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For my last meal in the Cosmopolitan, I had lunch at Estiatorio Milos. This was the one restaurant in the hotel run by a chef whose cooking I had never tasted before since both Jaleo’s Jose Andreas and Comme Ca’s David Myers have restaurants in Los Angeles. They offer a three course lunch for $20.11 and although several items can be substituted for an additional fee, the menu is quite extensive.
Although my experience with the service in both Jaleo and Comme Ca were exemplary, I could sense the staff here was not exactly a well oiled machine as soon as I walked in and saw no less than 10 people waiting to be taken to their seats, all of whom had made reservations (as I had also). With a hostess staff of three, it should not have taken more than a few minutes to seat everyone. When I was shown to my seat 15 minutes after my reservation time by one of the hostesses, I was thrilled with my seat by the window overlooking the strip. 
Unfortunately as soon as I sat down my pants were soaked. The misters had soaked the seat and I jumped up as soon as I sat down. The hostess apparently did not realize the extent of my statement “I am soaked” until she saw my pants. After apologizing profusely, she seated me inside the patio but with no view of the strip; I had to ask her for extra napkins for my seat so I could sit down without soaking my new seat. She sent the manager over who offered his apologies and he offered to dry clean my pants, but since I had already checked out, I told him that was not possible with my clothes already packed. He took 15% off my bill as an apology which would have been fine IF they had not changed the seat cushion and then seated ANOTHER party at the table with a view. To have at least offered me the table again first would have been a nice gesture.
Thankfully the food was a star here, and the waitstaff and bus staff were also both extremely competent and gracious, so I would definitely recommend this restaurant, but with a caveat to be aware that the hostess staff is not yet proficient at their jobs.
The thick grilled bread was a nice way to start the meal, served with a dipping bowl of wonderful extra virgin olive oil.

I chose to supplement the $20.11 menu with grilled octopus for $10 and was so glad I did when I took a bite of the succulent tender bits. This may be the best grilled octopus I have ever eaten, including all my meals in Greece. This appetizer portion was HUGE and would have easily been a meal in and of itself, but since this was my first meal, I enjoyed the portion and made room for my entree.

Although I won my gamble yesterday at Comme Ca by ordering my steak tartine rare, I lost when I ordered my lamb chop medium rare; it came well done and I had to send it back after I cut into it. They succeeded on their second try with a juicy, flavorful chop and gorgeous garlic mashed potatoes. The steamed asparagus were perfectly done and I could have eaten another plate if I had not eaten the octopus.

Since the fresh fruit was the lightest dessert option, that was my choice for my third course. All the fruit was fresh, ripe, juicy, and sweet; a perfect ending to what began as an uncomfortably wet adventure.

Estiatorio Milos (Cosmopolitan) on Urbanspoon

Mornings should be greeted with something that makes you smile at the start of your day. If you stop by Maison Du Pain for some pastries, like their Pain au Raisin, or a Pain au Chocolat, you can completely erase the pain of having to get out of bed. I had been here in 2009, but they have greatly expanded their repertoire in the last two years and when I saw the baguettes, I had to go back and taste one.

Their baguettes did look good, but how did they taste?

Cutting one open, I found the crust perfectly chewy, with a satisfying crunch, and the interior had a soft texture that is neither too soft nor too dense. The flavor bespoke the quality of the ingredients and the freshness of the loaf. This is a classic baguette, the one you want to eat plain straight out of the bakery. It’s one of the best I’ve eaten in Los Angeles (and I have eaten dozens of baguettes in this city)! If you buy two or three, you might make it home with enough to give someone else in your household a taste.

Ulysses Voyage on Urbanspoon

Although I love Papa Cristo’s for Greek Food, today I wanted a nicer ambiance and a shorter drive for my Greek food fix, so after breakfast, I went over to Ulysses in the Farmer’s Market/The Grove. I had eaten here two years ago with friends from France for a late lunch (see my previous post) before I left for Greece, so I wanted to see what I thought after having been to the country.

I was impressed that their wine list included a wine from Santorini, and that they served a very generous glass for $10. It was crisp and had a slightly mineral taste as the wines in that region are typically made.

The bread basket included a nice chewy olive bread and a good baguette, served with a creamy and tangy cheese spread in lieu of butter.

