A Chef’s City is an occasional travel feature in which our fortuitous writers hit up chefs for recommendations.
Greece. Sure, it’s the birthplace of democracy and the playground of the ancient gods, but I admit as the plane touched down in Athens my thoughts were a little less lofty.
Tzatziki. Grilled octopus. Gyros. Saginaki.
Luckily, I was armed with a list of recommendations from chef Tony Chittum, who regularly travels to Greece to visit his wife’s family and who is re-opening D.C.’s Iron Gate restaurant with a menu of Greek- and Italian-inspired dishes.
My boyfriend and I worked up an appetite wandering through Syntagma Square, past the Olympic stadium, the Temple of Zeus and up the hill to the Acropolis. It was breath-taking and hunger-inducing.
We stopped into Olympos Naousa, an unassuming restaurant not far from Syntagma Square that caters to locals, not tourists. We settled into a large table and an older gentleman handed us menus, explaining we could order off the menu or from a selection at the counter.
The small deli-like counter was packed with traditional Greek fare and after a brief explanation we ordered a feast – tzatziki, crustless spinach and cheese pie, gigantes or giant beans, stuffed peppers, keftedes and veal and orzo.
The tzatziki was thick, creamy, garlicky and served with crusty bread. The gigantes were slow cooked in an intense tomato sauce until tender. The keftedes or Greek meatballs were a little sweet and a little spicy. And the veal just fell apart.
After lunch, we wandered the streets of the Plaka and Monastiraki, neighborhoods known for their shops and flea market, and then slipped up to the Grand Bretagne for a cocktail. The rooftop restaurant in this luxury hotel is known for its stunning views, but the carefully-crafted drinks were just as noteworthy, particularly a Greek mojito made with ouzo and muddled grapes.
For dinner, we headed to Dionysus Restaurant, which Chittum warned had above-average prices, but a view that makes it worth it. Tucked into the base of a small hill opposite the Acropolis, we watched the sunset while snacking on more tzatziki, perfectly grilled octopus and melt-in-your-mouth fish while catching snippets of the concert in the Theatre of Dionysus. It was the perfect start of Greek Week.
Tony Chittum’s Recommendations for Athens
Attikos Greek House. “The food is great. The service is splendid. The view is superb”
Dionysos Restaurant. “The best view of the Acropolis while eating traditional Greek food.”
Olympos Naousa. “Traditional Greek food, in a traditional, yet simple environment. The restaurant offers all types of Greek food. Prices are really affordable.”
Orizontes Lykabytoy. “Amazing view of Athens with a very elaborate menu. … Prices are not very affordable. However, the overall experience and quality of the food makes it all worth it.”
To Kouti. ”One of the few places in Athens that gathers mostly Athenians. The food is a potpourri. The best known dish on the menu is the beef with honey sauce, dark, sizzling, sweet-savory strips of soul-satisfying red meat.”