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Archive for January, 2008

Sesame-covered peanuts in Greece

I love sesame candy, and I love nuts. So imagine my excitement when, walking by the Athens covered market, I spotted sesame-covered peanuts for sale! Eureka! I’ve been munching on these guys all day, and I’m sure I’ll have to pick up another bag before leaving Athens tomorrow evening.

Sesame twists in Greece

I also couldn’t resist snacking on these hot sesame twists sold in front of Monastiraki metro station. They’re sweet, nutty and bready. Think Auntie Anne’s sesame pretzel, but without all the salty, slimy butter product.Thanassis souvlaki

And of course I’ve been eating more souvlaki. While Monastiraki is a rather touristy area, Thanassis souvlaki was packed this afternoon with Greek families out to enjoy a sunny Sunday, so I’m not surprised that the sandwich was worth the long wait in line.

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Souvlaki at Lefteris

After checking into our Athens hotel at 2 pm today, Jon and I were in desperate need of lunch. Cue the nearby (divey) souvlaki place, Lefteris. Clearly it’s destiny when your hotel happens to be three blocks from a souvlaki stand that gets rave reviews from local bloggers and Michelin-starred chefs alike.

Grill guys at Lefteris

Jon and I order two souvlaki and pay our 3.20 euros for both (!). Within two minutes of our handing over the cash, the grill guys have slipped sizzling skewers of ground pork into hot, grilled flatbreads, dumped on onions, tomatoes and ground red pepper, and presented the souvlaki to us in handy paper cones.

Jon and I then do what everyone else is doing and eat our souvlaki standing at a narrow counter about two feet away from the grill.

The meat is so moist and tender, and the flatbread so chewy, soft and decadently oily, that we immediately order two more souvlaki. And despite the fact that it’s late in the afternoon, we’re standing at the counter with a guy dressed in a suit and three other youngish guys dressed in flannel work shirts.

I like the mix of peeps; I like the food; and I definitely like the prices.Lefteris’s address: Satovriandhou, 20, cross street Sokratous, not far from the Omonia metro stop.

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Gatwick Yotel entrance

The good news is that Jon and I have a flight to Athens tomorrow morning. The bad news is that the flight departs Gatwick Airport at 6:40 am.

Rather than wake up at 4 am and pay £50 for an early-morning taxi to Gatwick, we decided to spend the night at the Gatwick Airport Yotel for £56.

It seems so fitting, given all my recent raving about sushi (mercury scares notwithstanding) that the owner of the Yo! Sushi chain has branched out of the restaurant business by building this pod hotel and naming it the Yotel.

Yotel Bed

The rooms are definitely small – about ten feet wide and seven feet deep.  But the bathroom is clean and includes stylish fixtures, and the bed is comfy and kind of fun in a top-bunk kind of way.  Throw in the free wi-fi and flat-screen TV, and you have a pleasant way to spend seven hours before an early-morning flight.

Here’s to the Yotel – and to Athens in the morning!

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Hare and Tortoise sushi, Kensington, London

I miss my friends Cathy and Bobby, who moved away a few weeks ago to Hong Kong. In tribute to them (and to feed my ever-present sushi cravings), I recently ate at the Hare & Tortoise restaurant in Kensington, which is where we’d eat together after hanging out at their flat on Kensington High Street.

I have no idea why it’s called the Hare & Tortoise. The first time I went, I worried that any restaurant with the word “tortoise” in its name did not bode well, but that’s me seeing the glass half empty, because I conveniently ignored the “hare” bit. And in fact, service has always been efficient, though not particularly helpful or friendly. That description of H&T’s service could apply to decor and food, too: it’s all good enough, but not outstanding. The appeal is that the place is reliable and good value by London standards.

My favorite dishes there are the agedashi tofu (£3.20) and shrimp tempura rolls (£6). They’re always freshly fried, come in a nice portion size, and most importantly, they’re modestly priced. I often get assorted nigiri and maki, too, but generally, unless the fish is sublimely fresh, I’m interested more in the “cooked” foods.

