were staying there. It seemed strange that we were not informed about the discount when we arrived.

Among the 3 place we ate in Monodendri, Oksia (Οξιά in Greek) was the best. It is not a gourmet place, but if you are in the area (or are staying at Archontiko Zarkada) and want a good Greek country taverna, you may want to try here.

The third day in Zagorohoria, we drove around the area and in the afternoon we stopped at Tsepelovo for lunch.

Without knowing where to go, we stopped at a hotel called Kamares which was advertising a series of nice dishes.

Just to be sure, we asked the waiter if they were serving food. He said yes and we were seated.

However, things were not simple as it sounded. When the waiter came back to take our order, he informed us they could serve only 'tis oras', i.e. grilled meat dishes.

Disappointed, but not having a courage to stand up and leave, we ordered only a galotyri, Greek salad, and one grilled pork chop.

The food was fine, and the portion size was good, but the choice of dishes was too limited. We get much better variety at a simple souvlaki place in Athens. If you come in a high-season, probably you get a better offer, but our experience was rather negative.

Hotel Kamares - Καμάρες
Tsepelovo, 44010, Zagorohoria
Τσεπέλοβο, 44010
Tel. 26530 81008

And when we started to explore Tsepelovo, we found this taverna on the central square, and it was OPEN!

The menu looked quite promising and there were people inside (!). It was my real regret that we did not have lunch at this place. It is called Mikri Arktouros. If anyone visiting Tsepelovo (which is a really beautiful village) in a low season, keep this place in mind.

The evening, we were so tired that we went to bed without having dinner.

On the 4th day in Zagorohoria, we just had our breakfast and left, because we wanted to stop at Perama, near Ioannina, to see the cave.

After the visit at the cave, it was lunch time, so we decided to stop at Ioannina to eat something, before heading for Arta, which was to be our last stop.

We were almost heading for Fysa Roufa, but were stopped by a waitress of taverna To Manteio, which is situated in front of the gate to the fortress. It might have been a chance, but it had a lot of people and we decided to give it a try.

As at Fysa Roufa, we were invited to the kitchen to see the food on offer. It had stewed food as well as split roasts. After a rather poor food experience in Zagorochoria, GH went crazy and decided that he had to have lachanodormades as well as pot roast mutton. As he insisted that he could finish both of the dishes alone, I was constraint to order also chicken soup (kotosoupa) and boiled green vegetable), although I thought we were ordering too much.

And it turned out that the portion size was quite large. The below is the mutton dish and in normal circumstances, GH and I would be satisfied sharing it.

Besides, the chicken soup that I ordered wasn't really a soup, but was more like chicken giouvetsi, solid with lots of orzo pasta.

AND they offered us free dessert. The bill came to 33 Euro. It is more than what we paid at the other places, but we had almost 3 main courses. I did not like much their lachanodormades, but all the others were satisfactory (the mutton dish being the best).

I am not sure if it the best, or one of the best places in Ioannina, for we stayed only a couple of days, but I am sure that we'd like to come back here to try other dishes.

To Manteio - Το Μαντείο
Plateia Neomartyros Georgiou 15, Ioannina, 45444, Greece
Πλατεία Νεομάρτυρος Γεωργίου 15, Ιωάννινα, 45444
Tel. 26510 25452

After the meal, we bought some baklavas at a shop on Averof Street. We bought it casually, because we heard that baklavas of Ioannina was famous. We ate it when we returned and found it really delicious. We regretted that we did not buy more.

After Ioannina, we went to Arta to meet my god parents. I don't have any more food photos hereafter, because we always ate with them and I refrained from doing strange things like photographing food. :)

Regardless of their age (they are friends of my father-in-law and the godfather is close to 80), they were fine and we were very glad to see them and chat away for many hours.

They told us to visit the region of Zoumerka (it is Arta's counterpart of Zagorochoria) next time we go to Epirus. We will do so, hopefully, soon.