I recently visited the Vassilenas restaurant in Piraeus, Greece.
It has been one of my father’s favorites.
The restaurant began its life as a grocery store back in 1920. The owner was also serving some “meze” dishes to the grocery’s customers.
When my father started visiting, the grocery store had transformed itself into a taverna.
But not any taverna.
My father’s reminiscences were almost ecstatic.
He would recall that after entering the taverna, the owner, “Vassilenas”, would greet the customer and perform some sort of “assessment”, on the basis of which he would start serving various dishes to the table. The customer was advised to “ride the wave”. And it was a wave of gastronomic nirvana!
Today the taverna has been transformed into a restaurant, and is run by the son of the “Vassilenas” of my father’s days.
In my last visit I had the set menu.
It starts with a pumpkin soup, with cumin, nutmeg and curry.
I do not like soups. Especially in the Greek summer. But I tasted it. And I ate it every scoop of it. Delicious!
Next came marinated anchovies on a tomato marmalade slice of crispy bread and taramosalata (fish row dip) with Arabian bread. The anchovies were light in the salt and vinegar and tender, perfectly accompanied by the tomato marmalade. The fish roe dip creamy and light.
It was followed by sea bream on a bed of spinach and leeks, served with a cauliflower puree and a wild fennel sauce.
The fish was perfectly cooked, and the combination with the greens was delicious.
Next came a duo of salmon. Marinated in soy sauce and grilled in a crust of spices.
The grilled piece was cooked to perfection. You can see for yourself the photo above.
As I write this, I realize how exciting it has been to taste all these wonderful dishes, let alone relive the experience by writing about them!
This is a very good reason to write indeed!
In any case, grilled calamari and fried cod fillet came next.
The calamari was served on a bed of smoked eggplant.
I was overwhelmed by the cod, as it was perfectly fried, not oily at all, accompanied by heavenly aioli.
A “rice-shaped” pasta dish with mushrooms came next, It was cooked as a risotto, and wwas delicious, but I must confess I felt it was rather late in the menu for this type of dish. I am used to have pasta as a first dish, and could not really come around to tasting it as the penultimate dish.
The slow cooked pig’s neck concluded the savoury part of the menu. I loved it. It was served with quince marmalade, sweet potato puree, confit of onions and angel hair fried potatos.
All the dishes were exceptional, including the desert, a lemon tart I could kill for.
But I did not, thankfuly.
Instead I paid the bill and went home a happy man.