Hare & Tortoise is pan-Asian, so I surprise myself by liking it. I normally prefer restaurants that specialize in one cuisine (figuring you should just do one thing well instead of lots things poorly), but you know, the curry laksa (£5.95) at the restaurant also rocks my world. It’s hot and spicy, but also comfortingly creamy and sweet. Malaysia in a bowl.

In this dark, rainy weather, I take refuge in eating fried goodies, decent maki, and savoury soups at Hare & Tortoise. Visit it the next time you need a getaway from the chain hell of High Street Ken or are visiting Olympia.

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Nachos at Crazy Homies restaurant, Notting Hill

Friends I trust have raved for ages about Crazy Homies restaurant, so once again, the Tex Mex trail lead me to Notting Hill.

Calling Crazy Homies a restaurant is a little misleading — it’s more like a charming, quirky closet that somehow manages to find room enough to serve tequila and simple, fresh food at three or four cafe tables. (If you’re super lucky, you can snag the comparatively-big five-person round table in the back corner).

taquitos at Crazy Homies restaurant, Notting Hill

Except for a few misses (avoid the greasy, over-salty, admittedly-un-Mexican goat-cheese taquitos), I enjoyed my lunch there. And did I mention it’s cheap? £13 per person covered a shared appetizer, a main course and a drink.

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Hamachi at Oishii Sushi in Boston

Foods I crave when I go back to the US: fresh, cheap sushi (yes, it’s a category), bagels and pizza. Having been raised in the New York area, I consider these three items a birthright. It’s just too bad that the closest I came to NY during the last trip was Connecticut.

Maki at Kazu Sushi in Norwalk, CT

Still, the straightforward sushi I had at Kazu in Norwalk, CT was the best of my three sushi outings during this last trip. The restaurant, which has a sleek, a-little-too-ready-to-be-franchised decor, was pleasantly busy on a Thursday evening, but I could still easily hear myself talk over the buzz in the room (important!).

Kazu’s sushi offerings were all classic and basic, which was fine by me, especially because everything I ordered tasted fresh and flavorful. My shrimp tempura roll, for example, was warm and crispy from a recent frying, and the shrimp still tasted sweet, sea-creaturey and not rubbery. And it was only $6.50. Take that, evil doers.

Service at the resto was super-attentive and perky in that unique American way that annoys Europeans. I figure, on the balance, it’s better to be overly-perky and attentive than rude and indifferent. (Cue American flag waving in the front yard).

Lobster maki at Oishii Sushi in Boston

On another evening, Jon and I met three of our fave friends for sushi at Oishii in Boston. The resto is all black slate sleekness, but the cool factor diminished for us when we were seated by the bathroom. To be fair, we’d made a reservation only three hours beforehand, so I guess if someone’s going to be by the bathroom, it’s reasonably us.

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Display at Stew Leonard’s in Norwalk, CT

Happy New Year, and a million apologies for totally slacking off and avoiding my computer over the holidays.

I spent two busy, fun weeks in the U.S., visiting my brother in Connecticut (home of the quirky, Disneyesque Stew Leonard’s supermarket – see photo at top of post), my parents in New Hampshire (currently the home of every Presidential Hopeful), and my in-laws in Palm Beach County, Florida (home of all NY/NJ snowbirds).

In addition to feeling back at home with friends and family, I loved how cheap, convenient, and varied all consumer goods are. And I’m not just saying that because the Pound Sterling continues to clobber the Dollar. More than other nationalities I’ve encountered, Americans demand and embrace getting a “deal” when they shop.

Wall of Values in Norwalk, CT

I walked into a regular supermarket in upscale Connecticut, and not only were the aisles wide, neat and fully stocked, but also I was greeted by a rainbow display of cheap and cheerful goodies entitled “The Wall of Values.” Try pulling one of those stunts in England, and watch just how quickly shoppers run away in embarrassment.

And even in my tired, straight-off-the-plane state, I couldn’t resist a trip to Costco on my first night back in the U.S.. To me, nothing represents better the best and worst of American retail: Sure, it’s a big-box architectural blight and there’s no expert staff on hand, but I dare you to find better prices on Veuve Clicquot and Terra Chips.

Basically, whenever I went shopping, I kept thinking of George Gershwin’s Summertime: “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy . . . .”

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