I chose a spring salad topped with Calamari for $13, and For those who prefer chicken or lamb, you can top your salad with meatier protein. The calamari were tender, and the salad of greens mixed with red and yellow peppers, olives, red onions, tomatoes, and feta was dressed in a oregano infused oil and vinegar sauce which did not overwhelm the greens. After my last disastrous salad at Villa Blanca, this was a welcome change. I loved the generous amount of calamari, but found the amount of feta on the salad was a bit too generous and left most of it.

Two years ago my friends were both impressed by the fact that this was the only Greek restaurant we stopped at where the hostess responded to “Kalimera” with “Kalimera” (Good Morning). My visit this time was no different, when I left I said “Effaristo” (thank-you) and the host answered “Malakalo” (you’re welcome).

Authentic French pastries, great baguettes, and a Greek restaurant which retains the language and the style of Greece; Los Angeles may be a melting pot, but I am glad to find the unique flavors of different food cultures are still distinctly ethnic.

La Maison Du Pain on Urbanspoon

Whenever you want authentic ethnic food, it is always a good idea to ask someone who is actually from the region for their favorite place to eat. My favorite restaurant, Vanilia, in Santorini was recommended by a Greek, and the same Greek recommended Papa Cristo’s here in Los Angeles as the place he goes when he yearns for the comforting food of his homeland.

Papa Cristo’s is a Greek institution, having been in business at the same location for nearly 60 years, owned by the same family. Places that withstand economic turns and fickle tastes for decades do it by doing something well, in Papa Cristo’s case they do several things well, from authentic Greek dishes, to products from Greece you can not find elsewhere in Los Angeles. I saw from the plates at the taverna that portions were huge, so I opted to take a bit of everything home because if I ate in the place, I would end up with most of it in a doggie bag anyway.

Their spanikopita ($2 each) is the best I have ever eaten, and yes, that includes the places I ate it in Greece last year. It is perfectly flaky with a wonderful spinach and feta filling that did not even leave a grease stain on the paper lined foil pouch.

All their meals come with a Greek salad, replete with kalamata olives, feta cheese, fresh tomatoes, and cucumbers on top of romaine and iceberg lettuce. The lemon and olive oil dressing is superb, but I ate half my salad without any dressing it was so good.

Because I don’t remember the last time I saw it offered on any menu in Los Angeles (other than a handful of Asian places), I chose the grilled baby octopus as my entree for $13.99. The serving was so big that the container measured 9″ x 13″ and it was filled! The baby octopus was tender, marinated with a light lemon, olive oil, and oregano dressing, absolutely authentically prepared and addictive. The potatoes had a light seasoning that made the starch very palatable for a non potato eater like me and even though I only intended to taste them, I ended up eating half a potato (which my friends will tell you is a huge amount for me)!

Freshly made pita bread was included in the meal, along with tzatziki sauce (a yogurt and dill dipping sauce), and I tore into this warm fluffy bread with gusto, dipping it into the tzatziki every other bite.

This hearty meal was more than enough for two, much less my one small stomach, so the value and quality here is unbeatable. If you prefer lamb or chicken, or if you are vegetarian, they have all those options for meals, and every choice is under $13. Craving a truly European flavor? Order the whole grilled Tsipoura fish (under $18), a tender flaky fish that could convert nonfish eaters to pescatarians.

Every Thursday they have a “My Big Fat Greek Family Dinner” for $18.95 per person (not including tax + tip) that includes 8 appetizers, chicken, lamb, potatoes, green beans, Greek salad, baklava, Greek coffee, and live entertainment (belly dancers). This is probably more food and value than you can find anywhere else in Los Angeles, so take your family & friends and share the bountiful food and fun.
All you can imagine as appetizers, from dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) to taramosalata (Greek “caviar”) are available, as well as the classic moussaka, kebabs, and gyros for entrees. If you want to make a meal at home, they sell lamb shanks, meats, and cheese in the cold case, and they have even more products in the freezer for you to take home and make later.

They have a large selection of ouzo and Greek wines to complete your meal, and prices are excellent; I bought some white anchovies in olive oil and lemon juice for less than $5 that would have cost over $12 at Whole Foods.

If you are in a sweet mood, there is an entire case of baked and sweet goods from cookies to baklava (a walnut and honey pastry), and loukoumades (fried honey puffs similar to donuts), but the sweetest deal is finding a taste of Greece in Los Angeles until I can go feast in Greece again.

For those of you who live in the Los Angeles area, the Los Angeles Times Travel Issue of BrandX (a generation X publication) published this article I wrote about Santorini in their 5/25/11 edition.

