by artfuldiner on February 12, 2022

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Special Events, Wining and Dining

Ella Greek Cooking - Exterior 3Friday, November 5 (2021), was our last night in Athens before embarking upon our cruise to the Greek Islands and Italy… and the big question was: Where shall we have dinner?

The first two evenings we had dined at the upscale restaurants in our hotel (see previous posts). And there were certainly no complaints, as both had been excellent. For our final evening, however, we definitely wanted traditional Greek fare served up in a more casual setting. We must have changed our minds half-a-dozen times before finally settling upon Ella Greek Cooking, https://www.ellagreekcooking.gr/en/, which had been highly recommended by both the hotel concierge and our food & wine tour guide.

Ella - Chef Nena Ismirnoglou… And it turned out to be an absolutely fabulous choice. Located just a few blocks from our hotel, this family-owned restaurant/delicatessen opened its doors in 2018. Acclaimed chef Nena Ismyrnoglou, who spent several years at the famous Estiatorio Milos in New York City before returning to her homeland, is the power behind the stove. A committed connoisseur of Greek cuisine – but also one of the country’s most highly-regarded chefs – she infuses traditionally loved recipes with her own unique innovative flair.

Her menu tempts the palate with exciting options for coffee, brunch, lunch, and dinner, while the restaurant’s compact wine list offers a variety of choices from both Greek & international vineyards.

Ella - Assorted Spreads w Pita BreadThere are a number of ways to start things off here… And one of the most rewarding would be to sample selections from the restaurant’s deli. There are, for example, several salted items such as Marinated Sardines, Smoked Trout, and Marinated Anchovies. Then, of course, an assortment of cheeses: Smoked Cheese from Metsovo (a town in the mountains of Pindus in northern Greece); Gruyère from Crete; Feta Cheese; and Arseniko from the Island of Naxos. But if you really want to get a feel for what the kitchen can do, I’d suggest the Assorted Spreads (pictured), which includes smoked white cod roe spread, feta cheese spread with spicy peppers, tzatziki, and hummus.

Ella - Greek SaladOther more traditional appetizers you may wish to consider are Dolmadakia, homemade grape leaves with rice and herbs; Grilled Octopus with fresh thyme and olive oil lemon sauce; Assorted Sausages; Homemade Cheese Pie; French Fries Oregano with Gruyère; and Traditional Greek Salad (pictured). This latter item – a combo of cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, onion, cucumber, olives, peppers, capers, and basil – is especially recommended. But the key to any Greek salad is the character of its vinaigrette; and this one is classic… Olive oil, red wine vinegar, splash of lemon juice, shot of Dijon mustard, minced garlic cloves, dried oregano, and pinch of salt & pepper all conspire together in this irresistibly flavorful tour de force. Absolutely without peer.

… And entrées are no less praiseworthy. The Mushroom Risotto, featuring porcini from the town of Grevena in northern Greece and Gruyère from the Island of Crete, is simply outstanding… ditto the Giant Beans with Mashed Red Lentils garnished with tomatoes from the Island of Santorini, ouzo, and dill. The Grilled Chicken Breast with basil pesto and mashed sweet potato & pumpkin also has a great deal to recommend it, as does the Slowly-Cooked Beef Osso Bucco with mushrooms & mashed potatoes.

Ella - Giouvetsi Lamb w Orzo PastaHowever, if you are a lover of lamb, nothing quite measures up to the Giouvetsi Lamb (pictured).  Giouvetsi, sometimes spelled Youvetsi, which undoubtedly finds its origin in the Turkish word güveç – referring to the specific clay vessel in which food was originally slow-cooked – is a popular and comforting Greek stew made with tender bits of lamb (or beef), cooked with small noodles such as orzo. This centuries-old dish was traditionally served as a one-pot meal that had been baked in a home’s wood burning oven. In this instance, tender pieces of lamb are cooked together with the orzo in a rich, aromatic tomato sauce with garlic & oregano and topped with a soft white cheese.

Ella - Sea Bream FiletMs. Ismyrnoglou also has a way with seafood. Her Saganaki Shrimp, an appetizer served with feta cheese, Gruyère, and fresh herbs, while not currently on the printed menu, often puts in a guest appearance as a nightly special and is definitely worthy of your attention. And the same may be said for her fabulous Salmon Burger – another nightly special – spruced up with avocado and an addictive lemon tzatziki sauce. The piscatorial pleasure of the moment, however, is the luscious Grilled Sea Bream Filet (pictured). Finished with an awesome “fish soup” sauce, saffron, and fresh greens, it is sublime – and utterly irresistible – in its simplicity.

Ella - Walnut PieDesserts here, as you would expect, tend to be on the homey side… Cheesecake with caramel sauce… Poached Pear with pistachio ice cream… Ice Cream with forest fruit sauce… Vegan Chocolate Tart with Strawberries… etc. My dining partner and I decided to share a slice of Walnut Pie with Chocolate sided by a dollop of vanilla ice cream (pictured), and we were not disappointed. This is another one of those deceptively simple dishes that just does everything right. The walnut pie was wonderfully moist, the chocolate icing rich but not cloying, and the vanilla ice cream a most suitable traveling companion. A marvelous conclusion to an equally marvelous meal.

As I mentioned at the outset, Chef Nena Ismyrnoglou’s excellent cuisine is complemented by a compact wine list that offers some interesting choices of both Greek and international vintages. And our dinner was greatly enhanced courtesy of a bottle of 2019 Argyros Estate Assyrtiko from the Island of Santorini.  

 Ella Greek Cooking -Street SceneA completely satisfying dining experience; and a fitting culmination to our brief – but thoroughly rewarding – stay in Athens. The atmosphere was casual, the prices moderate, the service first-rate, and the food extraordinary. And, as an added bonus, because of the beautiful weather, we were able to enjoy our dinner alfresco.

Should you be planning a visit to this remarkable city, Ella Greek Cooking should be at the very top of your dining agenda.

 Καλλή Όρεξη!

Be Safe & Stay Well


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