There are millions of GREAT places to eat in Greece. Just as everywhere else in the world, NYC included, you have to chowhound. Walk, walk, and walk. Try what looks good and keep walking to find more. There are not many Michelin stars twinkling in the nighttime sky over Athens. But as a chowhound, you are surely not lured to the obvious. But after a salad of crisped loudsa, fennel, shaved graviera, and a citrus vinaigrette with grapefruit pieces one evening, and a moist lamb shank in a thyme sauce resting on a bed of tomato and feta risotto another night, you'll begin to wonder why.
Welcome to the new Athenian cuisine. Moussaka? Sure, it's on menus everywhere. Lamb and fish remain staples, and are quite good at many traditional Greek restaurants. However, Athens has its share of good restaurants that raise traditional Greek cuisine to new heights while creating other dishes influenced by flavors more common to other parts of the Mediterranean that are/were inhabited by Greeks.
In almost any large American city, Athens' best restaurants would be top-ranked, with prices to match: Notwithstanding Greece's reputation as a cheap destination, it's easy to pay more than $100 for dinner for two.
That's without ordering a bottle of wine, which remains a risk in a country that is now known for producing some fine wines, but has yet to shake its reputation for resin-tasting retsina.
The problem is that Greek food hasn't been well introduced to outside countries looking for the familiar. And when they visit Greece they are searching for the same easy crap. The simple approach that many 'ethnic' cuisines first suffer, and Greek cuisine STILL suffers, is that the first waves of immigrants display only what they THINK will sell well in a place where the hamburger is King. And what is easy to make and display, like the hamburger. Souvlaki and gyros is what people think of when they think "Greek". If they don't call them by the non-Greek name 'kabob'. Most, if not all, "Greek" roadside ramshackle 'pitarias' in Holland, and other Scandinavian countries, the UK, GB (or whatever they are calling themselves these days) and other places have been sold to Middle Eastern keepers. They change a couple of things here and there and call it by what they know. The problem comes when these places are remembered as being "Greek" and people associating BOTH as the SAME. They ain't. Times change, and so do people.
Even in Greece, as in most of the "old world", it is historically customary to dine at home. Doing otherwise would suggest that mom has "other" matters to attend to. NOT a compliment. Those days are fading fast, if not faded already. There is still that mentality amongst many (of the older set and those from the very few remote villages) that food prepared 'outside'(of the home) is cut rate, loaded with 'fillers' and never as good as mom made. I hear only this from coworkers and friends when I discuss their country of origin cuisine. I get it from "Little India" in Manhattan has keepers that are "in it only for the money", implying that the food isn't up to par. Also, I can't get many of them to eat there. To, "Why would I eat at an Italian place when momma has the best gravy at home?" And they are right.
Athens preparation for the Olympic Games in 2004 is now well underway which has resulted in the refurbishment of numerous older hotels in a contemporary style. The quality of restaurants is also improving and the style is becoming more contemporary.
It is only a few years since the first places which really deserve to be called "gourmet restaurants" were opened. These sophisticated eateries offer world-class cuisine ranging from the classic to the innovative.
There are 'old style' places (tavernas) that feature some 'old style' Greek food that is typically found in restaurants, as opposed to 'home style' found in homes. There are Albanian immigrants and immigrants from all over the world selling their brand of 'Greek' 'food'. If you are lucky to avoid these places, and, like everywhere else, are 'in-the-know', you can find many, many hidden treasures.
In Athens there are also many contemporary places serving real GREEK food in a contemporary style. You most likely won't see many older mind set Greeks dining in those establishments as you would in the old style tavernas. The concept is too..... contemporary. (Like dining at the latest and greatest Italian spot in Manhattan. Many NY'ers, not many Italians from Italy (or Brooklyn, LOL - just kidding!)
You will see Greek food in though. And a good example of it, if you chowhound.
The Greeks are renowned for their hedonistic lifestyle and the long nights they like to spend eating, drinking and dancing. Few other places on earth can match the city's lively nightlife scene. Late dinners (taken at around 10pm) and nightclubs that fill up after midnight are extremely typical there so don't be alarmed by the empty tables if you show up early for dinner!
Several factors make dining and partying so pleasurable in Athens. First there is the contagious joy shown by Athenians as they savour their food, dance on any available surface - including tables - and chat endlessly. Secondly, the picture perfect scenery - be it a traditional taverna located in a vine-covered backyard in Plaka or a seaside fish restaurant in Piraeus - will add to your enjoyment.
Greece is a wonderland for chowhounds. Probably, by definition, the best chowhounding country in the world. But if you are an impatient/picky/particular chowhound and settle for the tourist traps and the usual glop, then you got what you came for. The rest will dine on some of the best cuisine in the world.
Here are some suggestions for dining in Greece:
14 Deligiorgi St, Istioplooiko Omilos (Yachting Club)
Phone 210 4112043.
Chef Lefteris Lazarou. Extensive wine list. Listed in the Athinorama guide Golden Chefs Hat awards. Michelin star.
116 Keramikou and Iera Odos, Gazi, Athens.
Chef Yiannis Baxevanis. Listed in the Athinorama guide Golden Chefs Hat awards.
Phone 210 - 3465830
SPONDI - 5 Pyrronos St, Pangrati, Athens.
Chef Herve Pronzato. Very pricy. Tops the Athinorama guide Golden Chefs Hat awards.
Phone 210 752 0658