Papa Cristo's on Urbanspoon

On the taxi ride to my hotel, I saw the Panathinaiko Stadium and was so stunned, I knew I had to go back and drink in the panoramic view by foot. It reminded me of the Coliseum in Los Angeles. Surrounded by a park and well to do homes, it is now a tourist draw and a relic of earlier athletic contests, before the high tech super stadiums, but steeped in a sense of history that no modern facility can rival.

A few blocks away is the home of the President of Greece, and since there were demonstrations during my time in Athens, the police and security for the area were heightened to the point of street closures around this entire area. The formal changing of the guards continued, but there were armed patrols keeping any tourists and or picture takers from getting too close.

I took these pictures using the zoom on my camera.

After all the hiking around town, I had to eat and what better place than a restaurant called “God’s Restaurant“? Facing the new Acropolis Museum, this is a nice street side cafe which actually serves salads! Greeks call salad eaters “Grass Eaters” and I had not found any restaurant that specialized in this kind of food, so I had the God’s Salad, which had delicious chunks of salami and fried cheese in a homemade dressing. I loved this salad because it was filling enough to be a meal and it was light enough not to make me feel like I had eaten too much. All for under $15 USD and a view of a pedestrian street facing the modern Museum.

If God had a restaurant, I’m sure this dish would have been on the menu.

Seen from the Acropolis, Lycabettus Hill is the highest point in Athens at 908 feet above sea level with St. George’s Church at the top (along with a cafe). I walked from the Acropolis to the base of the mountain, but you can climb the steps all the way to the top if you are in Olympian shape (I did not).

Kolonaki is an upscale neighborhood at the base of the hill, with a host of internationally known name brand shops and the only Starbucks I saw during my entire stay (yes, Greeks were drinking coffee inside).
Besides the beautifully appointed homes, there were offices for lawyers and doctors lining the streets.
To get to the funicular which takes you to the top of the hill you must first climb FOUR sets of these stairs. This is number one.
This is number four, when (or if) you get to the top and you get to ride the rest of the way up to the top.
The funicular goes up and down every half hour and costs 3 Euros roundtrip.

Once you reach the top, you are rewarded with views of the entire city, including the radio and television antennae lines that are all mounted up here (and in my picture). The blue edge on the horizon is the sea.

From this point you see the other hills in Athens.

At the top there is of course a church (St. Geroge’s) and the Greek Flag.

Considering the church was built in the 19th Century, this is quite a feat.

Perhaps it is time to go inside and offer a prayer of gratitude for making it to this point in both altitude and life:)

The New Acropolis Museum is directly across from the Acropolis and literally faces the metro station “Acropolis”, so it is very easy to find and visit when in Athens. The building is very modern with a surprising twist.

As you enter the building, you walk OVER some excavations that are works in progress and AROUND others that are more near completion. It is a truly a remarkable juxtaposition of ancient and modern in one place.

There were people working on the excavation as visitors watched.

The other side of the museum is a lovely green park.

A few blocks away is the large National Gardens, which also has excavations in progress.

Adjacent to the National Gardens is a smaller park which surrounds the Temple of Olympian Zeus (which is one of the views from my hotel).

And Hadrian’s Arch (another of the views from my Hotel).

But the National Gardens are known more for the marvelous respite of greenery in the middle of a concrete city.

The Plaka is the oldest neighborhood in Athens and the cobblestone streets and neoclassical homes attest to the charm of this part of town. It is also a big tourist draw with shops, tavernas and bars competing for foreign customers using sales tactics that far surpass most American salespeople; I don’t know many sales people in the US who can switch between four languages easily enough to flatter and entice people walking on a street to sit down to a meal, do you?

Some places just look inviting, even though they are in the busiest most touristy place, some can be quite good, and Taberna Ta was very decent for both service and food in the center of the Plaka. It helps that they have been around for decades and they make everything they serve on the premises from the spanikopita (spinach pies) to the souvlaki (kebabs). The display counter shows all the ingredients that go into the meals and everything in it looked fresh, so I took my chance and took a seat.

My host switched from the two Asian languages he spoke to English and French once he saw the perplexed look on my face. Since the daily special is usually the best dish, I went with the Pork special the waiter recommended. I was going to order a salad, but the waiter said it came with vegetables. Maybe the vegetables were invisible, so you see any on the plate? Maybe he thought the parsley counted as a vegetable because it was green.

