Friday, July 25, 2008

Three Memorable Lunches on three islands: Greece

This is a story about three guys , Eeer, Beer and Phatte. Sorry this is about three nice lunches at Aegina, Hydra (islands in the Saronic Gulf : Greece) and the third in Athens (not an Island), but I thought it sounds nice as a title. These are memorable lunches exposing us to Greek food as far as we could venture. We, is Detective An (Ananya our little one and Companion), BBC ( Black Berry Champion, dear wife) and Agent Sam (thats me). So the story is about An, BBC and Sam at Aegina, Hydra and Athens in Restaurants called Pelaisos, Petrina and Ostria.

Pelaisos (Fisherman'House): Aegina

Aegina a hour and a quarter from the Athens port Pireaus by ferry and 40 mins by a hydrofoil is the nearest island and a touristy one. Due to its proximity to Athens and of course, some favour it for the best pistachios in the world. Its a hot day, the ferry is huge its called Fisvos and its the kind, in which you can cary 20 -30 cars in the belly and few hundred passengers ints lounge and top decks. We get their, Hang On ! its not about our excursion and Greek holiday its about Pelaisos our first fully greek meal. Thanks to Matt Baretts website about Greece, had some idea about the food.

A Frenchman looking out at the sea with fieldglasses (on the ferry to Aegina) and Agent Sam got talking, apart from serving in the military we shared a common interst in food. He said go to a restaurant that covers its tables with paper tablecloth, you will get authentic greek food. We took his advice and seated ourselves at the sight of the first such restaurant, Pelaisos (called Paaoosh by the locals). On the sea front a short walk from the port/jetty.

A young boy Salom about 10-11 years, set us up nicely, as our waiter, he was confident and shy at the sametime. Confident beyond his years for taking the order and serving, shy when asked personal questions (maybe its because Detective An our 8 year old daughter was around), His father Vangelis was the chief overseer and his mother and a few others were in the kitchen.

We ordered, Yatzikii or Tzatziki, (yoghurt and cucumer seasoned dip), Chilly peppers (enormous red chilly peppers in olive oil), fresh fried fish(nice, fresh and deep fried in olive oil), Mythos beer (most popular greek beer), lemonades (delicious) and a carafe/flask of retsina wine ( with a flavour of pine resin, used as a sealant of the wine casks in the past). Salom effeciently performed the service..The view is great the promenade, and sea beyond, in between hanging and drying octopus (turn around and face the restaurant).

Retsina is nice, feels low on alcohol, we consume copious amounts on the trip, sea breeze is cool, me and Detective An, make some engaging conversation, a Bangladeshi comes and sells us sunglasses for the little, all Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshi's we met were doing odd jobs, labour, sales on streets. BBC ( dear wife) is on the phone-- its a conference call . She winks and does thumbs up while talking on the phone through eating and drinking. It is an authentic greek restaurant,which we discover, has around around for a very long time (Vangelis's great grandfather set it up). The food is fresh, evocative, the colours and atmosphere cheerful. Salom hides behind the door when we try to take a photograph. The commercials were Euro 22 (thats about Rs1500/-) With a gratuity/tip of 2 euros for Salom. We reflect on a lovely afternoon, a little heady with the beer and wine. We drop into an ancient 56 year old Ouzerie Milos(Ouzo the traditional aniseed , saunf liqour) is strong and lingering and smells on your breath for a long time.Tasted some traditional greek coffee and watch the Saronic Gulf with men sitting with their shirt fronts opened sipping ouzo, coffee, beer and watching the world pass by. I wish we could do that , we attempt, but we are fidgety urban folk from Delhi, one the most agressive cities in the world. Where can we match the genes of a calm island mediteranean life with hints of Roman, Slavic, Turkish and inherent mediteranean culture, They were the agressors once upon a time with Alexander the Great (one of the few kings with the Great appended to their name. Now the greeks show the calmness and serenity of cafe culture participant and we exhibit the agression.

Nice place. Nice meal topped with our first Haagen Daas in Europe. A full belly, a smile on the face.

Petrina : Athens

Whats a good place to go for a meal,I ask the Bell (boy, hop, Catain take your pick) filling in as the concierge at Hotel Grand Polis). For a good meal go to Petrina, if you would like to spend more go to Ideal Reataurant. His name was Stathis, the other one is Milos and the third is Thansis (with these three names, you are in pretty good shape with 30% of all male greek names), every third male person is called Sthatis, Milos or Thanisis). So Petrina it was. We walk across.

It is a large restaurant, with high ceilings, stained glass, lots of black and white pictures of film actors of Europe and Hollywood of the 50s and the 60s, memorabalia, quite nicely done. Sparsely occupied at a late lunch. It could have been a greek orthodox church or place of worship. It is a large room leading to a large room in to hall. The toilet light comes on when you walk in, probaly the sensor.

The crew, the owner Peter and the steward Thanisis (aha), both were welcoming (as I had briefly met the the owner when he was opening up that morning and had promised to be back with the family). Petrina is in downtown Athens (near Hotel Grand Polis), a kind of place time forgot, takes its weekends very seriously shuts Saturday after lunch and opens for Monday lunch.

