O Tsitsikas kai o Mermigas (The Cricket and the Ant)

Written by on April 13, 2012 in I Eat Greece, I Eat...Out with 0 Comments

(No website found at time of publishing) – Athens, Greece

How I heard of this place: Our very helpful and kind-hearted concierge immediately suggested this spot when we asked for his recommendation for his favorite restaurant in the area. We are certainly glad he did, as it immediately became our favorite meal in five weeks of travel.

Type of cuisine: Traditional Greek fare with a creative, impulsive, modern twist.

Ambiance: The décor of the restaurant is modern and cheerful, clean lines, with random words in various fonts painted across the walls and ceiling, illustrations of copper pots, silver kettles, clouds and birds, billboard-sized photographs of grains and spices throughout. Inside, the ceilings are high, allowing for additional seating in a loft space over the bar and kitchen. Downstairs, patrons sit in a well-lit room, where uncovered, very round lightbulbs hanging down lines of wire from the ceiling. Bottles of alcohol line the nook carved into the top part of the wall over the bar creating practical artwork. The tall doorway and windowed wall leads out to the smaller, covered front patio. Tables with built-in drawers hold napkins and silverware; customers are invited and encouraged to help themselves throughout the meal, as necessary. One of our servers arrives to take our orders, and places a paper tablecloth down (with similar whimsical graphics as the interior of the restaurant), topped with two, stacked small bowls and two shot glasses. The top bowl holds five olives and one chili pepper in herbed olive oil, the bottom, shallow bowl intended for olive pits. The shot glasses, we were offered, filled with Tsikoudia, remained on our table throughout the meal and after we exited the premises. (Tsikoudia, an alcoholic beverage, I later learned from Wikipedia, is “a fragrant, grape-based pomace brandy of Cretan origin that contains 35%–60% alcohol by volume. It is similar to tsipouro made in mainland Greece, to the Spanish orujo, French marc, Georgian chacha, Portuguese bagaceira and Bulgarian, Serbian, Croatian (in Istria: rakija and grappa), Romanian tescovină, Albanian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, and Turkish rakia/rakı.[1] It is often home-produced by individuals in villages throughout Crete, and so the alcohol content varies by producer. Typically each Cretan village has one or two residents who are licensed to distill, and tsikoudia is produced continuously for two or three weeks in late October and early November. Tsikoudia is sometimes served cold from a bottle kept in a freezer. This is commonly offered as an after dinner digestif and in most taverns in Crete it is offered as a complimentary aperitif with fruits and sweets after the meal.”)

What I ordered:  To start, guess who selected Meatballs (€7.90) with fresh mint and fried potatoes, sprinkled with sea salt and herbs? The Revithada (€5.50), a salad of chick peas, spinach, tomato, olives and fresh lemon juice, as well as the Fried Graviera Cheese (€8.50), with sesame seeds, honey and bacon (fried ham, as it were). Chris was set on ordering the Pork Chops (€12.90) served with caramelized onions, baby potatoes and an orange and honey sauce), but was swayed at the last minute when I couldn’t decide between the Oriental Kebab (€9.30) and the Grilled Sea Bream Fillet (€13). At one of our servers’ encouragement, I reluctantly opted for the Sea Bream, secretly wishing I could order both dishes! Chris, in a surprising turn of events, and to my delighted pleasure ordered the Oriental Kebab! The fish was fresh (not frozen), grilled, topped with the juice and zest of a fresh lemon, and served with roasted vegetables including eggplant, zucchini, banana pepper, tomato and potatoes, sprinkled with coarse sea salt and herbs. The kebab arrived on a generous plate with tzatziki, sliced tomato, diced red onion and pita bread. For dessert, before I had the chance to even look down the list of options, Chris placed our order: Orange Pie (€5.50) with orange flavoured cream and vanilla ice cream.

What I loved: Absolutely everything! There was no dish I would not re-order, no bite I would not relive. A truly remarkable dining experience over a glorious, mouth-watering meal.

Why I loved it: I loved it for the amazing food, each course more stunning than the one before, everything aesthetically presented in abundant, yet manageable portions. I loved it for the helpful staff, no one person doing one type of work or working with only a small area of tables; everyone helped each other. I loved it even more for the intrigue – why the fabled cricket and ant? Having reminded myself of the tale in which the studious and dedicated ant labors and toils throughout the summer in preparation for the winter. The carefree cricket, on the other hand, spends his time relishing the summer, singing and light, not a care in the world. At the onset of winter, needless to say, the ant is well-prepared, his pantry stocked, and he is ready to weather the cold. The poor cricket can barely find any food and turns to the ant for help. This fable, metaphorically speaking, can be related to the Americans and the Greeks. Greece being the cricket. In our daily lives at home (USA), we spend the majority of our time and energy in preparation for the future, more often than not, neglecting the present moment. The Greeks live robustly, with an amazing verve for life. In Greek culture, as in many Eastern European and Middle Eastern cultures, there is vitality, laughter, joy and charisma, time for family and friends, and a robust enjoyment of good food. Life may be simple, and care-free but it is lived well, enjoyed to its full potential and brilliantly rejuvinating. It reminded Chris and I to take back what we have learned (moreso Chris than I), and remember to live like a cricket every now and again; treasure the sweet moments we share.

Cost: High (€8-€25 per entree)

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