My first bite of the pork was so salty I thought I would have to send it back, but after a few tentative tastes, it was obvious that the dish was just unevenly salted. The pork was tender and the serving was copious enough that I barely finished the meat and did not even make a dent in the the rice. After my meal, I was given a complimentary dessert made with sesame seeds and honey that was both rich and sweet; it was a good way to erase the shock of salt overdose I had gotten at the beginning of my meal.

A sweet ending to a salty beginning makes this place a “Maybe” for anyone contemplating trying this restaurant. The perfect service and location may make this more of a place to stop for drinks or coffee than for a meal.

I found Paradosiako online before I arrived in Athens through Tripadvisor; since it has universally great reviews and was near the Plaka, I noted it as a place to try and was glad I did.

This is a very casual local eatery on a side street that a tourist would have completely overlooked if not for its international internet reputation. So many Greeks were eating here, that I had to come back twice before I could get a seat at this tiny ten table cafe. I ordered the salad to start and even though it was fresh and perfectly fine, I immediately missed the superb tomatoes of Santorini.

I was drawn to the fried anchovies on the menu, so I ordered them, not expecting this HUGE plate. They were wonderfully crisp, and a bit of lemon juice squeezed on them just made them addictive. I didn’t manage to eat the entire plate after eating my salad, but I wanted to….

They offered a complimentary sweet made of honey and nuts, but I was too full to accept, so I paid my bill of 12 Euros ($15) and tried to walk off some of my meal as I meandered through the Plaka.

Bretto’s beautiful display of liquors drew me into the place from the busy Plaka area of Athens like a thirsty traveler to an oasis. I didn’t know when I walked in that Bretto’s is the second oldest bar in Europe and has a more than 100 year history as a distiller of unique alcohols. Every bottle you see is a different flavor ranging from Cherry to Rose, and even Saffron!

The original distillery made Ouzo and they have literally pages listing different types, along with fine brandies, wines, and other spirits. Their private label flavored spirits are ONLY sold here (in three sizes) and you may taste all of them, or purchase as many bottles as you wish on the premises. They even sell Cuban cigars here starting at only 3 Euros ($5)! As I looked through the extensive 3-ring binder of choices (clearly looking overwhelmed), the manager, said to me, “What are you in the mood for, this has too many choices; let me choose for you.” I gladly accepted his help and said I would like a nice dry white wine, with a little bit of fruitiness, so he recommended #23 for 6 Euros ($8) which was absolutely superb. Since there are literally CHAPTERS of wines and spirits to choose from, it really is best to ask the experts behind the bar to recommend something based on your taste.

The actual barrels used in the distillery are in the shop, so this place literally has the beginning (making the spirits), middle (selling the bottles), and end (drinking the finished product) of a distillery all in one place.

There is no food served here other than small bites of cheeses, ham or salami (excellent quality snacks), so come in for your appertif or a drink after dinner (they are open until 3am).

They are easy to find, just look for the rainbow of colors lighting up the storefront in the center of the Plaka.

I had lunch one day at Perivolos beach, just to see if the food at this quiet beach was as fabulous as Kamari, where I was staying. After walking up and down the two block stretch of beachfront restaurants, I chose to eat at Cayo, which seemed laid back, local, and when the manager assured me that if I did not like the moussaka he would not charge me, I said, ok.

This is the view from the restaurant, unlike Kamari, there is only one side of the beachfront road which is built up with restaurants (and only six restaurants in total along the entire stretch).

I started with a Santorini salad, made with local cheese, sun dried tomatoes, arugula and spring greens. Unfortunately there was so much (and so much dressing) that I could only manage to eat about a third of this dish. The arugula had large chewy stems, so it was definitely wild, but not very tender.

The moussaka was made with the famous white eggplant of Santorini, making it tender and slightly sweet (no bitterness at all). It was a huge portion (enough for two) and good enough that I did not have to ask for it to be taken off the bill 🙂

I was served a complimentary wedge of watermelon for dessert and it was a welcome refreshment after the rich moussaka.

I ordered a Greek Coffee to end my meal, and for those of you who have never had it, it is strong like espresso, but made with grounds, so you drink only about half of this cup or you will literally end up with grounds in your mouth because it is not filtered like espresso.

Cayo was very friendly and the view was unbeatable, but the food compared to my favorite places in Kamari and Firostefani fell short, so I went back to one of my favorite restaurants in Kamari for dinner, Nichteri (tomorrow’s post).




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