Eating Out: "Exarhia Lapped by the Sea"
MAYBE the name of this new central eatery's name, Psaro-Kokalo
(or "fishbone" in Greek), may put off some,
but fear not. This new hip establishment
features flavorful, hearty catches from both land and sea.
The look is contemporary without being too "style-conscious". A minimalist approach predominates that must have good feng shui, because we were instantly relaxed upon entering. Careful decorative touches include fishbone designs on a few of the off-white walls, bamboo poles clustered around the entrance and a gaggle of orange lamps hanging from the high ceiling. Stairs lead up to an upper level with a denser arrangement of tables around the glass railing. Our party of four, which included an unusually high percentage of lawyers, appreciated that the music and background noise was lively but low enough to allowed for comfortable discussion of litigation seminars and Cretan vacations alike.
The hearty, handsomely-presented offerings blend regional and nouveau Greek cuisine, without a hint of culinary superficiality … apart perhaps from the omnipresent black sesame seeds. Most of the starters have a seafood bent, but we enjoyed the grilled Chios mastelo cheese (6.10 euros) covered with corn flakes (yes, like the cereal), with a hint of ouzo and a drizzling of honey. A tasty thick pink sauce bathed the Baked Eggplant with Manouri Cheese and Sun Dried tomatoes (5.10 euros), but the vegetable rounds were a little undercooked. The house salad (6.90 euros) of crispy greens (eg rocket and red lettuce), caramelized fig treasures and thin slices of graviera and parmesan cheeses, came in a pleasantly asymmetrical white bowl. The concoction was generously sprinkled with balsamic vinegar. When it came to the pasta, fish and meat entrees, half of the things we picked were OK - and the other 50 percent extraordinary. While my Shrimp Pilaf with Kozani Saffron (12.80 euros) featured juicy shrimp (the menu said they were frozen, but they didn't feel it) and nice bits of green pepper, the pilaf lacked seasoning. By contrast, the Bass Fillets Fricassee with Finocchio and Walnut Milk (9.40 euros) was exquisite, with the chunks of fish, tender artichokes and potatoes sitting in a creamy white sauce and sprinkled with dill. Similarly, while the pork chops with a special house sauce (8.80 euros) were decent, the Beef Fillet Filled with Tomato, Feta and Oregano (11.50 euros) really stood out.
Menoudeli (squid ink pasta) and Grilled Salmon with Basil (11.30 euros) is an unusual favourite. Generous portions and glass after glass of the smooth, light white Mycenaen house wine (a custom-ordered Mycenaean blend of Viognier and Chardonnet varieties), prevented us from tasting any of the three dessert options. But I intend to return for the panacotta with Chios mastic.
Co-owner Vangelis Zaharopoulos serves as maitre d' and waiter, which he noted cuts down costs, but ensures customer care. The professional, graceful backup staff promptly appeared when needed.
Value for money
The meal, including a litter of the white house wine came to 20 euros/person, a good deal considering the hipness factor and the interesting taste options.
A gamut of ages were in evidence on the busy Thursday night we visited, ranging from a couple of elderly gentlemen in tweed suits having a good laugh at the next table to a large, dressed-up party at a big table and more casual students upstairs.
The new eatery was the mindchild of Zaharopoulos and chef Nikos Koukelis. Zaharopoulos explains that he and his business partner had experience in the Athens restaurant biz and aimed for, "Casual food, very reasonable prices, with gourmet touches." They've achieved it already, with the help of Koukelis' inspiration and touches revealing his Chios roots. While it only opened in September, word has already gotten out about it.
Psaro-Kokalo is located at 119 Solonos st. (tel 210-384-6596), a few blocks from Exarhia sq. It's open every day 1pm to 1am.
Gazi favourite Sardelles (15 Persephone st, 210-347-8050) also brings fish seafood with style to the city centre.