Our Favorite Dishes of the Year | Culinary Backstreets
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Editor’s note: This post is the penultimate installment of “Best Bites of 2013,” a roundup of our top culinary experiences over the last year. Be sure to check out the “Best Bites” from all of the cities Culinary Backstreets covers.

To Rodi
Tucked into a small corner of a working-class residential suburb, with unimpressive décor reminiscent of a local souvlaki joint, the Armenian-Turkish restaurant To Rodi is further evidence that appearances can be deceiving. Among the offerings at this culinary treasure trove are a spicy kebab with thick yogurt sauce that is reminiscent of good sour cream, Georgian khinkali dumplings and a wonderful lahmacun that almost stole our hearts, but the eggplant rolls are the best of all. A slice of lightly boiled eggplant is wrapped around a ball of boiled bulgur wheat with small tomato chunks and crushed walnuts. The result is rich, nutty, sublime. The dish is topped with pomegranate seeds, especially appropriate since the name of the restaurant is Greek for “pomegranate,” one of the national fruits of Armenia.

To Koutouki tou Marathoniti
No-frills and underground, with wine barrels on the wall and pensioners jamming along to bouzouki and accordion while groups of students smoke and drink retsina in the background, To Koutouki tou Marathoniti is possibly the closest you’ll get to a family-run taverna untouched by time or fashion. The food is pure Greek fare: boiled wild greens with olive oil and lemon, hearty portions of fava bean purée with chopped onion and, most importantly, chops. We love the ewe’s chops, a specialty usually reserved for tavernas in mainland Greece, where the sheep-rearing tradition goes back centuries. Grilled ewe can be tricky –  the meat can be tough and rather pungent. But this place has the formula down: the chops are marinated with lemon, olive oil and oregano and cooked superbly for maximum flavor.

Athens has lately been taken over by chain bakeries, which are popping up in every neighborhood and churning out pre-made frozen cheese and spinach pies. So let us be thankful for Pnyka, one of Athens’ best and oldest bakeries. Pnyka grinds its own flour, is always searching for interesting types of grain all over the world and only uses the highest quality ingredients to make all its breads and pies from scratch. Particularly notable is the bakery’s light, fragrant spanakopita, or spinach pie, which combines fresh, highly aromatic spinach with herbs and olive oil, all wrapped in phyllo made from Pnyka’s own flour.

At this modest, nautical-themed restaurant in Keratsini, the owners’ fishermen friends deliver their catch daily, which means an intriguing variety of impeccably fresh seafood. Our favorite preparation here is the fish soup, which comes to the table in a beautiful tureen. The broth is deeply saturated with the rich, pure flavors of the sea and is accompanied by a platter of boiled red fish and chunks of carrot, potato and zucchini – humble ingredients, the sum of which is so much greater than the parts.

Bar Bee Kiou
At this burger joint, everything – from the bun to the fries to the mustard and various sauces – is handmade in-house from excellent ingredients, in a complete departure from most of the world’s fast food. Michalis Mantzouranis, owner and chef, is constantly looking for new ideas to enrich the menu, and he succeeds. One of the best dishes we ate in 2013 was Bar Bee Kiou’s platter of two big beef patties, which came on a bed of French fries and were sprinkled with coarse salt. Atop each patty was a sunny-side-up egg, perfectly cooked so that a nudge with our spoon freed the luscious golden yolks. And crowning it all was feta cheese and a little ground pepper. It’s an homage to the classic “Greek mother” dish of meat patties and fries, and Mantzouranis, of course, has taken it to the next level.

Kebab and Curry
This Indian restaurant, located in a Pakistani neighborhood, is a true find. The characteristic carved wooden furniture and the Bollywood clips playing on the television add flair to an otherwise indifferent space, but we come for the food – specifically, the chicken korma, with tender bites of meat in a smooth, velvety, intensely spiced sauce of coconut cream and raisins. We’ve tried many Indian restaurants in Athens, and this one makes far and away the best version of this dish.

In Memoriam
The end of 2013 finds us mourning the loss of Evi Voutsina. Born on the Ionian island of Lefkada, Voutsina initially studied English literature, but in the early 1990s, her passion for cooking turned her focus to the foodways of Greece, and she became one of the country’s most renowned gastronomes. Voutsina traveled to every corner of Greece. Her profound respect for the knowledge and expertise of the ordinary people she met along the way was truly unmatched.

She published no fewer than 18 books, two of which – Authentic Greek Cooking and The Cookery of Lekfada, both published by Fagotto – were translated into English. For many years, Evi Voutsina was also a columnist for the Kathimerini media group.

Voutsina was not just an excellent researcher and editor with tremendous knowledge in her field, she was also extraordinarily kind and generous. We will miss her dearly.

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Published on December 20, 2013

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