The food and drinks are average to good, the service and friendliness outstanding. We settle down and order,Greek salad (nice), sardines (interesting and smelly), fillet fried fish (have eaten better), bread (what can I say, regular greek bread),retsina wine (Mvaaah) (lots), coke followed by walnut brownie and ice cream and a coffee. The crew loves us, we love them I offer a cigarillo each to Peter and Thanisis, they accept and smile. Lots of photos, Thanisis lights up in the other room take a few puff/ drags on his service rounds. They like us lots, we ask for the check and they send us three portions of caramel custard pudding on the house. We have been good guests ( even agressors have unguarded moments), and they have been great hosts. The mood is great, I think they are on closing time before a weekend. We are happy to find an interesting place and enjoy it a few 100 yards from our hotel. We spend Euro 36 (which is about Rs 2450/). Its local economic exotica. Offers more character than just quality of just food. As a amentor recently wrote on a comments on this blog. Character comes with age and maturity. Of that Petrina has plenty, Character, age and maturity. I wish it luck and hope its lasts and mad urban commercialisation does not run it out of business.

The ingredients to a good meal are many, the meal, the service, the frame of mind, the people (the smell of the place metaphorically). Its a kind of place which may have hosted the rich and famous and may have been buzzing once, its easy and relaxed and has chosen its own pace. The crew is into easy banter and flirting with lady guests on the other table. Easy, smiling, relaxed and helpful. A restaurant has a character that it chooses and the leader/ owner/ manager sets the pace or attitude, much like most most organisations and families where the heads set the mood and attitude.

Ostria :Hydra

A lady sitting on a whitewashed wall bench in the innards of Hydra island, sat beside her was a half filled ashtray. She had long flowing hair (blond), she was chatty, english in origin. Almost felt she had laid aside a flute, she was playing and was ready to chat. She guided us to this woonderful restaurant called Ostria. I asked her, Austria, as in, the country. No. it means the sea wind in Greek.

Hydra the chosen home of the singer and lyricist Leonard Chen is picture perfect with whitewashed houses and persian blue windows , bluer than the sea around . The port is is beautifull almost enchanting and serene, not crowded at all, some yachts with europeans, sunning themselves on the deck. Cats and seadogs slinking way and trying to be unnoticed. Lazy feel in the port, you can imagine the rest of the island.

We take the advice 0f the blond English lady in a white flowing dress sitting their barefeet. We seat ourselves in Ostria restaurant, owned by Stathis the fisherman who is also the chef assisted by the most gregarious lady who is agressive, pleasant and wonderful. BBC (Black Berry Champion) feels the lady contributes disproprtionately to the sucess of the restaurant. The locals love her, a man sitting with a handle bar moustache drinking wine and watching the street. A man reading, is he John Updike, a couple seated on the same side of the table. They all love her and the place. You can almost feel the fondness.

Stathis , a tall man, who looks like greek version of Bob Geldorf, takes our order, fried calamari,(promises is the freshest and sweetest calamari (squid) , you would have ever had,I catch it myself), fried shrimps in soft shells, aubergine salad, chicken cutlets ( strangely, farm chicken legs deep fried in high quality olive oil), the customary bread. Lots of of carafes of Retsina wine and colas. We dig in watch the world go buy, its Sunday, peolpe walk by in their sunday best (coming back from Church), no, they are walking it to greek wedding at the Sunset cafe a few hundred yards away.

The food is wonderfull, we love lit. BBC has mountain of shelled shrimps (soft shells i thought), I like it better this way. The food is very fresh and very nice. We yet have to learn to appreciate calamari, but its nice. More nice, because of the experience and service and simplicity and honesty of the palce. They guide us to a place for a after lunch siesta and a swim. We order coffee and they send us a large bowl of creamy wholesome ice cream on the house bDetective An seiously digs in. We love the place. Photos chatting and shooting the breeze.The great meal comes for a price of Euros 30 (about Rs 2016/). Great value.

Ostria restaurant hasa website with the same name, can be googled, most greek restaurants facing the street have a simple format, kitchen, indoor seating and outdoor seating. Outdoor seating is usually full at the mainland and the islands, all have a great cafe culture, the patience to recieve service, slow food in a lazy environment and the temaparament.Their is symphony in the mood to recieve and mood to serve. We have been converted, learnt a thing or two about attitude, service, how to deal with situations as a waiter (metaphor for life), smile and use good cheer and a smile when you don't have as many resources as you would like. All the places, I have written about were one waiter (or waitress) place with excellent service, as compared to numerous other places which were full service restaurants.

Similarly at the work place we remember people, the emotional connect, the colleagues and bosses where there is intimacy in the teams regardless of organisational size. Rather than, large behmoth organisations with systems and procedures that stifle we learnto foster in developing a bond. Great lessons to learn in these low resource great experience places. People learn their lessons from lectures on organisational behaviour. I learn them from restaurants.

Post script ( I will upload the photos very soon ( pieces on food , wine and places are meaningless without pictures, I am learning and will overcome the challenge soon. I know I have exceeded the 500 to 800 word limit, but had to put these together)

So Long !

1 comment:

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