Monday, July 28, 2014

Eating in Greece - Elia

If you drive south on the main road from the Westin, you'll eventually come to a sharp turn that looks like this. I would encourage you to be a bit adventurous and continue straight down the cobbled stone street. There you will find the small village of Gialova.

Gialova can easily be missed, but it's such a pleasant little place to stop and enjoy the fact you're in a beautiful coastal town along the Ionian Sea.

Parking can be tough since there's not a lot of real estate before you hit the water, but there is a long pier that has street parking. Just be careful backing up since there are no guard rails to protect you from falling over. But from that pier, you get a nice view of the village (which is basically just one street long).

We had been given a tip about having a meal or two at Elia, one of the several restaurants you will find along the road.

Like many of the other restaurants in the region, they had a nice shaded outdoor seating area that overlooked the water. We didn't have a reservation, but it was about 2PM so we were able to be seated immediately.

In typical fashion, my father over-ordered just so that he could sample several different things on the menu.

While simple, the food was amazing. At Elia, my parents had the best tzatziki they've ever had.

A nice taste of some grilled local Greek cheese with fresh tomatoes and pita.

A starter of grilled sardines.

Some of the most flavorful souvlaki we had during our entire time Greece.

And some perfectly prepared calamari.

We simply loved our meal there that we actually came back later that night for dinner as well. Thinking ahead, my father made sure to make an 8PM reservation. That was huge because when we arrived, all the tables were full, except for a nice waterside table with a "Reserved" sign on it.

 My father ordered his new favorite Greek food, dako - which was delicious.

My mother ordered an anchovy starter...

...and my father another starter of Villager's Potatoes.

My parents shared a seafood spaghetti. Delicious!

Eating in Greece - Argiris Fish Restaurant

Despite the Westin CN being such a wonderful place to relax as a family (or as a couple), we also wanted leave the resort to explore some of the nearby Greek villages and get a taste of their local cuisine.

We went both north to Marathapoli and south to Giavola and Pylos. You really can't go wrong either way as this region of Greece is such a stunning place that is really raw with natural beauty. We really hope that it stays this way, before the commercialized tourism machine takes over in the next 10 years.

Using a recommendation my father found on Flyertalk, we asked the hotel to make an 8PM reservation for us at Argiris, a local fish restaurant famous for their stunning sunset views. It was located in the village of Marathopoli about 9 miles up the main road.

Since we had never been to this town before, my father looked up the address for Argiris online. They have their own website, but it's not really that functional nor helpful. There was no street address listed. So when my father asked the hotel concierge, she smiled and told us to just find the main (only) pedestrian street and walk to the end. It was that simple. So left the Westin and drove along the small country road, passing miles of olive tree farms along the way.

Finally, the same road went right into the heart of tiny Marathapoli, and we drove past the central pedestrian street that led down towards the water. We found a place to park on the street around the corner, and casually walked down the deserted street.

Then at the end of the street, we finally saw the restaurant we were looking for, Argiris, just as it approached 7:55PM.

Despite it being prime dinner time and approaching sunset, the restaurant was exceptionally empty for a perfect summer night.

But that was a blessing for us. If I made a scene, no one's romantic sunset dinner would be affected.

My father ordered some local Greek items off the menu, but when it was time to select the fish, he had to go inside to check out what was fresh from the day's catch.

In typical fashion, my father over-ordered for us, but justified it saying that we were in Greece and that we should take advantage of the amazing cuisine there. We ordered an Argiris Salad, a haloumi/tomato starter, a grilled octopus, 2 small fried red mullets, and a 1kg of grilled fish. Note: half a kg is plenty for 2 adults.

Of course, since I wasn't as keen on trying new flavors, my parents ordered me a side of spaghetti with butter and cheese. It was delicious!

After the sun set over the horizon, we saw that more and more patrons started showing up for dinner as we were finishing ours. Then the owner (the son of the original proprietor) came out to introduce himself and talk with us. Given Americans weren't that common, he was more than happy to sit and chat with us. In addition to welcoming us to his home/restaurant, he played with me and introduced me to his own little girls.

Then as we got up to leave after paying the check, he thanked us for coming and told the server to get us a nice bottle of Greek metaxa as a welcome gift. And who said we should beware of Greeks bearing gifts?

Westin Costa Navarino - Breakfast Buffet

When we checked in, my father was given a letter inviting us to breakfast. According to the notice, Starwood Platinum elite members were asked to have their breakfasts at the Omega instead of the standard Morias restaurant. A bit of context is required first though:

1. Most room rates at the Westin CN already include breakfast.
2. However, since we booked the room using Starwood SPG points, our room did not include breakfast.
3. But since we were SPG Platinum members, we did receive complimentary breakfast.

A bit confusing, I know, but the punchline is that we got to eat a decadent breakfast buffet for free each morning of our stay at a smaller more intimate venue than everyone else.

Now, from the TripAdvisor and Flyertalk reviews, prior travelers mentioned how crowded and chaotic the regular breakfasts were given that it was included for every guest at the hotel. We were actually dreading this fiasco, so we were exceptionally thrilled to receive this letter offering a more reserved setting.

Our first morning, we were truly welcomed by the exceptionally congenial host who made me feel like the most important 2.5 year old that ever graced his restaurant. And the seating set up and buffet spread didn't disappoint either. We were able to sit in what looked like a Greek vineyard with more than enough staff to accommodate the morning rush.

Then when you walked inside where the buffet spread was set up, it just made your head spin, including so many choices of yogurts, puddings and parfaits.

Look at all the options for local figs and dried fruit. And 4 different types of the most amazing honey. The local Greek options really made this buffet stand out.


But my parents' favorite item was the Dako Station. We had no idea what dako was until we read the note explaining how to make it. My father explained it to me as "Greek version of bruschetta" which was good enough for me. First, you take the hard barley rusk and quickly soak it in water. Then you top it with crushed tomatoes, feta cheese and drown it in olive oil. Capers, onions, olive paste and other toppings are optional.

While my parents tried about everything in that buffet spread over the 5 mornings of our stay, I stuck with my Greek yogurt doused in honey. A girl's gotta watch her figure!